It’s a curious thing that, for the majority of my life, Super Bowl weekend has caused me to wonder about the health of a person whom I’ve never met, and likely won’t ever meet.

This all began at the age of 16. That year, as a high school junior, I took Anatomy with a teacher, Mary Cabell,  who was something of a school legend, largely because of her knowledge of the subject, coupled with her wry (and occasionally caustic) sense of humor.

She made every topic instantly relatable with a one-line “case study” of any injury, illness, or treatment, to which she attached a familiar name of someone ( often a celebrity, fellow faculty member, or one of my teammates  who tore an ACL under the “Friday Night Lights.”) of someone who was, in her words, “ill and afflicted” with that condition.

One day, I don’t remember if we were talking about the lymphatic system, or the digestive system, or something else, but I was anticipating the name-drop of the ill-and-afflicted human subject.

She surprised us by  revealing  that years earlier–when she had  taught in Ohio–one of her students was (then future) Hall of Fame running back, Larry Csonka, a member of the Miami Dolphins teams that won two Super Bowl championships. This included one season in which they were 17-0, still the  only undefeated team in NFL history.

I assumed that Csonka was that day’s ill and afflicted subject. Though Csonka was still playing at the time, I couldn’t think of any illness that he’d had.

Then she told us that when Csonka was in her class, his sister was the victim of a violent knife attack from which she would lose her spleen and her pancreas. There were a few gasps in the room. I mouthed the words “Holy shit.”

Actually, I said the words….a  bit louder than I intended.

Thus, from the time I was 16, I’ve periodically wondered about Csonka’s sister. Was she still alive? If so, was she in good health?

Because of that one undefeated season, it seemed there was always a few moments of  highlight footage featuring  Csonka, during Super Bowl pregame shows. So, at least once a year, I flashed back to that long-ago anatomy lecture.

After a years-long waning of my interest, and steady increase in my disdain for the NFL, and the NCAA,  I stopped watching football, over a decade ago.

Though I still  wondered about the health of Csonka’s sister due to occasional reminders that were not football-related.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon some news.

I entered a bookstore, and on the shelf of new releases I saw  Csonka’s recent memoir “Head On.” Though I don’t watch football now, its past history has quite a nostalgic allure.

I thumbed through the book for a few moments. Looking for mentions of Csonka’s teammates, Bob Griese, Mercury Morris, Jim Kiick, Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Little…. I was about to close the book and reshelve it when I spotted this (paraphrased)  family update in the epilogue:

“My sister completely recovered from the stabbing, and to this day is still a horse nut.”

I smiled as if I’d received good news of a health update about family member, or close friend.

It was great to learn that she remains undefeated. I hope that her streak continues for many years to come.

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Chilled Out

Many Januaries ago, I landed at Midway Airport around 12:00 am after my flight had been delayed several hours due to a winter storm.  It was pretty cold, and windy, (which I expected,) but the snow was surprisingly gloppy (which I hadn’t expected), and was rapidly falling in teaspoonful-sized portions and sticking to everything made of asphalt, concrete, metal, glass, or anything else. I guess gloppy is easier to manage than icy, which might have explained why the flight wasn’t cancelled.

I cursed myself for having scheduled an early-morning interview for the following day. Thinking that a taxi would not make great progress in this weather, I boarded the (then) new Midway (Orange) Line north to Chicago’s Loop where I would transfer to the Ravenswood (Brown) train.

En route to the Jackson Street station, I remembered that the Brown line didn’t go north to my neighborhood after midnight (more cursing ensued).  I got off the train at the Jackson Street and was surprised that I was able to hail a taxi after only a few moments. The driver who was especially chatty, had a thick (almost caricature-level) Chicago accent and sported the obligatory Ditka mustache.

My pulse quickened a bit, when he entered Lakeshore Drive, the always-busy expressway that follows a serpentine course along the coast of Lake Michigan. I would have welcomed some stop-and-go traffic. Though the driver seemed remarkably at ease under the conditions, and talked  about growing up in Chicago and offered commentary on the local sports teams, while periodically reaching out of his open window to give the driver-side wiper a snap to dislodge the accumulating snow.

As cars blew past us, my driver became increasing agitated by others’ reckless habits  especially with SUVs that zoomed past us at speeds that were well above the safety threshold under these (or even dry, sunny)  conditions.

When one vehicle, came close to colliding with us–first from the rear and then from the right side–as it roared by the driver shouted his disapproval, while deftly injected a physics lesson–that covered friction, inertia, and maybe conservation of angular momentum–before pivoting back to his assessment of the baseball team from Chicago’s Northside:

After a few more moments I directed the driver to get off of Lakeshore Drive. He advised me that it he did that it would “take forever” to travel north because of stoplights and slow traffic. The thought that slow-paced traffic, on a straight-line road, seemed rather comforting. I told him that I had an interview in a few hours, so it would give me an opportunity to nap, so I was cool with “forever.”

“Wake me up if you get stuck so I can push you out,” were my last words before nodding off.

Seemingly moments later, the driver called out “Sir, I’m on Lawrence, near da Sears and Roebuck’s, which way am I turnin’?” Forever had arrived more quickly than I’d anticipated.

Minutes later I was in my apartment where I changed clothes, plopped onto my futon and crawled beneath the comforter. I closed my eyes momentarily and jumped up remembering I had an interview in a few hours. I anticipated a hellish morning commute to the West Loop, and set my alarm for four hours later.

Still more cursing…and a modicum of slumber ensued.

(Oh, about the video. I don’t have a mustache, and thus recording the video in Zoom, so make a digital one. It didn’t stay on very well, next time I’ll grow one, or glue one on.)

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Ice Breaker

Prior to moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 20th century, I worked in Central and North Florida, the DC area, and Chicago. 

I don’t remember ever being asked in any of the those places “What church do you go to?” or “Are you a believer?” as an ice-breaker, or small-talk, in a work situation. 

These questions have been posed to me by colleagues, clients, etc. with a sporadic amount of frequency since my relocation to Grand Rapids.

Though it seems to have been happening more often in the past couple of years. 

I don’t mind those two questions being asked, but I wish that people would recognize that my answers to those questions: “None,” and “No,” respectively, are not an invitation for them to continue the line of questioning.

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Smoke-Filled Room

This story about Zoom’s updated Terms and Conditions is currently getting a lot of media coverage. In a nutshell: it establishes that the company has the right to collect customer data to train Zoom’s forthcoming artificial intelligence features.

I think that is going to be the case in many software user agreements, if such language is not in them already. My opinion is that part of the problem with the creeping privacy invasions is that very few people, or organizations, actually read the agreements before clicking “OK.”

Earlier in my career, I used to get heckled by my boss for reading the user agreements when I did software installs and upgrades. “I only have to read it once, then I can upgrade all of the machines,” was my response.

In about 1995, that same company bought a software package with intent of launching a database-publishing model for our largest client. My boss handed me the box containing the install disks, and user guide, then issued a Captain Piccard-like “Make it so,” directive.

The box contained a fairly small instruction manual, and a fairly voluminous user agreement.

I’d only been in the office a few minutes that morning, but I kept getting paged for tech support requests on the overhead speaker. I looked at the contents of the software box, thinking “I ain’t got time for this shit!”

As I browsed at the documents, I’d heard: “Scott Smith, dial 668…” “….dial 772….” “….dial 431…” so it was kind of a normal day. I really DID NOT have time to read the Terms and Conditions, install the software, and starting building variable-data publishing templates.

One thing that struck me about the software, was the price tag– over $2,000 (again this was in 1995). “This piece of shit costs more than Photoshop,” I muttered to myself.

The dollar amount alone made this seem like a high-stakes situation, thus I went upstairs to the newly-hired Corporate Counsel. I didn’t know him, and only had a few passing hallway encounters. He always had a cigarette in his hand, and seemed to be chronically over-cafiennated.

I gently knocked on his open door. On his desk, were a cup full of sharpened, point-side-up pencils, and a large ash tray with a colossal mound of cigarette butts, that I remember looked like this:

Closeup shot of a many cigarette butts, most with light brown filter papers, the filters is are yellow-to-brown
What Desktops Looked Like In The 20th Century

He looked up and said “Can I help you?” though his delivery felt more like a “Kid, can’t you see I’m busy?!?”

I described why I had approached him, and showed him the user agreement. As he thumbed through it, I heard on the overhead speaker, “Scott Smith, dial 728. Scott Smith dial 728.” He looked up for a moment and flipped a few more pages.

He asked, “This is a software agreement, isn’t software your job?”

I responded “It’s a legal document about software, I don’t think that law is my job.”

I heard my name on the speaker again, a different extension this time. If he was going to claim, he didn’t have time to read it, I was going to make the same argument about myself (two pages on the speaker supported my case), then I’d double-down that I wasn’t properly qualified to approve the agreement.

He sighed and agreed then began reading the document. I responded to my support requests and returned later. He motioned for me to come in and said quietly, “Almost Done.”

He signed the user agreement and I thanked him then faxed it (yeah, I faxed it) to the software manufacturer. Later that week, I got some time to work with the software, and it was a hot, expensive, mess. We didn’t use it, and abandoned the database-publishing endeavor, primarily for reasons not all technology-related.

I don’t think I’ve read (I mean really read) an agreement in the past 20 years. I have certainly not escalated the matter to a corporate counsel.

Do you read the user agreements? Does anybody, in IT, or the Legal Department, read them in your organization?

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