Open-Source Stenography
Bar Harbor
Signal-boosting this project, which combines my interests in accessibility, writing, open source, and hacking, with a dash of gaming to boot.

Dad, workaholism, and psych profiling
Bar Harbor
In the 1980s, my dad went to work at Computer Security Institute. My major memories of him during this time are of his absence. He worked long hours, and when he *was* home, he was often passed out on the sofa. His boss was a workaholic, and expected the same level of performance from his employees.

What this did to dad, and to our family, upset me a lot, and I swore to never do that. As it turns out, of course, in our late-capitalist society, pretty much anyone who gets to be a boss got that way by being a demanding workaholic, so it wasn’t really feasible to avoid them.

Going through dad’s papers of the period, I found out that dad’s relationship with his boss was even more creepy/abusive than I had thought. I’ve been posting scans of the docs on facebook, if you’re curious.

The boss tried to get dad to lose weight on a specific schedule, with monetary bonuses for meeting milestones. Naturally (or so it seems to me from my current perspective on Kay male behavior), dad failed utterly when presented with this sort of structure.

After dad had been at CSI for about 4 years, his boss went so far as to have a psychological profile drawn up for dad! What I find most fascinating about it is that it could easily have been written about *me*, word for word, if one of my workaholic bosses had ever had such a thing done. Not to say that I *agree* with it all. All the business about “untapped potential” is, IMAO, bullshit. The mind structures that give Kay men their intelligence are the exact same ones that continually distract us, and make it difficult for us to focus on things like ‘career’ and ‘job performance’. We’re package deals, not fixer-uppers.
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Russ Kay: "Lovebird Rings"
Bar Harbor
Letter dated 9/9/2003
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Russell Kay
8 Tupelo Road
Worcester, MA 01606

Mr. David Morgan
avid Morgan
11812 North Creek Parkway N., Suite 103
Bothell, WA 98011

Re: Lovebirds NW Trade rings

Dear Mr. Morgan:

I recently bought two of these rings, in sterling silver, for my wife Harriet and I to wear as what I like to think of as second-generation wedding rings. We got our original wedding rings 39 years ago in Chicago, and neither one of us has been able to get them on the appropriate fingers for decades.

I had actually gotten Harriet one of these rings from you a couple of years ago, just as a piece of jewelry. Harriet’s had problems with finger swelling, so that a fixed ring size ends up, at some point during the day, being excruciatingly tight (and unremovable) or falling-off loose. The split design of the Lovebirds ring made it possible for her to wear a ring again.

Some months back, she lost that ring and was very upset – upset enough that she didn’t want to tell me about it at first.

But I had a more deeply personal reason for getting these as a surprise. We have just learned in the last couple of weeks that Harriet has metastatic breast cancer, for which she starts treatment this week. This marks a pretty fateful step down a road we never wanted to travel on. The prognosis is a lot shorter than we had been planning on. We still have some years to spend together – we hope – but not nearly so many as we wanted.

So I got the two rings, along with one of your wedding ring boxes in which to deliver them. In this time of trouble, I wanted to wear the same ring she did, as a physical sign – both to her and to me – of my support and commitment. I gave Harriet the rings today, and we each put one on. She was in tears, and I was pretty close myself.

I’d like to say a few words about the symbolism attached to wedding rings, both the traditional variety and why I chose the Lovebirds ring.

Traditionally, or so I’ve heard, wedding rings are gold, signifying both purity and the ability not to tarnish or lose their lustre; the ring geometry itself is said to symbolize everlasting union, with no end. (There are other symbolic meanings, but these are the ones I want to talk about.)

The Lovebirds rings – silver, not gold; split, not whole – fly in the face of such traditions, and I think that they much more truly represent what a marriage is really about.

Silver tarnishes; you have to work to keep it shining. A marriage can grow dull too, if both partners don’t work at keeping it bright and alive.

As for the split, nothing is forever, something Harriet and I have been made acutely aware of these last few days. I think the split ring is a useful way to signify two different individuals coming together and staying together for the long haul. We’re not joined in a rigid, immutable relationship. Instead, we can flex with changing times and differing needs, growing tighter or looser.

Of course, the very name, Lovebirds, means a lot to us too. Even (or maybe I mean especially) after 39 years.

Thank you, David Morgan, for making these available.


                                                            Russell Kay

P.S.  You may or may not remember me, Mr. Morgan. I’m a short, fat, bald guy who visited your store twice on successive days a couple of years ago, agonizing over and finally buying an Akubra Banjo Patterson hat and also taking away a free bag of leather scraps. I spent quite some time talking then with you about various products you carry and about kangaroo leather. I recall looking at a pair of kangaroo gloves and sighing, “I just lose too many gloves,” to which you replied, “that’s the best kind of customer to have!” That visit is still a delightful memory. I hope you are well.
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Lego castle dream
Bar Harbor
Had a dream last night that involved a Lego castle.  In the hypnagogic post-dream state, I came up with a design that I would totally do if I still *had* Lego.  A castle bedroom set, with tapestries.  The tapestries would be built of one-width bricks, though using some one-third height flats to make fancier designs.  They would be suspended from the wall, but two bricks out from the actual wall.  They wouldn't quite reach the floor, being short by about 2/3 of a brick, so that if you're paying attention, you can just see the toes of the minifig hiding behind it :-)
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Russ Kay: "And a Long Strange Ride It Was ..."
Bar Harbor
And a Long, Strange Ride It Was …

A True Story by Russell Kay

It was a traveling week, and those are always kind of unpredictable. But it ended in a bus  encounter like nothing I’d ever dreamed of … or would want to repeat.
Things started out normally enough. From home in Worcester, Mass., I made plans to attend a big computer industry trade show in New York City, then spend two days at the Annual Show of the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association (of which I am a life member) in Stamford, Conn. Remember this final destination.

On Wednesday morning, bright and early, I set out to drive the two and a half hours to Stamford. Everything was fine until the last 15 miles, which were stop-and-go gridlock on I-95 because of accidents and road construction. I got to Stamford with 15 minutes to spare before the bus left for New York, but the parking garage at the “Transportation Center” (i.e., the train/bus station) was full. I needed to leave my car there for three days and finally had to settle for a nearby lot where the tab was $18 a day. I agreed, having little choice, handed over $54 and set out to walk the quarter-mile or so to the bus station, dragging a large suitcase on wheels and a not-quite-so large computer backpack on my shoulders.

Got there, bought my ticket, and sat down at exactly the bus’s scheduled departure time. I waited. And waited some more. Turns out, the bus got caught in that same mess up on I-95. I got to New York, took a quick cab to the Javits Center, and got there in time to make my first appointment at the show by 10 minutes. The show, compared to previous such shows in New York, was a real bust, but I had enough appointments set up that my time was well spent.

Now let’s fast-forward to Friday. The first bus to Stamford that morning left at 10:15, and I wanted to catch it so I could spend the day poking around Stamford and maybe take in a movie. Got to the Port Authority Terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in plenty of time (having cleverly chosen a hotel just a block away), and stood in line at the gate. Then it happened.

I’ve been in and out of that terminal maybe a dozen times in the past few years, and I have never before seen a security check. But a uniformed rent-a-cop wheeled her little wagon up to the head of the line and announced that all carry-on bags were going to be searched.

When my turn came, the bag passed fine … but then she scanned me with one of those hand-held metal detectors. Beep! Coins come out. Beep! Same for the keys. Beep! And my little Spyderco Cricket joins the pile.

“What’s that?” she demanded.

“A pocket knife,” I answered with some trepidation in my mind. I mean, jeez, the blade on it is only two inches long. I could do more damage with a ballpoint pen.

“Can’t go on the bus,” she stated.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll just put it inside my bag that will ride underneath.”

“I said, Can’t Go On The Bus,” she insisted. “Can’t go on the bus at all, no way.” Then she let loose the real zinger: “In fact, I’m not going to let you on any bus until you go somewhere and get rid of that knife – maybe send it to someone – and come back and show me a receipt proving it.” A little more gently, she said, “There’s a Post Office one level up inside the terminal.”

I haven’t made it to age 60 without learning that I’m just never going to win some battles and sometimes it’s better not even to try. Especially with a cop, private or otherwise. Also, I really didn’t want her to take an interest in the rest of my luggage, and it certainly didn’t seem like the best time to mention that inside my big suitcase was a padded case with a full dozen knives in it. I was, after all, going to Stamford to attend a knife show!

I sighed, asked the guy standing next to me to watch my luggage, and set out to mail my knife to myself. Well, it turns out the Post Office is in fact two levels up and, while it’s technically in the same terminal, it is, in fact, located in another building. By the time I got there, at 10:09, I had a bad feeling.

I waited impatiently in line behind the one person being served. I asked for a Priority Mail cassette-sized box, wrapped the Cricket in an Express Mail envelope so it wouldn’t rattle around, sealed it up, put my home address on it, and put it on the scale.

“Can’t accept it without a return address,” the clerk informed me. So I hurriedly scribbled my name and address on the box a second time. I paid my $3.85 and, yes, I got a receipt. I raced back to the gate, arriving there at 10:23. The 10:15 bus, of course, had already left. The rent-a-cop was standing there with an annoyed look on her face.

“You left your luggage here,” she complained.

“Well sure,” I answered. “I didn’t have a hope in hell of making the bus if I’d taken them with me.”

“Guess what – you didn’t make it. I tried to hold the bus for a few minutes, but it had to leave,” she added.

“Ah well,” I muttered. “When’s the next bus to Stamford?”

“First, let’s see that receipt.” I handed it over, she studied it carefully for a few seconds, then returned it to me.

“Next bus is at 11:45,” she said.

I grabbed my bags and sat down to wait for the 11:45. After an hour, I got in line for the bus, which in fact arrived precisely at 11:45. After another 10 minutes they let us board. No security search at all. I got in, found a seat, turned on the overhead light, and began to read. After a while, it dawned on me that the bus was still parked in the terminal, and there was no driver in the appropriate seat.

I turned my attention to a conversation going on just outside the open door. The driver was talking to someone else who, it sounded like, was giving him directions. Finally, at 12:10, the driver climbed aboard and the trip started.

After a while, as the bus lumbered through Harlem and the Bronx and, for all I know, parts of  New Jersey, I got tired and dozed off. Had a very nice snooze, in fact. I woke up and glanced at my watch. It was 1:45, so I figured we should be pretty close to our destination. I was feeling good.

Until I looked out the window and realized that the sign we were just about to go under said this was the way to Manhattan. After a couple of turns and swoops, the bus pulled up at the side of the street and stopped. We were now at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue in downtown New York … approximately one block from the back of the Port Authority Terminal we had left nearly two hours before.

The driver, a man in his thirties or forties, pulled out a cell phone and began jabbering into it. “I got lost and couldn’t find my way out of New York,” he told the phone.

I didn’t mention this before, but there was a sign inside the terminal that said the first row of seats on the bus is not available to passengers. I’ve often seen supervisors sitting there up front, apparently training or evaluating drivers. Now I realized that in the front row of my bus was seated a young woman, not in uniform, clutching a sheaf of papers that, evidently, had printed, step-by-step directions on how to get from New York to Stamford. She had been reading them to the driver.

The driver kept talking to someone, explaining his problem, his voice rising in volume and intensity as he explained that since he’d gotten lost he decided to try and find his way back to where he started. Well, he sure got that one right.

He hung up the phone, engaged his left turn signal, and the bus set out. For Stamford. Again.

This time, he seemed to know where he was going, because before I knew it we were on an expressway. The driver did, however, seem to be arguing with his (dare I say) navigator, about where they were going.

“Yes, I have to stop at New Rochelle,” he told her. “That’s on the schedule and I gotta stop there.”

Time passed.

Suddenly, we were exiting the expressway at a ramp that was labeled “New Rochelle.” As we got to the bottom of the ramp, the only options were to turn left or right. The driver sang out, “Anybody know which way we go? Are there any regulars on the bus? Anyone here who knows where the stop is?” No one said anything.

It was the bus from hell, I just knew. We were lost again. I was never going to get to Stamford. I’d miss the knife show. How would I rescue my car? And would I have to pay another $18 a day in parking fees?

Surprise! The driver turned left, and that turned out to be right. After negotiating another couple of turns, he pulled up alongside the curb – New Rochelle doesn’t have a real bus terminal – got out and went into a nearby convenience store to check in. It was the same place the bus from Stamford to New York had stopped, which seemed promising. After all, we weren’t much more than two hours behind schedule.

Back in the bus, the driver got us back onto I-95 and we proceeded on to the next stop, Stamford.

Imagine my bewilderment when we actually arrived there. At the very same bus station I’d been at two days before. Amazing, simply amazing. I reminded the driver that I had luggage underneath (not mentioning that it contained weapons of mass destruction), and he got out and unloaded my stuff.

I had expected to take the 10:15 bus from Manhattan, arriving in Stamford at 12:05. I looked at my watch again. It was 4:15. I guessed I wasn’t going to take in a movie that afternoon after all. Well, at least I was here.

“Hope you find your way back,” I called cheerfully to the driver. I didn’t really listen to his answer; it wasn’t my problem any more. The folks going on to Vermont – well, silently I wished them luck.

I pulled my suitcase along through a parking lot, across a construction site, under a viaduct, and uphill the quarter mile to the parking lot. My car was still there.

Never has a Honda sedan seemed so much an expression of personal freedom and the ability to exert control over my own life. I had escaped the clutches of the lost Greyhound and would live to tell about it. I wasn’t going to be another Flying Dutchman after all.

I’ve heard it said that people making plans is God’s idea of a good joke. I sure hope she enjoyed it.

Copyright © 2003 by Russell Kay. All Rights Reserved.

Harriet Kay: "Bringing the Chicken"
Bar Harbor
Bringing the Chicken
#268: 7 January 2002
By Harriet Kay, Massachusetts, USA
In 1967, my husband and I were starting our life after college, and we were pretty poor. Russell had an entry-level job that didn’t pay much, we had college loans, and had made some stupid choices with credit cards, so we had lots of debt to deal with. Our son was born that summer, and I had to stop working and stay at home with him, which only compounded the financial squeeze.

We were living in an apartment in Evanston, Illinois, a moderately affluent suburb north of Chicago. We got involved socially with a large group of couples of various ages, some from our church and some connected with my husband’s job at Northwestern University. They all had children, we shared many common values, and they gave us helpful hints about raising our son. This active group of people went many places and did many things together. We enjoyed being with them. Even though we often couldn’t afford to go with the group, they always made us feel welcome when we came.

Toward the end of that first summer they planned a picnic and invited us. I asked what I could contribute. “Oh, bring some potato chips,” my friend said. I figured there wouldn’t be much food – just hot dogs, chips, and lemonade – and was relieved that I didn’t have to spend more than a few dollars on the event. I bought two large bags of the least expensive brand of potato chips I could find.

However, when we got to the state park, I found a veritable feast laid out. Heaps of chicken and watermelon, big bowls filled with homemade salads of all kinds. Even home-made ice cream and cake. There we were with our two bags of potato chips. I felt mortified and thought about leaving. I told a close friend that I was terribly embarrassed to have brought so little.

“Oh nonsense,” she said. “In a few years it’ll be your turn to bring the chicken.”

That was long ago; Russell and I are starting to think about retirement and our son is grown. Yet I still remember that picnic and how our friends made us feel included and valued for who we were – not what we had. Their generosity stuck with me all these years, and it’s shaped both my feelings about others and my behavior in helping them.

We couldn’t possibly pay back all the people who brought chicken for us when we were unable to afford it. We’re scattered all across the country, and we’ve lost touch with them. But that’s not the point.

The chicken we enjoyed 32 years ago is a debt my husband and I owe – and will always owe – to the future. It’s not an obligation to be paid back but rather a promise to pay forward. Even in these relatively prosperous times, we still have lots of younger friends who have trouble making ends meet. Nowadays, we bring the chicken.
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Russ Kay: "Grandpa and Me ... and My First Custom Knife"
Bar Harbor
Grandpa and Me ...
and My First Custom Knife

About a year and a half ago, I realized that I had really become a knife collector. Nothing else would adequately explain my buying one (relatively) expensive factory folder after another. I tried not to admit this to myself for a long time (Why? Darned if I know.) but the truth will out.

OK, having acknowledged the seriousness of my interest, I started to think about where this interest had come from, and where I thought I might want to go with it. Well, there are lots of things I’d like to do, knives I’d like to acquire, but that’s for the future. What was even more interesting, to me, was the past, where this interest came from.

I finally made a connection with my grandfather, certainly the most important, influential, and revered man in my childhood, my father having died when I was two.

Grandpa had three big, wonderful knives that he kept in his dresser drawer. One was a stag-handled bowie, one was a Case sheath knife, and the third was a Finnish puukko. As a kid, it the early 1950s, I used to take them out of the drawer, remove them from their sheaths, and admire them and fantasize about them, but that’s as much as I could ever do. Use them?! Not likely.

Fast forward 20 years or so. My grandfather died. Eventually, I inherited the knives. I think I did, anyway. I have the puukko, but no one seems to know now what happened to the other two. Conceivably I could have had them in my possession at that time, but I don’t believe so. In any case, they are now long gone. The bowie stands out clearly in my memory, but I can’t picture the Case at all.

Fast forward another 20 years to the present. Having acknowledged myself as a knife collector, I decided that I had to have Grandpa’s knives, somehow. The puukko was easy. At a time when it hadn’t meant very much to me, I had given it to my son Alex, who used to take it on SCA encampments. Unfortunately, he never gave it any maintenance, and it was not stainless. Alex gladly gave it back to me, but it’s in a bad way. I polished off the rust, but there’s nothing to be done about the severe pitting.

The Case I couldn’t remember anything about – not handle shape, material, or size. I’ve looked through old catalogs--heck, I’ve looked at lots of old Case sheath knives--and nothing rings a bell. This one will have to wait, maybe forever.

But the bowie ... that I could visualize so clearly, so tantalizingly. I went to knife shows, looking at old bowies, but I never found one that had quite the same size or shape, or that was good enough. So I finally decided to commission a replica. Last April, I sat down with knifemaker Jim Siska and explained my situation. I had found an old drawing of a blade that matched my memory, and I had copied it and blown it up. I gave Jim the drawing, we agreed on a price, ($375), specs (carbon steel, full tang, amber stag handle, brass guard), and delivery (by Christmas 1997).

Well, Christmas just arrived a little early! I went to the Northeast Cutlery Collectors’ Association show in Marlboro today. Jim Siska’s table, as usual, was at the far end of the room from the entrance. I found that I was dragging out the wait, stopping to talk to people along the way, trying to delay the encounter. But I finally got to the end of the aisle, I couldn’t stall any longer, and there it was. Jim only had four knives on his table, and one of them was mine. MINE! It is gorgeous, just gorgeous. Oh, I wasn’t excited, not a bit.

I had picked Jim Siska to make this knife because I have admired his work, both the art and the craft of it, and I liked the feeling I get when I look at or handle one of his knives. The knife he’s made for me is a period piece, not typical of his normal work, but it’s clearly related to the knives he’s known for, and he admitted that he enjoys making bowies. The grind lines and finish on the 3/16-inch thick O-1 blade are flawless, the point is a work of art, the wonderful stag handle fits my hand like it was made for me (Duh, it was!), and even the plain sheath is elegantly handsome.


Now, some truths. This is undoubtedly a far better knife than Grandpa had, maybe even than he ever thought of having. And if I did suddenly have his knife to put next to this, I’d probably find that my recollection of it was faulty, and the new knife looks significantly different.

This isn’t Grandpa’s knife, it’s mine, made in memory of his. I cherish it, and when I look at it, as I’m doing now while I write this, I think of that wonderful man and all the strength I once drew from him ... and still continue to.

Thanks, Jim, for helping make a dream come true. And thank you, Grandpa, for everything you gave me and for who you were. I’m sorry I lost your knife, but I think you’ll be proud of the new one we’ve got, you and I.
-- Russell Kay, December 7, 1997

Russ Kay: "Thoughts on Alex leaving for college"
Bar Harbor
Dad wrote this in 1984. Mom put a copy of it (and the referenced article) away in an envelope marked “For Alex when his kids go to college”. But I never had children, and they never went. Dad came across the envelope while going through her things some years after her death, and gave it to me then. I’ve added some editorial comments, in brackets.
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Russ Kay: "RAKay death thoughts"
Bar Harbor
Another document from dad's hard drive, musing on the death of his own father.
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Russ Kay: "Confessions of a Sometimes Bigot/Racist"
Bar Harbor
Found on my dad's hard drive. File is dated 9/18/2012, which may or may not be accurate. I have no context as to why he wrote it, or for what audience he intended it.

Confessions of a Sometimes Bigot/Racist
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