Everyday Heroism

On Tuesday, February 23rd, gunman Bruco Eastwood shot and wounded two students at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colorado. Math teacher Dr. David Benke was outside patrolling the parking lot after school at the time. When he heard the first shot, he charged at the gunman and wrestled him to the ground.  Teachers Norm Hanne and Becky Brown were close behind.  Bus driver Jim O’Brien shouted at the students already on his bus to get down and make the bus look empty before he rushed out to help hold down the attacker.  Nobody was killed in the attack.

On Christmas Day last year, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab brought explosives onto Northwest Airlines flight 253 in his underwear.  Passenger Jasper Schuringa put out the fire, burning his hands in the process, and then dragged the would-be bomber to the front of the plane to be restrained.  Nobody was killed.

Back in December of 2001, Richard Ried tried to light a fuse leading into the explosives his shoe on American Airlines 63.  Flight attendant Hermis Moutardier caught him in the act, and with the help of flight attendant Cristina Jones and other passengers subdued the 6’4″, 200 pound man, and restrained him with a seat-belt extension, belts, and headphone cords.  Jones remarked to Time magazine afterward:

Most of it was instinct, and the knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. I don’t believe I would have grabbed [Reid] the way I did had I not known about Sept. 11. I don’t know that the passengers would have come to my aid so quickly had they not known about Sept. 11.

Nobody was killed.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001, at the cost of of 2,976 lives, may have taught us the most valuable lesson we’ve ever learned: that apathy, complacency, and (above all) inaction can have greater costs than we might ever imagined.  We began that day with fantasies of terrorism where John McClane can rush to the rescue of anyone who sits quietly and stays out of the way.  We ended it understanding that even when resistance is as deadly as it was for the passengers of United flight 93, the consequences of inaction — of not being John McClane, if only for a moment — can be even greater.

While the Transportation Security Administration learned from Richard Ried that travelers need to remove their shoes before boarding an airplane, the public already knew not to tolerate lit matches on board a flight.  Even while we depend on police protection for our everyday safety, the police cannot be everywhere at every moment.  But Dr. David Benke and his peers can be — collectively — and can be able to act immediately in society’s defense.

One of the most moving and memorable speeches in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing (from 20 Hours in America) comes after a bombing at the fictional Kennison State University.  President Bartlett gives this address:

Forty-four people were killed a couple hours ago at Kennison State University.  Three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition when after having heard the explosion from their practice facility they ran into the fire to help get people out.

Ran into the fire.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.  They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends.  The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels.

But every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes.  We will do what is hard.  We will achieve what is great.  This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.

This is a time for American heroes, and we have them in abundance.

She Came From the North

The first news of 2009: a baby girl named Sasha was born on Northwest Airlines Flight 59 from Amsterdam to Boston.  The story starts out very pleasant:

“Everybody was there to help,” said [Dr. Natarajan] Raman, who helped deliver the child.  “People offered baby food, people brought things, people vacated their seats.”

Then it throws out this whopper:

Customs officials deemed [baby] Sasha a Canadian citizen, because she was born over Canadian airspace.  The flight landed about 45 minutes after the birth.

Well that’s a doozy.  If she’d waited another 10 or 15 minutes the kid would probably have been born in the United States.  Now she’ll be the only girl in her class whose nationality depended on the Global Positioning System, a radio, and a stopwatch.  You know she’ll never live that down.

Anybody else remember the West Wing episode where Donna finds herself suddenly Canadian?

Donna:  I’m very upset. I don’t know the words to my national anthem. I’ve been throwing out Canadian pennies my whole life. I’ve been making fun of the Queen. We don’t do that.

Just In Cases

Found in an old application (circa 2002):

/* just in case.*/
return false;

In case of what?  Are we not trusting the exit statement anymore?

This reminds me of a West Wing scene from the episode Swiss Diplomacy:

Bartlet: This meeting doesn’t go in the Sit Room anymore, okay? I don’t know why the hell it’s here. This isn’t a military operation.

Leo: It’s a secure room.

Bartlet: My office is a secure room, too, isn’t it? Please, somebody tell me it is, or I gotta go pack some stuff. You see my point?

If exit doesn’t work, I gotta go pack some stuff.

You Stink… If You Blink

The T has introduced a new campaign to improve courtesy on its trains and buses.  I applaud the sentiment, at least.  On the Green Line we contend with these (top three) acts of rudeness every day:

  1. Refusing to Move Back. People fill the front third of the train, forcing newcomers to wedge themselves in a doorway, while leaving the rear so empty there are free seats.  Don’t be afraid of the stairs (that’s climacophobia).
  2. Blocking Doors.  Obviously someone has to stand by the door when the train is crowded, but when the door opens you need to step aside — preferably onto the street.  You’ll be able to get back in.
  3. Playing Loud Music.  Subways already produce 90 to 115 decibels (dBA) of sound, and I can hear your music from 10 meters away.  Enough!  I wouldn’t mind as much if I ever heard a nice Rachmaninov melody in the air, but it’s only ever rap music!

When the T last tried a courtesy campaign, they gave out free Dunkin Donuts coupons to people seen doing polite things.  This time, they’ve just made a series of signs.  “Don’t be a Lout.  Let them out.”  The font on the signs is vaguely reminiscent of Harry Potter’s title font—appropriate, since only magic can make this campaign work.

I particularly enjoy this “button” from the MBTA’s “Commuter Rail Maps and Schedules” page:

MBTA's Courtesy Counts Campaign


Once again paraphrasing Josh Lyman: the blinking is what really makes it art.

I Knew I Should’ve Unplugged It First

I’ve bought (over time) five Western Digital “My Book” drives.  Two of them have failed – one the moment I plugged it in, the other just recently.

Those of you who might trust me to make important decisions should note that I bought one of the drives after the two failures.  Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  Make of that what you will.

The recent failure was of a drive holding many of my collected television shows – West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sports Night, Gilmore Girls, Scrubs, Friends, Star Trek TNG, DS9, Monk, Grey’s Anatomy, Psych… and probably others I’ve forgotten.  Having them all at my fingertips was a great triumph in personal computing for me.  (And this is just one drive in a bank of 3 TB of storage in front of me at the moment.  Anyone else remember when we used 1.44 MB floppies?)

Of course, all my content is backed up.  All of it.  Except this drive.  This drive contains mostly videos ripped from DVDs, which I of course own (shame on you for thinking I pirated content!), so I reasoned I could always encode them again if the drive failed.  Faced with that very possibility, though, I’ve realized something important: I really don’t want to!  It’s well over a thousand hours of video, and I don’t have the patience to encode it all again.

I developed a theory.  Perhaps the physical drive is intact, but the USB connection is faulty.  The Internet backs me up on this.  It also believes we never landed on the moon, but we’ll focus on the hard drive for the moment.

To prove this theory (and reclaim my data), I began disassembling the case, per Scott Cramer’s description.  It went well, until step two.  This requires depressing a catch at the top and bottom of the drive while pulling the two halves of the case apart.  I performed a quick inventory of my hands, and found two fewer than required for this task.

The end result of all this had me sitting at my desk this beautiful summer evening with a hard drive in front of me, jamming a screw driver into one side and a steel letter opener into the other, and thinking, offhandedly, “So this is how I’m going to die.”

SorCon 2008: Count Me In!

From The Onion (and thus false, but amusing):

“When Aaron [Sorkin] hit the stage and announced The West Wing animated series, the crowd went wild,” said self-described “Sorkin nut” Karla Waples, 33, who has attended SorCon every year since its inception a decade ago. “It was such an adrenaline rush to see him make TV history yet again. This is why people drive all the way across the country to be here.”

Held annually at the San Diego Convention Center, SorCon has grown from a small convention in 1998, when Sorkin screened his television series Sports Night for friends and family, into a major Sorkin-industry event attended by tens of thousands of upper-middle-class whites and political-science geeks—or “Sorkies,” as they prefer to be called.

Is it wrong that I read the entire article wishing it were a real event?  I’d pay good money to go to that!

Tha Bestest Besties

Someone on “Yahoo! Answers” (as if Yahoo weren’t already completely obsolete) asked:

[I] purchesed (sic) a domain from 1&1, got the confirmation e-mail and everything. Well it says the status of my domain is “Domain registration is being requested” What exactly does that mean?…

Here, in its entirety, is the answer marked “Best Answer – Chosen by Voters” having earned three votes:

i dnt even know what a domain is. or what 1&1 is. sorry.

Nothing I could possibly say could embellish that statement in any way, so I’ll just leave it there to burn through your eyes to the back of your brain and haunt your nightmares.  I, masochist that I am, went on to read her profile:

i love volleyball basketball softball track cheerleading!!! my besties amanda meagan haley heide and kenzie are tha bestest besties. [emphasis mine] i luvv em so much. i love candy. but i like being healthy. my favorite drink is a shirly temple or dr pepper with a lemon squeez! so delish!!! im very talkative outgoing funny and fun to be around. yeup i dnt wanna brag or sound conceited to ill just stop. but thats all about me!!! tooooooodlesss!!!

Paraphrasing Josh Lyman: It’s “tha bestest besties” that makes it art.

The View From Above

The downside of flying through Atlanta is that I had to fly through Atlanta. This is an experience that everyone who’s ever flown will find familiar. I remember doing it at least as young as 13 or 14 on the now defunct Trans World Airlines. I was flying from Denver to Boston then too, but living in the other city. (Life is oddly circular that way.)

Sorkin’s West Wing even wove it in:

Josh: Did you get me a flight?
Donna: Yes.
Josh: One that gets me there in time for dinner?
Donna: Yes.
Josh: And I don’t have to change planes in Atlanta?

Donna: No. Even better: you do have to change plans in Atlanta.
: I told you…
Donna: You have to change planes in Atlanta. Deal with it.


Donna: You don’t know any special, secret flights to Palm Beach today, do you?
Sam: Yeah, but you gotta change planes in Atlanta.

The upside is that the flight from Atlanta to Boston offers a gorgeous view of New York City. At night in particular, it’s clear that Brooklyn has some very orderly-looking streets. Oh, and Manhattan looks pretty good too.

“Airport Emergency” Has an Awful Ring to It

Denver International Airport has a distinctive way of paging passengers on its concourses:

Mr. Smith, Mr. Charles Smith; Mr. Atkins, Mr. Derek Atkins; Mr. Sorkin, Mr. Aaron Sorkin – please dial zero on an airport courtesy telephone.

The familiar rhythm is oddly comforting.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport also demonstrated a distinctive way of paging passengers during my layover there:

Charles Smith, please go to the nearest phone and dial 911 for a very important message.

I’m not sure how Charles Smith reacted, but I sure didn’t find it comforting.