Thirteen on 13

I made a conscious effort to quantify more things in 2013 – my weight, health, reading habits, and a catalog of good things. Somehow the quantified self didn’t roll over into the more reliable self, but my Withings stats would tell you mathematically. Three weeks into the new year I don’t have resolutions per se that have been broken, but my lack of regular writing output also includes a failure to write an annual list (see 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2011 2012 historical references). This marks a decade that I’ve been writing publicly, which is an entire lifetime on Internet time. Rather than delve into a “best of” that’s already time deprecated, here are thirteen good things about 2013:

  1. Celebrated 25 years married to Toby. When we were 8 years old, and I saw her standing on the deck of a beach house in Harvey Cedars, I feel in love for the first time. That was 43 years ago, and she’s spent more than half of them with me. I am blessed. We celebrated with Israel, Ukraine, good friends and a lot of strange foods.

  2. Started a new job. After working for technology vendors for nearly 25 years, I seized an opportunity to go back to applied technology full-time. The problems are thorny, require the right mix of computer science and design, and I have a great team.

  3. Rediscovered the joy of recorded music. Working from home most days meant that “drive time music” was whatever I was humming while stumbling down the stairs. I’m now listening to an average of three albums a week commuting to that new job, and it’s great. Music defeats the aggravations of New Jersey traffic, weather, and makes for a nice segue between venues.

  4. Experienced one of the best hours of live music ever. Shared with good friends and our son, at Jones Beach, as a 6-hour rain storm ebbed and we wrung ourselves out, I heard Phish do a tour-de-force of my musical history. Oh yeah, got to meet Trey before the show too. All part of one of the best years of live music in a variety of venues, from Phish arena shows, to Rush, Frampton and Joe Bonamassa in smaller theaters, to some local area acts in Boston and western Massachusetts.

  5. Went to a Phillies game with my father and ran the circle of life counter clockwise. This time I took the pictures as he walked the bases post-game, at the modern instantiation of the same ballpark where I saw my first major league ball game and my real life hero took pictures of my boyhood sports hero (Willie Stargell, Pirates at Phillies, circa 1973).

  6. Witnessed one of the best displays of sportsmanship ever while dressed as Santa, handing out candy canes post-practice. One of my mite-aged hockey players asked for an extra candy cane for his brother who left the ice early. Sometimes being on Team Santa is its own reward.

  7. Visited the Ukraine for an exploration of my own history that was more emotional than I had anticipated. And more revealing. As my Uncle Ziemel used to say, “Nothing that is broken off is truly lost as long as you remember to search for it.” Half of a street address on the back of a 100 year old photograph tied together the threads of how my great-grandfather made his way from a small village to Kiev to Rotterdam to New York.

  8. Spent time with old friends. There is nothing better than re-igniting the sense of familiarity you shared a decade, ten area codes, four moves and a few kids ago.

  9. Toured the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Between Babi Yar in the Ukraine, the Day of Remembrance in Israel, and the World Trade Center site, I had a hat trick in understanding the impact of conflict.

  10. Sipped a coffee sitting outside of Cool Beans in Bay Village, on Long Beach Island, where I’ve spent at least a long weekend in about 80% of my summers. Even though some of the old haunts seemed smaller seen from the height of adult perspective, the memories were just as wonderful. And Crust and Crumb elephant ears are still worth every single calorie.

  11. Got kicked out of the Academie Francaise in Paris. After joking about it for more than 30 years, first with friend Steve, then with our daughter, I took a detour after a work meeting. Epitomizing American swagger, I walked in and was promptly asked to leave, but not before thoroughly butchering every known conjugation, pronoun and tense to get my picture taken by the security guard. It was one of the more weird things on my bucket list, but if Madame Scharf is reading this, Sheris and I were listening the whole time.

  12. Sat in on a recording session in one of the most intimate, well-engineered studios in New Jersey. Details coming on the band, the results and the process, and yet another bucket list item checked.

  13. Read more than thirty books, venturing away from a steady stream of science fiction to learn musical backstories.

There are any number of things that form the background radiation of a good year: Having kids make good adult life decisions, going to Israel, getting to work on interesting projects, loving every day that my wife puts up with my craziness, fixing my first guitar pedal and feeling like all of those late nights in the basement of E-Quad weren’t a total waste.

The Snowman Shopping List: For The Person Who Has Everything

What do you get for the nerd who has everything, or at least claims that she (or he) has everything she (or he) needs? I’ve compiled this list based on recommendations for gifts for “that special doctor” (who loves photography), “that special boss” (for whom you feel weird getting a gift, but deserves some recognition), and “that special kid” for whom an iTunes gift card seems so last decade.

Here, then, is the Snowman Guide To Holiday Gift Giving For The Previously Well-Equipped:

BorrowLenses gift cards. If your gift recipient loves toys, cameras, and playing with new camera gear, BorrowLenses is the best way to indulge their photographic fetishes. No matter what the body type, photography style, or time zone, BorrowLenses will let you rent anything from a super telephoto to a very wide aperture fisheye lens. You can’t buy the kind of nerd cred that comes from lugging a 30-inch, 22 pound telephoto around, especially when it comes in its own piece of hard sided luggage.

Kiva Gift Cards Buy someone an Israel bond, and you spend $85 for them to get $100 in 10 years. Buy them $100 Kiva gift cards and they can have an immediate impact on 4 small businesses in any number of developing economies, right away. And then when those loans are paid back, they can loan the money out again and again. I’m a firm believer in direct action and small-scale, grass roots support, and Kiva delivers on both. Want a themed gift? Buy a copy of ” International Bank of Bob” and tuck the gift card note inside the front flap. It’s my new favorite for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs where I know the kid is getting a ton of monetary gifts, and for bosses who firmly believe in doing the right thing.

A Long Now Salon Membership. The Long Now Foundation is the brain child of Danny Hillis and Steward Brand, and is the realization of the ideas in “Clock Of The Long Now: Time And Responsibility.” If your gift recipient thinks about sustainability, long-term impacts, and would have been at home in a French salon, it’s worth $96.

Live music via StubHub. It’s unique, it makes the recipient feel less guilty about paying premium prices for pricey ducats, and there is no better way to support your favorite artists (and build some long-lasting memories) than to go see live music.

An eBay gift card, letting the recipient buy something they wouldn’t normally find. Like the self-antonym “Music You Can’t Hear On The Radio” show, it’s a way to buy things you can’t buy (at least in your local big box store). If you know someone who always wanted, say, a vintage Lite Brite or game of Operation!, eBay is the shopping destination and you can provide the currency.

Any of John Scalzi’s books, personalized for you. Scalzi is a sci-fi writer who is accessible by just about everybody. He’s funny. Scary funny. He’s prolific, generous with his time (via his blog) and he basically just does the right thing about just about every thing. For example, his signed books for the holiday support his local bookstore. So it’s taking his time and he’s making less per book that way but that’s kind of Scalzi in a nutshell. I frequently point to his Christmas stories because they make me cry. He always promotes independent artists’ work on his blog as the holidays approach. Pay it forward, and pay it back: support Scalzi because he is awesome and you should share in the awesomeness.

Half A Generation Since 9/11/01

Time is a strange lens through which to view major events. For those that embody joy, the details get larger and grander, whether it’s reviewing our salad days in college or the smooth texture of soft serve ice cream on an August night. When the event is traumatic, or life-changing, time tends to amplify the context around it. We remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated, or the Challenger exploded, or what we were doing on the morning of 9/11/01. Looking back years later we assemble some framework for better understanding things. Or the distance of time simply helps us understand our biases. Four decades later, I find my dislike of Bob Newhart has nothing to do with him as a person or actor; it’s because the first time I ever saw him on TV was the night my grandmother was killed in an accident and I stayed up late with an uncle. It’s what a kid in single-digit years remembers.

There is no 5- or 10-year decade marker to help us segment and measure our distance from the events of 9/11. But twelve years is roughly half a generation; if we use an historic yardstick we are entering the adulthood of our memory of that day. Over the course of 25 years we tend to view things through the eyes of our children or their children; in half that span we should acquire a more seasoned, reasoned perspective on things. The Jewish celebration of a Bar Mitzvah happens when the child is thirteen years old – an adult in the eyes of the congregation – typically with a year of preparation, learning and good deeds leading up to accepting that increased self-awareness and responsibility to the community.

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This summer I finally visited the 9/11 memorial and located Phil Rosenzweig’s name on the northwest corner of the pool. He was a tremendous engineer and co-worker. The memorial is appropriately somber, simple and commemorative to all victims. The night before we had visited the 9/11 memorial in West Orange, where I saw my college friend Karen Klitzman’s name and age at the time — 38 years old — which would put me a chronological bar mitzvah older this year.

Next year, the true 13-year anniversary of 9/11/01, will also be the fourth decatrienniel (4×13 years) birthday of yours truly. No coincidences in life, just milestones to prompt us to more self-inspection.