Jøhnny Fävòrítê (johnnyfavorite) wrote,
Jøhnny Fävòrítê

brownian motion

I'm pretty sure that's what you call it when you put a big glob of liquid creamer in your coffee, which is brimming with energy since it's hot, and the creamer slithers around in there in an almost life-like fashion.

It sort of creeps me out that, at some point in the history of our planet, a bunch of organic chemicals made the transition to being alive, having previously been not-alive. I'm sure biologists wouldn't agree on when that moment was exactly, even if they had access to perfect specimens of the proto-living things in question. But it happened nonetheless.

I have been thinking about what political_punk said about mentors. Specifically, an incident from my telecom days. There was a sudden, serious illness in the upper ranks of my company, which caused a person who I didn't like very much to gain a lot more power than she'd had previously. She wanted me to make a change to my flagship telecom program that I considered immoral.

If you've ever worked in telecom, then you will know that moral quandaries come with the territory. Here's just one example: calls are billed in increments. Typically, it doesn't matter how long your call is, it will be billed as if it were at least as long as the "initial increment." It might be as short as ten seconds, according to big reputable long distance companies and Baby Bells. For fly-by-night debit card operations, the intial increment might be as long as two minutes. Time past that first block is also billed in chunks, called "additional increments." Again, the big reputable companies might peg it as small as six seconds, cheap debit cards might have it as high as 30 seconds. So, why is that? There's no technical reason. It's so the phone companies can bill you for more time than you actually use. A few seconds here and there isn't much for you, but multiplied by millions of calls, it is a lot for them.

So this newly-in-power person wanted me to make a change to my call processing programs much like that. I considered it cheating, plain and simple. We'd be advertising one rate, and giving the customers a vastly different rate. It's partly their own fault, I know. People tend to buy whatever service advertises the lowest rates, and never mind the fine print. I just don't want to be a part of it, and I wasn't at all sure how much is too much. For all I knew, I could wind up a defendant in a class-action lawsuit.

We'd had this consultant in the office a few times recently. An older guy, and I liked him. Pretty rare thing to happen to me, in my telecom days. I called him at home, fairly late on a weeknight, to ask him what he thought about it. I thought he handled the situation perfectly. He didn't try to make up my mind for me one way or the other. He said that, based on his 20 years in the biz, it sounded like what they wanted me to do was pretty much standard practice.

As it happened, I was spared having to make the decision. The newly-in-power woman was overstepping her bounds all over the place and soon got spanked. I never heard anything about changing my programs ever again.

I was e-mailing with the consultant a few days later, about the billing issue and other matters. Once again, he gave me what I thought was a picture-perfect answer on another subject. So I wrote back: "Will you be my dad?"

He wasn't heartless enough to say it in so many words, but his answer was, in effect, "no." He's already got five kids of his own. Well, geez. I was in my thirties at that point. It's not like I was going to ask him for money, or would need him to explain the birds and the bees. It would have been an entirely ceremonial position.

My own dad was functionally illiterate in almost every respect. He was good at making a first impression, and that was about it. He liked shooting live things, even when he had no intention of doing anything with the corpses. His dad left him a lot of money and thousands of acres of farmland, and he gradually lost it all, in an increasingly comical series of divorces.

The last few years of his life were the worst. He owed so much money to so many people that he could not set foot in his home state of Kentucky without being arrested. He sponged off of my older sister in North Carolina, living in a tiny cabin on the same lot where her house was. Occasionally he'd get drunk and beat the crap out of her oldest son, a fact the two of them managed to keep secret until years later.

Yep, my mom sure does know how to pick 'em.

In 1992 Dad had a stroke that rendered him immobile. I went to visit him in the hospital. Machines were doing his breathing for him. I met my older brother there, who I hadn't seen in years. Nobody knew for sure if Dad knew what was going on around him or not. Looking into his eyes, I tend to think that he did.

My dad, my older brother, and I, in the same room for the first time in likely a decade. It was really shocking how much the three of us looked alike. I was finally old enough to have the same thinning, graying hair I'd come to associate with the two of them. All of us with that left eyebrow that will grow to a point, if you let it. I was the only one of the three of us that had shaved mine off.

A couple of weeks later, Dad died. I didn't bother to go to the funeral. About a year later I was visiting my older sister, and she let me have a look inside the little cabin where Dad had spent the last years of his life. She said I could take anything I wanted. He had a bunch of Hemingway paperbacks in there. I had no idea Dad had ever done any recreational reading, he'd certainly never told me about it. I took a tattered copy of "The Old Man and The Sea."

Here I'll segue back into the story of that telecom employer. The company founder got cancer, and that was pretty much the end of that. He'd just been playing at it anyway, it was a pleasant way to fritter away a few million of his grandfather's money. The grandfather was a billionaire many times over, so it was no skin off his nose. As the founder exited the picture, the place went from weak management to no management at all. Various fiefdoms arose and spent all their time fighting. So I finally quit.

The company founder was many years younger than me. A 25-year-old kid who had the misfortune of being born without a strong personality into a family that had the financial wherewithal to keep him bound up in their apron strings forever. He wasn't quite strong enough to tell them to take their Lear jets and mansions and stock portfolios and shove them up their butts and go make a life for himself. I tried to get through to him but he was having none of it.

His family sent him all over the world for various novel treatments that are not yet approved for use in the states by the FDA, but none of them helped very much. After a couple of years, the cancer killed him. I'm sure his family threw more money at his illness than I'll make in my entire lifetime, but it wasn't enough. Personally, I think he was so unhappy that he did himself in.

I don't think there will ever be a cure for cancer. I don't think there is even a point in trying. You're attempting to solve the wrong problem.
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