The two roommates shared an aversion to smart asses, but for different reasons. Raj saw smart ass behavior as a cover for ineptitude and indifference. “Smart asses act like they do because they know they have nothing, know nothing. They know if they address an issue with any seriousness, they’ll be exposed immediately. They conflate snark with sophistication, cynicism with intelligence. I’ve got no time for them, because they have nothing to offer me.” Clem had no respect for smart-ass behavior either, but perhaps because he lacked Raj’s self-confidence he was clearly more deferential to smart-asses. Rather than ignore smart-asses as did Raj, Clem would try to match their seeming intelligence — and, when he failed as he often did, retreated back in silence, not out of respect but temerity.
While he had grown fairly comfortable as a public speaker over the years — no more sweaty armpits, stammering mostly gone — he still had a habit of talking too much, especially when he wasn’t entirely confident of what he was speaking. When nervous, his subconscious would search his memory for any supporting detail, argument, or analogy that might possibly help. This would lead him at times to begin a statement and realize, half-way through, that this statement wasn’t actually going to help at all, but would rather hurt his presentation. He had once given a presentation on a new software module for generating payroll, and boasted about how easy it was to use — so easy, in fact, that “if you had someone working for you who probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place” — at this point he knew he had made a major blunder, but there was no going back now, he couldn’t leave the statement just hanging there, he had to find the most graceful way to complete this statement and move on — “you can finally get some productivity out of them,” at which point he realized the best possible scenario was that his audience would forget his entire presentation.
John’s mother pointed, without looking, in the direction of a room down the hall, where most of the children had already gathered. He took off his jacket, melted-snow heavy, and threw it in a corner already piled chest-high with jackets. The room was warm and damp, and the heavily smell of running noses, wet hair and unwashed skin.
As the sounds of her aching sobs cascaded down from the stairs, he suddenly realized why he had been so short with her, and why he was always so less patient with her than he was with her siblings. She was the oldest, the first child, the one whose arrival made him a father, a person far different than he had been in his younger years, which he now looked upon jealously. He regretted losing the freedom he imagined himself enjoying in those years (although truth be told he was at times far more lonely and anxious then than he ever was now), and he was disappointed with himself for squandering his youthful opportunities. It was upon Rachel, the first child, the one whose arrival so clearly marked the boundary between his former and current life, that he projected his disappointment.
Miriam laughed, shaking her head. “Did I feel left out as a kid because my family didn’t celebrate Christmas? Are you kidding — I was relieved to not be caught up in all the nonsense the other kids were so enamored with! No present they could possibly get could live up to the anticipation they built up. No, if anything, I always felt annoyed around Christmas. Sure, there’s some good stuff — love the music, even volunteered to sing at some Christmas pageants — yeah, that was me, Miriam the Caroling Jew. Jill, from across the street, her family actually knew how to decorate — always looked forward to visiting Jill in December, they’d have a great tree. But every other house on the street, oh those godawful inflatable Santas and snowmen — and those damned light-up mechanical deer — and yeah, some of the music is great, but a lot of it is terrible, especially the new stuff, overwrought Christmas CDs put out by whoever was this year’s Top 40 singers.”
Stimulated by this discovery, he looked in his mind to the letters again. SPEED. Double E, another set of fives, D makes four, fghij, that’s ten, klmno fifteen, that makes P sixteen, qrs gets to nineteen. A four, two fives, 16, 19 — is there an equation somewhere? 14, no help there, 16 and 4 makes 20 — divide the fives to get 1, subtract, there’s the equation!
Fully engaged now, he turned his attention to LIMIT. Twelve, two nines yes, 13, 20. Divide the nines to get 1, that worked last time. Twenty-five, still five off — and there’s five letters in the word! Multiply by 1, subtract five, solved!
Of course, his solution for LIMIT forced him to revisit his SPEED equation. Need to work in the five for the letters. Now it’s three fives, the four, 16, 19. Divide the four into 16, get the four back. Now what? Can get to 20 by multiplying the four and one of the fives — then divide the remaining two fives, 20 minus 1 is, yes, 19!
“What’s that?” his mother asked. He turned quickly to his mother in surprise, and only then realized that yes had been said, or more accurately exclaimed, aloud.
His parents took him frequently on long car trips for family holidays and vacations. Reading in the car made him naseuous, so he spent a good deal of time desperately looking out the window for something to distract him from the tedium of the drive. His mother had suggested that he try to observe something new about commonplace objects, so one day he decided to see what he could get out of road signs. SPEED LIMIT 55. Nothing distinctive about the size or shape of the sign, but it did have that double number. And, he realized, that was also the number of letters in both words — four fives. A winning poker hand!
Wireless networking equipment is identified with a cryptic set of alphanumeric characters, with 802.11n being the identifier for the current generation of equipment. While the numbers that make up these identifiers are essentially meaningless (802 refers to February 1980, the month of the first committee meeting for establishing network engineering standards, while 11 is the number given to the 802 subcommittee for wireless networking), the concluding lower-case character is significant, especially if you have a wireless network that contains equipment from different standards — 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. Alphabetic progression is a reliable, but not foolproof, indicator of technical advancement; 11a is actually faster than 11b. Understanding how these standards developed can help us see how wireless networking will evolve in the future.
He was prone to suffering anxiety attacks over responsibilities both minor and major, and during these attacks he found that he didn’t like to eat, or rather that he didn’t like the satisfaction that came with eating. He would eat only enough to calm the roiling protest of his stomach, and he found this act of self-denial engendered an internal reaction within his body. He felt more alert, active, perceptive when he ate lightly; his body perceived the reduction in food as a threat to its existence, and it responded by actively engaging nerves that were typically responsible for only reflexive actions such as breathing and digestion.
He knew that this feeling would pass, as it always did, and he’d look back on this time and laugh at his paranoia. But he desperately wanted to hold on to this feeling, as insane as he knew it was, and even knowing there was no way he could maintain the feeling. It was insanity, but it was his — and at the moment, he preferred to live in misery having something, even something as nauseating as insanity, than live in the world that others accepted, and which he had nothing.