A Dog Died Today

Her name was Brandi. She was a member of a long line of dogs in our extended family. She was a stray, of indeterminate breeding and age, rescued from the streets of Oakland by my son and his then wife. They have since divorced and, in an act of enormous generosity, he gave the dog that he loved so to his now ex-wife (I will call her Nora in this post).

Brandi was well traveled. She lived in a couple of different households in northern California, in Washington DC, in Manhattan, in New Jersey and in several different households in Minnesota. Brandi even stayed with us for several months while my son and daughter-in-law were relocating from the West Coast to the East Coast. It really did not matter to Brandi where she was, as long as she was with the people that she loved and that in turn loved her.

We all knew that Brandi was getting old and starting to fail. Her hearing was going and she was visibly slower in getting around. My wife and I are sensitive to this, perhaps because our own dog is also slowing down. For Brandi however, the end seemed very near. She was in discomfort and not eating. Yesterday, the doctor at the local veterinary clinic examined Brandi and raised the possibilities of cancer or kidney failure. The technicians took x-rays and an ultrasound and did things to make her comfortable. Nora took Brandi home last night with the expectation that she (Nora) might have to make a decision about euthanasia today when the results were available and analyzed.

We got the call from Nora this morning just after 6 AM. Brandi had died overnight, sleeping at the foot of Nora’s bed. There would be no decision about euthanasia today. In my eyes that is a good thing. It is hard enough to lose a pet and a companion through death without being the direct cause of that death.

We drove to Nora’s apartment, wrapped the body of what had been once a loving dog in a blanket decorated with dog bones, and took the body back to the veterinary clinic. This is a clinic that we have been going to for decades. It is a full service clinic that provides all manner of services for pets. It is staffed by very competent people who care deeply about pets and the people that own them. There were two services that they offered today.

First, the doctor who examined Brandi the day before came in and said that it was clear from the results of the tests that there was really nothing that could have been done for Brandi. It might seem foolish to be standing there discussing these results in the presence of the deceased dog, but if you love someone the way that Brandi was loved, you want to make sure that you have done all of the things that you could have done. It is all too easy for love to descend into guilt. Having a caring doctor tell you that there was nothing else that could have been done provides more comfort than you might imagine.

Second, the technicians made arrangements for Brandi to be cremated. One of the options was for the ashes to be returned to Nora, but after some discussion she decided that she would keep the memories of Brandi alive through pictures.

Afterwards, my wife and I took Nora out to a coffee shop. We talked for a while, mostly about nothing.

A dog died today. Taken by itself, that death would be painful for the people who loved that dog. But that death is part of a larger bargain that we make when we take on the responsibility for a dog. We will love the dog and take care of it and the dog will love us in return. But we humans live at a different rate from our dogs. It is inevitable that we will have to watch them grow old, fail and ultimately die. If my wife and I have any legitimate claim on Brandi as a part-time pet and companion, this is the fourth time that we’ve gone through this cycle. We can see a fifth time approaching as our dog reaches her end of life. And yet we know that it is very likely that we will get another dog. We have been, are and will continue to be “dog people.”

It is unquestionably a time of sadness. But Brandi died being loved. Indeed all of our companions died being loved and loving in return. We love and are loved. There is not much more that needs to be said, not much more that can be said.

Some Assembly Required

It is Sunday, the first of March. I am now officially retired. I know that not so much because the calendar says I am but because Magenic shut down my email account today. Thursday was my last real day of work. Friday was a day of paperwork and saying goodbye. Saturday I was still an employee and could access my Magenic email. Now it is Sunday and I am not an employee and I cannot access my Magenic email. This is not particularly shocking or even surprising. This is the sort of thing that first-class technical organizations do as a matter of course. Magenic is a first-class technical organization and what they did was right and proper. Still, there’s that little inaudible “click” as you realize, “now it is real.”

I took a few minutes this morning to remove the Magenic email account from my phone and from a couple of laptops and tablets that I use. Later I will go through my Lastpass password manager and remove all the credentials for Magenic employee websites.  The list of favorite web sites will need some pruning as well.  I’m sure that over the next weeks and months, I will be finding more bits and pieces of Magenic-related connectivity that I will have to remove from my devices. I have changed jobs before and much of this is familiar if only dimly remembered. It is different this time in several ways. The last time I did not have a smart phone, a tablet, and a laptop that were connected to my employer’s information systems.  This time, I have to disconnect the now-broken links. The last time I was moving from an old employer to a new employer. This time I’m just removing connections, leaving a hole that needs to be filled in.

It is a big hole. And it is more than just digital connectivity that is changing.  My job occupied a big place in my life, in my family’s lives. The mechanics of getting ready to go to work, commuting to work, working, and commuting back home took up a big chunk of my time. Even outside of “work” I spent time thinking about the projects I was working on, reading about technology, studying for an advanced degree, and preparing for certifications.  The job controlled the clothes that I bought. The job controlled where I lived: my job took me to California and then to Minnesota. The job in so many ways established the rhythms and patterns of my life.

We refer to our home that we have lived in the last 17 years as Walden, after Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond.  The inspiration was from our children who, being raised in suburbia and converting to urbanites, were appalled that they had pass by cows and cornfields to come visit us.  Thoreau’s most famous quote is relevant here: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  Now, the “drummer for working” has packed up and departed.  There are other drummers in our life but it has gotten suddenly quieter here.

Our challenge is to reinvent our lives, to combine the drumbeats of some old and some new drummers into something that makes sense for us. It is not that we lack for things to do. Rather it is that there are so many things that we could do.  We have to choose which ones and how to arrange them.  Some of the decisions are small and trivial.  With a job, I showered and shaved in the morning before I went to work and exercised at my health club after work. The question is will does that still make sense? If it does not, what is the right answer? It will not take much effort to resolve such a question, but there are hundreds of such questions that must be answered as we fill up the hole created by retiring.

The irony of the situation is that I now have much more free time to take up such questions.

The journey continues.

Jon Stonecash

On the Day of my Retirement

Today is my last day at Magenic.  I am retiring after 50+ years of making a living wrangling software. I just turned 70 and the logic of the universe and of that particularly pesky part of the universe called the United States Federal Government all say that I have to start taking money that I have saved up.  To be fair, the government really does not care if I take the money as long as I pay taxes on it.  And thus it is time for my journey to take a new direction.

Before I say where I hope the next leg of my journey will take me, it is traditional to look back to see where I have been.  I started as a computer operator at Purdue University in the fall of 1963 when punched cards were the norm; one of my jobs was to re-stock the card bins and empty the chads out of the IBM 026 and 029 card punches.  I have been involved with computers ever since.

The first computer that I programmed was an IBM 1401 with 4096 bytes of ferrite core memory.  There was a two-pass assembler in which each of the passes existed as a card deck of binary data that had to be read in each time you wanted to assemble your changes; the intermediate output from the first pass was punched out to be read in as input to the second pass.  We are talking physical labor.

I have programmed in a dozen assembly languages since that first one.  I have written programs in FORTRAN, COBOL, Algol, Ada, C, Snobol, Prolog, VB, VBA, VB.NET, and C#.  I have created databases with Oracle, SQL Server, Access, Ingres, Informix, IMS, DB2, and a handful of other database systems whose names have slipped away.  I have controlled my source with Visual SourceSafe, TFS, CVS, SVN, and GIT.  I have written embedded, operating system, scientific, and line-of-business software as well as things that do not seem to fit into any of these categories.

I have always looked for the way to improve the process.  Code generation was a rabbit hole that I fell down over and over.  Testing frameworks, fourth generation languages, structured programming, six sigma, Capability Maturity Models, Waterfall, agile, unit testing, and more.  I have survived several revolutions, more than a couple of paradigm shifts, and at least one “this changes everything” moments.  In the end, it mostly came down to smart people trying to do the right thing.

There are a lot more stories that I could tell; 50 years is a long time. I lucked out that the last 8+ years were spent at Magenic.  The place is filled with smart people who care about what they do and know how to work with others.  The projects were stimulating and the managerial environment was distinctly non-irritating.  It doesn’t get a lot better than that.  I can see “big things” coming in mobile, the internet of things, big data, privacy, security, as well as other things as yet unnamed.  Just think: the smart phone in my pocket probably has more computing power than all of the computers that existed in the world when I started programming professionally in 1964.  Project that into the next 50 years.  Oh boy!

There is a part of me that is saddened that I will not be a part of this. But it is time to slow down, to be able to read a book, take a nap or just sit and watch the river outside flow by, to travel with my wife of five decades, to watch and to ponder what all of these changes might mean.  I have been a reader all of my life, fiction, non-fiction, whatever was at hand.  I have always dreamed of writing fiction.  Now is the time to actually do more than dream.  I am in the process of writing the first of what I hope will be a series of novels.  My efforts will probably not have the scope of the changes in the last 50 years but maybe, just maybe ….