As Easy as Learning to Fly


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has much to say on the subject of flight.

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice day, the book suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.

That is, it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

I haven’t attempted flight in the past few days, but I have managed to re-injure a knee I twisted while boarding an America West plane several years ago. It’s not a bump, but a lateral stability issue – I can be walking in a straight line, and suddenly my right knee will decide it feels like turning. I am, therefore, trying to keep it elevated and wrapped, and not to make any twisting motions, which only exacerbate the issue. Have you ever tried doing dishes without twisting a bit? It feels ridiculous to have to actually, consciously, take steps to travel the two feet from sink to dishwasher, and yet, if I don’t, there is a crunchy sound and a flood of hot pain.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinty, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

The thing about ACE bandages is that they are rendered useless if you lose the little clippy thing. You know the one I mean: It’s a small bit of elastic with grabby metal teeth on either end. As if re-injuring a knee in my sleep (oh, did I not mention that bit?) isn’t talent enough for you, I managed, during a two hour nap yesterday, to lose the clippy thing.

It was on the bandage, holding it in place when I got into the bed around 3:30 PM, no longer able to remain vertical. When I was awakened by hungry dogs playing kissy-face and sitting on my hair, the bandage was no longer fastened.

But wait, there’s more!

The clippy thing had disappeared.

Fuzzy and I searched the bed, the floor around the bed, and the pajamas I’d been wearing in the bed, as well as the dog’s fur, and the path from bedroom to kitchen (and back) (because I’d limped across the house to let said dogs out just as I was preparing to nap. We even went over the entire length of the ACE wrap, just in case it was still attached.

Nothing. Nada. It’s as if there is a tiny wormhole somewhere at the foot of my bed that is designed solely to eat the clippy things that come with ACE wraps.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration. Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all consideration of your own weight simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of “Good God, you can’t possibly be flying!” It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.


Speaking of wormholes, there is apparently a second one in my room, inside my nightstand, because while we were looking for the Mysterious Disappearing Clippy Thing (TM), I found – and I am not exaggerating this number – seventeen contour clips, the sort of elongated metal hair clips that are horrendously ugly but do a great job. You see them a lot in the hair of gymnasts and figure skaters (of which I am neither), and, I didn’t think I even owned more than ten of them.

But evidently I do.

What I do not own, at least, not any longer, is a partly eaten bag of chocolate cherry kisses, but this is my own fault. No, I did NOT eat the entire bag. I stupidly left it on the Nightstand of Doom, forgot it was there, went with Fuzzy to fetch dinner last night (because the roast I’d taken out was steadfastly refusing to defrost), and came home to find a trail of red tin foil scattered from nightstand to garage door.

The dogs are showing no adverse effects.
I hope they liked their little treat.

When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly easier and easier to achieve.

You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your maneuverability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it were going to anyway.

You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly screw up, and screw up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitchhikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

I’m caught wondering if the wormholes work in reverse. For example, if I make an offering of a contour clip (or twelve) at the foot of the bed, will I wake up from a nap to find seventeen ACE bandage clippy things on my nightstand?

I don’t even need seventeen.

One will do.

And really, how difficult can it be to appease the gods of small shiny objects?

What? What’s that?

It’s as easy as learning to fly.

*Quoted passages taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

AT&T, SMTP & External Email

I’m posting this as a service for all those people who have AT&T Uverse or DSL, who need to use the AT&T smtp server to send mail from non-AT&T accounts.

I was thisclose to throwing patio furniture at the next AT&T truck to enter my neighborhood, when I finally found the necessary solution on an external forum. Because I KNOW I’ll need it again, and because I suspect there are folks who don’t want to hunt down forum posts, I’m posting it here.

Several months ago, shortly after we canceled our ComCast account and switched to Uverse, which also required killing our backup DSL account (also through AT&T), we had to change all our mail settings because AT&T blocks port 25. No big deal, you just set your mail server to use port 465, and use login/password authorization based on your AT&T account.

For a while all worked sweetly. Then, one day in December or January, I stopped being able to send mail. Now, while I HAVE an at&t address, I don’t actually USE it, because I have my own domains. I also have work email addresses at their own domains. My Dreamhost accounts all have their own smtp servers, so that was fine for sending, except my parents’ server in Mexico wouldn’t accept relayed mail. The work pops don’t HAVE smtp service.

We called AT&T and explained the error, which at first was intermittent – maybe one in 12 email messages would bounce back with an error message that the server didn’t recognize my address. AT&T said, “Oh, we’re having a glitch.” The next day, all was well.

But then we started getting the error again, more and more often. Another call to Uverse tech support. “We can unblock port 25 for you, until we figure out what else to do.” Fine, okay. We have anti-virus and anti-spam software like crazy on our systems. We could deal with that. Except that after three weeks of this, we got a note from AT&T telling us that if we didn’t stop using port 25, they’d forbid us from relaying anything.

We complained about that. They apologized.

Meanwhile, when I tried to use the secure settings, I was getting more and more errors, until finally, this morning, I could not send mail at all. I sent in a ticket, they said, “We can’t find a problem, and we can’t reproduce it.”

I began searching the net for external information – users talk, after all – and found out that in order to send from an external email address, even if you’re using your own mail client (Thunderbird, Mac Mail, etc.) you have to log into your AT&T/Yahoo webmail, and add and verify all your external accounts.

Now, while this is time consuming, it’s not that difficult, and I’d have happily done so months ago, but AT&T NEVER TOLD US TO DO THIS. There was never an email sent, when the secure servers became required. The various calls and letters to tech support never included this information in their responses. And honestly, who would think to go to a webmail account they never use to set up external mail relay for sending through a regular client?

In any case, I spent about twenty minutes going through the necessary steps this morning, and while Thunderbird still can’t FIND my smtp server on my MacBook, Mac Mail works fine, and Thunderbird on my windows machines works fine, and life is good.

If you, too, need to make external email work on AT&T’s secure servers, the instructions you need are here: