chemistry

All I can think about when I watch the sun set at 3:30 and a chill stillness descends almost immediately over everything, is chemistry. I remember, vaguely, learning about particles and how they speed up when something gets hotter and slow down when it gets colder. To the point that they get so slow they practically solidify, or so hot they turn into gas. I got a D one semester in chemistry class. I understood everything, but about a week too late. I rescued my grade by making a cake with my friend Lauren (later valedictorian) with the chemical makeup of every damned thing in the cake written in icing on the top. So you see, I have always been like this.

Anyhow, my point is that I think my movements around this place bear a striking resemblance to what thay’d be like if I were a single particle. Here is my illustration. The pink line is me, through the seasons. You can click through to Flickr for more commentary. I have also always had a fondness for Bil Keane.


winter
winter
spring
spring
summer
summer
autumn
autumn

storm-non-storm

sunset & trees through the screen porch window

What an odd set of days. Men with snowpants. An extra-day houseguest because of weather. Wifi lifeguarding. And a Thanksgiving that was truly memorable. Usually I’m happy to see family or friends and eat some food and not be working and reflect on the weird US holiday and the many origin stories it has. This time around something clicked more.

It was my Dad’s birthday. I discussed this odd birthday thing we have in my family on my site about nine years ago. In looking that up, I found that I was already concerned about superstardom, even then. “I have very real fears about becoming a net celebrity despite myself.” I had forgotten saying that.

I slept til 10 Thursday, got up played a few moves in some online Scrabble games and and called my Dad and had a nice long convo with him. Got dressed, fed birds, and headed to Forrest and Kelly’s house with my candied and spiced nuts beating Kelly’s mom and sister and her boyfriend by a little bit. We ate and drank and I got to get to know some of Kelly’s family. The older I get, the less I get the occasion to meet friends’ parents or siblings since our paths don’t cross like that except at weddings. This is of course more the case in rural noplace. I liked meeting everyone and I think I was a decent buffer to make the evening not All Family All The Time. I called my sister who was at my Mom’s house and talked to both of them and they had had a nice day. Kelly’s family left and we all hunkered down and did dishes and debriefed. Then we did some laptopping and I Skyped in to talk to some MetaFilter folks who were having a meetup/dinner in Portland Oregon. Everyone passed around the headset to talk to me and I showed them dumb videos of the exhausted pets and Forrest’s back.

I headed back to my house over non-icy roads and got in bed and chatted with Matt and Josh who I work with over at MetaFilter about some issues that had been cropping up all week on the site and really needed some attention. The holidays seem to bring out the best or the worst in people and MeFi has a lot of both kinds. We hammered out a practical solution to some things that had been vexing us and I was pleased to see before I went to sleep that our ideas had been mostly well-received. I chatted with my friend Sharyn who had a decent time with her family and we had a nice little “aren’t we doing well lately?” discussion. We both really felt that we had nailed Thanksgiving in a way we hadn’t before.

I’m not sure exactly what did it, or maybe it was just what didn’t happen. As I was getting ready for bed, putting on my pjs and crawling under 50 pounds of blankets in the giant quiet empty house I felt well-connected to all sorts of people all over the place. I had this real sense of feeling effective and pretty much in love with everyone which, if you know me, is not something I feel or say lightly. I stood on the porch and heard water melting off the house, or maybe it was freezing rain falling from the sky. I knew I was going to spend Friday like I usually do, in quiet reflection thinking about my plans for next year and, of course, Buying Nothing.

I’m wrapping up the day today with a bath and recording some banjo mandolin “music” and learning to use GarageBand. Tomorrow I have Big Plans with Big Books and maybe a turkey sandwich. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope yours was the way you wanted it.

represent

lily

A very busy week is wrapping up here. A very busy week is starting tomorrow. Today is a missing empty day between them.

Last week I went to Providence to give a talk that I briefly mention on librarian.net. It was about agitprop which is a topic that I always assume people know about, but apparently they don’t. It’s just a shortening of agitation/propoganda, the trick being that you need to both explain your good ideas but then urge people towards them. It was of some use during the Communist Era and activists often use it as a tactic. So, this talk that I gave to a bunch of librarians and information scientists talked about my activist background and the idea of getting people to do the things that you think are a good idea. In this case, I meant using new technologies (where “new” still means stuff like email, lord help us all) as well as changing things in a traditional culture generally. I even got to talk about William James and his “genuine option” idea which is one of my favorite hobby horses. It was one of the most heartfelt talks I’ve given in a while because I didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t some sort of anarchist, or that I don’t really have an issue with the corporatization of librarianship. I got to talk about the danger of palliative technologies that stultify us and make us soft in the face of decreasing social liberties and increasing government nonsense. I was happy with it.

Then I drove home on Thursday in a rainstorm to greet the skiiers that were staying at my place. I belong to a few “hey come stay at my place” websites, most notably Couchsurfing.com and HospitalityClub.org. People rarely take me up on it, but I feel that regular deposits into the Cosmic Karma Bank keep my good luck flowing. So, I got home and was unpacking when my incoming guest called and said he’d be in around 2 am, not 11 pm as he had earlier hoped. I was exhausted and barely awake as it was so I left some lights on, left a note taped on the door with information on where the guestrooms were, and went to sleep. I woke up briefly in the middle of the night hearing footsteps and then woke up in the morning to young men in snowpants wandering around cooking and packing on their way to Killington. They were nice guests who mostly did their own thing and I did mine. They were gone this morning before I fully got out of bed.

I only mention this in detail because I feel like I get inundated with oogy boogy talk concerning just how much risk there is in the world nowadays. My bank tries to make me afraid of identity theft, my insurance company tries to make me afraid of fires and floods. My students’ computers try to make them afraid of their computers being “at risk” when what they are really dealing with is more of a Norton Protection Racket than anything else. There is risk in taking a shower, risk in eating seafood, risk in leaving your car unlocked, and risk in talking to strangers. We hear about these risks all the time, seemingly constantly. But there are also rewards too: being clean, eating tasty food, ease of access and the fact that real people are more interesting than abstract free-floating anxieties. I just figure every so often someone should tell the good stories.

what endures

Bearing Tree Marker

I got an iphone because my friend bricked it and then bought a new one for himself and then unbricked this one and then gave it to me. It’s not a phone but it works well as a wifi appliance. There is something about new technology that is immediately enervating to me. I like gadgets, but it’s like having a giant marble coaster made of sugar. Sure it’s fun to run marbles through it, but you just keep waiting for it to rain.

Anyhow, what’s really neat to me is the idea of bearing trees. I went to the Michigan Museum of Surveying — “the only museum in North America dedicated solely to the surveying and mapping profession” — when I was giving a talk in Lansing and enjoyed a really information-filled hour alone in the little museum. I had already known some about bearing trees, mostly through the idea of witness trees — a somewhat more informal way to think about semi-permanent boundary markers. The idea is once you’ve established your little plot of land in European pre-settlement times, you have to find a way to indicate where the boundaries of your property are, or where the town is. So, you put notches in the big trees and note the notches in a book. Surveyors have used them for centuries and there were examples at the museum, carved sticks in boxes really, of very old boundary markers. One example is the boundary tree at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. Before it died in 1978 at 195, it was considered the “last living link” to Lincoln.

Sometimes when I go out walking in the woods I see big old-looking trees at the corners of fields and go peer at their bark to see if I can see any notches in them. I don’t really know what I’m looking for. I might enjoy myself less if I did since I can make up all sorts of fanciful stories about what I find. As fun and hackable and extensible and customizable as the iphone is, it really doesn’t do much for my imagination.

“It’s a good idea to walk your boundaries and check that you have posted signs at least the corner markers. If you are new to owning land, you have to think about land differently than you do in the city. I know in the city a few inches difference in a boundary is a big deal and grounds for a law suit, but not in the county. The general rule of thumb is that preexisting boundary markers like fence lines, old posted signs, old large boundary trees are accepted boundaries by usage. So save your money on getting a professional surveyor. If the boundaries of your land are clearly marked and there is no dispute, then leave it at that. Put up your posted signs along the current boundary at the currently accepted spacing in your area (not on every tree!!!!). Your neighbors know the boundaries. It is more important to get along with your neighbors than to get an “accurate” survey and squabble about a few feet.”

140/160

I always write a lot on my various blogomachines when I have a talk to prepare for. I’m going to Michigan this week for a flyby visit to Lansing and the Michigan Library Association conference. I was writing an update to this post from last September and realized that my various archives are sort of fucked. So I had to go and move include and archive files around and now they’re mostly okay and wow there’s another hour gone. I have this real back and forth about the time here, whether it’s “need another hour” or “get rid of another hour, please!” This set of weeks is the best for it because all the clocks, in an effort to be helpful and set themselves for us, have derailed us. All the Windows machines at school say it’s an hour ago. Most of my clocks at home say it’s now. My new-to-me car doesn’t have a clock at all, and my wristwatch is … someplace. So this means I’ve been showing up at work sometime between early and on time, not knowing which until I walk in the door and I’m still a little amazed that works as well as it does. But I had other numbers to talk about.

I upgraded the RAM (2 GB) and the hard drive (160GB) in my year-old laptop (details here, nothing special) which was a process involving a few screws, a few hundred dollars, some savvy online shopping, and a half an hour. And, as always, I think about the people I work with who are still at the Mousercise stage of their computer learning. The fact that you can now do a lot of this work yourself makes computers in some ways more affordable. The fact that it’s still thought of as esoteric mojo, going under the hood so to speak, does not. We’re working on some open source chicanery in Vermont, getting serious about an open source online catalog at some of our small libraries. Part of the plan is to have geeking sessions where people actually bring their CPU and we install server software together, transfer records and data together, hammer things out together. This has always been the way geek projects have worked, to some extent, but in a profession with more of a sense of “authority” getting people to trust each other and not people higher in the food chain has been a challenge. I’m excited for it.
prepared, waiting
And, speaking of exciting challenges and what got me sitting down to type besides my current Distraction Initiative, I’m checking in on how last year’s “do exercise, eat well, be fit, look fit (and don’t look bad in photos)” plan is going. It’s not bad. Since I started this all last Fall, I’ve lost a little over twenty pounds with what I considered to be a medium amount of attention and no amount of deprivation. When I first started — after what was already a few months of exercise and attention to eating, but a serious dread of the scale — I weighed 161. Today I weigh 140.

It’s been a simple plan really, involving basically The Hacker’s Diet and a lot of time in the pool and lately, in the backyard doing garden stuff. There’s also a really short list of things that have been helpful which I’ll note for future reference.

  • Getting on the scale – if you want to lose weight to lose weight (not so your clothes fit better, for example) this is mission critical. I use a little widget called The Google 15 where I give it my goal weight, tell it what I weigh every morning that I remember, and it does a five day average and tells me if I’m getting closer or farther from that goal. It’s stupid easy. Everyone has their own technique for fitness and weight loss, but I really believe if you’re not getting on the scale, you may not be totally serious.
  • Exercise goals – while I’m probably not going to make it the length of Lake Champlain this year — thanks to shoulder injuries and a life that’s gotten busy — having something to work towards kept me going even on days I felt lazy or cranky. This was a good thing and I’m sure I exercised just a little more because I was, theoretically, going somewhere. Having an exercise buddy can help with this, but you have to make sure your goals are somewhat similar.
  • Cooking at home – not only is it easier to calorie check what you’re eating, you’re unlikely to make yourself too much food, as opposed to restaurants that pretty much always serve too much food for what I want to eat but it’s SO TASTY (mmm butter and salt!) that I’ll eat it anyhow. At the outset, I decided I liked food too much to really diet, so my other main option (really there are only two) was to exercise more. I developed a bunch of tasty not-super-high-calories small meals and just got used to preparing and enjoying them. I swap out a lot of stuff: tea for juice, fat free for lowfat milk, turkey for beef. If you’re really into doing all this stuff in slow motion, all you need is to eat 100 calories less a day and you lose a pound a month. One less glass of orange juice. One less cookie. Ten more minutes in the pool.
  • No bargaining – I think it’s an easy step to take, to make deals with yourself about eating and exercise, less now more later or vice versa. My deal with me is to do what the hell I want and let the scale (over time that is, it’s easy to see your weight shift 2-4 pounds daily, hence the Google averager) be the arbiter. So I don’t not eat food that I like. I let myself stay home from the pool if I want to. I’ll have a third delicious empty-calorie beer if I’m having a good time. I eat what my friends are serving. Once you make yourself your own opponent for health and fitness, you’re really having a different problem.

So yeah it’s been a slow process and one that I’m sure is ongoing. I felt like I’d mention it again. Maybe I’ll mention it once a year, since it’s good to remember just how much in our lives is actually under our control. As for me, I sort of like my jawline and I’m happy to have it back. I like the pool and I’m happy to be there a lot. I like it when people say “Wow you’re looking great.” The one downside, if there is one, is that those extra twenty pounds kept me warmer at low temperatures. I may have to invest in long underwear.