Do Jewish people need anything other than questions to have a conversation?

Answering questions with questions is something Jewish people are famous for. Here’s a sample dialog where only questions are used:

Me: Mom, would you like to go for Chinese?
Mom: How could I refuse such a thing?
Me: Is it OK if I get you in an hour?
Mom: Do you think it will really take me an hour to get ready?
Me: Would half an hour be OK?
Mom: What do you think? Are we going Dutch?
Me: What kind of son do you think I am?
Mom: Will you be here on time for once?
Me: Have I ever been on time?
Mom: Why did I bother to ask?


Grad School Can Be Fun

I’m working on my second Master’s degree.  I’m an academic at heart so I enjoy the disciplines of study and writing papers.  I’m also a storyteller.  Instead of taking school so seriously, I’ve chosen to have fun.  University of Phoenix is where I study so our classroom is an online threaded discussion.  Each week, the class is given two to four discussion questions.  Some of these are based on scholarly articles and others on research.  Combining answers to the discussion questions with short story writing is my way of having fun.  I guess it works for the professors because I’m carrying a 4.0 GPA.

My current class is in IT infrastructure.  One of this week’s questions was as follows:

As a manager, you are responsible for making sure the technology you use meets standards for communication and connectivity. What are some of the standards that you should be using for purchase decisions, and why are they important?

I started out answering like any other student:

These are some of the communication and connectivity-related standards I’ve been involved with:

  • IEEE 802.11b/g/n – Wireless routers in the 2.4, 3.6, and 5 GHz range must be
    certified to comply with the appropriate sections of the Institute of Electrical
    and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 standard.
  • TIA/EIA-568-C – This standard written by Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Electronics Industry Alliance (EIA) establishes the standards for Ethernet
    cable, most significantly Category 5e (10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX) and Category 6
    (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T/1000BASE-TX, and 10GBASE-T).
  • NFPA 90A – Network cable that runs through plenums (ventilation spaces) must comply with this code published by the National Fire Protection Association. The code
    identifies the standard for how cable in plenums must react to fire.

When it came having to explain why standards conformance was important is when I got into storytelling mode.

Let me start out with a ficticious startup company, Kentucky Fried Tofu. KFT, headquartered in Sausalito, California sells cryo-packed, wing-shaped, beer-batter breaded tofu with free electric mini-fryers. They market the product to people that hate the idea of killing animals and eating them but really crave the experience of good-old fried food. The owners, Geno and Herb, rented some first floor office space on 2nd St. They were cheap, so when they bought the computers for KFT, they didn’t hire a consultant. They went to Best-Buy in Marin City.

When they got there, they split up. Geno went to get laptops and Herb got the printer and three routers. Geno was really excited because Best-Buy was selling Acer Aspire TimelineX laptops for $729 a piece and they had built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. He didn’t really know what that meant, but he heard that it was really fast. Herb’s shopping cart had three Netgear Factory Refurbished 802.11g routers and an HP 8000 OfficeJet Wireless printer. Geno was not super techie, but he figured if the laptops were 802.11n and the routers were 802.11g, that the routers wouldn’t keep up with the laptops because “n” is higher in the alphabet than “g.” Herb thought that was stupid so he grabbed some kid in a Best-Buy blue shirt named Chuck. Chuck confirmed that the laptops and routers could talk to each other but only at 802.11g speed, about 54 Mbps. Chuck recommended the Cisco Linksys E2000. It was $35 more than the Netgear router but because it was 802.11n compliant, it was able to transfer up to 300 Mbps. Chuck also told them it could handle Gigabit Ethernet. Geno and Herb didn’t really know what that was but it sounded cool.

They got things with KFT running pretty quickly. It turned out there were lots of people who cared more about not lopping off chickens’ heads than they did about cholesterol. To bolster business even further, Herb started a blog called Chix Dig Kentucky Fried Tofu at (go ahead, try it, I know you want to) that had business up to almost $18,000 per week. The boys needed to add five more employees which meant getting five more networked computers.

They were learning a little bit more about computers. One of the things they discovered was the Gigabit Ethernet that Chuck from Best-Buy told them about was network cabling, and it made accessing the Internet faster than that 802.11 Wi-Fi stuff. Geno went to to “get me some of that Ethernet.” He loved to say Ethernet. For some odd reason, it reminded him of his favorite group, Blue Öyster Cult.

Geno called a company in Corte Madera by the name of The Cable Guyz. Charlotte, one of the techs answered and asked Geno what he wanted. Geno said, “dude, I want Ethernet. Do you have any?” Charlotte said, “sure. Want me to come by and figure out how much you need?” Geno, who hadn’t quite figured out how a Cable Guy wasn’t a guy, made an appointment with Charlotte. The next morning, she rolled up in the Cable Guyz Land Rover. It was converted so the back was open to expose four huge rolls of cable in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Charlotte came in and introduced herself to Herb and Geno. Herb showed her around while she measured the amount of linear feet of coverage KFT could need.

She went out on the front porch of KFT with Geno and Herb and sat on the Adirondack chairs painted with pictures of bright yellow banana slugs. Charlotte had to ask, “what’s the deal with the yellow thingies on your chairs?” Herb told her that he and Geno met at UC Santa Cruz and the banana slug was the school mascot. Charlotte, originally from Poughkeepsie, NY, chuckled in her head, “only in Cali!” She took out her laptop and fired up her job estimator. Her first question was “how fast do you want your network to be?” Geno and Herb looked at each other and said “gigabit, dude!” Charlotte said, “OK, so that’s gonna be CAT 6.” The boys clearly had no idea of what she meant. Charlotte explained that there was this group of people in Piscataway, New Jersey called the Aye Triple-E (IEEE) that came up with standards for all sorts of things including network cables. “Gigabit Ethernet cable is called CAT 6.” The boys thought that was the coolest name for cable. Geno got CAT-6 as his vanity plate the following year.

“Floor or ceiling?” Geno looked at Herb and then Charlotte with that kind of head-cocked-to-the side-look that Welsh Corgis are known for. “Do you want your cables in the floor or ceiling?” clarified Charlotte. Herb explained that the office was on a concrete slab so the cables would have to be in the ceiling with the HVAC ductwork. Charlotte said, “OK, then you’ll need plenum grade cable. It’s twice as expensive as standard CAT 6.” Still corgi-like, Geno asked “what’s ‘plenum grade?’” Charlotte pointed to the yellow spool of cable. Herb said, “why does yellow cable cost more than magenta?” Charlotte went to her truck and brought back this thin book marked NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems. “Fire Code” she said. “The space in your ceiling where the air flows is called a plenum. Cable that goes up there can’t catch fire until it gets to be about 700 degrees and when it does burn, it can’t give off toxic fumes.” “Dude,” said Geno. “but if it gets that hot in here we’re all gonna leave before it gets stinky.” Herb, who got it, took the $1,315 estimate from Charlotte and set up an installation appointment.

Charlotte drove the Land Rover north on the 101. There was a rib-joint/Internet café called “Meat, No Potatoes” with a sub-floor that needed 96 meters of magenta.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (2009). 802.11n, IEEE Standard for Information technology—Telecommunications and information exchange between systems—Local and metropolitan area networks—Specific requirements: Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications. New York, NY.

National Fire Protection Association. (2011). NFPA 90A: Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilation Systems, 2012 Edition. Quincy, MA

Telecommunications Industry Association. (2009). Commercial Building Telecommunications Cabling Standard Set (Contains: Tia-568-C.0, Tia-568-C.1, Tia-568-C.2, Tia-568-C.3 And Tia-568-C.4 – With Addendums And Erratas). Arlington, VA.

You see, I look at it this way: My pedagogical model contains the idea that if you can present a concept in a story, you truly understand the concept. I hold storytelling in high esteem. It’s part of my heritage. I have actually refused to hire Java programmers because they could not pass the first test in my interview; storytelling. The test is based on Bruce Eckel’s seminal Java programming book, Thinking in Java. The test is simple: explain object oriented programming to a five-year-old. Some passed, others failed. True story.

What a Wonderful World

“That’s why I don’t give handouts to the homeless!”  The third-year Maryland law student wheeched (whined/screeched) to her snooty friends as they passed the homeless guy.  He was sitting against the City-Paper machine outside of my favorite Starbucks on North Charles with a Venti-something-or-other, a boxed lunch, and an iPhone 4 (the new white one).  If I got done early enough from working in the crap-machine otherwise known as the District of Columbia, I would get off the MARC train at Penn and walk down there to grab a bite.

Tonight I was lucky, I just squeezed onto the 6:20.  I had to stand next to, of all people, a Steelers fan bedecked in his new black and gold leather jacket with the logo of the hated team on its back.  In my olfactory lobes, the beautiful smell of new leather was denied by the rest of my Ravens-purple brain yelling how much the Steelers sucked.  I pretended not to notice the chatter going on around him by playing the “I have my headphones on with no music playing” trick.  It was my favorite way to hear office gossip when nobody thinks I can hear.  It’s like being a voyeur without the inherent risk of discovery.  It also allowed me to force my boss to repeat himself when his behavior was becoming rather onerous.  He’d have to tap me to get my attention and I’d do my award-winning “you startled me” reaction.  When somebody would say something particularly foul having to do with the Steelers and farm animals, I would turn toward the unknowing fan and smile one of those courteous, “hi, how are you fellow-commuter/comrade?” smiles.  My internal game was to see how long I could make it without laughing at the comments two fifty-something legal secretary hons were making.  They had something to do with Mike Tomlin, sheep, and hip waders.

I made it to the 1200 block on North Charles and turned into the Starbucks.  I was starving.  My daughter, the payroll director over at Deutsche Bank, had been “encouraging” me to go vegan for some time.  I saw a boxed lunch with noodles, tofu, veggies, and a postage-stamp-sized chunk of dark chocolate.  I figured it was the prize I got for grazing through the other stuff.  At 8.4 ounces, it would hold me over until I got home to Fells.  Pumpkin spice latte was in the air.  I wanted one but they have 510 calories with all the bells and whistles.  Andi, the full-time barista, assured me that she could hook me up for about half of that.  I believed her and ordered.  Stacee, one of the part-timers that went to school at MICA rang me up.  She was always nice.  Nice was nice because the world is not nice.

I queued up with the other Starbucks faithful while my almost-as-yummy-as-a-510-calorie pumpkin spice latte was being prepared.  I got it and sat down in the pit with the comfy chairs.  I took out the box’o’non-meat and began to put the components together.  The noodles with their peanut sauce, the pickled veggies, and the half-dozen sugar-cubes of braised tofu looked and smelled pretty good.  I looked away for a moment, turned back to my food, and as I reached for it, I knocked it in the air.  It fell non-daily-spread-side-down into my lap.  The two other guys in the comfy chair area reflexively went into their best “I’m not looking” looks.  Any guy that has gone to the beach with his wife knows how to do that look when too much girl in too few clothes walks by.  These guys must have seen lots of bikini-babes because neither of them flinched. I had no napkins and non-meat was everywhere.  You’d think one of them might have offered to get me a napkin, a paper towel, or some mechanism to help gather up the never-been-killed mélange.  That didn’t happen.

I had to scoop handfuls of the stuff up and put it into the box.  I used the lid like a veggie-squeegie to gather the rest of the bits together.  Still, neither Tweedledum nor Tweedledee so much as acknowledged my dilemma.  They saw me alright, just like they saw all the Girls-Gone-Wild candidates at Ocean City a few weeks prior.

I took the freshly-tossed salad and dumped it in the garbage.  My Starbucks Gold Card had plenty of cash on it so I went to get another.  Stacee looked at me coming with a fresh box.  She started to go into the standard spiel to ring me up and then she realized I had just purchased one.  She told me to wait a minute.  I could see her glance at her watch.  It was 20 minutes until close and there was a boxed lunch in the case that would probably not get eaten in the next 20 minutes.  She took out her inventory sheet and wrote mine up as spoilage. It was going to be thrown out anyway so she gave it to me which saved me seven bucks and continued to reinforce my brand loyalty.

As I sat down to make eating attempt number two, Tweedledum got up and headed to the Men’s room.  He left behind his white iPhone 4G and a freshly made Venti-mocha-frappa-chino-esque thingy.  Not worried about Tweedledee, I snatched up the white iPhone and cup.  The Starbucks Card Mobile app was open and Tweedledum was logged in.  I added $100 to the card.  iTunes was also open.  I bought a copy of Louis Armstrong’s Greatest Hits.  As I hit the door, the album finished downloading.  I started to play it and as I stepped onto North Charles, I went to the homeless guy sitting against the City-Paper machine.  I handed him the boxed-lunch, the Venti-whatever, and the white iPhone 4.  I showed him how to order lots of healthy food and drinks with the Starbucks app.

As I headed to the lot where my vintage orange VW Karmann Ghia was parked, I heard the unusual combination of wheeching and the words “I see skies of blue, and clouds of white/The bright blessed day, dark sacred night/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world.”