Monthly Archives: September 2006

History of programming language

O’Reilly’s History of Programming Languages poster is really great. (Thanks to Coding Horror.) But where’s MATLAB? We’re at least as big as NetRexx or ActionScript or Self or Objective Caml or Haskell or SML or . . . At least.

Maybe if we had an O’Reilly book . . . perhaps with a furry animal on the cover. Maybe a king prawn. Maybe.

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Joel on Software, RIP

I’ll be the first to admit that my occasional dispatches probably touch on too many topics — photography, global development, the future of my software engineering career, and deconstructing American life. I will probably never have the kind of loayal readership that sites dedicated to one topic have: sites like Museum Blogging, Conscientious, Steve on Image Processing, and Chapati Mystery. I have no defense for this bloggy (and mental) untidiness, but I appreciate those of you who visit my website regularly. And for those of you who find a page out here in the long tail via search, Welcome!

So I have little basis as an author to criticize others. But as a reader, there I have standing.

Joel Spolsky, I am very disappointed with the turns your Joel on Software journal has taken. We used to be able to count on you for great articles on the sociology of software. We trusted you and liked you, which is more than I can say about other respectable authors. You were hip and relevant and incisive. But now I agree that you’ve jumped the shark. I was holding out hope, but Tuesday’s article about your new mobile phone, well that was the last straw. Literally. It was bad enough once you started praising all of the great things your FugCreek software company was doing, and how you got a Google (TM) search box, and that you’re giving away educations to needy young guns, but I mean it, this is too much (too little?). I’m through.

I’m taking my ball and glove over to Coding Horror.

How about you, dear readers? Have you been let down by a long-time favorite blog? What was your rebound site?

Posted in Computing, Software Engineering | 2 Comments

Commonwealth Images

New images from the Commonwealth series.

Hancock, Mass. (2006)

Springfield, Mass. (2006)

Tyringham, Mass. (2006)

Worcester, Mass. (2006)

Hopkinton, Mass. (2006)

Hopkinton, Mass. (2006)

Sherborn, Mass. (2006)

Posted in Commonwealth Project, Photography | 1 Comment

Steve Smith’s Suburban Desert

More great images from Steven Smith: Suburban Desert.

Posted in OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

First Class

I had my first class tonight, Software Testing Techniques. You know that dream where you have something embarassing happen on the first day of class — perhaps you show up and suddenly realize you’re naked. Oops! Well nothing quite that bad, but about five minutes before my class was to start I realized I was the only one there with a Programming Perl book. I had five minutes to find a course schedule and/or a computer to check my schedule. Thank god for the Heller school’s computer lab. Unlike bad dreams, I arrived on-time (and clothed but without the right book) to my quality assurance class.

It’s bending my mind, which is probably a good thing. I’m not the best at writing tests and even worse at figuring out what to test. Regression test or blackbox test — what’s the difference? But there are a lot of assumptions I like that this class seems bent on challenging.

See, I believe software can be free of bugs, whatever the size of the project. Good design and requirements, copious unit testing to ensure that individaul functions do the right thing, lots of automated blackbox / regression / negative testing, and complete code coverage (even if it means being biased by looking at the code) — along with high quality development processes — should find bugs before they ship. This requires enormous discipline and a lot of professionalism, exactly what I’m hoping to cultivate.

Our customers require bug-free software. When defects in your product can kill someone or cost billions of dollars or slow the pace of technological progress, bugs can mean legal liability. People are going to look back in ten or fifteen or twenty years and see our current software licenses which disclaim all risks and say that the product isn’t even guaranteed to do what it was advertised to do, and they’re going to wonder how we ever got away with it. But we’re in a sad place when customers expect low quality from software manufacturers, especially when the processes are there to do it right.

So, I’m going to hold on to that point of view while I learn the right way to approach test planning and construction.

One other thing, this course seems very biased toward interactive testing. “Testing feature X will require 120 person-days. . . . ” I wonder if that’s true. Automated testing is the only way to run thousands of tests. It’s scary what can be automated

And as long as I’m divulging biases, I should say that sometimes I have trouble trusting my instructors, especially when looking at overhead slides (overheads!) from 2002 that are contrary to a lot of what I’ve been reading in new books from industry experts. Graduate school is all about learning how to be better in our chosen profession. Whee! It’s an adventure.

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Extraordinary rendition

Though I never worked with him directly, we were all watching what happened to our former coworker Maher Arar, who was illegally deported to Syria (which tortured him) and was yesterday cleared of all allegations. Justice Dennis O’Connor: “I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”

Mr. Arar’s lawsuit against the U.S. was dismissed on national security grounds — it would have required the courts to, you know, judge the legality of extraordinary rendition and force the executive branch to admit that we farm out torture — but his testimony and the Canadian inquiry indicate willing complicity by many governments.

So in this post-9/11 world, several people around me have been negatively affected by US domestic policy while just minding their own business. A friend’s sister in Wyoming was assaulted for wearing a hijab; a coworker was deported for torture; my Pakistani coworkers felt especially singled out by the FBI in 2001; and I (least of all) was detained for photographing. I know the world isn’t exactly a small place, so I have to assume that there are lots of other people who have had similar stories. (Yet we seem to let this maltreatment of “other people” go on without comment.)

Do you have any similar stories to share?

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The Franchise

I think I was the last person in the Commonwealth to vote today.

“You just made it.” It was 7:59 on the clock on the wall of the Portuguese American Club. The midterm primary ended at 8:00.

Why is it that every poll worker is grumpy? Is it because they’re old and it’s past their bedtime? Because they think they’re more politically involved than the rest of us? Because they have to deal with the ~20% of the citizenry who head out in the rain . . . in the dark . . . on a Tuesday to exercise their democratic rights? Because they remember when every person their age voted in every election and knew all the details about every candidate, and now the young people show up in “Where the hell is Grinnell?” T-shirts? Even in friendly Iowa and Wyoming they couldn’t be bothered.

I wasn’t having it. “It took me forever to find this place!” I went online to find my voting place (having lost the card the town sent a year ago when they moved it from a block away to about 2 miles away), got the address (119 Prospect Street), and left the house at 7:20. The Portuguese American Club — a local drinking establishment not well known to those of us not of the Portuguese persuassion — is not on Prospect Street. At 7:50 someone in a nearby laundromat gave me directions that involved an invisible Chinese restaurant and “low income housing.” I drove by the entrance once before taking another swing at it. The second time around, on a whim, I turned right at a dark, unmarked entrance where I eventually saw a thick mob of people holding campaign signs, a couple police officers, a few candidates, and tons of cars — the club was having a party. The party-goers were blocking my access to the unmarked voting place. I parked in the back by the kegs.

I gave my street address, took my ballot, walked to a booth, filled in the optical scan ballot for the two races I cared most about (governor and first mate), picked the candidates that were from my town or were female or sounded nice for the rest of the offices (clerk of courts? really?), and headed over to the check out table.

“Hurry up. C’mon! C’mon! C’mon!” I put my ballot in the counting machine at almost the same moment the VFW-ish guy hit the power switch. “I want that ballot count . . . soon!”

WTF, Milford!? It hardly seemed worth it. My candidates had better damned well win.

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Jeff Brouws: Approaching Nowhere

Jeff Brouws has a new book and a show at the Robert Mann Gallery in New York.

“In Approaching Nowhere, Jeff Brouws surveys the evolving cultural landscapes of rural, urban and suburban America, from secondary highways to strip malls to decimated industrial sites and inner city housing. Combining bleak beauty with anthropological inquiry, he seeks the significance behind the cycle of construction, decline and renewal. Brouws’ photographs go beyond mere description and gather layered meaning, often functioning as antipodal metaphors or asking sociological questions. When captured by his lens, deserted streets and freeways evoke the restlessness of an uncertain nation, and communicate a low-lying foreboding. On another level, these same images remind us that roads are part of a vital infrastructure, central to a consumer society’s dependency on the conveyance of goods and services, as well as being essential components of economic development and national security.”

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Enough for now

So there it is. From the “normal” post-Clinton days to the depths of national tragedy to the clearest signs of our nation’s emerging post-9/11 faultlines all in the span of just four weeks. I didn’t leave much out — just a few redundant bits. I started writing a lot more (and more regularly) afterward but about a more diverse and quotidian set of details. (You can read all of the journal entries in one place.)

Yesterday, five years afterward, I couldn’t help but feel extremely let down by my so-called leaders who have failed to find Osama bin Laden, failed to eliminate the Taliban or stabilize Afghanistan, divided Americans more than any other time since Vietnam via a new war, and squandered all of the goodwill that we garnered through our losses. Unfortunately, most of my fears about retrenchments on civil liberties have come to pass. Fortunately, al-Qaeda and others haven’t attacked us since — leading John Muellers to wonder about the myth of the omnipresent enemy. Which is not to say that our government was able to keep us safe from snipers, anthrax attacks, or floods.

Now I look forward to a time when the government doesn’t use our very personal experiences with the Sept. 11 attacks as a cudgel to get its political jollies.

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Journal Entry: October 5, 2001

Life is starting to get back to “normal,” although there is still a lot of tension and unease. I have been sleeping better, but my dreams are still unsettled. The weather has been beautiful and the leaves are turning, so it is possible to forget about all of this at least for a little while. Last Sunday, when Lisa and I were hiking Little Monadnock in New Hampshire, it was wonderful — it was only afterward that I realized I hadn’t been thinking about the terror.

We still talk about it a lot at work. Mostly we wonder about what the immediate future will bring, how we will respond militarily, whether our foreign policy will change for the better. [On the political discussion forum] everyone rallies around the flag but disagrees over typical issues: whether we should understand the terrorists, whether we should hit back in a local or broadbased strike, whether we were partially to blame, whether retaliation causes us to cede the moral high ground. In short, the right and left argue about whether US cultural imperialism or a culture of cruelty caused the provocative actions which we now find ourselves trying to answer. The peace folks say we should turn the other cheek; the vengeful don’t seem to care about innocents abroad. . . .

Today after work we noticed a large to-do at the funeral home just across the street from our apartment. The crowd numbered more than we had ever seen there, and included mostly Asians, some of whom were dressed in foreign military uniforms. We couldn’t think of who it might be until I remembered reading Nguyen Van Thieu’s obituary in Monday’s Times. It is rather bizarre to think that a deposed despot — he was the last president of South Viet Nam and took power in a coup — lived one town over in Brookline and was eulogized next door to us. It is, upon reflection, a rather interesting link between the present and this nation’s last open-ended war.

Tomorrow we are off to Canada!

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Journal Entry: September 24, 2001

My dreams have been disturbed recently. Vivid Thomas Moran landscapes, troubling cross-country drives, the return of dead relatives, bad men and me unable to stop them. I have been so confused about the events of the last fourteen days. No, confused isn’t the right word. Rather, I’d say concerned, saddened, too. I just can’t comprehend the scope of this tragedy.

I am also struggling over the causes and the proper response. I find it unfathomable that anyone could wish thousands of civilians dead. As Lisa says, this is surely the sign of evil as we recognize it in a secular world: to have lost the moral compass that can lead one to devalue human life to nothing. For some time now I have had great unease using absolute terms like evil, but I really believe that these are completely unjustifiable acts. . . .

As if this weren’t bad enough, [the loss of liberties and a fundamental change in our national optimism], most of this has been directed against a particular type of person. Indians, Sikhs, Arabs . . . all are being regarded equally with suspicion. My good friend Mona, an Indian Muslim, has not been singled out, but her sister and brother in Wyoming have been quite badly abused verbally. Hostility abounds everywhere, though. Mona’s mosque [in Seattle] has been repeatedly vandalized. Her aunt’s mosque in Canada was burned to the ground. . . .

The difficulties faced by Mona’s sister and others in Wyoming was the subject of an October 18, 2001, Times article.

A NATION CHALLENGED: THE MUSLIMS; Tough but Hopeful Weeks For the Muslims of Laramie

Published: October 18, 2001

In the first week after the September attacks, when Saha Waheed had become perhaps the most visible Muslim in the cowboy state of Wyoming, she was walking at dusk when two men rushed up behind her and said that anyone who wore a scarf on her head should die, she said.

A few days later, a truck jumped a lane and nearly ran her down in a crosswalk, Ms. Waheed said. And this week, the post office refused to deliver a box of cookies she wanted to mail to a friend. When she was asked for identification, she said, she produced a Wyoming driver’s license, her university ID and two credit cards, but the post office still wouldn’t take the package.

”The weird thing is, I’m about as Wyoming as you can get,” said Ms. Waheed, the only student at the University of Wyoming to wear the traditional head scarf, a hijaab. ”I moved here when I was 1 1/2 years old.”

Another Muslim woman, Barbara Ghaddar, was forced to flee the Laramie Wal-Mart with her two daughters when someone approached them and shrieked, ”Oh, my God — the terrorists are here,” she said. Mrs. Ghaddar is from Iowa, born and reared in the Midwest.

It has been a rough five weeks for the seven Muslim families who live in Laramie, which sits like a mirage on the wind-raked tabletop of the nation’s least-populated state. Some of the families, who stand out because of their skin color or clothes, said they were afraid to go outside for days on end. . . .

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Journal Entry: September 16, 2001

What a strange and bellicose past few days. There is still more news on television than anything else, but the footage is increasingly introspective, focusing on the fallout in emotional and political terms. This, I fear, is the most that we will be likely to expect over the next several days; the search for survivors continues, but none have been found. It seems unlikely that any will, though I certainly wish this were not the case.

We are all still somewhat nervous that another wave of attacks will come. Suspicions are high, and authorities are taking precautions; closing down piers and airports, cancelling flights, towing vehicles, and being exceptionaly vigilant with other safety measures. Few panicky events, though, are showing up during the day. So, while the “all clear” has not been given, we are being urged to return to our normal lives. Normalcy will not completely return for some time and will be different than before.

The political fallout from the attacks is likely to be substantial. GW’s approval rating is an absurdly high 90%, though he certainly doesn’t deserve it. At times like this, it is not patriotic [we are told] to question the commander-in-chief’s leadership — as Reps. Meehan and Neal have discovered — but I do not believe that he has done an appropriate job. That is to say, I would focus much more on the emotional toll of these acts, ensuring that the full compassion of government is extended toward the victims’ families.

Instead GW has been almost exclusively angry and unifying. Perhaps it is true that he’s a “uniter not a divider,” but he is talking strength, preparation, and fortitude. He’s also adopted a very moralistic tone that threatens to undermine the righteousness of our expected response. Though Congress says otherwise, GW has basically [assumed] open-ended authority “to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism, hunting down, binding it, and holding them accountable.” But justice is an ancillary goal. “It’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable,” says dept. secty of defense Wolfowitz, “but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism.”

To this end the administration has been forcing nations to take sides. For many Middle East nations this must not be nearly so black and white as it is for GW, who yesterday said terrorists “have attacked America because we are freedom’s home and defender. . . . Our responsibility to history is already clear. To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

I had hoped after first thinking about Tuesday’s attacks that the US might be able to see the imperative of global engagement as equals; recognizing that other nations have needs just as we do and that military strength should not enhance or mitigate another state’s position. But it appears that we are not willing to learn from the lessons of the past nor to sieze this opportunity to reshape the world into one that’s not “us versus them.”

Instead GW is taking up the “New World Order” of his father, who advocated that the US police the world according to our notions of “good and evil, right and wrong.” This current position will not ultimately be successful. Besides, who will we fight? Where will we draw lines?

Paul, my former barber, is ready to provide answers. Yesterday (in what I am sure will be my last visit to him) he spewed forth the most racist, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim invective that I have ever heard. I am deeply saddened and angered by this bigotry, but I fear that it is fairly widespread in the nation. It seems that all Arabs are suspects, and many favor profiling/”identifying” them for special investigation.

I am accutely worried — perhaps to paranoia — that our civil liberties are in for some rough times. . . . Personally, I don’t think that increased restrictions on what can be carried aloft are real restrictions of liberties. But proposed new rules on domestic surveillance, wire-tapping, and the like are quite toublesome. The ease of INS detentions of suspects is troublesome, too. James Woolsey says “there has been a sea change” on privacy and protection; I agree and predict it will be rougher for us all.

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Journal Entry: September 13, 2001

The situation is becoming somewhat clearer. The hijackers are now all known, and the investigation is progressing apace. At the same time, there is no sense of certainty in the general public. Who is responsible? Why was it done? How many perished? When will we know, if ever? What will the response be?

The population is outraged. Although polls suggest that 90% of the population approve of retaliation, there is very, very little outward expression of hostility. The President and his cohort are very hawkish. He appears poised for action, but the parameters are unclear. GW and Rumsfield appear to be planning for long-term, expansive action to wipe out terrorism. It sounds like we will be taking action against a nation.

I believe that I am among the 90% who want some action. I don’t know what should happen, but I don’t want ineffectual, remote-controlled retaliation. Of course, we should proceed correctly, legally, morally, and righteously. We should find out who is responsible and try to bring them to legal justice. But if they will not be given over, we — the US, NATO, and UN — should go in to take them by force.

I do not share the President’s belief, thogh, that we can “wipe out” terrorism from the world. Terrorists . . . are soldiers in an ideological war. As long as they have supporters with a like mind, they are not simply criminals. Wiping out terrorism is effectively a war of conquest. Such imperialism is, of course, how we partially got ourselves involved in this mess.

Time will tell whether the doves will appear. For now the Congress is incredibly nonpartisan. Patriotism is almost universal: Support for our troops is high, young people are signing up for military service, and love of country is ubiquitous. The first divisions will probably reappear later, but now the nation seems unified.

The President is in a tough spot, though. He hasn’t yet visited New York. To my mind his appearance has been less sympathetic to the human loss and more focused on vengeance.

We talked for a bit at work about the implications of these events, but I am tired now so I will wait for tomorrow. On that note Gephardt just said [on Charlie Rose, probably] “we must find a new balance between freedom and safety.” If I were in Wyoming, I might be paranoid. . . .

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Journal Entry: September 12, 2001

Yesterday was shock and amazement. Today these feelings have been clarified and largely replaced with a mounting sadness. The staggering human toll is still unknown, but indications are starting to come out that indicate that it is in the tens of thousands who are feared dead. We have also begun to see the terrifying pictures and hear the awful stories of the carnage in Manhattan and the District.

Lisa was finally able to contact David S., our good friend who lives in Brooklyn and works at the American Stock Exchange. We aren’t certain where he works in the financial district, but upon hearing about the crash he went to get his father from the exchange. They were just leaving when the second tower collapsed, overwhelming them. They are both now in good health, but they spend the night in a New Jersey hospital. They both saw very troubling images and witnessed great horror, and Dave sounds like he is not coping well.

Jenn P. is now back in her Crystal City apartment after being evacuated to Maryland. When we visited her in late June, she told us how her building had been built to a particular standard in case the Pentagon, eight blocks away, was attacked. We never imagined that it would be necessary. She writes:

It’s “government as usual” here, and the [law] firm follows the gov’t's cues. People on the Metro were like drones — not talking, not reading the newspaper, just attempts to stay stable and not freak out as we crossed the Potomac and looked back at the Pentagon still burning. Police, FBI, ATF, etc. are everywhere, and for the first time ever, that makes me feel comfortable.

Needles to say, I’m petrified beyond all belief. Living eight blocks away from the Pentagon and 15 from National Airport is now quite scary. See, helicopters and planes flew over my building all of the time before, but now, everytime I hear these sounds I cringe and say a quick prayer in case it’s my last. I can’t imagine what people in war-torn countries must feel, because they experience this kind of fear every day while I’ve only felt this for 24 hours.

One of Lisa’s coworkers forwarded an e-mail from a friend, who relates his experiences yesterday in the Financial district.

Date: Wed, 12 Sep 200110:02:57
Subject: Fwd: The W.’s are OK

Hi, guys. Below is a note to me from one of my friends in NYC. I knew his office wasn’t in the WTC (but close!), but I was sure he was caught in the aftermath. I thought this real-life account was worth passing on.

I’ve also heard from a friend in DC who is serving as key info source for my group of friends down there. There are still a few people I know unaccounted for in the Pentagon.

A friend of C. [whose brother-in-law died] says she will take care of the B&B for her this weekend, but Maya and I are still going to go over.

I though I would send a blast email to everyone in lieu of answering every message we have gotten. It has been a very overwhelming day — not only the events but also the outpouring of concern from all of you. We are very grateful and comforted by knowing your thoughts are with us.

I was at work at the southern tip of Manhattan when we saw the first plane hit through the windows of our trading floor — we all thought it was an accident. Just as I was returning to my desk to work our whole building shook with the force of the second plane hitting the WTC 2 five blocks away. We were immediately evacuated. Everyone congregated in Battery Park right next to our building and it seemed like the fires were dying down a little. We all waited for about an hour as sporadic reports of more calamities made it on the radio (half later turned out to be wrong). But then I saw the first tower collapse and we were engulfed in a massive cloud of dust and debris. We started walking up the FDR — thousands of people, very orderly and no panic really. For about 30-45 minutes we were walking through what felt like a snowstorm. By the time we got clear of that around the Brooklyn Bridge, we watched the second tower collapse. Everyone was just stunned and kept walking… We hesitated as we approached the UN on the FDR because it seemed such an obvious target as well, but we were all reassured by F-16s patrolling above Manhattan that it probably was OK. Finally 3 hours later I got home to my beautiful family! It’s just eerie to think that the skyline will be forever changed.

I spent all afternoon and this morning tracking down colleagues and clients. We have several large clients who were domiciled in the WTC. The prognosis is not great, but I am heartened by several anecdotal stories of people being able to get out of the second tower from as high up as the 92nd floor…. Thankfully, all of my Goldman colleagues are accounted for.

Now for the aftermath — let’s hope that our political leaders keep their heads and don’t do anything foolish. The anger of the people here in NY and nationwide seems really intense….

Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers. That really helps us deal with this tragedy.

Determining who is responsible is proceeding quite rapidly. It is clear that our intelligence and law enforcement capacity is quite expansive, but I cannot help feeling that they have focused their efforts in a particular direction.

A car was found at Logan [Airport in Boston] containing Arabic flight training manuals. The intelligence community claims to have direct evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement. Twelve suspects — though perhaps they are not directly involved — have been named, and several have been detained. Because of their immigration status, the INS is detaining them without arresting anyone formally yet.

At the Westin Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay today, three people were detained for suspiciousness. [I watched on live TV] the Boston Police Department’s SWAT team enter the building along with the bomb squad. It was very surreal and quite scary to think that the events of yesterday might in some way be continuing indefinitely.

Many are saying, and I can’t help but agree, that yesterday was a watershed day in American history. Many have likened it to Pearl Harbor. To my mind, the Cold War period is decisively over, and America’s nationalist introspection is forcibly drawn outward. How we react — whether we truly engage the world or just attempt to direct it from abroad — is something we won’t know for some time.

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Journal Entry: September 11, 2001

We are all amazed and disbelieving. Early during the workday terrorists hijacked four planes, crashed two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, crashed another into the Pentagon, and apparently were aiming somewhere else with the fourth, which crashed in rural western Pennsylvania. Roughly half an hour after each airplane crash — and they were large passenger planes loaded with fuel for transcontinental flights; — large explosions leveled the towers. Two one-hundred-ten-story buildings, as well as another 47-story building in the area, are no more. Although the news has been focusing very little on this issue, there were reports of car bombs outside the Capitol and State Department.

Though we first learned of these events at just after 9:00, the information rolled in throughout the morning. We were quite confused as to why this is happening, and still no one has claimed responsibility. We were unsure whether this terrorism was an act of war, whether more acts were to follow, and who was responsible. US intelligence officials now say that there are indications that Arab bogeyman Ousama Bin Laden is responsible.

I am not a vengeful person. Indeed, I oppose capital punishment. But today several times I found myself wanting the responsible parties to pay.

I wonder what the next few days will bring.

Looking back on this first entry, I am surprised by how newsy it is. I suspect that raw facts (and rumor, it would seem) were all that I could push through the enormity of the event. What I remember most from 9/11 is the workday, trying to figure out how long I should stay holed up in my office with the big window looking out upon the perfect autumn day before fleeing home to Newton and Lisa.

When I saw my comrade Chris in the company president’s office trying to get news off the Times website, I knew something unusual was happening; no one in my group ever set foot in the bossman’s office despite the fact that it was right in the middle of our work area, two doors away from mine. We were all confused but not yet horrified. Lisa called a few minutes later with news from her mother, who was telling us what she saw on her television in Oregon as she prepared for work. I remember logging into the C-SPAN website and watching the jumpy live feed of the Pentagon burning. When the A/V guy set up a couple of TV’s in the café a couple hours later, I couldn’t bear the prospect of anxiety and confusion.

I ran into Diana in the hallway in the middle of the afternoon. Like so many of us in New England she knows people who live or work in New York. I was anxious thinking of Dave, who worked at the AmEx, and his fiancée Rachel. I wondered if we were still going to be able to see their wedding in Manhattan in November. I worried about Jenn, who lived in an apartment close to the Pentagon. These friends were my closest connection to events 200 and 500 miles away, tragedies common to all of us whether we were there or not.

I remember being horrified at the carnage I was hearing about but hadn’t seen pictures of yet, at the unknown loss of life, at the unthinkable barbarity of the acts themself. But I was still rather numb. The rest of the day in my memory is a blur of incomprehension at the images once I saw them at home and an accute desire to know who was hurt, why this was happening, and whether it would happen again. I remember wondering why I wasn’t really feeling anything, until much later in the evening when I felt that unique, bottomless sorrow that I had last felt when my stepfather died. For me, the thought that thousands of people were experiencing their own versions of that feeling is the worst thing about the events of September 11, 2001.

GWB and friends have a refrain that they “live in a September 12 world everyday.” I know what they’re trying to get at with this rather calculated and callous metaphor. I’m just glad they don’t say they live everyday like Sept. 11; I suspect that wold be too much for anyone to endure.

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