Febuary 14, 2005, 10:30 am
From the Clerk-Register. Two more weekly letters to the
Monday, February 7 (fifth letter):
Fifteen years ago last month, on January 15, 1990 — a
date etched in computer history — most of the AT&T long-distance
telephone network suddenly stopped working. The crash lasted nine hours
and inconvenienced millions of people. It cost the company at least $60
million in lost revenue, and did incalculable damage to its touted
reputation for reliability.
At first, corporate and law enforcement officials were convinced that
computer "hackers" had maliciously crashed the system. But what
really happened was even more scary.
A small error, perhaps a typo, deep inside a computer program, led to
a cascading failure which took out 114 switching centers nationwide.
And this was just the first in a series of similar catastrophes to
befall the phone system.
The software that controls each telephone switching center consists
of some ten million lines of program code. Even the systems we use
in this office every day are very big. When new programs are
written, or old ones modified, extensive testing takes place to make
sure it works right — and it is absolutely essential that this be
done. But it isn't possible, much less feasible, to test every
combination of events, to ferret out every single bug in millions of
lines of code. Software, at the level of complexity needed for many
common tasks, simply cannot be perfect.
As a system is used by more people and exposed to more different
situations — more complicated transactions, or even different speeds
of mouse clicks — new bugs may show up. And attempts to modify the
system to fix old bugs often create new ones.
Our Deeds office is running on new software, which is to say, a
system with many bugs and problems still not fully worked out. Last
Tuesday morning, after a software upgrade provided by our vendor, the
system stopped working properly. Customers brought deeds and
mortgages to our counter, but we couldn't process them or issue
machine receipts. For two full days, unprocessed documents stacked
The staff responded to this crisis with characteristic energy and
resourcefulness. Time that would have been spent processing and
receipting new deeds was devoted to reducing other backlogs. Sonia
Castleman and Karen Evanski stepped up to the complicated job of
testing new versions of software provided by the vendor. Once we got
the right software identified, configured, and installed, the whole
staff pitched in and got rid of the incoming backlog in a little over
I'm grateful to Jim Dries and Susan Bracken, to Karen Evanski and
Sonia Castleman, to all the Deeds staff, for their great work in
handling what could have been a very disruptive problem, both for us
and for our citizens. If you happen to visit the Deeds office this
week, be sure to say thank you.
Have a great week!
[employee names retained in public version with their permission]
Monday, February 14 (sixth letter):
Happy Valentine's Day!
Last night, I helped my daughter prepare valentines for all of her
This is only her second classroom Valentine's Day — before
kindergarten, she went to a Jewish preschool where Valentine's Day
and Halloween are shunned as "Christian" holidays — but she didn't
need to be reminded that she had to make one for everybody. Even the
kids she doesn't get along with.
She had chosen Scooby-Do valentines, with messages along the lines of
"I like you even more than a Scooby Snack!"
I insisted that she had to write all the names of the recipients
herself, so she assigned me the job of writing "Sarah K" in the
"From:" panel on each one. I tried to imitate her writing, but my
adult habits showed through: "Don't put a period after the K," she
I wouldn't have objected if she had personalized them, but she
didn't. Rather, she went systematically through the list of first
names provided by the teacher. Some of the valentines from the
package were larger than the others; she used those for kids with
No doubt this scene was repeated in the home of every one of her
classmates, indeed, in millions of homes around the country. Some
time today, every child in every participating classroom will receive
a pile of mass-produced and dutifully addressed valentines.
Obviously this is better than to have the popular kids getting many
handmade love notes, while others get nothing. But why do it at all?
What Sarah is learning is that you need to appreciate, and
acknowledge, all of the people you work with. Just because that
kid in the back of the classroom doesn't talk to you doesn't mean he
isn't there. Your ongoing feud with the red-headed girl doesn't
relieve you of the obligation of making her a valentine. Once a year
isn't often enough to pay attention to each one of the people you
spend your day with, but it's a start.
Beyond elementary school, we tend to see Valentine's Day as a
celebration of romantic love, which indeed was the original point:
"Be My Valentine" used to mean "Marry me!"
But childhood experiences leave a big impression. Addressing
valentines in grade school may have been like taking a census — but
it's a census we need to take every now and then. Most days, we
spend half our waking hours in the workplace, and our relationship
with co-workers affects the quality of our own lives.
We don't send valentines any more, but we should not forget to show
our regard and respect for each of the people we work with.
Let's have a great week!
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
Febuary 12, 2005, 10:12 pm
Catching up. Several notable things which I had meant to write
about at the time:
On January 22, I participated in a panel about blogging at
(Ann Arbor's science fiction convention, despite the fact that it has been
held for years many miles from here).
The session, "Blogging: News, Opinions, People, Life", was described as
Blogging as a replacement for actually seeing people.
Blogging to tell people your opinions and ideas. Blogging to get the news.
Blogging is here, but what does it accomplish?
The official panelists included John Scalzi, Kathryn
Cramer, and myself. Patrick Nielsen
Hayden was invited up from the audience to replace the then-ill
An interesting discussion ensued. Pseudonymous blogging, argumentative
or hateful responses from readers, the relationship between blogging and
professional writing, political blogging, and other topics came
In the course of writing this, I was very startled to discover that
a page of the
ConFusion web site lists me among the "Big-Name Fans" expected to
participate in the convention.
- On February 5, I attended a concert titled "Festival of
Psalms", featuring the choirs of Temple Beth Emeth and St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal
If you clicked through on those links, you'd notice that both web sites
feature a drawing of the same building, and that both congregations are at
2309 Packard Road in Ann Arbor. The property is shared between the two,
through a joint corporation called Genesis, and an intricately worked out
arrangement of who gets to use what when. The specially designed
sanctuary can be easily converted between church and synagogue use.
The time-sharing agreement is so well put together that most TBE
members rarely see Episcopalians on the premises. It's very easy to think
of the place as just being our synagogue, and forget about its parallel
life as a church.
The few joint events, including the annual Erev Thanksgiving service,
naturally tend to focus on what we have in common, which is to say, the
Jewish scriptures. In this case, the Psalms.
Ths concert featured a wide variety of settings and interpretations of
various particular Psalms, most done by one choir or the other, with just
a few numbers done by the choirs together. Janice was a soloist on a
setting of the 23rd Psalm.
- On February 6th, I attended the last contra
dance at Lovett Hall.
dancing is a New England tradition; though it nearly died out in
the first half of the 20th century, it has been repopularized since then.
Most large cities and college towns across the country have regular
dances. Contra dancing resembles square dancing in form, but the social
environment is much more informal, and the music is always live.
Lovett Hall, adjoining the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in
Dearborn, Michigan, was built by Henry Ford in 1937 as a venue for contra
dancing, and named for his dancing master Benjamin Lovett. It has a
large, elegant ballroom with chandeliers and a teak dance floor supported
by carriage springs.
The dances at Lovett Hall, held on eight Sunday afternoons per year,
with calling by Glen Morningstar and music by The Old Michigan Ruffwater
Stringband have been a staple of the contra dance community in the
Recently, the Henry Ford Museum announced an abrupt and unexpected end
to the series. Apparently this is part of a larger refocus of the museum
toward money making activities, such as renting out Lovett Hall for
It seems ludicrous that a lovely hall built specifically for contra
dancing, and owned by an institution with a mission of promoting American
history, would no longer be used for the purpose. The decision plainly
flies in the face of what Henry Ford intended.
And yet, and yet — I don't want to get too close to Henry
Ford's original intent. Yes, we owe him a lot for helping revive
traditional dance. But his motivation for that is hard to separate that
from his virulent
anti-Semitism and racism, and specifically, his hatred of "Jewish
Since those days, Ford's grandson, Henry Ford II (also known as "Hank
the Deuce") made outreach to the Jewish community an urgent priority.
And Jews in Michigan, who used to shun Ford products, have long forgiven
Ford Motor Company for the sins of its founder. Many Jews even work for
the company now; a former president of our synagogue was a Ford exec.
As a Jewish contradancer — one of a great many! — I suppose
I'm qualified to celebrate Henry Ford's personal contribution to the world
of traditional dance while putting aside his open hatred for my kind.
And, indeed, I have been doing this without hesitation for 25 years
But when my six-year-old daughter asked me about the painting, in the
Lovett Hall stairwell, of Henry and Clara Ford (a well-wisher had placed a
rose at their feet), I had to sit down with her and explain that the story
....Posted by Lawrence Kestenbaum —
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