Howard's Fall 2000 Disasters

On top of an incredibly tight busy schedule (including preparation for a $200,000 one-day October event that he was co-directing), Howard had to deal with the following Fall disasters:

Illness -- Mother (who had been healthy and bicycling 200 miles/week several months before) had a routine hysterectomy in August.  After a rapid 2-week recovery, suddenly she was stricken with severe intestinal problems and was in and out of hospital 8 or 9 times in one month. Hospital would periodically dismiss her with a few hours notice, and family would have to scramble to find last-minute home assistance.  After a few days she would be rushed to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital again, and the family would have to cancel the home assistance once again.  This repeated again and again for a month.  Then she returned to the hospital again the first week of November, and doctors did exploratory surgery and found intestinal adhesions that were missed by repeated CATscans and MRIs.  They surgically treated these adhesions (which was expected to improve some but not all of her problems) and released her Nov 18.  She was only back in Urgent Care once more in November and again the first week of December.  This second surgery left her with severe bloating and build-up of liquid within her system, particularly her stomach (which looks like she is 9-months pregnant).  Throughout December the doctor drained approximately 2 quarts of liquid per week from her stomach (a dangerous ongoing procedure, but necessary to provide her with some relief).  Even after scores of tests on the liquid and experiments with different types of drugs, they are unable to find the cause of this liquid build-up, and her team of doctors is insistent that bringing in other specialists would be fruitless.  In February the bloating/distention stabalized and she started to feel better.  Spent almost 3 consecutive weeks without being hospitalized!  But as her physical body started to recover, she started seeing a complete bug infestation of her house and is totally obsessed by this.  Her doctor has discussed institutionalizing her.

Tenant trashes his Berkeley flat -- The end of September Howard rented half his Berkeley flat to someone who threw out  Howard's rugs, furniture, kitchen contents, and personal belongings because they didn't match his personal taste.  Tenant then decided to abruptly move out with no advanced notice before he had paid his deposit on the flat (which was due 2 weeks after he moved in because he said he couldn't afford it until he got the deposit back from his previous landlord).  Though Howard had had hundreds of applicants when he listed the flat, he will be unable to rent it out for several months because he couldn't be in town long enough to show it and sign a rental agreement.

No Mail -- The post office has returned to senders all mail addressed to Howard's Berkeley address.  Though the post office computers clearly state that mail should be forwarded to his Los Angeles address, somehow all his mail for an entire month has been returned to the sender.  The post office is investigating why this is happening.  Meanwhile, Howard has missed bills, bounced checks, and missed correspondence with many people (and all this has caused him an enormous amoung of extra work, endless phone calls to resolve bill problems, etc).  He has no Mastercard because his card expired the end of October and his new card was never delivered.  Just as he thought he had straightened out the problem with Berkeley mail forwarding, he found another problem -- the Santa Monica post office also began returning his Santa Monica mail back to the senders!  According to one supervisor in the Santa Monica post office, "This really shouldn't be happening.  There's no reason for it."  But since they don't know what is happening, they don't know how to make it stop happening and resume "normal" mail delivery.  In November a second supervisor said "I don't really know how this happened."  "There's always human error.  There's no guarantee that this won't happen again."  But that supervisor did give Howard a letter that he could try to use to convince creditors to reinstate his credit and/or drop later charges.  The fallout from this set of problems (including his inability to make credit card charges) has caused an endless stream of troubles and many scores of hours of extra work.  (for more details about this, see letter from Howard to his Congressman)  Since the congressman's intervention, the Postmaster has called Howard and promised to take steps to correct the problem (something that the Station Manager had promised to do a month before).

Re-doing Course -- Approximately 2 weeks before the start of classes Howard was told that he needed to eliminate the teaching assistants from his Fall course.  This would require a complete revamping of the class, as all assignments, grading, and pedagogy had been based upon development of an ongoing close relationship between a group of 20 or fewer students with a single instructor.  Many hundreds of hours of planning had gone into this 80-student required introductory class over the previous 4-month period.  The course had been based around discussion sections led by PhD students who would be employed as "Readers" (which had been the common practice in this department).  Because of a collective bargaining agreement signed over the summer between the University and graduate students, Howard was forbidden from even having the PhD students attend the Discussion sections.  The 2 students who had been helping with course planning quit (one stating "The only reason I was involved in this was that I wanted experience leading these discussions").

Noisy LA Apartment -- Howard's Los Angeles apartment turns out to be so incredibly noisy that the only way he can sleep is by moving a futon into the kitchen, taking nightly sleeping plugs, and wearing high-quality earplugs.  Though he had been careful to check for street noise before signing a lease, he could not check the noise level of neighbors.  And though he is willing to lose the $2,000 penalty for early termination of his lease, he's afraid that it's impossible to know the noise level beforehand from neighbors in any new apartment he might move into.  And he also needs to find the time to actually look for an apartment.

Losing Webserver -- Howard was told that he had one month left before he lost his webserver.  His material would be moved to a different server, but the new server would not have many of the important functions that Howard uses on a regular basis (Unix-based telnet access).  He had only a short time to complete the hundreds of hours of functions that he would not be able to do in the future.  And now, routine simple functions that he would do several times per day and which used to take less than a minute each (like small updates to html files) take 15+ minutes, and require multiple steps, each of which is prone to error.

Less Severe Fall Disasters

Death & Dying -- Earlier in the year Howard's aunt was diagnosed with cancer.  This Fall she suddenly experienced a rapid decline.  She died the day after Thanksgiving.  Also, the week before Thanksgiving two of Howard's other friends' mothers died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Course Material server goes down -- The weekend before student mid-terms were due for his 80-person course, the server containing the assignments, course readings, etc. went down.  For 48 of the 72 hours prior to when the mid-term was due, none of the online course material was accessible.

Cable modem down -- Howard's cable modem went down the same weekend that his course server was down, and the trouble-shooting people told him it would take 5 days before they could send a technician out to check the lines.

Electricity outage -- At 4:30 AM on October 26 Howard was awakened by an explosion and the electricity going out. (Part of a nearby powerstation had explosed due to rainwater.)  He was very happy to have the lights that shine into his apartment every night go out, and secretly hoped that the electricity would stay off for quite a while.  About half an hour later that hope was suddenly dashed when a series of helicopters started hovering over his apartment building.  When the noise from about 8 helicopters became absolutely deafening (and he felt he was in a combat zone), he called the police to make a noise complaint.  The desk officer refused to take a noise complaint because "news helicopters have a first ammendment right to be there".