Bow tie

I see an occasional guy in a bow tie around Wall St. They're not as popular as suspenders, but certainly more common than top hats -- I haven't seen anyone wearing a top hat in days. So when I see one of these guys with the bow tie, I can't help but wonder: At what point in his life does a man begin wearing a bow tie?

Can a guy wear a necktie to the office for years and then one day just show up in a bow tie? That would be a long day of answering the same question. How would you begin to explain it? How do you explain it to your wife?? You might as well tell her that you're changing your name. Or your religion. No, I think you're either born a bow tie person, or not.

I must admit that I make snap judgments about the guys that I see wearing them; They fall into one of two groups -- comedians or pompous assholes. In my experience* these judgments have been correct nearly 100% of the time -- and I don't know any comedians.

You should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. Cravat's supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why'd you wanna trust somebody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?
- David Mamet, State and Main

By the way, I might as well plug this great website which has the answer to every clothing/etiquette question you'll ever have.

* Lark excluded


Separating truth from satire

I listen to various news podcasts on my ipod every day during my commute. I also have some podcasts that include fiction, commentary, and satire (like The Unger Report). Yesterday, I listened to a story so ironic that I had to double-check and make sure it was real news!

By now, we're all familiar with global warming and the fact that it's happening*. One of the leading causes of global warming has been our wildly increasing use of fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere when burned to make energy (and one "solution" to at least slow global warming is to use alternative sources of energy). Global warming, as we've all heard, is causing the polar ice caps to melt which may have severe consequences on the earth's climate.

The story that I heard yesterday talked about the world's "last big land grab" that is taking place at the north pole. As the ice caps melt, countries (and certain companies) are scrambling to lay claim to as much of this land as possible:
Russia has been quick off the mark, laying claim to half the Arctic Ocean. Denmark has designs on the North Pole. While Norway is claiming 60,000 square-miles of seabed... the melting Arctic ice cap is clearing the way for economic opportunities once thought impossible.

Why is everybody so eager to get their hands on this new territory? Wait for it... oil rights! That's right, folks, even in the Day After Tomorrow world of melted polar ice caps, we're still going to be oil crazy.

* if there's still anyone that doubts that global warming is occurring, the fact that greedy companies are pouring cash into preparing for it should be evidence enough!


Beginning to look a lot like...

When I got to work this morning, the guy in front of me set off the metal detector so he had to go back around and try again. When I went through I saw his things coming out of the x-ray machine ahead of mine and noticed his ipod was still playing. I glanced at it just to see out of curiosity what he was listening to: "Silent Night" from Al Green's The Christmas Album.

Yes, it has become quite a bit colder in NY in the last few days, but Christmas music??? It's beginning to look a lot like FALL! And hopefully it will be a nice long season.



For the last five years I have cringed at the mention of "Nine-eleven".

For the first year after 9/11/01, the words "Nine-eleven" evoked a very powerful feeling...the vivid memory of a huge explosion outside my office window...the unprecedented fear that I was not safe...the smoke that enveloped the neighborhood that day as I walked out; the smell that lingered everywhere for weeks...and my co-workers who literally ran for their lives to get out of tower two, and those (that I didn't know) who didn't make it.

For the last four years, the words "Nine-eleven" have been used as a political trump card to justify postures and policies, to berate those who disagree, to invoke fear. It drives me crazy when I hear them used so casually.

Today, as with each anniversary, I will try to remove the jaded, skeptical part of my "Nine-eleven" associations. I will try to go back to remembering what that day was, before it became so many other things.

This is an email that I sent to friends and family on 9/13/01:

Tuesday morning was the most extraordinary morning of my life. I have found it helpful but difficult to write about the things that I experienced and felt on that day, and would like to share them with you. My experience is not unique, and compared with those of thousands of others, hardly seems like an experience at all. Thanks to those of you who called, wrote, and offered your prayers.

I got off the #2 train at the Wall Street stop at about 8:15 Tuesday morning and headed toward my office on the 22nd floor of the New York Stock Exchange. After going through the usual security checks at the door and waiting for the elevators I ride to get to my floor, I walked into my office at about 8:25. I started answering emails and talked with some of the guys on my floor about last night's football game, etc.

At about 8:45, I was walking back into my office when I heard a whining sound (as a shooting missile sounds in a movie) that lasted for about one second followed by a very low BOOM that gave my office a thump. You hear many strange sounds in New York and teach yourself not to pay attention to them, but there was never any question that this sound was completely out of the ordinary. I looked out my window and saw the World Trade Center tower (see the attached photo of the WTC that I took from my office window on August 17th), which is about 3 blocks away, in flames at least as tall as ten floors. Others on my floor rushed into my office and we stood for a few seconds trying to comprehend what we were looking at. "Someone got a bomb into the World Trade Center" was the first thing out of my mouth. We view the WTC from the Southeast, so from our view the damage took place from the inside out. Once the flames died down a little bit, we could see the huge gash in the side of the building. Smoke was pouring from the building and the sky was full of papers, flying everywhere, some of them landing on my window ledge. Though my windows were closed, we could smell the ash. All I could think about was that many people had probably just died.

We immediately began calling news stations and family to report what we saw. Within five minutes, we found news stories online with pictures of the smoking tower and eyewitness reports that a plane had crashed into the building. We thought that the eyewitness reports were absurd (we couldn't see the north side of the building where the plane hit) and could never believe that a plane could be off course or out of control so badly that it could hit a major building. We continued looking out the window and debating the cause, while watching pedestrians below run through the streets, some of them abandoning their cars in traffic. Then, one of my co-workers, Erbil, arrived. He said that he had been getting off the PATH train from New Jersey (in the World Trade Center, where the train station is) when the building began to shake. He said that people were screaming and panicking in the lobby of the Tower. They didn't know whether it was safer to stay in the building or leave and try to avoid getting hit by the falling debris outside. Erbil had decided to make a run for it and made it all the way to the Exchange.

At a little after 9 a.m., we heard the same whining, rocket-like sound followed by the same thump, and our stomachs just sank. In that one second, we knew that whatever it was that happened the first time was happening again. This was the instant that the real panic set in: if it was an airplane that hit the first tower, then this was another, which means that it was definitely no accident. The second explosion left a much larger gash in the tower, from our point of view. The plane had hit from the west, but most of the damage was to the south face of the building, which we could see distinctly. We watched for a few seconds in silent disbelief. This was something that you might see in a movie, but never in person.

Soon, we began to fear for ourselves. This attack was getting closer to our building and we felt like the NYSE might be a target. We quickly grabbed our things and headed downstairs. After slowly making our way down 22 flights of stairs, we were ushered onto the trading floor to await further instructions.

The trading floor was loud and busy (and awe-inspiring, as it was my first time to be on the floor), not with trading but with people trying to get information about what was happening outside. Our cell phones won't work from the trading floor (for security, no electronic signals from the floor can be detected outside), so we had to find phones that could give us an outside line. When I did, I left a message for Beth, who was in class, and called my dad to let him know I was okay.

For the next several minutes, we watched the television monitors to find out what was going on. In disbelief, we watched reports that indicated that commercial planes had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center and we finally saw footage of what the other side of the towers looked like. From our firsthand views, nobody in my circle of discussion ever would have thought that the towers were in danger of collapsing. Never. The damage seemed to be significant, but the fact that the towers didn't collapse immediately led us to believe that they would continue to stand. These buildings were so enormous, not only in height but in its perimeter, that it was unimaginable that they could ever fall. The TV reports now indicated that the same type of attack had struck the Pentagon. I felt frightened for the country. I felt like anything could happen now -- the Capital could be decimated, or the White House; the President could be killed -- nothing seemed out of the realm of possibilities. Announcements were made informing us that no one would be allowed to leave the building. The borough of Manhattan was sealed off, the condition of the public transportation was uncertain, and we were told that it was simply too dangerous to risk going outside.

Many, many long minutes later, I heard a thundering noise, quickly began to smell more ash and soot, and the lights in the Exchange started to flicker. Some people on the floor began to yell in panic and the screams and quick reactions to the sound had everybody on edge -- we thought that the Exchange was under attack. For the next few minutes, rumors circulated that there were people in the building without IDs, that bags were found unattended, possibly with explosives. The paranoia of a few quickly spread to many others and people began dashing for the exit, which was being blocked by security guards. The security guards tackled several people to the ground and Dick Grasso, the president of the Exchange, got on the loudspeaker yelling at people to calm down. The whole scene lasted less than thirty seconds, but it only took seconds for me and others who were calm to become extremely worried and frantically look around the room for something to run away from. The first World Trade tower had collapsed.

We could see it on the TV screens and we had certainly smelled, heard, and felt it happen, but couldn't believe that downtown New York would forever be changed. As the TV cameras zoomed in on where the tower had once been we were amazed to see the sky peeking through the dense smoke. My friend Maneesh was receiving messages on his wireless email device. I borrowed it to send an email to Beth: "Safe on trading floor. Can't leave yet. Love you, B." Two minutes later I got her reply: " Brandon if you are still there please come home as soon as you can. The trading floor does not seem safe to me. I love you."

A few minutes later we felt and heard the second tower collapse as we watched it on live television. For the next two hours, our eyes were glued to the television terminals. Every once in a while, someone would come by with fruit or bottled water and every few minutes they would bring in another ash-covered person in need of medical attention. We walked from trading floor to trading floor (I didn't know there were so many) finding people we knew, asking if everyone we knew made it down safely, seeing who had new information, and if anyone knew when we'd be able to leave. We never felt completely safe in 11 Wall, despite hearing some of the NYSE officials' proclamations that it was the safest building in the city. We knew it wasn't completely safe to leave either, but we definitely wanted to try.

A little after noon, Grasso announced that the Broad Street exits would be opened and that we could leave. We were instructed to head east and then north in order to move away from the world trade center, which was west, and the dangerous smoke, which was being blown south. The great majority of people decided not to leave right away. Most people who work in Manhattan live in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx, Connecticut, or New Jersey.

Since every way in and out of Manhattan had been closed, most people would had nowhere to go. Personally, I didn't even know how I was going to get home, since all of the public transportation was reportedly closed. But my Manhattan-residing friends and I decided we would go anyway -- at worst it would be a nine-mile walk home. I called Beth to let her know I was leaving, but that it may be some time before I got home.

We collected some damp cloths from the medical workers who were there and made our way to the exit. The security guards watching the door gave us repeated warnings about turning back if we felt any indication of smoke damage to our lungs or eyes. Apparently several people who had tried to leave had to return and receive medical attention. As I listened to their warnings I was looking out the doors in disbelief. The world outside had turned completely gray. Although it was noon, there was very little light.

We covered our mouths and noses with our towels and made sure that we could comfortably breathe. They opened the doors, and we stepped outside. This was the neighborhood in which we all worked and spent a great deal of time, but the conditions were so disorienting that we began our trip with a brief argument about which way was east (we weren't even sure which exit we had just used). The air was thick and gray, filled with ash. It was difficult to see more than a block ahead. These streets that we walked every single day looked instead like the surface of the moon. The ground was covered in ash more than an inch thick.

In the next 10 minutes, we saw only a dozen other people. We walked east about five blocks to Water Street and then turned north. It wasn't until we had walked another five blocks north that our visibility began to increase and it seemed that we would soon be able to remove the towels from our faces. At that time we came upon two firemen who were handing out bottled water to those fleeing the area. They gave us water, poured some on our towels, instructed us to continue breathing through the towels and pointed us north. This brief stop was the first time that we were able to look back and see the tower of smoke that used to be the World Trade Center.

We continued heading north and eventually met up with hundreds of others who were evacuating the financial district. The area we were attempting to navigate was the lower east side -- a neighborhood I venture to guess that none of us had ever traveled on foot. Water Street to Madison Street. Past the Brooklyn Bridge. Past the Manhattan Bridge on East Broadway to Chinatown. Occasionally, we came across a church or a public building that were already responding to the crisis. Priests and church staffs were on the sidewalks outside their churches with tables of bottled water and fruit.

Poster board signs were on display, reading "Water, Food, Bathrooms, Telephones, Rest, Prayer." We did not take advantage of these offerings, but were moved to see the community reacting so quickly. Other men stood on the street corners -- under whose direction, I don't know -- holding signs reading "This way North" or "A and F trains" with arrows pointing the way.

We headed toward train stations at every opportunity, but always to find that they weren't running. Finally, after walking (in suits and ties, carrying our briefcases) for about an hour and a half, we found a station where trains were running. I took the F train to 42nd Street, said goodbye to my friends, switched to the D train, and took it to 125th Street. When I came out of the station, I called Beth from a pay phone and told her where I was. I began walking home down Amsterdam Ave. At about 121st Street, I saw Beth running up the sidewalk. It was 3 p.m. We hugged and cried there on the sidewalk, and the world was a thousand times better with her in my arms.

As I am writing this, it is reportedly beginning to rain in lower Manhattan.

From inside my apartment I can hear the distant thunder. My innocence is lost: my first reaction is not that there is a storm, but that there is an explosion. I get up and go to the window so that I can listen more closely. I hear police and ambulance sirens. I still think it could be an explosion. In the new world that began two days ago, it could be anything at all.


What are the odds?

I was "between gyms" for about a year. When I joined my current gym, I realized that I had completely forgotten the combination to my lock. I tried a few sequences, but couldn't recall the correct one. So rather than leave my stuff in the locker unlocked (you know there's a black market for white dress shirts, right?) I bought a new lock from the gym. As I was working out, I repeated the new combination to myself over and over, imprinting it on my brain. Then it occurred to me: I already knew this combination.

I went back to my locker, got out the old lock, tried the combination, and CLICK, it opened. My brand-new lock had exactly the same combination as my three year-old lock! I thought, what are the odds!? Then I thought, what are the odds?

The first and easiest answer may be 1-in-64,000. The combination has three numbers, each ranging zero to forty, so 64,000 is what I assumed initially. This made me feel very lucky. (Lucky doesn't seem like the right word...coincidence-stricken?) As nice as it would be to feel so luck-- er, coincidence-stricken -- I had a hunch there was more to it.

Both locks were manufactured by Master Locks, so I thought that perhaps the people at Master Locks must be so lazy that they actually only use ten different combinations in all of the locks that they sell! I like that theory, but I admit it's unlikely. So I went to the internet to put an end to the mystery once and for all, and what I found was nearly as shocking as the Lazy Master Lock Theory.

I won't bore you with the details. I'll let this guy bore you with the details, and I'll summarize: Because of the way they are made, there are only 100 possible correct sequences to single-dial combination locks. Think about that the next time you protect something valuable with one of these "locks".


Not quite the Gates Foundation...

I do hope to someday soon post stories and pictures from recent trips to Costa Rica, Missouri, and New Mexico. And pictures of the remodeled full-bath, which has been done for months...

But for now I'll mention something else that I'm excited about. The idea of Giving has been on my mind a lot in the past year or so. We discussed Money and Giving in our small group over the course of several weeks and a few months ago I led a communion meditation during a Sunday service whose theme was Giving. It's a very important topic for me and an important part of my spiritual life.

I remember discussing among our small group the idea of tithing via automated withdrawal. The idea would be to have, each month for example, 10% of my income automatically transferred to churches and charities and whomever else I choose to give to. I already have an automated withdrawal set up from my checking account to Shiloh each month. It makes me happy to know that I am consistently giving to Shiloh, so the idea of extending this consistency to my other giving is very attractive.

However, as my friend Bill pointed out, there may be negative aspects to making giving so convenient. It's possible that the act of remembering and choosing, week after week, to write that check is as important as the giving. As I told him then, I'm not exactly convinced; But Bill is a smart guy, so he's probably on to something. In addition, there is always giving that is irregular. It's never going to be the Gates Foundation, but the idea of accumulating some money to contribute to the starting of a mission team or a new building project is attractive to me.

So here's what Beth and I recently decided to do. We have two checking accounts, one "personal" and one "giving". Each month, 10% of our income is automatically transferred into the giving account. I'm not a legalist with an attitude of "not a penny more or less", I promise. But it does make me feel good to know that it's "not a penny less". My life is busy and there are at least a hundred things that I don't get done each week... sometimes giving is one of them. So now we can write checks from the "giving" account (which will still involve remembering and choosing to give, I believe) and whatever is not given will stay in the account. Over time, perhaps, that extra $100 or $200 a month will become $10,000, which we can use to jump-start some project that is important to us.

It's not the Gates Foundation, but it's a start.


ESPN2 ???

The most popular sporting event in the world is underway. Team from 32 nations have gathered in Germany for 64 games that attract greater audiences than a winter and summer olympics combined. Costa Rica's president declared a national holiday for their opening game last Friday and game day is a de facto holiday for almost every other nation competing.

...And then there's the U.S.A. Coming off its most impressive performance in recent history (reaching the quarterfinals in 2002) and fielding an arguably better team this year, American soccer fans are more excited than ever to follow their team's progress. Yet in the U.S., the game will not even be broadcast on network television! God forbid we preempt our soap operas. What's worse, it won't even be broadcast on its most widely-available cable sports station, ESPN! (Yes, ESPN, which last week gave the same time slot to the national spelling bee.) No, soccer fans... if you want to watch the U.S. play in the most popular sporting event in the world, you'll have to tune in to ESPN2. ESPN2 ?!?!?!?



Yep, I've got it pretty bad. My spring semester ended on Wednesday with the submission of my last final exam and last group paper. This ends my eighth consecutive semester (spring-summer-fall) and gives me 46.5 of the 60 credits I need to graduate. That is 78% which roughly means that I have finished my "junior year" and entered my "senior year".

I remember the first MBA class that I attended. It was on a Tuesday night. Class started at 6:00 and ended at 9:00. It was so strange to suddenly be sitting in a classroom at 9PM rather than on my sofa at home (or whatever else it was that I did with my evenings in that previous life). I remember leaving the class very excited about being a part of the discussion that had just taken place, but at the same time exhausted from it. I told myself: that was just the first night of the first class of the first semester... hey idiot, what are you doing?!? And that was in September 2003! I have since attended more than 200 nights of 3 hour class meetings, and I'm still very exhausted after each one.

So everybody save the date for my big graduation party; it's just around the corner: Jan 27


Project [basically] finished!

Well I'm just about done -- a few minor details, like a missing door, still need to be addressed -- but it's looking pretty good.

Working on this bathroom has been a lot of fun and very educational. Big thanks to Todd for letting me borrow his tools and bigger thanks to Bill who donated consecutive Sundays to tiling the floor.

As Beth says, this was "the practice bathroom". Next weekend I'll start working on the full bath. Hopefully, with all that I've learned from this experience, it will go a little more quickly and look even more professional.


Project, cont'd

Still working...



Feeling ambitious, my current project is underway...






I saw this on CNN at work yesterday and then saw this CBS coverage online... amazing. Beth insisted that I post the link so that all of her friends are sure to see it: http://www.youtube.com/?v=UBYPaNc57Ik


Athlete's Foot

Does any disease have better PR than athlete's foot? "Fungus between your toes? Hmm... must mean that you are a physically fit and active person!" Whoever came up with such a great name deserves the thanks of an entire industry of makers of sprays and creams. You may think twice about admitting to being afflicted with tinea pedis, but "athlete's foot"? It's practically a compliment!

What's next? "Take two Tylenol for your genius pain"