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On supporting the troops

Filed in: Iraq, personal, politics, vent, Mon, May 19 2008 13:57 PT

I have a sister who’s 18. She’s studying nursing at Northern Arizona University, and I’m really proud of her. Occasionally, though, she sends me chain letters, and I just got one from her today. It consists of couplets contrasting our relative comfort against the struggle of our soldiers in the Middle East:

You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He patrols the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.

You’re angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
He’s told he will be held over an extra 2 months.

You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.

And so on. It ends:

If you support your troops, send this to 7 people.
If you don’t support your troops well, then don’t send this out.
You won’t die in 7 days, your love life won’t be affected, and you won’t have the worst day ever.
You don’t have to email this. It’s not like you know the men and women that are dying to preserve your rights.

And that was enough to set me off.

The classic subtext in the “support the troops” argument is that those who oppose the administration’s objectives in prosecuting the war are somehow “against” the troops. Which is like saying you hate your favorite sports team simply because you think the owner or general manager is a bum. Actually, it’s far worse than that: it is to suggest that you therefore hate each player to the extent that you don’t care if they die.

During the first Gulf War, I was proud to wear a yellow ribbon because I was proud of the individuals that make up the military, if not the proverbial owners and general managers. That’s still true today, individual crimes and misdemeanors notwithstanding. But the yellow ribbon is now driven by that quiet dual meaning, and I won’t wear one because it’s more important for me to be clear about my divided opinions of the management versus the rank and file.

What really got to me about this letter was that it reminded me of a story from my past, and since my sister was so young, I thought it best to relay it to her:

So, you probably don’t remember this, since you were 2 at the time. But during the first Gulf War, there was a billboard on the railroad between Santa Fe and Butler (in Flagstaff, Arizona) that had a “We Support The Troops” sign. One night, someone went up and papered over the words “the troops” with “Death and Destruction”. The next day, my friend David and I climbed up 20 feet onto the billboard to scrape it off. And I’d do it again.

So if you ever meet whoever started this chain letter, tell them I said if they think I don’t support the troops because I won’t forward their preachy, jingoist message, they can FUCK RIGHT OFF. For real.

Nothing personal. I still love you. It just pisses me off like nothing else when people confuse being against the war with being against soldiers. I care a lot about the soldiers, and I’m willing to do a hell of a lot more than start a chain letter if it would help make them safe, strong and free.


What I’m up to

Filed in: personal, Wed, Mar 5 2008 22:59 PT

Okay. That felt good. Now that I’ve resurfaced, here’s the update.

I won’t be at SXSW this year. Sorry. I really wish I could, especially after seeing some of the accessibility sessions. If you’re going, do not miss Derek Featherstone’s Star Wars session, or Gez Lemon’s ARIA primer.

I will be at the CSUN conference, that being the biggest accessibility and technology conference around. I’m giving a talk about building accessible web content with Dreamweaver and Flash CS3 on Wednesday, March 12. Do drop by, won’t you?

I also spoke at Ignite Seattle two weeks ago, and I’m really happy with the feedback I received. The video should be posted shortly, at which time I will relay it to y’all. It’s only 5 minutes long, so it shouldn’t be too painful.

I’m still taking Arabic. I’m finishing 203 this month, then starting 204. I’m planning a trip to Jordan in April (yay, frequent flyer miles!). A classmate just sent me an email showing that the Foreign Service Institute’s rated time to reach professional proficiency in Arabic is 1950 hours, or 30 hours a week for 65 weeks. Woohoo! Only 1800 hours to go!

And Adobe is still my employer. (I know. I’m as surprised as you are.) As great as it is, it’s still a bit strange working for a company where you can be around for three years and still be considered a noob. I’m about 9 months in, so that reality is just now setting in.

Finally, my time as Seattle’s grandmaster speller will run out in April, as the third and final season of the Seattle Spelling Bee comes to a close. To all you young spellers out there, a bit of advice: don’t let all the fame and the groupies go to your head. Always remember, it’s about the orthography.

Greetings from the road

Filed in: personal, travel, Sun, Oct 7 2007 05:08 PT

From: Madrid, Spain

Wow. What a week. It’s been good enough that I’m actually blogging again. (Hey, remember when Matt used to blog?)

I spoke at Fundamentos Web 2007 in Gijón on Wednesday. The topic was designing new technology to build on the accessibility we already have, rather than stripping it away. The audience was fantastic, and the people who put the show on deserve recognition as the best conference organizers I’ve ever worked with. All of that more than made up for the fact that I was speaking some 20 hours after arriving in town, after 25 hours of travel, and that my MacBook Pro crashed while I was plugging in, and wasn’t in a usable state for another 20 minutes, and that I had to follow Jeremy Keith and Jeffrey Veen. You know. No pressure.

I’m in Madrid today, and I’m officially on vacation. It’s a great feeling to be in a city that makes time for napping, especially since the bar-restaurant-club progression usually starts around 8 or later in the evening, and doesn’t finish until 3 or 4 in the morning, if you’re lucky. And I can never sleep in past 8:30, so the siesta is very worthwhile.

Last night, my former coworker Charles took us out to the neighborhood bar. After the bartender poured us our cañas (small beers, always served with tapas), I offered one of my hosts some cash, and Chaals, an Australian who knows his way around this part of town, told me: “They won’t take your money here.” When I inquired further, I was informed that until he was finally able to order drinks like a local, they refused to let him pay.

At all.

For two years.

Later in the evening, after the sit-down dinner, we played darts in a Communist Party headquarters. The place was covered in pictures of Che. It was a pretty trippy evening. 🙂 I’m leaving in a bit to try to see a Real Madrid match. (Getafe, where I’m staying, and Atlético are both playing away matches.) I was going to try to make it to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim, but I don’t think the travel gods are with me this time around. I’ve only been gone a week, and already I’ve had a full trip. Just wait until I get to Cairo.

See me at Bumbershoot

Filed in: personal, Thu, Aug 30 2007 11:24 PT

If you’re in Seattle for Bumbershoot, the music and arts festival that marks the official end of sunlight summer in the Northwest, there’s an exhibition at the Seattle Rep on Sunday from 7:30-8:45pm, featuring the reigning Grand Champion of the Seattle Spelling Bee.


The top 4 spellers from last month’s finals, including my good friend Gretta, will compete for the Bumbershoot crowd. As finalist and former champ Gavin Borchert writes in Seattle Weekly, we will be at a disadvantage in that there won’t be a full bar at our disposal, but to make up for that fact, we will have a group of youth spelling bee champions to protect us from ass-of-ourselves-making. It’s really a fun event, with audience participation and all that, so feel free to join us.

Oh, and if any of you wanted to make huge cardboard “WE *heart* MATT” signs, that would be pretty cool, too.

How to tell if it’s a fire drill

Filed in: accessibility, personal, Thu, Jun 21 2007 23:01 PT

Today at work, the fire alarm went off, and I was reminded of what the HR person told me during orientation on Monday: if you get outside and there’s no ice cream, then it’s not a drill.

We got ice cream.

As some of you may have heard, this week I started in my new position as Adobe’s accessibility engineer. I’ve known many of my new coworkers at Adobe for years now, and it’s great to be able to finally get me a copy of CS3 – I mean, to have such talented people around me. I’m working out of the Seattle office, next door to where I got married, and across the street from the Blue Flavor guys. All systems are go.

And hey, while I’m at it, here’s a brief history of my 2007 so far. Since the first of the year, I had been working in’s enterprise group on the front end for their newest merchant. That site went live last Tuesday. (Rumor control: no, they didn’t hire me to do accessibility work. No, I didn’t have anything to do with the NFB agreement. In fact, I never even talked with anyone who works on Amazon’s core site, that I know of. Hopefully this ends that little telephone game.)

Also, as of today, I am a second-year Arabic student. I’ve been studying at the Seattle Language Academy (which, conveniently, is a 5-minute walk from Adobe) since last June. The number one question I’ve had to answer since then has been, why Arabic? (Although “Can you get Photoshop for me?” is giving it a run for its money.) The answer is that I’m an infojunkie, and most of the important info is, unsurprisingly, coming from the Arab world. It’s a language that’s beautiful and complex, and I will (ٍإن شاء الله) stick with it until I have a good enough basis to move on from Modern Standard Arabic, or فصحى (fusHa), to colloquial, or عامية (ameyya).

So, that’s the news. No more fire drills for a while.


Filed in: personal, Tue, Nov 14 2006 05:43 PT

It’s only appropriate that I should begin this post at 2:30 in the morning. During the day, there are so many messages to tend to. So much work to do. So many ideas to chase. At night, the whoosh of the HEPA filter is my comfort, and I have the chance to make sense of all the signals that pass through me.

Since about June, I have made myself scarce. I left Blue Flavor, the company I co-founded in 2005. I stepped down as lead for the WaSP Accessibility Task Force. I begged out of a million existing obligations. I went on a cruise. I hung out with friends. I did some work on a project I’ve had on my mind for over a year.

Sometimes people have to get away from it all. That’s what I did. People always talk about perspective and how they need to get some. I did that, too. Today is my 32nd birthday, and I am a fuller, wiser person for the experiences I’ve had over the last few months. I’ve floated past glaciers, and I’ve seen mountain peaks by train. I did a 10-mile run. And I flew too close to the sun. All valuable experiences. Even falling. Especially falling.


Filed in: personal, Thu, Aug 3 2006 09:24 PT

I just heard a jet flying overhead. Granted, this is Seattle, where we hear jets all the time. But rarely do they cause a sonic boom.

Then I remembered the date. It’s the first Thursday in August. And I walked out on to the balcony and looked back at Lake Washington to confirm my suspicion.

Yup. Blue Angels. Must be Seafair weekend.

According to the Seafair schedule, The Blue Angels will be booming around from 10am to 2:30pm today, and performing from 1:30-2:30pm Friday through Sunday. We like them around here, even though they force the I-90 bridge to close when they’re performing.

This will also serve as a heads-up to my wife, who will not long from now get a visit up on the 21st floor of her building by a formation of fighter jets that’ll be so close, she’ll know which one didn’t iron their uniform this morning. I’ll get the play-by-play when she gets home.

Dave Chappelle tix

Filed in: personal, Wed, Feb 15 2006 12:02 PT

Thanks to a tip from my lovely wife, I’m going to see Dave Chappelle on Sunday. He’s doing a surprise concert in Seattle, and I got tickets this morning when they went on sale. Woot!


Filed in: media, personal, sports, Mon, Feb 13 2006 23:58 PT

I didn’t know it until now, but apparently minimalist techno god Richie Hawtin composed some of the music performed in the opening ceremonies of the XX Olympic Winter Games this past Saturday. Sweet.
It’s a little-known fact, usually recycled every two years or so, that I’m a hardcore Olympics geek. I worked for the US Olympic Committee for a short period in 1995, and was in Olympic House when Salt Lake City won the 2002 bid. I may still have the hat from that, which featured a logo that ended up being replaced. I carried the ’95 US Olympic Festival torch, and hope someday to carry the real one. I was quoted in USA Today in 2000 talking about the sad shape of Olympic TV coverage in the US. (CBS’ Nagano coverage was a low point; 2006 gets a B+ so far.) And I can name the sites of both winter and summer Olympics dating back to 1960.

So I’m digging out my Beijing 2008 hat tomorrow, and looking at real estate in Whistler, though that may be just a little overkill. I expect that I will spend at least a few days in Vancouver for the 2010 Games, but I’d really like to see what the Chinese will do in ’08. I was there in late 2003, and the work was already in full swing. If I miss both of them, then I suppose I’ll have to start my Olympic tourism with London in 2012, innit?

Late night code tutorial humor

Filed in: personal, Fri, Feb 10 2006 00:45 PT

It’s after midnight, and I just sent someone an email explaining a technical detail, stating finally that while an output problem in a certain application could be solved by branching some code somewhere further along in the process, it “would mean Sister Mary Object-Encapsulation gets to smack me on the knuckles with her slide rule.”

I don’t do billable work this late, but I’m thinking that if I do in the future, I should add a surcharge not because of the attendant sleep deprivation, but because there has to be some extra entertainment value in the increasing levels of abstraction exhibited in the emails I send as the evening progresses.

There’s got to be a book idea in there somewhere. Maybe I should sit in the dark, holding a spoon over a plate, and scribble down what I know about technology each time I’m jarred awake by the noise of them clanging together.

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