Category: stories about me

the letter and the spirit

the letter and the spirit

Wow, aren’t you an absolutely lovely and charming person.

The article in question (via Do Not Link) opens with this quotation:

Situational dominance is contingent on local factors.

For example, a 5’4 female teacher with a firm demeanor is situationally dominant over a classroom full of 5-year-olds. If she raises her voice, she can even be intimidating. Outside the classroom situation, however, she’s a short woman in a low-prestige profession who will have trouble commanding general respect unless there are other mitigating factors. Certainly, she’d have problems bossing around rowdy teenagers.

Obviously, the man who wrote this never met my high school math teacher.

Mrs. Bjerke (that’s pronounced Bur-KEE) was not a very tall woman, and to boot she wore thick glasses. Just looking at her, Mr. Dampier would probably just dismiss her as yet another woman who couldn’t even handle a high school class. But see, that’s where he would be wrong. Because Mrs. Bjerke was the chair of the math department, the AP Calculus teacher, and the sort of woman who took absolutely no shit from anybody, whether said person was an unruly teenager in her class or the principal of the high school. The best part? I don’t recall her ever raising her voice. Just by sheer demeanor and presence, she kept us all in line.

My junior and senior years, I participated on the quiz bowl team at my high school. The participants of the quiz bowl were the teams in our athletic league, eight schools scattered across the central part of extreme Northern California, from Yreka in the north to Red Bluff in the south. My high school quiz team was very good, but our arch-nemesis were the Miners of Yreka. They were also very good, and they played Quiz Bowl by the exact interpretation of the rules — which included challenging every question they could possibly challenge. By doing this, they were able to throw other teams off their game. Just a touch of hesitation on the buzzers could mean the difference between victory and defeat, as we learned in the finals of my junior year. I may have made all-league at Quiz Bowl, but I still sputtered all the way back home about their methods.

And I vowed that when the quiz bowl team became mine that I would make sure my team was prepared for the bloody Miners. I made captain of the team — an expected outcome, but one that I was proud of — and I started to get my team together. They were as ready as I was going to make them. Unfortunately, our advisor, the one who had witnessed Yreka’s tactics the year prior, was out on maternity leave by the time the quiz bowl rolled around.

Luckily, we knew this was coming, and the advisor asked me if I’d be cool with Mrs. Bjerke as a stand-in. Of course I was — words cannot express my regard for her. We ran our last couple practices under Mrs. Bjerke’s watchful eye, and we were ready as we were going to be. This was going to be our year.

With eight schools, we each played four other schools, and the two teams with the highest total of points after four rounds was the winner. The common gathering place for all the teams was the library at the host high school, where they kept a chalkboard with the running tallies. And it was there after our second game, watching results from the various games trickle in, that an odd score went up on the board — Yreka had defeated West Valley by a huge margin, but there was a note added that the score was doubled because they could only play one round and not two.

A moment later, the West Valley team walked in. Now, West Valley was a sister high school to mine — we were the two high schools in our district, and they were usually our bitter rivals in almost every sports competition. But at the same time, they were our sister school. So I pulled the WV captain aside and asked him what happened.

He had that anger in his eye that I knew all too well from the year before. Yreka had challenged nearly every question in the round. That’s how they’d only gotten through one round in the time allotted for two. I nodded, and told him Yreka had pulled a similar gambit the year before on us in the finals of the quiz bowl.

We got through a third game, although I was stewing a bit. It was lunchtime, and our opponent in our last game was the aforementioned Miners of Yreka. So I pulled my team together while we were eating and reminded them of Yreka’s tactics and that we’d had positive confirmation they were doing it again per my conversation with WV’s captain.

That’s when Mrs. Bjerke stepped in. “They did what?” And as we relayed the stories, the look on her face was one I knew. It was the one she used when she was disappointed with somebody. “I’ll bring it up at the coach’s meeting here.”

I wish I had been present at that coach’s meeting. I am told that it was epic, the way Mrs. Bjerke tore the Yreka coach apart on sportsmanship and his tactics, about the difference between the letter vs. the spirit of the rules, and the kind of example he was setting for high school kids.

All I knew then was the coach’s meeting had gone long, and we’d had to start our fourth game without either coach. Yreka played hard — they were still a good team — but there was something missing from their spirit. Maybe it was us, determined to crush their cheating ways. That said, the challenges from them were much less than they usually were. About midway through the first half, the Yreka coach slid in, but he just sat at the back of the room, hardly even looking at his team or seeming to care what was going on. Mrs. Bjerke came in shortly after him, and she had that expression. At the half, I asked her what had happened. She just smiled and said that they had a nice conversation about sportsmanship.

The finals were extremely anti-climactic. We played Yreka again. They did even worse than they had in the game we’d played prior. And at the end of it, the Yreka coach asked me about my college plans — he seemed rather pleased I was going to Berkeley. Whether it was the fact I was graduating and couldn’t torment his quiz bowl team anymore, or if he was truly pleased, I couldn’t tell you. But I do know that was the politest he’d been to me in two years.

What’s the point of this? Well, it’s funny how the Yreka coach was very good at following the letter of the rules without caring a whit about the spirit of them. It reminds me of a certain other situation I’ve been following over the past month, in which the prize — whether it’s the actual trophy or the more nebulous prize of annoying folks who don’t think like they do — has taken on such importance that the spirit of the rules can be discarded.

I just think about what happened to the coach who discarded the spirit of the rules in order to win.

It won’t stop them. Those who are convinced of the rightness of their cause will willfully ignore everything that doesn’t correspond to that cause. But I hope someday they meet up with somebody that won’t take their shit.

most awesome birthday weekend ever

most awesome birthday weekend ever

So yeah, this weekend went really well. If I had to ring in the start of another lap around the sun, this is about the way I want to do it. Bear with me, for long kat is long.

It started at work Friday, where there was cake. We do this for birthdays at work recently, but one of my co-workers made sure there was cake for me. It was supremely good cake, too.

Saturday started out a bit meh, as I had to go do schoolwork in the morning, but once I was done with that, I headed out to Folsom, stopping along the way to treat myself to In-and-Out for a hamburger as my celebratory birthday weekend. Yum.

Then, at Folsom, we had a party. It was supposedly for those not going to SF the following night to have fun, but they decided to let me come and celebrate my birthday. One of our Wrimos even baked me a cake. This was sweet.

And then to top it off, Saturday was also the 112th Big Game, which I was fairly certain Stanford was going to win. But my Bears somehow came out of nowhere, had the score close at halftime, and then proceeded to first pull away, and then let Stanford back into it before sealing the deal with an interception. It was Cal Cardiac Football at its finest, and so I got a nice surprise gift — an Axe. It was pretty funny because I was so not writing at the party, but listening to my game, and towards the end, the feed started cutting in and out, which made it hard to follow. The feed cut out just as Toby Gerhart tried to win the game for Stanford, and didn’t come back up until I heard the word “INTERCEPTION!” in my headphones and was trying to figure out what had just happened and whether that meant my Bears had won the game.

And then there was Sunday. Oh god, what can I say about Sunday? Besides the fact that San Francisco is probably my most favorite city on the planet and I love any chance I get to visit, the Night of Writing Dangerously was way more fun than I was expecting. It started simply:

It’s about 5:40 in the evening. The scene, a round table in a ballroom high above California Street in San Francisco. Seated there are seven people from Sacramento: myself, Richard, his wife Jennifer, Jenny, Candace, Temperance, and Stephanie. There’s some idle chitchatting about where people are and stuff like that. In front of the room, the bell is introduced — you come ring the bell when you’ve become a winner at NaNoWriMo (that is, hit the 50k mark). And that’s when the following happened:

Temperance: “So, Kat, you going to hit 50k tonight?”
me: “You’re kidding, right? I’m nowhere close.”
Temperance: “You’re in the forties, no?”
me: “Well, yeah, a bit over 43k.”
Temperance: “There you go. You can hit 50k tonight.”
me: “I’m not so sure about this idea.”
Temperance: “Look, how many words do you have?”
me: “About forty-three five.”
Temperance: “That’s about 6500 words. We’ll not count this hour. But six — we’ll not count seven — eight, nine, ten. That’s four hours. You only have to write about 1500 words an hour.”
Rest of table: “Yeah, c’mon, Kat, you can do it.”
me: “Okay, fine, you all. I’ll try.”
me (thought): This is going to be impossible and I’m going to fail and feel rotten at the end of it. Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Table: *cheering*

So I spend most of the evening sitting and writing frantically, although there were several breaks to take advantage of the candy pile and the hosted bar (too bad I don’t drink, but there was plenty of ginger ale and soda) and eat something resembling dinner. Oh yeah, and there were the most crazy donuts I’ve ever had with toppings like Cocoa Puffs and Nilla Wafers and Oreo cookies and Butterfingers and …the list goes on and on. Also, I went and took my author photo.

But most of the time I was writing. It was a write-a-thon after all. And after frantically typing all evening, writing a grand total of 6,481 words — a personal NaNo daily best — this happened.

Later that evening, about 10:15 PM:
Jason (peering over my shoulder): “So did you make it?”
me: “Give me a second, I just put it in the wordcounter.”
NaNo website: *loading*
Everybody: *waits*
NaNo website: katster has 50,182 words.
me: “Wait, what, I made it? I made it!”
Table (and Jason): “Go ring that bell!”
me: “Give me a second to recover and bask in my glory.”
*moment*
me: “Alright, now I’m going to go find Sarah [the coordinator of this glorious event] and let her know that I made it before I ring the bell so she doesn’t have to come frantically running.” [Backstory: People had been ringing the bell all evening, leaving poor Sarah frantically running to the stage. I felt bad, so I wanted to make sure she didn’t have to run.]
*By sheer random coincidence, Sarah walks by at just that moment*
me: “Hey Sarah! Just to warn you, I hit 50k!”

…and so I nicely followed Sarah to the podium where I grasped that bell and rung it just about as hard as anybody had that evening.

And the rest of the night I wore a crown on top of my Cal hat and a manic grin. Kinda like this:

me, after it’s all said and done. Photo by my friend Richard

All in all, the best birthday weekend ever. Thanks to everybody who helped me make it to the Night of Writing Dangerously — cards should go out next week.

And no, I don’t know how I’m going to top this next year.

Go Bears!

Go Bears!

The Bears last week against Arizona. Photo credit Monica’s Dad on flickr // CC BY 2.0

There was a point in time where Tedford seriously considered bolting for another job. Those opportunities came early during the Tedford era, fresh off of Cal’s most impressive season to date in 2004. However, one of the main reasons why a lot of Old and Young Blues alike have an adoring respect for Tedford has been because of the coach’s loyalty to the program and his desire to not only win, but win at Cal.

So it turns out that Saturday will be Coach Tedford’s 100th game. This is a nice article about the change Tedford’s made at Cal — not only in terms of making the football program a winner, but for his part in turning boys into men.

My undergraduate career at Cal was the football seasons from 1996 to 1999. In those four seasons, Cal went a depressing 18-27. We made it to one bowl my freshman year (which we lost to Navy), we never won the Big Game, and we were pretty much the conference doormat. We also cheated, and rightfully got slapped for it, but it’s not like we could even cheat right — the point of cheating is to win, no?

Anyway, the highlights, which were few, were beating Oklahoma twice (although those OK teams weren’t very good) and taking three of four from USC — but they weren’t very good at the time either. Then, it culminated in the disaster of 2001, where my beloved Bears went 1-10. Okay, I admit, by the end of it, I was idly rooting for a “perfect” season, but we managed a win in the last game of the season, a postponed-by-9/11 game with Rutgers in New Jersey. I still maintain that if we’d played Rutgers when scheduled, we’d have won that game and gained the confidence to take a couple over the course of the year, but I can’t prove it, and if it had worked out that way, then it might not have lead to something good.

The good, in this case, was the fact that we managed to convince the offensive coordinator from an Oregon Ducks team that really should have played in the National Championship that year to come to Cal and be our head coach — a dude named Jeff Tedford.

Tedford said that from the beginning, he wanted to change the football culture at Cal. And when, that first season, my first year as a grad student at Cal, I was in the stadium to watch Cal completely blow the Baylor Bears out of the water 70-22, and when the first Cal play from scrimmage went for a touchdown, I began to believe again. When we went 7-5 with the same players that had gone 1-10 the year before, and would have gone to a bowl if it wasn’t for the aforementioned cheating, things got a bit better. Of course, the greatest thing was finally seeing a Big Game victory — the first Big Game victory for Cal since I was a junior in high school.

Being a Cal fan’s a hard thing. My Bears are pretty much the Chicago Cubs of college football. The last time we went to a Rose Bowl was in 1959, and Cal fans start every year with the high hopes that this will be the year in which we go to the fabled promised land of Pasadena, California for New Year’s Day. And year after year, the hopes turn frail and bitter as the Bears inevitably find ways to lose games they shouldn’t, or have the unfortunate luck to get good just as USC is putting together a dynasty for the ages.

This season’s been a really disappointing one — we thought we finally had all the tools into place to beat USC and take the Rose Bowl. Well, USC won’t be going this year, but Cal isn’t in position to take advantage of it. About the best we can do is play spoiler to Stanford’s Rose Bowl dreams, and, well, that ain’t looking overly good. (Did you see what Stanford did to Oregon and USC? Wow!)

But get rid of Tedford? Are you kidding me? He’s 66-33 overall. That’s a pretty good winning percentage — and he’s done it at Cal, where the institutional support is always going to be somewhat lacking. Sure, we haven’t made it to the Rose Bowl yet, but on the other hand, I actually believe that we will go someday. And we’ll go with Tedford as our coach.

I mean, I finally actually got to touch the Axe, right? I gotta believe.

Rally members who graduated from Cal without seeing a Big Game win finally get to hold the Axe for the first time. Note the huge smile on my face — I’m the one in the blue and gold rugby and Cal hat

every plane has a tale…

every plane has a tale…

I’m flying to Denver tonight.

Of course, this story’s been about twenty-eight years in the making. It starts with a two year old in Redding. This was back in the bad old days before airline deregulation, which meant that a couple airlines actually found it profitable to run jets into Redding.

Now, my dad worked at the airport, so I practically grew up there, conning travelers into buying me candy from the vending machines as soon as I could talk. And because I was always there, the airport employees adopted me and gave me free run of the place.

Maybe I was destined to work with computers, because a story that’s often told about me is that I once brought an airline’s computer down when I was barely two. I had found the keyboard open and decided to smash around on the keyboard, much like a two year old does. My mother tried to get me away from it, but the airline employees dissuaded her, saying they had locked the computer and I couldn’t do anything to hurt it.

And so they let me be until a customer came, and they found their computer unresponsive. It took a reboot to get things running again. Nobody was quite sure how I’d done it, but it had happened, just as if I had decided to show them just what I could do. I like to think it was because I was destined to work with the things for a living.

Of course, you might ask what this has to do with the flight tonight, although I’m sure the more shrewd of you has guessed.

The airline all those many years ago is the one I’m flying to Denver tonight — Frontier Airlines.

You bet I’m amused.

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