Travel and Trade

This week I am going on a work trip. Flying.

It’s been a while since I have flown somewhere for work. I suppose technically my first work trip was when I flew into the Soviet Union December 1991.

Since then, I’ve had to fly around for jobs that require photo badges. My 2nd work trip was to Washington DC. I try to think of what that destination has to offer, what that spot has that’s different from where I live, and experience that.

D.C. was easy. My colleague and I went to the Smithsonian.

Some places take more thought. This week I’m going to Atlanta, to visit Coca-Cola headquarters. We don’t have much time. Maybe the headquarters of Coke Corporate is a sufficiently unique experience. I can check that box. Still, I’d like to see what more is there.

I’d like to try what foods they have that are special. I hear Georgia peaches are good, but I don’t think peaches are in season. I’ve been to Atlanta before, and I ended up with a man at a piano in a hallway, talking and singing. He was very good at playing, I wished I could remember a song to play as well, but I was shy. I mostly sang.

He was actually from Texas. But when I told people later what we’d done, they said that was very Atlanta.

It was fun.

How do they do things differently? What do they know that I don’t? How could we help each other?

Trips should be fun. I get to travel hundreds of miles away–paid for by someone else–I want to taste and see what the world has to offer.

Mat Ridley (author of The Rational Optimist) talks about how trade is what made our far back human ancestors beat out the Neanderthals for dominance.

We shared what we had and what we knew. And the world got to be better and better for us. Good ideas can spread through trade, he says.

I agree. If a person can hold it in their hands, try it out for a long time and come up with their own opinion about it, that’s pretty convincing.

I am looking forward to seeing what Atlanta has to offer me this time.


A couple weeks ago, Veronica said “Mommy, I don’t know how to turn off the water.”

I had been messing on my computer and hadn’t been paying attention. She was getting ready for bed. There is a process.

I drag her kicking and resisting to begin the process

get naked

use the toilet

floss teeth

brush teeth

get in shower

wash face

wash body

wash hair

turn off water

dry off with towel

take towel to bedroom

don pajamas

don socks

read story

turn on nightlight

turn off overhead light

turn on sonos music

parent sits with Veronica until she falls asleep



this has been the bedtime routine for basically her entire life.

when she asked me how to turn off the water, she surprised me. I had left her on the toilet portion of the ritual.

She went forward without me and did all the rest.

That was the biggest change to me. She had truly independently taken on this process.

it made me cry a little.

And it rocked my world. It seems that we might have 2 extra hours free in an evening.

This is a game changer


Every so often, Wikipedia asks for money. Every so often, I give them some. Wikipedia has become essential to my life. When I want to quickly know the basics about something, I go to Wikipedia and find out.

Wikipedia is flawed. It gets things wrong. And a lot of the time, a couple facts sort of right.

But we know. That’s part of the deal. Wikipedia is not 100% right.

Even so, it is better than nothing. What it gives us is more than it takes away.

I was listening to an interview of Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia. He was talking about how it’s growing, and how it works.

In his mind, the eco system of Wikipedia is all about the contributors. The contributors, working together to create the entries, and give the facts the most even hand.

Wales says it’s because of the software. That, unlike on comment threads for regular websites, the Wikipedia entries can be openly edited, and then re-edited by anyone.

The users are there collaborating. And when it is working at it’s best, they are being checks and balances to one another.

Does it work at it’s best all of the time? No. No it does not.

There are flame wars, and some bullying, and meanness and close-mindedness.

But there is also, at the end, a growing Wikipedia. A public service.

Jimmy Wales says the software serves this end.

Software often has this effect. It solves a problem–such as serving information. But even if that problem is all the way solved (and it never is completely solved), another problem pops up.

That burr in the shoe is replaced with a pebble.

It’s like a terrible riddle. If a solution solved 90% of a problem you are suffering, but introduced a new problem that would take up 50% of the resources you were trying to conserve, is it a real solution?

So many solutions are exactly like that. Inconclusive, leaving us slightly better off but still unsatisfied.

Two steps forward, one step back and three steps sideways.

Wait, what? Where am I again?

It’s the new progress.

game of nines

I worked in telecom for 17 years. By far most of my career. In telecom there is an oft repeated phase:

The five nines

99.999% of the time, telecom has to work. Telephones have to work. We rely on them. This kind of reliability is possible, and we strive to achieve it.

The sorts of processes and procedures and best practices and maintenance that are required to achieve (or get really close to achieving) the 5 nines are second nature to me.

Back things up. Double check. Have a backup plan. Test and verify.

We need to have consistent, reliable results. We need to know what we are doing before we start, and we need to know what went wrong and why precisely.

That sort of precision works in the work of telecom, because the systems are designed to exact specifications. Every small part is known and measured.

That sort of precision is beautiful. And I love it.

It’s a game with a big set of rules and a lot of players. The global tribe of network technicians all play this game and we know when they lose.

They lose—WE lose—when we lose a 9.

99.999% it has to work. 99.99% is not enough.

A lot of people worked to make this game. Thank you, Thomas Edison. Thank you, Bell Labs. We are all playing the beautiful precise game that you made for us.

You know what isn’t that precise?


People are never 99.999% anything.

And right now, I am finally admitting to myself that I’m not in Kansas anymore. I mean, I’m not in telecom anymore.

I have to step on my questions. I want to ask for more information. I want to know PRECISELY what we are doing.

But I’m not in that game anymore. This is a sloppy game of “good enough” and “something like that.”

I am sitting on my tongue to see what happens when things are not to my standards. Crossing my legs as I sit back on my tongue and be quiet.

Two things occur to me:


I see why people are annoyed by IT engineers. We are too pushy and want more than is possible most of the time.


It’s possible when we are playing inside our game. And it’s frustrating to us when these noobs don’t cooperate and cost us a high score.


I see how most of life is quite different. Almost everything. It turns out that this precision is not required. Some fewer number of nines…maybe no nines at all…is what makes the world go round.

  I wonder if it’s possible to lose myself fully in this world of inconsistencies. I loved the security of my game, and how very clear the rules are. I loved going deep into it. These softer edges seem dangerous. Maybe I will need more time to practice navigating.

 It’s a bigger world. I do like exploring.

Read This

I have a lot of books. I could so easily have more, but a long time ago I decided a rule for books: if I could easily get a copy of the same book from the library then I could not keep it. If I needed to read it again, I could go to the library.

Book take up so much space, and it is easy to be overwhelmed with their physical reality. The point of books is not the physical size; it is what they open up in my mind.

I just started reading I Am Malala, the book written by the teenage Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for going to school. She says that when she was top of her class (before she was shot) she was considered bookish because she had read 8 or 9 books.

Now that she is in Birmingham, England, she understands that her classmates have read hundreds of books. And that makes school very different.

Finding out new things is different now, too. We can find out new things from words that are not books.

I’ve been learning from the Internet how Abraham Lincoln found books to read. It was pretty common in the American frontier, before there were public libraries, to share books with interested neighbors. That whatever books to be had–WHATEVER books–would be shared and consumed by new readers.

Lincoln, as a young man, read all the nearby books, and then went further afield. He heard of a many-miles-away neighbor who had a lot of books. He found a way to borrow that man’s books. That man was a lawyer, and because of all the books Lincoln got a chance to read, he became a lawyer too. Lincoln had no formal high school education.

He just read.

And he changed America by leading it through a deadly civil war and dismantling a horrible blight of slavery.

Malala describes how she feels her education is far behind girls her age in England. But she is changing the world too. She is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace price acknowledging her courage in facing her oppressors, and standing up for, FIGHTING for girls to have education and freedom.

Reading is really powerful. Any kind of reading.