Mom was right on this one

In March, Mom wrote me about the movie Shattered Glass, saying:

This is one of the best DVD’s I have received. I had to look at it
twice, I fell asleep last night while watching, so kept it and
watched it during the day. I know it is one you all would like
also. I don’t really know if it is based on a true story or not – do

I wasn’t sure that a movie she fell asleep while watching would really be all that terrific, but I kept the note, and when I took over her Netflix account, I put the movie back on the queue.

I’m glad I did; all of us enjoyed it (Diane and I watched it first, and decided to keep it so that Jeff could watch it, and then we watched it again). None of the characters were particularly appealing (Glass starts out that way, but he seems too good to be true at the beginning, and then by the end, he’s revealed to be a complete liar — and, of course, he grows up to be Darth Vader), but the story (which, apparently, is mostly real, though augmented for the movies) was compelling.

Unfortunately, Glass is not the only “journalist” to have taken liberties with the truth. That never happens on this blog, though, unlike at least one other blog produced in this household:

I just saw a movie called Shattered Glass. It’s the true story about a writer who made up most of the stories he wrote for The New Republic. Anyways, seeing as he was exposed for what he did I think its time I came clean before I get fired.

There are some facts in these blogs that are fictional. As shocking as I know it is to some people, I have been known to make up a few details purely to make things more interesting. I know that the way some of these stories are written there is no way to separate the truths from the lies. I mean, we know there was a shabbaton, but were the skunks really there? We know I have a locker that won’t close but was it ever president? We know Michael Jackson exists, but is he a human? There is just no way to know.

So I must warn you here: some details in these blogs are not nor have they ever been true. I know I have damaged some of my credibility today, and my millions of readers worldwide are shocked. From now on, I will only write true things. Starting with this sentence, every thing here is true.

Except for that last sentence.

Shabbat Shalom!

The best final ever

We just got back from watching Jeff (and the rest of his class) take a final, and it was great. No, I’m not being sadistic (at least not tonight) — the class was Theater 2, and the final was a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (shortened to make it fit in 90 minutes).

It was actually his third performance of the day; first, the improv group at school, Mish-Mosh, put on “Gone in 15 Minutes” during lunch (I asked him what it was about, and he said “about 20 minutes”; accurate, but unhelpful. He has a bright future in politics). Then they gave a first performance of Midsummer at 4:30, right after school, and then a second performance (mostly to parents) at 7:30.

All of the kids were good; I’d be showing my bias if I said Jeff was the best, so I won’t.

Somehow, I doubt his other finals will be as much fun — or that he’ll spend as much time preparing for them.


I’m a Mandarin!

You’re an intellectual, and you’ve worked hard to get where you are now. You’re a strong believer in education, and you think many of the world’s problems could be solved if people were more informed and more rational. You have no tolerance for sloppy or lazy thinking. It frustrates you when people who are ignorant or dishonest rise to positions of power. You believe that people can make a difference in the world, and you’re determined to try.

Talent: 38%
Lifer: 31%
Mandarin: 62%

Take the Talent, Lifer, or Mandarin quiz.

Which reminds me…I’ve had The Paper Chase on TiVo for over a year.

I should try to get around to seeing it one of these months.

Of pens and spam

The microMBA class continues apace; today, we covered accounting, using a Broadway play as an exercise. Now I understand why TKTS works!

The class has required taking lots of notes, and I’ve been using my Pilot G2 with the adapted MontBlanc refill. I can’t say that I’m really all that impressed by the refill; it writes smoothly, but sometimes it writes rather lightly, which seems pretty bad for a $6 refill used less than one week. I should probably switch back to the G2 refill for a real comparison on smoothness and intensity, but that would require me to remember to change pens in the morning, and that seems unlikely.

While I was in class, this blog was attacked by spammers; I had over 100 comments to deal with when I got home, along with 52 emails telling me about them. I guess I should upgrade to the newest versions of everything, but at least none of the spams made it to the blog as far as I can tell.

Tomorrow is the final day of the microMBA; next week, it’s back to normal work, which is going to be something of a shock.

Relevant comment spam?

Two hours and 15 minutes after my posting last night, there was a comment waiting in my moderation queue from someone purporting to be a user at Yahoo. The comment read, almost verbatim:


Do you know you can get an American idol coin which will feature 2 finalists on 2 sides? Well, I got mine from [redacted]

C ya

I decided not to approve the comment, but I was impressed at the relevancy. So I did a little more digging.

I ignored the purported email address as being trivially spoofed; instead, I did a WHOIS lookup on the IP address from which the comment had come. It was in the 59.95.x.x range, so I had to go to the APNIC Whois database, which told me that that entire subnet was run by an outfit named Sancharnet, whose homepage describes them as “Sancharnet is a country wide Internet Access Network of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, India. It offers Dedicated and Dialup (PSTN & ISDN) Internet Access Services across all the major cities in India”.

I then checked my logs (well, actually, the SiteMeter summary) and found that my only recent connection from 59.95 came though this referral:

and that the user had visited several pages and been on the site for about 4 minutes.

This is, of course, an example of the globalization of services. Whoever sells the coins being flogged (“Abundant Marketing”, in Boynton Beach, Florida, according to the WHOIS database for the URL they were trying to promote) appears to employ people in India to do frequent Technorati searches for relevant terms and then post spam comments. I say that it’s likely to be humans at work rather than bots because of the location, and because the HashCash plugin requires JavaScript and most bots don’t support that.

I must admit to being tempted to go ahead and let the comment post because it was, in fact, relevant — but, of course, I didn’t. Wonder if they’ll try commenting to this posting? It does, after all, have the magic “American Idol” phrase in it!

I feel so…common

We had our house reroofed this week, so I had to make sure that our TV antennas were still properly lined up. The only way to do that, of course, was to turn on the TV and watch something — and I needed to check both DirecTV and OTA.

So I spent the hour between 8 and 9 tonight flipping back and forth between “Deal or No Deal” on CNBC (DirecTV) and “American Idol” on KTVU-DT (OTA). I’d been introduced to both shows on our vacation trip East — “American Idol” at my brother’s house, and “Deal or No Deal” at the Omni Shoreham while I was alone in the room for a few minutes.

Of course, I could have just flipped through the channels and turned off the set, but I have to admit to being fascinated by both shows; I suspect “Deal or No Deal” would be far less interesting without the excitement-building music, though. And I could have done without most of the music on “American Idol”; I am clearly not in the target age group. One of the finalists, Elliot, is from Richmond, and so while I was there, I got indoctrinated into rooting for him, so after the show ended, I spent a while voting for him, too. I wonder how many votes they’d get if they used a 900 number?

In class this week

I’m taking a “microMBA” class all this week, which keeps me offline during the day, which means that I need to at least perform triage on my email at night, which means that I don’t expect to have a lot of time to blog (nor, to be honest, a lot to blog about) this week.

At least not so far.

Don’t put it off

Susan writes, “I know there are a whole lotta bloggers and blog-readers who are getting a sudden moment to reassess the value ‚Ä”and fragility‚Ä” of life….” She suggests taking advantage of Mother’s Day (or any other opportunity) to ask your mother/father/grandparent some open-ended questions about their life.

I wish I’d asked more questions when I visited Mom in early April.

(And thanks, Susan, for your comment of condolence.)

Maybe the tartar sauce would have been a good idea

I decided to make something different for dinner tonight, and looked to Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals 2 for a recipe, and chose her “Grilled Halibut Sandwiches with zesty tartar sauce”. But I decided not to make them as sandwiches. And none of us particularly like tartar sauce, so I omitted that, too. And we’re not big asparagus fans, so I didn’t make the asparagus pasta salad, either.

In other words, I made grilled halibut with seasoning and lemon butter, accompanied with rice and salad.

It wasn’t a hit. Jeff didn’t eat most of the fish (and it was $19/pound!!), and neither Diane nor I thought it was particularly worth repeating. The fish itself was pretty bland, except for the surface, which was probably over-seasoned a bit. The lemon butter helped, but lemon butter does not a meal make.

Oh, well…at least we have plenty of chocolate in the house for later.

Looking backwards at looking forward

I got a note today from a colleague at IBM Ecuador; he’s going to be making a presentation to a university next week about the Internet and Open Source, and while he was researching it, he stumbled across one of my old presentations and was wondering if I had a current version. I didn’t, but rereading it amused me enough that I thought I’d post it here.

So here is The Internet — Past, Present, and Future, as delivered to the American Intellectual Property Law Association in 1996 (with two changes: I’ve removed my e-mail address, and I’ve converted the presentation from Lotus Freelance Graphics to PDF; somehow, I think more people can read PDF these days than can deal with Freelance).

Avoiding deepest ignorance

Today was Day 2 (and last) of the 2006 Almaden Institute. I avoided the talks which looked as though they were grounded in deep neuroscience and biology — that left me two to attend.

The first was Beyond Dualism by John Searle of Berkeley. He talked about consciousness, free will, free won’t, intentionality, and subjectiveness — and that was in the first ten minutes. But, even though the talk spent most of its time in deep philosophical waters, I didn’t feel adrift.

And then I returned for the last talk of the day, on Consciousness by Kristof Koch of Caltech. This talk had demos, humor, and raised some interesting questions.

I stayed for part of the closing panel, but my phone rang and, after leaving the auditorium to answer it, I didn’t feel like returning for the last few minutes.

Instead, I went home for dinner and then a quick cache; I had hoped to be first-to-find it, but viperfin beat us by 17 minutes. There were two other brand new caches in the vicinity, but I hadn’t written down the details of either one, so they’ll have to wait.

High Order Ignorance

Today was the first day of the 2006 Almaden Institute. The past three years’ Institutes were very interesting, and two of them were even related to my work, so I was looking forward to this year’s edition. The topic is “Cognitive Computing”, and knowing that pretty much exhausted my level of knowledge going in to the first session.

There’s nothing like starting a conference out with a speaker who tells good jokes — and when he’s also a Nobel Prize winner, that’s a bonus. Gerald Edelman‘s talk, From Brain Dynamics to Consciousness: A Prelude to the Future of Brain-Based Devices, was heavy going at times (I had to go diving in Wikipedia to discover what terms like “qualia” meant), but I enjoyed those parts which I understood (which definitely included the jokes).

I didn’t expect to understand much of Henry Markram‘s talk, The Emergence of Intelligence in the Neocortical Microcircuit, but it turned out to be fairly accessible, and loaded with good graphics. His group is trying to simulate networks of about 10,000 neurons, with some early success — they need a BlueGene to do it, though.

I missed about half of the first post-lunch talk, Robert Hecht-Nielsen‘s The Mechanism of Thought, but came in during the discussion of confabulation as a mechanism to generate grammatically correct and plausible sentences. I think it’s a long way from that to Chancellor, though, and so did much of the audience — Hecht-Nielsen claims that it’s possible in the near future, with no major breakthroughs required (at least that’s how I interpreted him).

The second post-lunch talk was from Jeff Hawkins on Hierarchical Temporal Memory: Theory and Implementation, based on the work he describes in On Intelligence. It seemed plausible to me, but I do have a high order of ignorance in this area.

I skipped most of the panel discussion in favor of getting a little work done, but returned to the conference in time for the “moderate” walk to the water tower (I needed some exercise today), and then a tasty dinner and a very interesting talk by Rama on The Uniqueness of the Human Brain, which covered phantom limbs, synesthesia, and the emergence of language. His talk was far better than the typical after-dinner talk at a conference; I’m glad I stayed for it (I did, however, leave before dessert was served).

The Institute continues tomorrow, but I’ll probably only sample it instead of staying for the entire day. My inbox needs attention.

The Refill Detective at Work

Some time ago, Diane got a nice pen as part of a Thanks! award at work:

Free pen

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the pen, but it felt nice in the hand and wrote well. For a while. But it ran dry awfully quickly, so I disassembled it this morning and found that it had a teeny tiny refill, about two inches long (the pen is five inches long).

Teeny Refill

The obvious plan was to visit the local office supply store and get a refill — but they didn’t have anything which fit. So then it was time for Plan B: Google.

But it was not obvious what I should search for. Since the refill said “Ministar E”, I Googled for that, but I didn’t find anything useful (many spam pages, though). Ditto on “Ministar pen”, “Ministar refill”, and “Ministar pen refill”.

Then I turned the refill over, and found intriguing markings.

Refill, showing ISO 12757-2 DOC

It looked like an ISO standard number, ISO 12757-2, so I Googled that, and found Dark Matter, which told me that ISO 12757-2 is the standard governing archival ballpoint pen ink. And that there was a related standard, 12757-1, which described the dimensions of refills.

A little more searching took me to the ANSI Store, where I could buy the standards: $53 for part 1 and a mere $40 for part 2.

I passed, although I did ask the librarian at work if we happened to have those standards — we didn’t.

So then I followed a sponsored link to the Colorado Pen Company, which offers many, many refills — and pictures, too. There are two which look similar to mine, one for Alfred Dunhill pens, and one for Lamy pens. The Lamy refill even has the magic phrase “ISO 12757-2” on it. But it costs five bucks, plus shipping, which seems like a lot to pay for one refill (though it is a full 4-1/4 inches long).

So I may do something entirely different. While I was chasing down the standard, I stumbled across this Digg, pointing to these instructions on using Mont Blanc refills in inexpensive Pilot G2 pens. Our local office store is having a sale this week — eight Pilot G2 pens (plus two bonus pens or pencils) for $6; they’ve got the Mont Blanc refills at two for $12. So for just a little more than I’d pay for one refill plus shipping, I could have what purports to be the world’s best writing pen. Hmmm….

Firefox cookie lesson

I ran into a problem caused by a internal site setting invalid cookies (ones with “@” as part of the cookie name) and tried to fix it by using the Firefox cookie manager to delete the offending cookie. This might have been OK, except that I’d also set Firefox to not allow a site for which I’d removed cookies to set cookies in the future.

And so removing the one errant cookie blocked all sites from setting cookies — this had some unfortunate side effects (such as making it impossible to log into several internal sites). I couldn’t find any way to reverse this, either — not even running Firefox in safe mode helped.

So I resorted to rummaging through my profile directory and looking at any file which was human-readable. The last file I checked (of course!) was hostperm.1; that file had a line in it setting the “cookie” property of to “2”. I deleted the line and my problems went away.

I will probably keep the Firefox setting to prohibit a site who’s cookies I’ve deleted from setting cookies in the future, but this posting will help me remember what to do if it causes me problems, too.

A day at work

I went into the office today; it felt both good and strange. As soon as I entered the building, I ran into a friend who gave me a hug in sympathy — this would be unremarkable except that she had two brand new summer hires trailing her. I wonder what they thought; most companies probably discourage hugging in the hallway.

I couldn’t quite clear my inbox before leaving for the day (well, I could have, but then the two items I was actively working on would have been out of sight), but I’m awfully close. Tomorrow for sure.

And unfortunately, Robert Scoble’s Mom is now in the hospital. Robert, if you read this, go back to this posting and then read forward — some of what we went through might be helpful to you.

We blew out the shiva candle this evening. I had thought about letting it burn for the full seven days, but tonight, it felt like time to move on.

Nibbling at work

I usually don’t do e-mail on the weekend, at least not before Sunday night, and that only to make sure there are no surprise Monday morning telecons. But today, I spent two cheerful hours dealing with the last week’s mail. I didn’t get through everything in my inbox, but I did get rid of 90% of what had arrived while I was out (of course, dealing with the other 10% will take at least as long). I think I’m actually looking forward to going into the office tomorrow.

We had a busy day in other respects, too; this morning, we helped out at the Shir Hadash/Most Holy Trinity Tzedakah Day/Health Fair — we were there from 10 to noon, and during that time, the volunteers outnumbered the “customers”. We left just before the 11am Mass ended, and I hope they were able to attract a lot of people from that group, as well as throughout the afternoons. I did pick up one good idea at the Health Fair — there was a free raffle, and one of the prizes was an earthquake preparedness kit, consisting of a 30-gallon locking garbage can, filled with food, water, and tools. We have food, water, and tools, but they’re scattered all over the house — I plan to buy a can and create a similar kit (though I might omit the coloring books and crayons).

And we spent this evening at the annual Kehillah gala dinner, this year honoring Bobby Lent, one of the founders of the school. It was a good evening, with decent wine and food, though the speeches went on a bit too long (so we left before the Birkat Hamazon). And this year, they only had a silent auction, which I thought was a great improvement (and so did Bobby, since he mentioned that in his speech). We bid on and won two items: a Shabbat dinner to be made at our house by the head of school, and a four-hour consultation with an organizer (“the Time Butler”). We have to plan how to get the most value out of the latter item — I suspect doing so will be valuable all by itself.


I am very happy that I have nearly nothing to write about today. It’s been a routine Saturday — services in the morning, and then not much of anything organized the rest of the day. I can’t remember the last time I had a routine Saturday, though.

I’ve left the shiva candle burning, even though shiva is over; somehow, the idea of blowing it out seems too final. Maybe tomorrow.

Sitting Shiva

Because Mom’s funeral was on Sunday, today was the last day of her shiva, and it actually ended at noon. So I spent the morning doing something I hadn’t yet done: actually sitting shiva.

I stayed inside, sat on the floor, and spent some time thinking about Mom; since it is not good to be alone during shiva, I also made a few phone calls. Of course I spoke with family, but I also spent time talking to one of Mom’s friends who’d I’d never met.

It helped.

And then it was noon, and shiva was officially over. So I went into the bathroom, looked at the mirror, and grabbed my shaver for the first time in a week. Then I went out for a long walk, first for lunch at a Mexican restaurant (happy Cinco de Mayo), and then over to Shir Hadash to talk with Rabbi Aron for a while. Then back home, where I sat and contemplated a little longer before going to pick Jeff up at Kehillah — today was his AP European History exam. Life goes on.

Tonight, there are no shiva minyans; it’s Shabbat. But I’ll be at services to say Kaddish.

Shabbat Shalom.

Schlepping Shiva

The alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, as expected. I turned it off and went back to sleep, also as expected.

But I did get up before Diane and Jeff left for the day. I knew I had to be out of the house by noon or so when the cleaning service was due, and there were things I wanted to get done. The most important of those was buying coffee — I’m the only coffee drinker in the house, and I’d made the mistake of letting the supply run out just before I left for Richmond the last time. So an emergency run to Starbucks was in order.

After that, I fielded a call from the roofer (they’ll be reroofing the house next week), and then left for lunch and a trip to the bank. I had brought some stuff back from Richmond which needed to go into the safe deposit box; I also had brought back some Savings Bonds that Mom had bought for me over the years, and I thought it might be a good idea to do something with them — as well as the bonds that I’d had since childhood which had long since stopped earning interest.

I took care of the safe deposit box easily enough, but dealing with the bonds was an entirely different affair. I’d checked out interest rates and decided I would do better to redeem them all and put the principal into a tax-free money market fund. So that meant I had 58 bonds to deal with. B of A has a simple form to fill out to redeem bonds — but each form is only good for 24 bonds. So I had to fill out 3 forms, listing 24 bonds on the first two and 10 on the last one. And I had to write down the serial numbers (well, I typed them into a spreadsheet). And sign them all. And list my account number on the first and last of each batch. And seal them into envelopes. All in all, it took about 90 minutes — and I won’t get the money for a few days.

But I finally finished and went home. The cleaners had come and gone; there was a fruit basket on the table that had arrived while they were there (thanks, Debbie and Pete!). There were also nine boxes on the driveway; DHL had delivered while I was dealing with the bank. So I brought the boxes into the house; nothing rattled, which is a good sign (but I don’t plan to unpack them just yet).

Then I had to run up to Kehillah to pick up Jeff, who was staying late to practice for his AP European History test tomorrow. We had a quick dinner, and then it was off to Shir Hadash, where we were having a double feature — two shiva minyans.

The first was for Arthur Harris, who had died on the same night as Mom; we met outside in the Memorial Garden. I was talking with Andrea, his widow, when someone told me that I needed to go inside for Mom’s minyan (intermissions are never the right length). I was surprised and pleased that my manager was there.

The service went quickly, and then people started talking — we finally left about 9:30. It was good to talk with friends — not all of my talking was about Mom by any means, but a lot was.

And that was the last shiva minyan — tomorrow, I plan to go to the regular Shabbat services in the evening, and of course we’ll be going to services and Torah Study on Saturday, as we get closer to the normal rhythms of life.

But I probably won’t get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning.

Flying Shiva

I flew home today; as on the way to Richmond, the needs of life in TravelLand took over. It was odd seeing myself in a mirror for the first time in three days, especially given that I haven’t shaved since the funeral.

My friends had organized a shiva minyan at the house; it was good to have them here. It was also good that United got me home on time, so that we had dinner before the minyan — last night, I was so busy dealing with DHL that I mostly ate sweets for dinner, and that’s probably not good for me.

Shipping Shiva

Yesterday was a day of contemplation and remembrance. Today was a day of activity and decision.

With the invaluable and incredible help of a childhood friend, Cliff and I packed and shipped nine boxes, totalling 208 pounds, of Mom’s stuff to my house.

When I say “help”, that actually means that my friend packed nine boxes, totalling 208 pounds; Cliff and I took them out to the car, and I took them to DHL and sent them on their way. If I had been doing the packing, I would probably still be working on the first box; fortunately, our friend knows how to wrap and pack (he’s actually had to ship light bulbs to Iraq as part of his job (your tax dollars at work) and they got there safely). And he didn’t have to make any decisions about what to ship, just how to protect and distribute it.

Cliff and I spent the time deciding what I’d ship (he’d suggest stuff and I’d say “yes” or “no”, and occasionally he’d twist my arm to get me to take something, which is how I wound up with nine boxes). We also did a search and destroy pass over Mom’s papers, getting rid of old bank statements, greeting cards, letters, and medical data — we tried to err on the side of safety, of course. And since he can just drive things to his house and sort through them later, we weren’t as drastic as Diane and I had been at her father’s house. (I just hope that not too much of the “later” stuff is in the boxes I shipped….)

There are also bagfuls of things for the Salvation Army, as well as tons (probably literally) of furniture and other items which he’s going to put into storage until one of his children is ready to furnish an apartment. I might have liked some of the furniture — it did have memories — but not enough to store or ship it.

I probably should have been sad as I went through all the stuff, but I was too busy to really think about it. It’ll hit me one day soon, I’m sure. But it was a better day than I expected it to have been — and spending it with old friends helped, too. And I must admit I was motivated by the thought of not flying back to Richmond to finish the job later in the month; I would be very happy to spend more of the month at my house than at Cliff’s, unlike the situation in April!

After dropping the boxes at DHL, I raced back to the house for the shiva minyan, arriving a few seconds after the Cantor, but well before the appointed hour. Tomorrow, I’ll also be racing to the house for a shiva minyan, but this time it’ll be a race from the airport. I think I’m ready.

Driving shiva

Traditionally, mourners sit shiva for seven days, staying in the house, covering all the mirrors, sitting on low stools, being visited by friends and family, and talking a lot about the deceased.

As you may have already gathered, Mom was not particularly traditional, and she asked us not to sit shiva in the usual manner. This was an easier request to agree to than having private services, but, again, we’re not completely agreeing to it. So we are having shiva minyans (on both coasts on Wednesday and Thursday nights!), but we’re not staying at home.

I spent most of today driving around Richmond, visiting places I’d been with Mom over the years. I couldn’t visit every place of significance, and I’m pretty sure there were some places I went today that she and I had never been to together, but it was a great way to deal with memories of her life.

I started by doing something she never did: I got on the freeway and drove to downtown Richmond, getting off I-95 at the Broad Street exit. This put me down by the Department of Highways building, where I’d worked one summer during college. I then came west on Broad — the first couple of blocks (in the MCV complex) were as I remembered them, but everything was different from the Library of Virginia building at 9th and Broad until I turned South onto Adams. The Library of Virginia had replaced the old Trailways Bus Station; I didn’t go in, but I can imagine that it was an enormous improvement. And, unlike the old Virginia State Library that I occasionally visited when I was in high school, it looked to be user-friendly and welcoming to the public. I bet not all of the books are in closed stacks, either!

Other parts of Broad weren’t as clearly improved; there was a big construction project on the south side of the street at 7th, and the Thalheimers building was gone at 6th. Miller & Rhodes was still there, but fenced off; last week, I read that they were going to convert it into a first-class hotel. As I went further up Broad, the few businesses which were there got steadily less appealing (just as was the case when I lived in Richmond), though the Schwartzchild Building at 2nd and Broad is being reclaimed for apartments and a restaurant.

At Adams, I turned left, and then left again at Franklin, right by the Jefferson Hotel. The Jefferson has always been a Richmond landmark, but I don’t think I’ve been in it more than once. Mom did go there occasionally, though, for Ethyl activities. I passed the Richmond Public Library at 1st, then the Richmond Newspapers building (err, make that the Richmond Times-Dispatch building) at 3rd, and parked between 4th and 5th.

Parking was disquietingly easy for a Monday at 11:30am. And there were no meters — the posts were still there, but the meters were gone, except in a few blocks farther south and east, near the Federal Reserve Bank. There were also more surface lots than I’d remembered (probably because there were fewer buildings), and even a few multi-story garages.

I walked back up Franklin to the Richmond Public Library and went in. The building had been renovated a few years ago and it looked great. The book collection looked OK, too; I went directly to the SF stacks, and there were books which I’m sure I’d checked out when I was a kid, as well as many newer books. The library had a few people in it, but it wasn’t terribly crowded. I grabbed a few sheets of scrap paper (they’re reusing cards from the card catalog) to take notes as I wandered, and then left.

I walked back down Franklin — I could see the former Central National Bank building on Broad, of course. At one time, it was the tallest building in Richmond, and it used to give the weather forecast by the color and blink pattern of the “CNB” atop the building. The “CNB” is long gone, and I noticed a big “FOR LEASE” sign on the building as I drove past it on Broad. I only really remember going into the building once — with Mom, when she visited a lawyer to file for divorce.

At 5th and Franklin, I looked to my left and saw the Miller & Rhodes logo on the Grace Street side of the building, just as it ever was, so I decided to go that way. On the way, I passed the John Marshall Hotel — it used to be one of Richmond’s best hotels, but it’s closed for renovation (or so the recording on their phone says). And, of course, Miller & Rhodes is long-gone, too.

On my way up 5th, I also passed the Cokesbury Building, also at 5th and Grace. Cokesbury was (and I guess still is, but elsewhere) a bookstore owned by a church (I think the Episcopal Church), but they sold all kinds of books there. I bought my copy of Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love there, and I’m sure the church would not have approved of all of that book! The building had a new marquee, but was closed.

I walked back West on Grace to 1st, passing a few open businesses, including Perly’s Restaurant (which I think I remember from childhood, though I never went there) and the Virginia Republican Party headquarters, as well as a new hat store in the building with a “Gigi’s Hats” sign — I remember the sign. The Sydnor and Hundley building was closed; I guess they finally did go out of business, as they were often threatening to do on their commercials.

I backtracked on Grace, passing the old Berry-Burk building at 6th (being converted into luxury apartments, so they say), as well as the former Loew’s Theatre (where I remember going to see Fantastic Voyage). It had been converted into the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts after I left Richmond, but now it, too, is shuttered and vacant (though I’ve been told there are plans to revive it). There was still a bit of the back of the Thalheimer’s building left on the Grace Street side — that was always my favorite part, because it was where they had the Fancy Foods department (in other words, candy).

703 East Grace was the home of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of Virginia when I was growing up (hence Virginia’s original area code, 703). The building had a gold line around it on the sidewalk marking the limit of public access, so that they could legally keep out strikers — the gold line was gone, but it’s still an active telco building (now, of course, the telco is Verizon).

Once I passed 8th Street, it was like being back in the Richmond that was — instead of holes in the ground and abandoned storefronts, there were active churches, and then Capitol Square.

The State Capitol itself is under serious renovation and is closed, but there was a temporary Visitor’s Center in a trailer, and I stopped in and talked with the guide and then with a historian about old Richmond. The tunnels connecting the buildings (which extended all the way to MCV at 12th and Broad) had been closed right after 9/11 and will never be reopened; I used to enjoy wandering around under there, though it could be awfully warm. The Legislature has moved to the old State Library building during the reconstruction (hmmm, that’s probably a bad word to use in Richmond!); when they move back, that building will become the Governor’s offices. The state also will probably take back Richmond’s Old City Hall, which is currently being commerically leased and is apparently riddled with lobbyists.

By this time, I was starting to think about lunch and about moving my car, since I’d parked in a two-hour space. So I wandered back via Main Street, which was far more populated than Grace, Franklin, or Broad. This didn’t surprise me — there are lots of financial buildings along Main and just south of it; it’s the center of gravity of downtown Richmond and has been for years.

For lunch, I decided to go to Shockoe Slip. Mom had worked there for many years at Virginia Elevator; when she worked there, there might have been one restaurant within an easy walk. That’s not the case now; the area got redeveloped starting in 1985, and now it’s chockablock with restaurants, as well as a few hotels, and a few businesses (I mostly saw ad agencies). The streets are still cobblestones, though, and the sidewalks are still brick.

I had lunch at the Taphouse Grill, which occupied the same building that had once housed Virginia Elevator. I could see some elements of the architecture I remembered, especially where the freight elevator had been, but it was a very different place (for one thing, the first floor was well-lit, unlike the old days — Mom’s office was on the second floor, but getting there was none of the fun). The menu did talk about the history of the building, but it ended in 1866, long before Virginia Elevator (or Mom) came on the scene.

The food was good, as was the beer (another difference — when I was growing up, Richbrau was a typical local beer, and it went out of business long before I was old enough to drink it; the new Richbrau Brewing Company is a craft microbrewery, offering about six different brews), but I didn’t linger. I had more territory to cover.

When I returned to the car, I discovered that a Mercedes was right on my tail, making it difficult for me to get out of my spot. I succeeded, but not without discovering one of the worst attributes of cobblestone pavement — it’s hard to move slowly and gently, because the pavement is quantized. I guess it’s just as well that I only had a half-pint with lunch.

I drove past the Ethyl campus, but didn’t try to go in. When Mom first worked for Ethyl, she was in a subsidiary, Converted Film Products, which made plastic bags. She used to take us to the office with her on Saturday or Sunday so she could use the WATS line to call out-of-town relatives (I guess the statute of limitations has passed on this); it was down near the old Tredegar Iron Works. The main campus was at 3rd and Canal, and she worked there for several years, but it wasn’t nearly as colorful as the CFP office (which might have been in a trailer, if I remember correctly).

Instead, I drove over to Oregon Hill. We lived there, at 625 South Holly, when we first moved to Richmond after my father left us, and my grandfather had a grocery store at 701 South Laurel for many years. We moved out to the West End before I started school, which was probably a very good thing for me. But that meant that Mom had to go down to the store every day; she didn’t drive, which meant taking the bus. Two buses, in fact; first the Broad Street 6 as far as Laurel, then the Laurel 11 to the store. I went with Mom every day until I started school, and sometimes in the summer thereafter, so I remember the bus rides well. The Laurel 11 didn’t run very often, so we had to wait a long time; there was a chop suey restaurant at the corner of Broad and Laurel, and the owner would let us wait inside. Of course, we never bought anything because it wasn’t kosher — but he was kind and let us stay anyway. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, just that it said “chop suey” — now, it’s the Aladdin Restaurant.

Oregon Hill has changed enormously. It had always had a great view of the James River and Hollywood Cemetery (I remember being creeped out by the signs on the road there: “One Way In”), but the houses were, well, deteriorating. Grandpa ran the store for many years and gave people a fair deal — I used to help out occasionally, even though I was very young — I could make change and run the cash register (at least I could once I was strong enough to push down the keys — it was one with discrete mechanical keys for everything, instead of a ten-key pad or even a matrix of keys). And the people on the Hill were nice enough to us.

A developer had bought up the blocks containing the store and the old house, and had built the Overlook Townhouses, a development of two-story townhouses, some of which have a direct view of the river, and all of which are within a block of a great view. They sell for between $300K and $560K — that’s approaching California pricing, I think. And there aren’t any grocery stores nearby, either.

There are still a few older homes left in the area, probably with some of the original Hill dwellers. I wonder what kind of interactions they have with the yuppies who are buying the townhomes.

The old playground at the end of Holly Street was still there, and still fenced-in with serious fencing. I went there on occasion and played with a few of the neighborhood kids — but then I’d go back to my suburban home in the West End, while they stayed on the Hill. One girl did eventually move out to the West End and went to Tucker with me, at least for a short time, but I don’t remember her at all well from high school.

I got back in the car and drove up Pine Street, passing Grace Arents School, where the neighborhood kids went (and which my grandfather told me to claim I went to when I first applied for a Richmond Library card, back when they wouldn’t give a card to someone who lived outside the city limits). I passed a couple of businesses which looked vaguely familiar, such as the Pine Grill and the Pine Street Barbers (I never went to either one); when Pine ended, I went over to Cherry and on up to Cary Street.

VCU had moved into the neighborhood near Cary, and it was entirely different than when I’d last been there. I drove past Paragon Pharmacy, which was closed and locked, though there was someone inside, and it looked like there might still have been some medicines on the shelves. Then I drove up to Main and Laurel, home of Richmond’s Landmark Theatre (it was The Mosque when I was growing up, but was renamed in 1995 after a renovation), where I’d gone once with Mom for some sort of telethon.

After that, I drove on Broad out to my old neighborhood; I parked in front of my old house and took a walk around the block. When I was growing up, there’d been a vacant lot at the corner of Byrd and Fitzhugh — we called it “Woodville” and spent a lot of time playing there. Now, there was a large house there, though they had left a few trees in place.

I walked back to my old house, and the “new” owner was in the yard (he’d bought the house from Mom in 1976 or so). We chatted briefly, and he agreed to let me do something very silly. For some reason, there were two little structures on either side of the walkway leading to the house — I used to love to walk up the one on the left (I think the total height was two feet) and jump off. And I did it again today — it didn’t feel like as much of a jump as it used to, though.

My last stop for the day was the JCC; it, too, had been significantly renovated and expanded while my back was turned, but when I went inside, I could still see some of the bones of the old building, especially looking down at the gym floor from the second floor balcony. My favorite room, the library, was long gone, as was the book collection (donated to other libraries) — I can’t tell you how many times I’d checked out Goren’s Hoyle from there, learning to play just about all of the games in the book. I also remember borrowing Auntie Mame, which was pretty racy stuff for a pre-teen!

I left the JCC and drove back to Old Richmond, then to Libbie, and then out Broad to Dickens, where I decided to make a quick detour past my old elementary school before driving to Mom’s apartment to do a little cleaning up. The school had been renamed from Bethlehem Elementary to Charles M. Johnson Elementary; I decided not to stop.

And that ended my day of driving shiva. I came back to the house (after a brief stop at the apartment to take a few things — Cliff’s wife had been very busy there all day, and tomorrow, I will have a lot of packing to do!), where we had dinner and the shiva minyan.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Richmond for this trip; I expect to spend a lot of it at Mom’s, packing things to ship home. I’ve already turned off her phone and DSL service; her email will continue for another couple of weeks, so I can look for late mail. It’s beginning to seem awfully final…but I guess that’s only reality rearing its head.

Eulogy Remarks for Elaine Singer

Rabbi Gary Creditor of Temple Beth-El gave the hesped at Mom’s funeral yesterday. He kindly sent me a copy of his remarks, which I wanted to post here for those who couldn’t be at the funeral.

Eulogy Remarks for Elaine Singer
April 30th, 2006

Dear Family and Friends,

From many diverse ways I had the pleasure of knowing Elaine Singer. We shared the simchas of the family from Cliff and Michael and through their children. I saw her occasionally in synagogue and other times at the JCC or other events. I enjoyed our repartee, her sense of humor and funny comments. We also remarked on growing older and its attendant ailments. But she would give me a special look and comment. I think that she mostly respected that I was a Rabbi in what comments she shared with me. I have been distressed to know that she was ailing and now at her passing. But I take comfort in knowing that she was blessed in life in many ways and from many people, that she gave blessings, fun, enjoyment and love to many, and bestowed a measure of goodness to the world, her family and her friends. These treasures and qualities are eternal, and their merit accompany her neshama to heaven.

Elaine was born in here Richmond and she attended Thomas Jefferson High School like so many of her generation, and also Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University. She was a very intelligent and capable woman, perhaps just a little ahead of her time. In listening to Cliff and Michael in the office and to David speaking from Los Gatos, I learned that Elaine was a very remarkable and special person. In many ways, she was born to serve. She was the faithful daughter of Abraham and Ethyl Winer, extremely devoted to them and took care of them. She was blessed with her brother Harold who predeceased her and his wife Dubby, and her brother Leonard in Denver, to whom we send our condolences. Her mother died first and her father significantly later, and she was constant in her attention. Elaine was a single mom before it became truly recognized. She devoted herself to raising Cliff and David with everything that was necessary. Through these years and onwards she worked in the family grocery business on Oregon Hill, as did so many Jews of that generation, then at Virginia Elevator Company, and finally at Ethyl Corporation, where she was the secretary in the audit department. Her capabilities were recognized by her bosses and co-workers alike. In another time and age, she could have risen very high in that company or any other, such as were her talents and abilities. Though she kept in touch with friends from work, retirement was the happiest day of her life, and much richly deserved. Between serving her parents, working and serving her sons, her life was totally absorbed and left little time for anything else. She acquitted herself of her self-assumed responsibilities with distinction and aplomb. The three agreed that proper adjectives to describe Elaine’s sense of humor would be salty and spicy. That may be true, yet I see these as the qualities of her soul that enabled her to face up to the challenges of life and triumph, to persevere and succeed, to see her grandchildren and friends, and shep much nachas from them and from life. Elaine Singer was a very special lady.

Elaine definitely had a few special qualities. In 1964, having gotten lost and wound up in Ashland, it became her first and last times that she every drove on an interstate! In her youth she was a dancer, that being her major at RPI, and she loved ice skating as well. It was for that reason that she enjoyed watching her granddaughters’ performances and attended so much of their school functions. She kept kosher all her life and never ate treif, with a strong Jewish identity and component of her soul. She was supportive of many things in Jewish life and affairs. At one time she got her hands on a computer and she used it extensively. Cliff said that 80% of her email to him were her jokes, many of which were not too good and not fit for public recitation, at least by me. Perhaps one of the great stories that typify Elaine and her life is the following. Trying to send something to Cliff she just typed CSinger at [redacted]. But instead of getting Cliff, she got a stranger, Carol Singer, with whom she promptly struck up a lively correspondence. From this accidental meeting blossomed a great friendship. Just a few days ago, Carol sent the following to Elaine:

Hi, Elaine,

I just have to tell you how much your newsy letters and your silly jokes have always meant to me. Through your heartwarming letters, I have come to know and enjoy your family. All of the love and pride you have for your family has always come through loud and clear. I’ve enjoyed looking at all the picture albums you’ve emailed to me. We’ve spent a lot of time bragging about our children, too. I have been too busy to tell you about my wonderful 15-month-old grandson. You’re right, grandchildren are something special. I love it when he sleeps at my house sometimes on the weekends.

I have to thank you for all the Jewish jokes you are always sending my way. I forward many of them to my brother, who, as you know, is a Gabbai at his Temple in Pennsylvania.

Now you hurry and get well so you can lighten my day with your sense of humor.

Carol Singer.

That is quintessential Elaine. Now she will brighten up our lives through memory and perhaps some special type of communication, this time, just from further away and through a different medium. May it still bring joy to our hearts.

Elaine was blessed with a large and loving family with whom she stayed in touch throughout the years. She was extremely generous to family and friends and also lived to give advice. She was truly blessed with four grandchildren, the girls Allison and Meri, and the boys Cory, here in Richmond, and Jeffrey in Los Gatos. All of you have very special and wonderful memories of your grandmother to carry with you throughout all your lives. Being girls was enough to make you special and she kvelled at your achievements. She admired Cory who is supposedly just like Cliff was in his youth, and a small car in her doll house for him to find, necessitating she have a large supply to induce a return visit by him to discover more. Jeffrey loves coins and Elaine kept a subscription for him, one that just came this past Wednesday. Three years ago, making a real effort after her surgery, she attended Jeffrey’s Bar Mitzvah and enjoyed it immensely, meeting Jeffrey in his environment and meeting the family and friends in California. In 1978, though not a happy traveler, she did come on a trip to Israel.

Yet as David and Cliff spoke about their mother, I heard an echo of yesterday’s Torah portion. Specifically, it refers to two words: tahor – pure, and tamey – impure. We are instructed to follow out rituals as well as to refrain from certain animals, because they are impure, for whatever reason, and only eat from the tahor, the pure, and follow that behavioral trait throughout our lives. David framed it very beautifully when he said that there were things that their mother did not teach them to do, though it would have been so easy to do so.

Though having a difficult life, with particular misfortunes in the beginning, that made the entire journey ever more difficult, she did not teach them to hate. Though she grew up in the 1920’s and onwards, and Cliff and David were born during the tempestuous times in the South in the 1950’s, Elaine did not teach them to become racists. She always preached that everyone was a person and should be treated accordingly.

Elaine Singer was remarkable and made people better by her values, her wisdom and her words. In her way she blessed us and brought a drop of God’s precious salvation to the world. Now her neshama resides in a kingdom of eternal peace, without pain and suffering. And if, in the mysterious sounds of heaven, we may imagine that we are hearing a divine guffaw, then let us also imagine that it is caused by Elaine, sharing one of her jokes with God and eliciting such a heavenly response. May that memory bring a smile to our faces and warm our hearts.

I personally imagine Elaine being a little testy that I have spoken this long, but her family gave me a lot of very good material. That is how God made her, and now in His all embracing arms, may she rest in eternal peace. Amen.