Me and My Dysfunctional Twitter Family

It feels like Twitter has been with us forever. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a relatively new toy we’re learning to use.  I see it as my second dysfunctional family.

Mood music:

My Twitter house has 3,262 people crammed into it; many from the information security profession. Some of the smartest people I know sit around the kitchen table every day, bantering without ever getting tired.

As it is with any family, we often get on each other’s nerves.

For one thing, the house is always LOUD. It’s so loud that it’s normal for half the household to go to bed with headaches while the rest keep pontificating, sharing pictures and arguing.

There’s the older uncle who’s perpetually cranky but we can sit at his feet and listen to him for hours because he’s so damn funny. And smart. Let’s face it, every family had a beloved, crazy uncle.

There’s the other uncle who will disagree with you just to start a debate. But he’s such a nice guy you just can’t get angry when he picks your positions apart.

There’s the cousin who never stops talking. Any random thought he has, he says it. You can’t keep up with him, he talks so fast. But he too is smart and talented, so we put up with it.

There’s the cousin who puts everything and everyone down for the sake of starting a conversation. This one usually comes in the house blasted on vodka or wine and talks about tearing someone’s eyeballs out. But this cousin is harmless and, deep down, a good kid.

There’s a brother who is always telling people what they did wrong — that they didn’t work hard enough or made sweeping statements that tarred people who didn’t deserve it. The rest of the family is afraid of this one. Unfortunately for us, though, he’s usually right, so we put up with him and, occasionally, try to stop doing the stupid thing he says we’re doing.

There’s the cousin who will let everyone know the second she stubs a toe, gets charged too much at the auto body shop or finds a hole in her umbrella. She’ll make her grocery list and run down the list aloud for all to hear. That grates on a few nerves, but she’s a sweet lady who is always there when one of us has a problem, so listening to her grocery list recital is the least we can do.

There are the two middle siblings who fight about everything, especially politics. They’ll occasionally call each other names, usually personalized variations of the F-S- and C-words. But they know their politics, so we listen and learn for about a half hour before yelling at them to shut up.

Then there’s me, perhaps the most infuriating family member of all.

I’m constantly shoving the stuff I write in their faces because I want them to talk about how the subject matter plays in their own lives. I don’t say much else when I’m in the house unless I’m excited about a new band I want people to hear or my kids say something too damn funny not to share. But I write all the time, and I have to show them everything, even stuff they may have seen before.

People tell me to shut up and go away; to stop repeating myself and promoting myself. That last one pisses me off and I spit out a few choice words. Then I resume what I’m doing like nothing happened.

People seem to tolerate me because writing is my job and, once in awhile, I write something that resonates with a few of them.

The rest simply ignore me when I get to be too much.

A messy, loud place, this Twitter house is. I’ve thought about moving out a few times, to get away from the so-called echo chamber. But I always decide to stay.

Because love ’em or hate ’em, these people are family.

And because — I’ll admit it — I need a few dysfunctional people in my life.

Sumo Wrestler With An Itch For Life

This is one of many photos I took for a slideshow during the recent RSA Conference. For obvious reasons, I didn’t put it in the final slide deck. But this is a personal blog, so what the hell…

I actually liked this guy. He always had that smile on whenever I passed his booth. A smile like that is contagious.

The slideshow, for CSO, was of the more interesting scenes from the RSA exhibit floor. You can see the whole thing here.

As for running this shot, I doubt he would mind. He does, after all, where a diaper for a living.

Depressed? Try These Remedies (Or Don’t)

I noticed on Facebook this morning that one of my friends is still fighting a persistent bout of depression. She said something about staring at her clenched fist for nearly ten minutes.

Mood music:

We’ve compared notes on our depressed moments in the past, and since I dealt with a lot of depression in December and January (give or take a month. Winter’s a bitch) I thought I’d share some observations.

–The extra darkness of winter always fucks with me. But I’ve noticed something on my early-morning drives to the office — the sun is coming up earlier and earlier. By the time I pulled into the parking lot at 6 a.m., it was almost completely light out. More daylight is powerful medicine for the depressed mind.

–Despite the mood music I chose for this post, most of my musical selections of late have been the more party-oriented rock, like Van Halen. Van Halen always makes me think of summer, which warms the colder parts of my brain. Whatever your musical tastes are these days, I suggest listening to stuff that’s more shallow from a lyrical standpoint. If that fails, go for the dark humor. Ministry and Suicidal Tendencies works for me on that score.

–My depression used to be enhanced during political years like this because I used to think election outcomes mattered more than they really do. These days, though, I find the political news to be a source of spirit-lifting comedy. With guys like Santorum and Gingrich running for president, how can you not laugh?

–You’re going to hear a lot of people suggesting diet remedies. When I show my dark side, someone always suggests a gluten-free diet, either forgetting or not realizing I already avoid flour and sugar. These people are annoying, but they mean well. Just smile and walk away.

–As you walk the streets of New York City today, take a moment to appreciate the absurdity of humanity. Example: When I see scores of people talking at the air in front of them, Bluetooth device sticking out of their ear, it makes me feel cooler than everyone else. I don’t need an earpiece to talk to myself.

I realize these things might not help much. But if it helps a little, I’ve done my job.

Rainbow Puke by Dion Lay

This National Grammar Day, A Revere Kid Celebrates With Some Punk-uation

My wife is very excited because today is National Grammar Day. For writers and copy editors (she is both), this is kind of like St. Patrick’s Day and Easter rolled into one.

Mood music:

Being a writer and editor myself, I should be just as excited. But I’m from Revere, Mass., where destroying grammar is a rite of passage. And, since I write more often than I edit, I’ve developed a rather cantankerous relationship with the copy editors I work with. Sure, I love ’em and all, but sometimes I can’t help but slip in deliberately bad grammar for fun.

Split infinitives? Love ’em. One line paragraphs? Love ’em. Saying “love ’em” instead of “I love them” — love that, too.

And, coming from Revere, I usually speak without the use of the letter “R” at the end of a word when it’s supposed to be there. I also use things like “killa” and “pissa” at random.

There was a time when I tried to conform. Once I realized I wanted to write, I chose English as a major and communications as a minor. I buried myself in the art and law of sentence structure, punctuation and even speech. I took a public speaking class specifically to work on saying the R at the end of the right words.

You could say I was turning my back on my Revere heritage.

As I hit middle age, my rebellious streak has re-asserted itself.

All that said, I am grateful for the editors in my life, especially my wife, for trying to keep me on the write path.

Happy National Grammar Day, y’all.

Airport Observations

When traveling, I enjoy people watching — especially in airports. Some observations from the Virgin America terminal in San Francisco…

Mood music:

–The TSA lady who frisked the young woman with two kids in tow seemed to be enjoying herself a bit much. The mom stared stoically into space while her kids got a first-class education on freedom and privacy in America.

–The line at the Peet’s Coffee stand is about a quarter mile, and the kid crying behind me isn’t helping the impatient, caffeine starved grown-ups manage very well. His parents seem perfectly at ease though. They’re ignoring the kid, which is probably why he’s crying so much.

–The terminal has some very comfy leather chairs. But they are bolted to the floor and not even remotely close to the power outlets.

–The waitress who served me breakfast was freakishly cheerful considering the crush of starved. impatient humanity around her. It was actually an inspiring example of grace under pressure.

–Lots of flights are delayed. Not because of the weather, but because so many people haven’t shown up to board on time. That means the San Francisco fog has mucked up traffic. Or it could be that these people are just rude and inconsiderate. Good thing they don’t hold up planes indefinitely for stragglers.

–The Peet’s coffee I finally got to purchase really hits the spot. But it’s not nearly as awesome as the Vietnamese coffee I was introduced to at lunch yesterday. I must learn how it’s made and what kinds of beans are needed.

–I’m grateful as I sit here. The RSA Conference and B-Sides was exhausting but a smashing success. I got to see a lot of people I usually only get to talk to in cyberspace. But I’m even more grateful that I’ll be seeing my wife and kids in a few hours.

Seize the day, friends. And if you’re traveling by plane and fish is on the menu, order the cheese and crackers instead.


Packing For #RSAC and #BSidesSF: An OCD Case Study

I just got done packing for five days in San Francisco, where I’ll be writing about goings on at RSA Conference 2012 and Security B-Sides. I bring it up because an OCD case packing a suitcase is a sight to behold.

Mood music:

Before I had the OCD under control, packing was an all-day affair. I’d line up all my pants, shirts, socks, suit coats and accessories in order of the days I planned to wear them. I would undergo a similar ritual when gathering toothpaste, the razor, pills, etc. I would always pack extra for fear that I’d be without socks on the second-to-last day of the trip.

I still keep track of what I stuff into the suitcase to ensure I have enough for each day of the trip. But I only look over my cargo twice. It takes less time to do it that way than when I used to look things over five to 10 times.

Packing the laptop bag has gotten easier. I used to cram five notebooks and a handful of pens in there. Now it’s one pen and no notebooks. In my anxiety-free state, I’ve gotten very good at storing notes in my head. I also pull it off by not letting it sit in my head for too long. I usually write up the talks and demos within 10 minutes of seeing them. Some talks, I write the story while I’m sitting there watching.

I also don’t stuff my pockets with cigars and cigarettes anymore. That allows for more room.

Some things will never change, though. I’ll always get to the airport three hours before the flight because I always worry about unexpected problems and want time to fix what needs fixing. People think that’s crazy and it probably is. But I get a lot of writing done in those three hours, so there.

Last year I walked around in my big, heavy boots. This year I’m being smart about it and going with the black leather moccasins that slip on and off effortlessly.

I’ll have a supply of Starbucks Via packets in case I can’t find my preferred coffee in the airport.

I’ll have my Kindle, which is lighter than the books I tend to pack. I’m leaving the extra rings and bracelets behind. I figure the less I take with me, the less there is to worry about.

Which brings me to the pills. Last year I forgot to grab my Prozac bottle on the way out of the hotel and only realized my mistake after getting through the airport TSA line. Now I just pack the exact number of pills I need for the trip. The rest of the bottle stays home.

Now I have the rest of the day to enjoy time with my sons and, later, Erin.

Repetitive OCD behavior is a time thief. You lose so much because of it.

I’m not totally free of it, but I’m fighting back.

Things Kids Say, February Vacation Edition

The children and their friends have been giving me an earful this week. Silly little buggers always forget that I take notes.

Mood music:

“I demand my rights as an American!” Duncan, after being told he can’t watch TV before school (in this case, the Friday before vacation)

“Good luck. You’re gonna need it.” Sean, wishing one of Erin’s friends well in an important business venture

“Who do you think I am, Rosa Parks?” Sean’s classmate Nick, after I evicted him from my favorite living room chair

“All kids are stupid. Parents know this, but tell us we’re intelligent to make us forget we’re stupid.” Nick, a few minutes later, after I commented him on his whit and intellect

“Wow. It’s just like watching a 3-D movie.” Duncan, walking around the house wearing the 3-D glasses he got when we went to see “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”

Duncan in 3-D

What Sean said: “Duncan nearly killed me just now.”

What really happened: Duncan kicked Sean in the ankle — and missed.

What Duncan said: “Sean just tried to break my arm!”

What really happened: Sean poked him in the arm.

“Everybody knows that.” Duncan’s classmate Gabby, after Sean tried to embarrass Duncan by telling her that Duncan wants to marry her when they grow up.

“Get out of the way, Lando! For crying out loud!” Sean, temper flaring, during a particularly difficult Wii game of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga.”

“But it doesn’t feel hot.” Duncan, after putting his hand on a hot pink electric mixer we saw in a store.

“Duncan, I took care of it for you.” Madison, the 3-year-old niece, after punching Uncle Bill in the arm for threatening to come get her. Duncan, Madison’s body guard, usually does the punching.

“Duncan, come take care of this.” Madison, a few hours later, after Uncle Bill playfully threatened to catch her again.

Chain Smoking In Bickford’s Was The Best

Though I no longer smoke or eat the kind of food they served, I’m feeling nostalgic about the days of old when you could sit in any of the dim, dank coffee shops in the local Bickford’s chain for hours, hanging out, chain smoking and drinking those awful, bottomless cups of black coffee.

I blame The Doors for this trip down memory lane. I’ve been listening to their first album this morning and when “Soul Kitchen” came on, the lyrics transported me back.

Well, your fingers weave quick minarets 
Speak in secret alphabets 
I light another cigarette 
Learn to forget, learn to forget 
Learn to forget, learn to forget 

Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen 
Warm my mind near your gentle stove 
Turn me out and I’ll wander baby 
Stumblin’ in the neon groves 

Well the clock says it’s time to close now 
I know I have to go now 
I really want to stay here 
All night, all night, all night

It makes sense that I was going through the Jim Morrison phase in those days. I used to sit at the table for hours and hours, with friends or alone, tearing through a pack of Marlboro Reds and filling notebooks with song lyrics, bad poetry and, occasionally, an essay I had to write for school.

I had two favorites: A Bickford’s in Swampscott and another in Lynnfield, right off Route 1 North at the Peabody line. The latter location is now a pretty good Greek restaurant. The former is now an Uno’s Pizza restaurant.

The food at Bickford’s was pretty bad, too. But it always hit the spot for a 20-something kid who had just spent the night drinking, smoking marijuana or both. I would often end up at one of these places at 5 in the morning after a late night. We would order the junkiest breakfast food they had, drink the coffee, smoke and be generally obnoxious. But everyone else was usually there under the same circumstances, so we fit right in.

On Tuesday afternoons, me and a couple friends would sit in the Swampscott shop laughing at how we were the only people there under the age of 76. Tuesday afternoons was when they had the senior citizen dinner specials.

It always puzzled me that they would eat there, since the food quality was no better than what you would find in any given nursing home. I felt the same way about the old-timers who would flock to a place on Route 1, Saugus called the Hilltop Steakhouse. The food there was a little better than Bickford’s, but not too much better.

Here’s where we get to the big point of this post.

When we’re in our 30s, 40s and 50s, I think we go through a long phase of food snobbery where only the more sophisticated bistros will do. But when your very young or up there in age, all that really matters is the change of scenery and hanging out with friends and significant others.

Of course, we live in a much different world now. Smoking is almost universally banned. Restaurants kick you out if you don’t buy something.

True, you can sit in Starbucks for hours nursing the same coffee and not be bothered, but that’s different. Starbucks has a cleaner, more comfortable environment, and the food and drinks cost more than it used to cost at Bickford’s.

Meanwhile, the food is usually steeped in some “artisan” concept. The quality ain’t much better, but the packaging is a lot more slick than, say, Bickford’s corned beef hash.

I love that Starbucks has so many blends and roasts to choose from, though I sometimes laugh over how they over do it with their seasonal and holiday blends.

You have the Christmas Blend, Thanksgiving Blend, etc. They could go on with this shtick indefinitely, with a “Good Friday Blend” that has no taste or color, in keeping with the Christian obligation to fast. Or they could do a “Back To School Blend” with traces of speed in the mix to jolt students back into the studious frame of mind.

I’ll tell you what, though: It was far cheaper and efficient to get back into studying when you could make pennies for bottomless coffee and smoke your way through assignments.

Those are happy memories, but today’s scenario is a better fit for who I am.

I don’t smoke anymore. I’m sober. I don’t eat flour or sugar. I sleep at night and work by day.

It’s good to have the memories, though.

Thanks, #RSAC, For Not Putting Us In The Dog House This Valentine’s Day

I couldn’t let this day go by without a little thank you to the organizers of the annual RSA Conference. Almost every year, they start the event on Valentine’s Day, which puts those of us with significant others in the dog house.

Mood music:

No one wants to be away from their loved ones on a holiday like this, but for those who work in the security world, RSA is not a conference you can easily avoid. Especially if you are writing about all the news coming from there.

This year we have a two-week delay, and that will make many, many wives, husbands, children, boyfriends and girlfriends a lot happier.

I know I’m happier getting to see my wife and children today.

I’ll be honest: I tried to write a fresh post just on Valentine’s Day this morning and failed miserably. The first reason is that I’ve already written about the loves of my life in scores of posts. I decided to re-run some of those rather than repeat it all. The other reason is that my friend, Linda White, wrote a post in her blog that speaks to the holiday in language far better than anything new I could think of. You might say she stole my thunder.

For those who don’t particularly enjoy this holiday — I know some newly separated or divorced couples who are in this mindset right now — this is a good post for you. So leave here and go there.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Gisele Bundchen Ain’t My Cup ‘O Joe, But I Give Her A Pass On This One

My interest in football is minimal. I love a good story of athletes overcoming the odds and showing us that anything’s possible. In that regard, Tom Brady is a hell of a role model.

I’m also not a fan of the Patriots quarterback’s wife, Gisele Bundchen.

Mood music:

It’s nothing personal. The world of professional modeling and fashion bores me, except for the occasional episode of Project Runway. And that’s just to see the train wrecks.

As for all the money they have, I don’t hold it against them. I know rich people who are miserable and poor people who are happy. And vice versa. I know rich people who are giving, beautiful souls and poor people who are self-absorbed assholes. And vice versa. The good and not-so-good exist in both worlds.

Now that I’ve clarified things, let’s turn to the public outrage of the week.

A lot of people are furious with Gisele for some sore-loser verbiage following the loss of her husband’s team in the Super Bowl.

On the way out of the stadium, someone heckled Gisele with this:

“Eli owns your husband.”

She responded, within earshot of the TV mics: “My husband cannot (expletive) throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.”

What outrages people most is that her comment essentially blames the rest of the team for coming up short. Teams are supposed to succeed and fail together, right?

It’s unfortunate that she said that. She should apologize to Tom’s teammates.

But in all the angry comments everyone is making on Facebook, Twitter and the news media, an important truth has been kicked to the curb: Gisele is human. All us humans say stupid things on a daily basis, especially when we’re getting defensive about someone trash-talking about a loved one. But we don’t have a camera on us to capture the moment.

It doesn’t matter if we’re swimming in money and mansions or living on the streets: We have our good moments and pathetic moments. Since Gisele is human like the rest of us, I’ll give her a pass on this one.

This morning I read a column from Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan on the whole affair. She writes:

Super Bowl Sunday offered a telling glimpse into the Brady/Bundchen household. Our suspicions may be true. 

It was never Tom’s idea to dress like a girl in headbands with hair down his back.

Or buy a $1,000 Toto toilet with water jets and blow dryers.

Or ride a bike through town with Gisele’s 5-pound ratty dog in his front basket like a teeny, tiny, nasty ET.

At least Tom put his foot down when Super Gi had the Super Idea to name Super Baby Benjamin … River. “Something always flowing, immortal,” blogged Super Gi after her Super Pregnancy and Super Childbirth in the tub, where she meditated for 8 hours. And don’t forget: She wanted a law requiring all mothers to breast-feed and claimed she’d potty-trained Benjamin by six months.

I mean, beyond nauseating.

None of that stuff is my cup ‘o joe, either. I prefer the simpler life of old jeans, broken-in leather and old-fashioned toilets you can sit on without being fondled by mechanical doo-dads.

But Tom did ask for all that. That’s the woman he chose to marry. In marriage husband and wife merge their lives in a blender, and the end result sometimes looks strange.

That’s beside the point, though.

We all do and say things that are nauseating. I’ve read and liked Eagan’s columns for years.

But she can be nauseating at times, too.