[VOID] Watching the World Wake Up

Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Mon, 11 May 1998 22:40:40 -0700

It's 5:20 AM Sunday in O'Hare. I got rerouted on my way home, so I'm
arriving closer, into BWI, but later. The flight in from LA was the first
passenger flight in of the day. It's fascinating to watch the rituals of a
world waking up: the self-contained universe of the busiest airport on the

{Searching high and low for the one (!) power outlet per gate -- is this
some sort of conspiracy to sell Red Carpet Club memberships? Even the floor
panels I unscrewed turned up dry holes; the one I found, hidden behind some
advertising, is so tight a fit I had to run the cables between the seating
panels (any market for a 110V divining rod?). }

Not twenty minutes later, I'm booted up, the CNN Airport Channel has booted
up, the floor polishers are off, and the neon sculpture on the underground
walkway is sync'd up with the neverending United theme music. Even
McDonald's is open for business. Time for a Wild Western Omelet McMuffin...

{Well, maybe not: there are 13 people in line and one teller. Sigh.}

"A last minute settlement between Microsoft and Justice is no longer
"May I have your attention: Catholic Sunday Mass will begin in forty-five
minutes in the interfaith chapel."
"Be Secure! Only admit those you can identify." -- sign at the McDonald's.

Just think about the number of bits that pass through our infospheres all
day undetected, leaving minimal traces: ads, announcements, conversations,
ephemera of all sorts. If cluons are massive particles which can realign
worldviews on impact, bitinos swarm around us, massless, valueless, and
only rarely leaving any impact at all. And what would the counterpart of
misinformation be? Bit-offs?

{I'm trying to decide how to structure this post: forwards or backwards? Oh
well, I feel conventional after being cooped up in coach for three hours.
At least me and my yard-high bouquet of flowers have been upgraded to First
on this next segment.}


I finally made it back to LA after that ridiculous night stranded in San
Francisco and rushed off to Computer Law class. After checking mail -- I'm
at 8300 messages in the inbox now -- and horrified, finding personally
addressed mail from a female admirer (of my work, at least) in LA from a
week ago, the department decamped to What's Cookin' for a birthday lunch.
Since I was last there the evening of the Sarah McLachlan concert, I found
out a) that United offers 10 miles per dollar there and b) they also must
have fired the chef.

Went home to focus on the dratted Telnet column for IEEE, but promptly fell
asleep (since between clattering out that FoRKpost in D's bathroom, getting
up early to chat HTML, and my canceled flight, I hadn't slept earlier) (the
first RFC was also typed up in a bathroom in the dead of night in a
borrowed accommodation.) Instead of focusing on the Cinco de Mayo
festivities, I slumbered until my editor called to ask where the heck the
column was; I said I was right on top of it and dashed out to La Capilla

First, though, I had to stop at FedEx and pick up a package from Dan Cohn
and mail one off to our newly-dead correspondent from Davis Square, MA. As
it was, I left the "drop it here" signature card for FedEx at my door,
since I wasn't in Irvine for long enough to actually pick it up, ever.
Instead, another admirer DHL'd me something quite separate, and so my
roommate figured that was the overnight package I was waiting for and tore
down the signature card. Heaven forbid you live with a roommate who's never
around, gets overlapping urgent packages, and keep threatening to run an
extra 10BaseT line from your bedroom to avoid buying another hub.

Of course, the door was slammed in my face since I arrived at 7:04PM.

Second, I had to stop at Fry's and get the dratted prop I kept promising
myself. Lo and behold, my vague memories were correct: for $13, you, too,
can own a 2450 degree Fahrenheit pocket welding torch adapted from a
standard disposable lighter! An ideal accompaniment to a pitcher of

It turns out I was way late: Greg and Jim and Roy and Tim were already
rather enjoying themselves; Tim, in particular was well on his way to
prying out the number of the beer girl, in her zip-front black spandez
outfit and braces. Jim, for whatever perverse reasons like being engaged or
something, apparently ripped up the napkin the first time...

We ran into one of Clover's friends and her Indian boyfriend, but missed
Tim's colleague, the sex therapist (who now runs a radio show reporting to
B, my date to the McLachlan concert and friend of Jim's. Small enough a

Not soused quite enough, I followed Tim to House of Brews for a few more.
Eventually, we got to arguing over the search for Intelligent Chicks (TM).
I insisted I have a right to hold out for someone who, for example, reads
the Economist, no matter how rare that might be in Orange County. He said
that for my own mental health's sake, to lower my sights. I decided to walk
over to the two women by the fireplace and get their opinion, but by the
time we finished chatting, all that was left of Tim was a half-drunk El
Tesoro margarita.

The next day, I'd cleared everything off my plate in order to focus on
writing the column. But I couldn't work for more than ten minutes at a
time, I was so congested. In fact, during this entire stint, I kept
*getting* allergies by passing through Irvine; if I just triangulated my
trips and stayed the hell away from home, I'd be better off.

I needed some antihistamines, but I didn't know anyone in the healing
professions closely enough to cadge a prescription for Claritin or Allegra.

Instead, I tried writing, then collapsed, until about 1PM, when I realized
it was more important to pay my bills than continue failing to write my
column. By 3PM, I was in class, a seminar in Help Systems (a class of four
Indians and a very WASP prof, btw :-) After that, I dashed off to the FedEx
again, and on to Pasadena.

Needless to say, Adam's help didn't move the column along one iota further.
But I did get to excoriate him all night long over the bad press I was
taking on FoRK as a weight-obsessed sexist maniac.


In turn, I woke up an hour late, and found a $27 parking ticket on my
Bonneville. There's a ritzy private school across the street, and to offer
unimpeded access for the yuppielock in the mornings and afternoons, it's a
no-parking zone (the consolation prize is that they lobbied the tradeoff by
declaring it one of the only public streets in Pasadena allowing overnight

I had to rush off to Computer Law class, so no time to go railing at class
justice. Got there at 9:18 for a 9:30 -- decided that was too early, and
read my email until a properly leisurely 9:43 entrance. Then, to add fuel
to the Ro-legend, I answered mdm8@cornell.edu on the cellphone in the
middle of a debate over cryptography export ("I'm sorry, I just had to
square up that dope deal.").

I went back home to write and pack, and found another $25 parking ticket on
my Bonneville, from UCI. It's not a signal, though. Nosiree.

After an hour struggling with writer's block and pierced midriffs at the
Gypsy Den, I came home and tossed stuff into my rollaboard like a madman. I
barely forgot my acetate backup slides for the XML talk; I entirely forgot
my shaving kit.

I raced over to John Wayne, operating on a comfortable margin of error as
usual. In fact, I should have been a wee bit more suspicious of the day:
the 5:30pm flight was on indefinite flow control hold from SFO; 8PM was the

Hurry up and wait.

At least I got to wait with Dr. Taylor, who has a current RCC membership.
Of course, walking through my slides, his only suggestions were that they
might not be, um, technical enough. Evaporated, the visions of finishing
the damn column! Time to go fix the slideset; the first task was asking
Adam to generate a snapshot of the XML standards process when he called.

He was the seventh person to call, though. During my three hours at the
airport, over a McTasty with fries (I only eat McDonald's on the road, now
-- an improvement, of sorts), I took no less than seven long calls: five
women, all of whom I had to defer with wishes to get in touch when I was
back in town in one place. One even volunteered a stash of antihistamines!

{Hope Roy doesn't read this, or he's really going to bludgeon me about the
VOID... :-}

When the battery died, I wandered back to Coach to talk to Dick. I remarked
I was on an involuntary hiatus from writing my column. "That's nice:
perhaps you'll have some time to think rather than write," he joked. Or at
least I hope...

Suffice it to say, we eventually got to the Hyatt Rickey's in Palo Alto --
though first, Hertz had the audacity to assume UC's contract didn't allow
drivers under 25 and protested when I signed on Dick's rental. Along the
way, we swapped tales about hard-living first jobs with the IRUS
administrator, and I could only sheepishly reply to stints in bakeries and
7,200 handmade cookies a day by noting that all of my paychecks have been
from Harvard, Caltech, MIT, UC, and consulting revenue, dating back to when
I was 15.

At the Hyatt -- which is *not* the Hyatt Cabana, once across the street and
site of the marathon paper-writing session at the birth of TCP twenty-five
years ago this week! -- I discovered the horrifying fact my XML PowerPoint
slides were unreadably corrupted!

Furthermore, my parents' IP account with AT&T I'd been using to roam with
was canceled and all I had was terminal access through alumni.caltech.edu.
I grabbed the file over the Web, uuencoded it, and crossed my fingers.
Fifteen minutes later, I had the ciphertext in my hot little hands, and all
I needed was a reliable uudecode. It was 668k, not a transmission error in

But no, I'm on Win95. There's no UUdecode utility, you silly wabbit! I
tried prying apart the MS Newsreader and Outlook Express, all to no avail.
An hour of fiddling, and I was able to hack one of the binary news archives
to insert the XML-BSL.ppt DNA, and it decoded, but with some subtle bit
error that blew PowerPoint away.

So it's midnight, I have an unwritten column, no online slides, no
handouts, and a dead cellphone I can only charge by driving to Kinko's with
the cigarette lighter -- yet have no reason to without bits to duplicate.
So I quit, depressed.. I figure I can present with materials on no sleep,
but without materials, I need my sleep most of all.


Around 4:30 AM, I was back awake. I soldiered on, valiantly fighting for
more sleep until about 6:30. I tried turning on the cellphone to check
voicemail on the battery's last legs, and I heard seven messages from Adam
trying to reach me all night long, the last at 6:24. But now, no luck
raising him. Of course, he didn't try calling the Hyatt directly, assuming
the Cell Gods were smiling too broadly...

I whipped up a quick four slides specific to the morning's audience, and
d/l'd Adam's hotlist of XML standards news. Off to Kinko's to reproduce the
whole shebang; I was pleasantly surprised that printing from the laptop
just worked -- I'm waay too suspicious of Win95 to trust something as
simple as piping bytes to the parallel port!

Dodging around an injury accident on El Camino Real, I made it back to the
conference room well in time. Dick walked in a little later and remarked,
"I get the vague impression you're not totally prepared for this." "Oh no,
precisely as prepared as usual!"

He's always there to circle the wagons: I am proud of how firmly he stands
by his students. He introduced me as "perhaps the most energetic and
prolific graduate student I've had, but certainly the most energetic and
prolific first-year. He's got a capable ego which doesn't need any more
stroking, though, so please feel free to cut in with questions anytime."

The talk went OK enough; about 40 people were there, including Adobe's T.V.
Raman and Bruce Hunt from Monday's Future of HTML workshop -- a small
world, again. The evolution theme to all these works got a good response; I
pointed out there's an entire Evolution suite slowly coming together on my
shelf (XML, HTML, HTTP, W3C, ...) Adobe extended the same lunch-encore
offer they made to Jim after his BART last month.

After the talk, I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers the second half
would show up in time. Marty Tenenbaum indeed was a kanban (just-in-time)
speaker, and gave a complementary spiel about the philosophy of XML applied
to e-commerce at his new startup, veo systems, inc.

For the afternoon, I bummed a series of rides off folks: Joe Barrera took
me from the Hyatt to Printer's Inc, where we met Mike Masnick, who took me
to Apple, where we met Ernie, who took me to my uncle's in Fremont, where
my cousin took me to the airport the next morning. At dinner there, I had
the sublime pleasure of playing with my two young nieces (in contrast the
mild pinprick of satisfaction at discovering a long-lost World Cup'94 razor
in the shower).

As for a wild Friday night, I kept plugging away at that !#@$ column...


The flight back was (luckily) uneventful. Once, I was planning to spend the
weekend up in the Bay, but one of the bits of mail waiting for me in the
massive piles of junk accumulating while I've been traveling was an
invitation to the annual year-end Lloyd House beach party. Sun, sand,
Techers, and fire. What more perfect combination than this?

First, though, I went directly to the Gypsy Den and wrote there until I
killed the Telnetty beast. I only got to Huntington Beach around 5, and had
to leave at 7:45 to catch yet another flight. I was still negotiating with
United over whether to leave out of SNA or LAX, so there was this Kodak
moment chatting with 1K on the cellphone from the median strip of Pacific
Coast Highway. Unfortunately, I stopped 1) to go home and take a shower and
2) at a florist's to pick up a huge bouquet of flowers (I figured I could
afford at least as much as the parking tickets will cost me) which meant
that after parking in the Long-Term Lot, I was five minutes too late to
check my bags to Dulles (Ah, for a valet... or an equerry). So I was bumped
to Chicago, left in Coach, and had an hour to kill.

Of course, time at LAX *can* be well killed now, at Encounters. The UFO
theme always does a lot for me, and you can always count on a bit of
attention when a single man walks into a lounge with three feet of flowers.
Unsurprisingly, I seemed to be the only person there with an actual
boarding pass: it's that much of a local hot spot, even in the middle of an

The industry crowd was certainly out in full force. There was a surf-lounge
act on a makeshift stage in the corner (the lead keyboard had this wicked
custom-made Pan Am flight jacket!). I would have had to scrape Adam off the
ceiling for a pair {5'11 blonde, 5'5 brunette) in black velvet A-line
dresses and over-the-elbow black velvet gloves (and body glitter, but
that's my fetish, not his). Me, well, I just wandered back and forth
nursing my Martini an playing amateur anthropologist (doesn't that sound so
much nicer than voyeur? :-)

As for Encounters, I had one of my own back at the gate: out of the blue, I
ran into John Baker, my old Lloyd roommate. He was in town from U Penn with
his wife for his brother's USC film school graduation. About as amazing a
coincidence as being recognized for my middle-school geek antics by a
former classmate at Beltane...


I finally arrived in Baltimore at 9AM, lugging my bouquet out the jetway to
greet... my dad. Mom decided to sleep in. I might as well have bought them
at BWI, then: it was quite a struggle stashing away 10 lbs of flowers and

When I did get home, she was duly impressed. The next comment was outrage
at the likely cost, that I'd gained back some weight, and how much money
did I waste on those glasses? and that she wanted a word with me about the
Australia post.

For my part, I enjoyed lunch and took a nap. Later, I went off in search of
the New York Times, and came back with Monkey Brain Sushi, a book of
contemporary postmodern Japanese short stories. Together, we all went off
to see an Indian movie at a theater in Laurel.


After lunch together at a restaurant we're considering to host their 25th
wedding anniversary this November, I went home to take care of the real
gift she'd wanted: upgrading the home PC to Win95 and configuring IP access

In between, I stopped by Centennial High School, as is my wont. I met
several of my old teachers, one of whom is now the principal. Several of
them introduced me to "the next Rohit" of their classes; brand-new student
teachers went "oh, so you're the one", and the editor-in-chief of the
student paper told me he'd been warned, too. One of them was even paged to
the front office to meet me: an Indian kid with a penchant for
neurosciences who's enrolling at Caltech. I hope to see more from him; I'm
already planning on corrupting him :-)

In other news, I stashed away Adam and Michelle's wedding gift and the pile
of Basmati rice bags for Annie, if I ever run into her again. {I'm actually
writing this bit at Toi's; it's early Tuesday morning right now}. Now that
I didn't have flowers to coddle, United was also willing to upgrade my
award ticket, too. At least the connection in Denver set some sort of
record: barely ten minutes, *and* my bags made it.


Let's walk back the cat on this month: It began with
XML'98: SNA-SEA, 2 flight segments;
then WWW7, LAX-SYD-BNE, 4 segments;
COOTS'98 (Santa Fe), SNA-DEN-ABQ;
HTML-Future (Burlingame) and XML-IRUS (Palo Alto), 4 segments;
and this Mother's Day trip LAX-ORD-BWI-DEN-LAX, 4 segments
Nine cities. Fourteen flights. Heck, I've got six days of airport parking
bills for just this week!

This isn't crowing. It's a sad inventory of what it takes to actually
stretch me too thin.

Smeared out across spacetime,

Colophon: this post was written at LAX, inflight to ORD, at ORD, inflight
BWI-DEN, at DEN, and inflight DEN-LAX (and Toi's). I need a longer

PS. Tonight's fortune: "The strengths in your character will bring you

PPS. This year's fortune (the best!), from Beltane: "Do foolish things,
with enthusiasm!"

P3S. ObTrivia from Business Traveler International: In 2020 years, travel
will be $2T, but travelers will only represent 7% of humans. (WTO).
Prostitution has been legalized and regulated in Sydney, King's Cross (as
opposed to Brisbane's Queen Street Mall?:-)