Friday, July 24, 2009

David’s Definitions for September 2009


The act of giving a job or other preference to a relative because of the relationship and not because of competence. For example, President Kennedy was accused of nepotism when he appointed his brother Robert to the post of Attorney General. The word comes from the Latin word for nephew. In the Middle Ages, when the Pope had a son and wanted to give him some kind of office in the Church, he would introduce the young man as his nephew. Of course, he couldn't admit that the young man was actually his son, but everyone knew that he really was. So the Pope's "nephew" would get a nice job, thanks to nepotism. A related abuse is cronyism, where people give preference to their friends. That word probably comes from the 18th Century English criminal underworld, where partners in crime were referred to as a man's cronies.

(Will be published in the September 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at:


I’m now represented by Brendan Deneen of Fineprint Literary Management.

(Woo hoo!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Watch this space

“Space this watch,” the starship captain ordered in disgust when his expensive timepiece stopped working again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where were you when we landed on the moon?

And how many blog posts/Web essays/printed articles will be showing up over the next few days that ask that question? Zillions, I tell ya, zillions.

On July 20, 1969, I was in the MOCR, the Missions Operations Control Room, at MSC, the Manned Spacecraft Center, in Houston. (Later renamed the Johnson Space Center.)

Mind you, this wasn’t the MOCR that was controlling the Apollo 11 mission. This was the other MOCR. I always seem to be in the other place. Because of the time required to prepare the control center for a mission and to clean and fix it up afterwards, there were two control centers, and they alternated. So strictly speaking, I wasn’t really in the MOCR at all, if you want to be picky. Similarly, not every NASA employee worked on every mission. So some of us were working on Apollo 11 but a lot of us, including me, were working on later missions and weren’t required to be in the (real) MOCR or on call during 11.

Everything was turned off in the backup control center, but lots of us were allowed to cram into it and the conversation between Houston and the astronauts was piped in over the speakers, so that we could feel part of the live excitement.

My job focused on the the rendezvous phase, after the Lunar Module lifted off from the moon and was heading toward rendezvous with the orbiting CSM, so I didn’t know what the terse phrases I was listening to meant. I think it was mostly the astronauts reading off speed along various axes and remaining fuel. I don’t think most of the other people in the room knew, either. We all had our specialties. Dividing those enormously complex missions into numerous small phases and having each team focus just on its tiny aspect of the huge whole was one of the main secrets of NASA’s success.

At the end, after some technical jargon having to do with the LM engine, Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” A lot of people in the room started cheering and clapping wildly. Some of us – including me – didn’t get it at first. I had expected him to say something like, “LEM on the surface.” (A lot of us still referred to the Lunar Module as the LEM, from the earlier name, the Lunar Excursion Module.) Or, in the worst case, no sound from the astronauts at all, ever. Or just possibly, “Oh, shit.”

And then we all left the room and went back to work.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more about moon-landing deniers. I thought those had mostly faded away long ago, but apparently something like 14% of the US population either think the whole thing was a hoax or aren’t sure. Well, idiocy will always be with us. I have to say that if the landings were a hoax, I wish I had known that at the time. I was in my twenties with a wife and child at home whom I yearned to be spending all my time with, and if my work was pointless anyway, I’d have spent far fewer extra hours at the office.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I didn’t get any exercise yesterday

But I did write a scene in which a character lifted weights. Does that count?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cups outlasting companies

I was washing dishes this evening (no, we don’t have a dishwasher) (the mechanical kind, that is), when it struck me that some of the cups and glasses we use are imprinted with the logos of software companies where I used to work – and the companies are gone, but the cups and glasses are just fine.

“Gone” can mean acquired or evaporated. In either case, the companies where I worked don’t exist. But the logos and the breakable items bearing them go on and on. It’s sorta like some kind of metaphor for the software biz, man!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Green shoots

Here we are on the first day of the second half of the year, and I got a whole bunch of promising job-related nibbles and bites today. It’s a sample population of one, and maybe nothing will come of any of these contacts, but the sudden increase is striking, and it makes me hopeful – for me, and for everyone else.

No agent nibbles, unfortunately. (Every silver lining has a dark cloud.)