Work has sent me to Pittsburgh. I would not call Pittsburgh the most exotic of locales, but it has not been unpleasant. I’m here for a week’s worth of training on ATM. No, not that ATM. Not the machines that happily spit out currency from your bank account. I’m talking about the telecommunications protocol, ATM: Asynchronous Transfer Mode. The class is with Marconi—recently acquired by Ericsson. At work, we make extensive use of ATM to carry voice, video and data traffic between our various locations. I could ramble on about the virtues of ATM and all of what I’m learning. I just don’t anticipate that my faithful audience will have much interest in that. So I’ll spare you.

What I do find of more general interest about this class is that my co-worker, Rob, and I are the only people in the class working in the private sector. Rob works for broadcasting where we use ATM to deliver television content to a number of our television stations throughout the country. I’ve primarily used ATM to carry data networks. The other students in our class are either military or work for military contractors. We have had a couple of fascinating conversations over lunch about the differences between federal networks and private enterprise networks. As we talked about budgets Wednesday morning at break, I could not help but be reminded of Milo Minderbinder and his syndicate in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

I also got a chance to catch up with some childhood friends I have not seen in many years. Amy and my sister have been best friends since they were very young. I last saw Amy at her wedding eight years ago. Since then, Amy and Paul have had three children. I met all of them. I had dinner with Amy’s parents, Ann and Jim. In the process of meeting the children I learned all about The Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, Crocs and Jibbitz. Since that wedding, I’ve changed as well. We talked quite a bit about my brain injury and how that has radically altered my life. I had a great time with them.

I have orders from my sister to kidnap Amy into my carry-on bag and bring her back to Chicago with me. I’m still trying to figure out how to accomplish that. I’m nothing if not persistent. I’ll figure something out.

A couple other humorous observations about Pittsburgh and my class:

  • I now know where Pittsburgh is. Pittsburgh is never where you currently are; it is always just over that next hill.
  • That road you think goes over that next hill straight to Pittsburgh—doesn’t.
  • Pittsburgh seems curiously trapped between the East Coast and the Midwest, but does not sit comfortably in either cultural category.
  • The company, Marconi, is named after the Italian radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi.
  • Two bits of geeky creativity I found quite clever: the name of the company cafeteria is Bite 53. The name of the associated coffee shop is the Jitter Café.