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Author: Steve

I live and work in central North Carolina. I am a database engineer by profession but I also enjoy writing, tabletop gaming, reading and thinking about history, binge-watching Netflix, and traveling with my BFF. She lives in Philadelphia and we travel around the East Coast together - we especially like going to the Big Apple to catch a show.
Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

Where the Baby Boomers Led Us

When we went to the Women’s March in Washington D.C., just after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, we took the metro into the city. The station and the train were crammed with protesters and their signs. I remember one woman on the train, older than us, who was holding a sign that read “THIS ABOMINATION WILL NOT STAND.” I believe she was from the Baby Boomer generation, the generation that came before mine and that shook American culture apart in the Sixties, in a wave of youth protest. And here she was, elderly and still protesting, fifty years later, which is as long as I have been alive.

The abomination to which her sign referred was the election to the highest office in the nation of a man who stands for everything which she had fought against her whole life. A man who epitomizes entitled, obnoxious, and abusive white male power. A self-confessed serial sexual predator who thinks women should be grabbable at a rich man’s whim. A racist whose instinct is to treat non-whites like criminals – or worse. A lying corporate crony motivated by profits over people.

And yet here he was, propelled into the Presidency by the support of millions of ordinary Americans who were duped by his demagoguery and worshipped him as their savior. It was the raging apotheosis of the backlash against the Sixties that was behind the rise of the Republican party, a backlash by people resentful of an America that was more open, diverse and tolerant. More non-white and non-Christian. The backlash had just put into power a man the same age as this protesting woman, but an ignorant and crass bully – the worst of her generation, empowered by madness.

When we arrived in the city the station was so crowded that it took an hour to get to the street. A huge mass of sign-carrying people slowly made its way through the turnstiles to exit the metro, and finally we were in the open air. We found our way to the mall and suddenly were swept up into a throng of protesters, streaming from where the speeches had been made (speeches we had missed, since it took so long for us to reach the city) towards the White House. The chanting, roaring energy was indomitable. It was the backlash against the backlash.

But would it last? As of this writing, more than nineteen months have passed. Trump has proven to be as awful a President as anyone predicted – corrupt, cruel, a threat to the republic. His supporters are entrenched in their belief in his legitimacy; they voted for him, and his faults seem invisible to them. Meanwhile, the President’s opponents have adopted the language of resistance, like freedom fighters in an occupied nation.

Trump has captured the reactionary right because he is the champion of their agenda: to keep out the Hispanics and the Asians and the Muslims, to stop free trade with China, to restore America to its pre-Sixties greatness. In their minds, this agenda is a much-needed course correction after decades of American decline. And undeniably it is motivated by fear, a fear summarized by one simple headline: Fewer Births Than Deaths Among Whites in Majority of U.S. States.

It is sad that fear has overtaken a large minority, and that they have rallied around an unworthy man. But he was the one who spoke their language. As I write, his fortune is crumbling, and his supporters will no doubt stand by him to the bitter end.  But in the long run majoritarian opinion and demographic pressures favor the resisters. The blue wave may have hit a red wall, but it can become a blue tsunami and take that wall down. We just have to stay resolved.

On the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, we marched down the mall in the nation’s capital, until the streaming throng took us to the White House. There the crowd thinned out, as some people left, while others lingered. Some tables were set up and people held signs urging or promising the impeachment of a President who had been in office for all of one day. It was like a court being held, condemning him on his own front lawn. This was the site of the Boomer generation’s last stand, and they were as riotous, and as judgmental, and as destructive as ever. And this was where they had finally led us.

Reddit Thread of the Week: Notes from the American Workplace

Reddit Thread of the Week: Notes from the American Workplace

This thread on a story about layoffs by AT&T illustrates the typical attitude of the modern American worker towards his or her employer. Not very, um, complimentary. You can see the new employee creed that has evolved to match the times. Be loyal to yourself, not your company. Switch jobs every few years for maximum career growth. Stick it to “the man.”

https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/9axwla/theyre_liquidating_us_att_continues_layoffs_and

Also found in this thread: mid-life Gen-Xers giving life tips to rising young Millennials. Good luck out there!

The Original Sci-Fi Show

The Original Sci-Fi Show

We’ve been watching Star Trek: The Original Series on Netflix and I am impressed by what a good show it is, really standing the test of time. This is despite the fact that by today’s standards the plot development is slow and the acting melodramatic. On the other hand, the characters are well defined and engaging, and the stories are interesting.

It’s really the superlative writing that makes the show, bringing in the talents of some of the great science fiction writers of its time. As I watch the episodes, I see how Star Trek was the fountain from which all future sci-fi television sprung. There really didn’t need to be any more sci-fi TV after that; it’s all just the same stories again and again. Not that I’m saying there shouldn’t be any more – I am someone who laments when I can’t find any more high-quality sci-fi left to watch on three different streaming services.

Star Trek: The Original Series comes from another age, an expansive era when America was confident and proud. It deals unapologetically with issues of empire and civilization, has faith in the benefits of technologically progress, and projects a future where gender is still strictly defined and the white guys are comfortably in charge. Later versions of the franchise (there are at least six) tracked the changing social mood, and I’m hoping that once we’ve watched all the episodes, I can convince the family to pick up with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

My Work History in Turnings

My Work History in Turnings

In my life I’ve had many jobs and moved around a lot. The Nomad life course. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and have mostly worked as a contractor. For fun, and because I like categorizing, I wrote down every company I’ve worked at and the year the company was founded. Some interesting patterns emerged.

The majority of companies where I have worked were founded in the 2T or 3T of this saeculum. Many of these were startups that failed or got bought out. Not surprising since I am a software engineer but too old to be in on the ground floor of any 4T unicorns.

These jobs were all in the first half of my career, pretty much coinciding with the 3T of this saeculum. The other places I worked in this time period were two venerable public institutions founded in the 1T of the Great Power saeculum: Virginia Tech where I went to school and the United States Geological Survey where I interned.

Then in the second half of my career, starting just at the tail end of the 3T, I started getting contracts at more established companies, founded in the 3T or 4T of the Great Power saeculum (IBM for example). This reflects both my increased work experience and a life course related desire for greater work stability. This is my Nomad settling down in the 4T phase.

Here is a complete chart:

Saeculum Turning
First Second Third Fourth
Revolutionary   o   x
Great Power xxo x o x
Millennial o x xxxxxxxx

 

The cell is the turning in which a company where I worked was founded. An ‘x’ marks a company where I worked in the Third Turning, and an ‘o’ marks a company where I worked in the Fourth Turning.

You can see my flurry of positions at dot com startups (sadly I did not get rich from any of them) and how later in life I was working for more established organizations. And yes, that is a company founded way back in the Second Turning of the Revolutionary Saeculum, which is where I work now.

I thought it was a fun exercise and you might want to try it yourself!

G-Fest Brings Two Countries Together

G-Fest Brings Two Countries Together

For this summer’s trip to G-Fest in Chicago, we decided to fly instead of drive. No one had the time for an extended vacation like the one last year. We flew on Frontier airlines, which let me add to my Frontier mascot collection on Facebook.

G-Fest is an annual convention held in the U.S. that celebrates kaiju, the giant monsters of Japanese film. The most famous of these monsters, of course, is Godzilla, whose storied franchise began in 1954, not long after the end of the Second World War. Through this film genre, the Japanese people have processed the utter helplessness and massive urban destruction they experienced at the hands of the United States during the war.

Despite the experience of the war, there is actually an affinity between Japan and the U.S. that goes back to the years before then, perhaps best exemplified by American baseball star Babe Ruth’s visit to Japan in 1934. In the post-war years, it shows in the extent to which Americans have embraced aspects of Japanese culture, such as anime. It’s connected to the story of how Japan was the first non-Western nation to adopt Western ways and become an economic powerhouse, both in the industrial age before the war, and in the information age afterwards.

A panel includes guest Keizo Murase (right), monster suit builder whose career goes back to the beginning. He was born in 1933.

G-Fest is relatively small as geeky conventions go, but it has all of the trappings one would expect from such an event – cosplay, gaming, art both amateur and professional, merchandise, discussion panels, and special guests. This year marked the convention’s 25th anniversary – G-Fest XXV – and a review was published in the Chicago Tribune, which has lots of pictures from the costume contest, evidence of the heart that people put into their fandom.

The boy gets an autograph from Megumi Odaka, who played a recurring character in six Godzilla films. She was born in 1972.

The affinity between our two nations really shines at G-Fest, where you can see the love that American fans have for the veteran Japanese actors and film technicians who appear as guests of the convention. It shows in the money raised by auctioning vintage art and memorabilia in support of the victims of Japan’s recent flooding disaster. It’s almost as though Americans are doing penance for the destruction their ancestors caused.

Me with Don Frye, best known for his martial arts career, but also an actor who appeared in Godzilla: Final Wars. We are about the same age.

As I watch this interchange, I can’t help but think that these movies were all made during the American Century, when the U.S. was the leader of the free world, and defended Japan in exchange for Japan’s promise not to arm itself offensively. This was an arrangement made as part of the Japanese surrender in WWII, but as a new age emerges, it is being called into question. Will our relationship change in the future?

There is a G-fest tradition of going to see movies specially chosen for the event at the nearby Pickwick theater. This year we saw Rampage (neither the worst nor the best monster movie ever made) and as I watched the mutated creatures smashing there way through Chicago I reflected on how the United States is still processing 9/11. We are still trying to find our way in the 21st century.

The boy meets on of his favorite YouTubers, DaikajuLegends. They are both from the Millennial generation.

As the American Century winds down, the special bond we share with Japan thanks to kaiju is sure to remain. For one, the young generation has picked it up. There are many young fans, sustaining a cottage industry on YouTube of homegrown films in the genre. The platform is only a decade old, but for the young generation, it is as meaningful as any other medium.

And Godzilla lives on, rebooted in the new MonsterVerse franchise. The monster suits have been replaced by CGI, but the spirit is the same. The next movie in the series will be out in the summer of 2019. I’m sure it will be all anyone is talking about at G-Fext XXVI.

A monster suit of the G-Fest mascot, Gfantis, lies in front of some prop buildings in the Dojo Studios room.
The Mysterious Project

The Mysterious Project

At work I bill all of my hours to “Project Octon,” but amusingly no one can tell me what the origins of this project are or how it got its name. I can only assume that it came on the heels of “Project Septon” and hope that it isn’t going to run out of funding any time soon.

An Octon Hierarch Modron

Now, in Dungeons & Dragons, the Octons are the sector governors of the Modron race from the outer plane of Mechanus, but what they might have to do with the company where I work I could not tell you.

The whole mess reminds of me of the Jabberwocky Project from Better off Ted. If you haven’t watched that show, you probably should. I wonder if Project Octon was originally pitched like this? I’d better not let on that I don’t know what it means.

What’s with all the ink?

What’s with all the ink?

A conversation with my BFF started with me Stevesplaining (a thing I do) the social history of tattoos.

You see, they were a Pacific islander custom (think Maui from Moana) which Europeans encountered in the Age of Discovery. This is why tattoos are associated with sailors. They then became a custom among Europeans of the lower orders, and were for a long time in the West associated with lack of respectability and the criminal underclass.

Then, in the aftermath of the Sixties at the end of the twentieth century, young people sought to break free of cultural norms. Getting tattooed (and/or pierced) was a rebellious act of individualism practiced by a minority of youth. By the turn of the century it was a fad. And now, it has become a conventional rite of youth passage. Which is why you see almost every young adult with at least some tattoos.

My BFF replied, “Have you even talked with anyone who has tattoos and asked them why they have them?” I had to admit that I really had not. “It’s because they feel like it’s the only way in which they can truly express themselves,” she continued.

“You mean that their personal bodies is the only space over which they have any control?” I’m thinking how the young generation must feel powerless in a world politically and culturally dominated by their elders.

“Yes.”

So that’s two different perspectives on the frequently tattooed Millennial generation. What do you think?

What is of this era

What is of this era

Assuming that the Fourth Turning began in 2008 with the Global Financial Crisis, what are some things that belong wholly to this era? Here are some which I can think of.

  1. Smartphones. Specifically, the large touchscreen form factor smartphone that made its famous debut with the first iPhone in the summer of 2007. I remember seeing people that summer that had one. They were few and far between, but they looked like the happiest people I had ever seen, delighted beyond belief with their shiny black rectangles. I got my black mirror in 2014 and I can’t imagine life without it.
  2. Social media. Yes, there were social media sites back in the early 2000s. I am willing to admit that I had a MySpace page. But the big wave of near universal adoption began when Facebook became open to all adults in 2006. It was 2008 when I noticed everyone around me was joining, and I jumped right on that bandwagon. With smartphones making it ever easier to share immediate experiences, there are now multiple services in widespread use.
  3. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one belongs squarely in the current era, as Iron Man was released in 2008. Only a few months later, the leaders of the free world were struggling to prevent global economic collapse. Things keep getting messier and messier in the real world, but in the MCU films the good guys always manage to avert catastrophe. At least until the after-credits sequence sets up the next plot twist.
My life (so far) in the IT crowd

My life (so far) in the IT crowd

Last spring I posted a little recent career history. This was when I lived in North Carolina, and worked at a corporate campus nestled in a lovely wooded area in the famed Research Triangle. I ended the post with the hopeful expectation of more corporate campuses in my future. It’s been over a year now, and I have moved to Pennsylvania and have a new gig – in Wilmington, Delaware of all places – reportedly an up-and-comer as an information technology hub.

I don’t work at a campus, but rather in a shiny blue office building on the city’s touristy river front. It is also a lovely work environment, although there are not nearly as many nearby conveniences. The location is a strange kind of wasteland of office buildings, overpriced restaurants, and parking. But undeniably it is delightful to step out to the river front on a beautiful day.

My coworkers are, once again, mostly from India. Actually, the percentage here is much higher than at my last position – probably 90% of the IT staff. No sign of “Hire American” here, though perhaps those visa reforms don’t apply to my company or industry.

And, once again, I am working as an IT contractor. I started contracting in the late 1990s, after finding that “full-time” positions in the boisterous dot com era tended to be short-lived. Of the past twenty years, only a few have been spent working as a full-time employee instead of a contractor, and that has happened only when my position was “converted” from a contractor position. This is a mark of prestige in my business, sort of like being made (not really).

My contracts are generally through an agency, which means I am paying payroll taxes, and often have some access to benefits. The contracts tend to last between 1 and 3 years, and then I am looking for work again. I do enjoy at each new position the opportunity to meet new people, learn new workflows and processes, learn about a new type of business, and experience a company’s particular work culture. It can be a bit stressful adjusting to the new environment, but it is also exciting and satisfying when I learn the ropes and prove myself.

It is also stressful when the job search phase begins again, especially now that I am middle-aged and worried about age discrimination, but I’m not sure that being full-time versus a contractor would make any difference, since full-time positions are eliminated as surely as contracts come to an end. The main disadvantages of contracting are not receiving paid time off, and having to pay more for health insurance. For the latter issue, I have found the Affordable Care Act very helpful. For the former issue, judicious saving is required.

Way back, in the 1990s, the rise of temporary employment was decried as a deprivation of worker’s rights. Perhaps it still is, part of an overarching trend toward greater corporate power at the expense of the people. Or it could be thought of as part of the free-agency style that my generation brought to the workforce in young adulthood. In my life, a career of many short stints has served me well, but that could be because I am in the field of Information Techonology. It might not be so easy in other lines of work.

With more years behind me than ahead of me, I imagine I don’t have too many more stints left. But who knows what the future will bring.

Cricket Match

Cricket Match

You may have seen a couple of my posts where I am participating in a cricket match. This was for a tournament that is being played at my place of employment. I just wanted to briefly describe my experience.

Cricket, as you probably know, is a sport originating in England and played around the world, and is reminiscent of American baseball. As in baseball, someone hurls a ball at a batter who is then obligated to hit the ball, assuming that the throw isn’t way off or otherwise disqualified. In baseball the throwing is called “pitching,” but in cricket it is called “bowling” and the bowler is actually allowed one bounce off the ground (but only one). The bowler can also run for a bit to add more speed to the thrown ball.

Without going into too much detail, another huge difference is that the bowler and batter are in the center of the field, and are surrounded by the other fielding team members, so the batter can hit the ball in any direction. To the side, behind him, whatever. Also, there are two batters, one at each end of the pitch (the center bit) and they run back and forth, switching places, between the two creases (the ends of the pitch). And also there’s a wicket in each crease, which is a set of three wobbly poles, and it is bad for the batting team if the ball touches a wicket when a batter isn’t in the crease defending said wicket. Whew!

It’s all very complicated and I’m sure I haven’t explained it very well, despite the fact that I went to a training class and watched a couple of instructional videos. I joined my group’s team in the spirit of participation and camaraderie with my coworkers, and also because it is fun to learn new things. And also because of peer pressure, because the team needed me for this reason: in the tournament format, each team is required to have a certain number of “novice” players.

A “novice” player is defined as one who is from a “non-cricket-playing nation.” In practice, this means someone who is not from India. So the language of the rules dances around this kind of racial prejudice, which might seem justified by the fact that no one at work who is not from India has any effin’ idea how to play cricket. Oh, and each team also has to have at least one woman player, who can be from a cricket-playing nation (that is, India), and who is treated like a novice player, so there is some sexism added into the format to boot.

What it means to be treated like a novice player is that the bowler has to bowl softly when a novice is batting. This makes it easy to hit the ball, especially considering that it is a tennis ball instead of the real thing. I imagine this is for liability reasons. Hitting the ball is one thing, though; scoring is a bit harder, because if you don’t hit a good grounder, you won’t have the time to run to the other end of the pitch before the fielders make a play for your wicket. It’s the same as trying to reach first base in baseball.

Our team played two games, winning the first and then losing the second. A game consists of each team batting once (so sort of like one inning in baseball). The score that the first team to bat achieves then becomes the target for the other team to beat, and if the other team does beat the target then the game ends immediately. A batting team gets twelve “overs,” each of which consists of six balls – not counting “dead balls” or “no balls” – well, it was way too much for me to keep track of, and I basically had no idea what was going on.

Suffice it to say that I had fun, got sunburned, and though I did not contribute much to my team, I did gain an appreciation for cricket which I’m sure will come to good use the next time I see a game on the telly at the local pub. 🙂

Warming up before a game