a tale of two hotels

me in hotel room bathroom which is too big

I travel for work a decent amount. I’m not the world’s best sleeper so it can be a little tough lining up places to stay that are

– near the venue
– within my price range
– good for sleeping in

The last two Wednesday nights have seen me in two very different places. Two weeks ago I drove into Boston to give a talk at BU (notes and slides here). I often stay at AirBnBs in cities but it’s tough to find a place in Boston that also has parking. So I asked BU what they suggested and they suggested Hotel Commonwealth. I mainly asked because all of the nearby options seemed so expensive I had a hard time imagining that someone would reimburse me for staying at any of them. I am frugal to a fault and a little out of step with the cost of anything outside of the rural 1950s where I usually live. The hotel was lovely but noisy. The check-in desk was a card catalog and the woman at the desk was incredibly nice. When the room I was first assigned to–right over Kenmore Square, great view of the Citgo sign–was too noisy, she moved me upstairs to another room. I went out for dinner and came back and realized that the room was … I’m not sure, was right under the HVAC on the roof? It was literally vibrating.

I have earplugs and medicines and even can make Audacity play noise for me so I can sleep better, but none of this can combat vibrations. I also get agitated before talks which doesn’t help. So I called the nice lady at the front desk and said “Look I know it’s late but this isn’t going to work for me. I totally understand if there are no other options but I either need to switch rooms or check out.” She consulted with her supervisor and pointed at the screen of her computer and said “Well we do have THIS room…” and the supervisor nodded and I was given one more room key, a free upgrade because I am a princess and the pea and this woman was nice. The room turned out to be their signature suite (check this page for The Loft) and it was larger than my entire apartment and cost more per night than a month at my apartment. It had a pool table, fireplace, television, coffee maker (other rooms at HC did not have these), walk-in double showerhead shower, and separate sleeping nook behind “modern sliding barn doors.” It was definitely the hook up. And yet, it had un-adjustable AC that ran constantly (including right in to the walk-in shower), was bright because not all of the windows could be covered with curtains, had a noisy neighbor who was complaining loudly into her cell phone (“Mooooooom, it’s not FAIIIRRRRRRRR”) and despite the incredibly comfortable bed, was just not restful. I managed some sleep, but it was fitful. When they forgot to charge me for the valet parking, I did not correct their error. The talk went well, despite this.

The next week saw me with a bit of a headcold driving westwards towards Painted Post New York to stay at the Watson Homestead which is some sort of spiritual retreat center and the location of the Southern Tier Library System annual conference that I was keynoting (notes and slides here). I had emailed to make a reservation and said I’d be arriving late and they said they’d leave a key for me in an envelope. When I got there at 9 pm there was no key. I was 20 min from the nearest big town and had been driving for six hours. I was looking for sudafed and a bed. I was wandering around looking for someone when one of the guys in the lobby, Gary, asked me what was going on. I explained the situation. Turns out he was another guest in for a Roads Scholar event but he basically knew how the key system worked and he made a few phone calls, gave me a room key, and left a note for the office people about my general whereabouts. He also said that I could help myself to food in the fridge. I brought a ham and cheese sandwich and some tootsie rolls back to my room.

The rooms were simple and no frills (picture). No television in my room meant I was pretty sure that no one else had one either. The shower was a normal one with a curtain and a handle that just said H and C. There was an orientation guide that started out “Welcome Home…” and hoped that I had a joyous time. I turned a fan on for some noise, piled all the blankets on one bed and slept like the dead. In the morning I went to alert the office to my whereabouts and the woman there said “Oh great kiddo, glad you got it sorted. You’re fine where you are, have a great time.” I stayed the night before and the night after my talk. The talk went great. When I checked out, they charged me the dormitory room rate despite the fact that Gary had put me in the fancier West Wing. It was 12% of the room rate I was charged at the Hotel Commonwealth, 4% of the rate of the room I actually stayed in.

Jim and I talk about the future sometimes and how we want to scoot around the country in some sort of RV. I am into this idea for a number of reasons but the main one lately is so that no matter where I am, I like the idea of always having a predictable place to sleep and, if it’s too noisy, the ability to move it somewhere else.

the week that was continues?

photo of me in my kitchen holding a coffee mug

Because I am the relentless self-promoter that I am, I let my local newspaper know that I had won an award (and was on VPR – transcript now available) and they sent a photographer out to take a picture and put a little story on the front page (above the fold) which was immensely gratifying. It’s also been the source of some amusement as everyone in town is all “Oooo the famous librarian!” which is a name I’ve had on the internet for some time but not around here. These photos are great and I got to cut them out of the newspaper and put them in an envelope to send to my mom. My landlady always saves me a copy of articles about me in the paper to send to her.

Teaching has been going well though in my attempt to avoid terrible courseware I seem to have given myself a fairly chunky TODO list every week. I think this may be the secret to teaching: the more you can foist off on other people and systems, the less you have to do. Which is less of an incentive to a full-time professor than an adjunct who teaches a class here and there. It’s a weird decision to have to make, or even think about: the less I do, the higher my hourly wage winds up. I always design things that are easier for the students and possibly tougher for me and then wind up thinking “Why is teaching so hard?” when the answer is basically because I made it that way through sheer overcomplication. While I would have liked more complex classes in graduate school, I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. My students are a really interesting bunch of people and we’re entering the third week. Last week had Memorial Day. This week has Kamehameha Day which I have been learning more about. I try to learn a new thing every week I try to teach a new thing, seems only fair.

the week that was

photo of me in VPR studios taken by Jane Lindholm

So hey last week was nutty! In a mostly good way. The Vermont Library Conference happened and I received an award for Library Advocate of the Year, an award given out irregularly and last given to Bernie Sanders in 2003. This was mostly for the advocacy I did around the Librarian of Congress over the past year. What made it extra special was that my friend and neighbor Virgil (also VLA president) was the one who gave it to me. And that my local librarian Amy gave me a heads up that I’d be receiving it so that I would come to the conference earlier than she knew I would otherwise, so nice of her. The town library gave me a shout-out on facebook. People have been wonderful.

The next day I was interviewed on VPR’s Vermont Edition show about library stuff, the award, moss, the gamut. You can listen to the interview on their site and I should be getting a transcript up in a few days. I was nervous, like I always am, and carried a little card with me that said DON’T SAY UM and DON’T SWEAR and it went well. Jane is an incredibly gracious and friendly host and helped me be my best self. As a token of thanks I made her a Wikipedia page. Vermont being in a tech shadow often means that people who would otherwise deserve pages there aren’t represented. I can help with that. And when the page was reviewed and slated for deletion (“How is this person notable?”) I had the photo of her ready plus my librarian skills to make the case.

The funny thing is, I think the reason that I was on VPR has as much to do with this goofy tweet I made than anything else. A lot of the opportunities I’ve had lately have been “right place, right time, open to anything” sorts of situations. I got to meet Jane because I was willing to drive all the way to Colchester instead of sitting in an empty studio with a headset on in Montpelier. I got to talk to the White House because when someone gave me contact information for someone there, I followed up on it and when they said “Are you free for a phone call tomorrow?” I said “Yes!” even though I wasn’t really free, I just made the time. This is not, at all, to say that there wasn’t a lot of luck (and the privilege of being able to make these sorts of choices in the first place) that helped me out here. But also that there are ways of “forcing luck” if you’re already in a position to take advantage of it. I think calling myself lucky does gloss over some of the work I’ve done to make some of these things happen. But saying “I worked hard for all of this.” isn’t quite true either. I mean sure I work hard, but so do a lot of people.

This next week starts a whole new challenge which is teaching graduate school (for University of Hawaii) online and asynchronously. I am nervous, like I always am, but made a really nice website and (I hope) some good choices of what to talk about and how to talk about it. Site isn’t finished yet but you can look at it here. I’d been putting off working on it because I was so mad at the Course Management Software I couldn’t really think straight. So I just asked myself “Well if you could use whatever tools you wanted, how would this work?” and came up with this. I hope it works. I think it will. I’m lucky like that.

offline projects

envelope with a man's face on it on top of a painting endpaper from an art book

Continuing the quest for offline hobbies and activities I’ve added a few things to my “stuff I know how to do” list. Last week I was in Westport and instead of getting the lawn guy to take down the sea grass that grows really tall in the backyard (you can see it in this image only now it’s taller and dead) I decided I’d try to do it myself. This involved learning to use a hedge trimmer which I’d never done before. Internet randos claim this isn’t a skill–“Is mopping a skill?” they’d ask–but it felt skillful to me. Especially since I did what every novice hedge trimmer user does and chopped the cord clean off. “Why is that part of the hedge on fire? Oh…” I presume this is something everyone does because 1. that is what everyone told me and 2. it has a replaceable cord. So that went mostly well. Jim helped a lot with the clean up. Always save some time and energy for the clean-up. Advice I used to ignore and now mostly do not.

This week I was back at home and had a week with multiple hours of (mostly good) online meetings and I needed a thing to do which was offline and nominally creative. At some point I need to go mossing but the outdoor weather hasn’t been quite there yet. I went by a thrift store to drop off some stuff and found a cool book about as old as I was, full of art photography. I decided to revisit an old hobby which was making envelopes out of nifty old paper. So I spent the time in-between my sub shifts at the library cutting and folding and gluing. I took a few photos and put them online and people asked for more detail so I supplied it in the form of a HOWTO set. And then for laffs I made an animated GIF of all 40+ of my envelopes. I think they look pretty good. Now I need to write some letters. Fortunately this is not difficult.

we all have our hobbies

we all have our hobbies

So I started out trying to find an image of a medal or some other ribbon to commemorate 100 days of flossing. My previous flossing record was in the single digits. I don’t know why it’s a thing I always had trouble with and why I suddenly started being able to do it regularly. Meditation too, 100+ days. Helpful.

But I wound up flipping through some books on Open Library and found this entry in an auction catalog which led me to this coin from 1860 (above) and this forum posting explaining what the heck it is. And I still only sort of understand it, but it was an enjoyable 15 minutes poking around search engines with synonyms until I got an explanation.

I celebrated National Library Week (which was last week) by making a post a day on MetaFilter and listed the posts I’d made over on facebook. Similar stuff. You might like it. This week is nominal vacation week after giving a talk at the University of Rhode Island about the digital divide so I’m down in Westport, cleaning out closets and fixing toilets. More fun than it sounds.

rabbit hole


I’ve been doing some slow pokey updates around here and realizing that even though I’ve been thinking I’ve been at this for fifteen+ years, this year really rounds out the twentieth year I’ve been writing stuff down here. During that time I’ve had three (at least) different content management systems and only two web hosts which is something of a miracle. I’ve lived in six different places (seven if you count #dadshouse) and driven eight cars in that time period. Went cross country about ten times. The last few years have seen a lot of that leveling out. And then there’s some stuff I just can’t remember too well. This site has always been an outboard brain in some ways, reminding me about things I had forgotten or maybe misremembered. So giving the place a tune-up–just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, made sure things were still showing up in Google, added a search to the sidebar–is one more small way of keeping my own brain a bit more together.

The day-to-day here is about the same. Flossing and meditation continue and seem to be helping. I got some sort of conference crud which means my sinus situation has downgraded to “again with the sinus rinsing” but it’s mostly okay. The longer days, some of them even sunny, have raised everyone’s spirits and it truly is a rising-tides-lifts-all-boats situation.

I’ll be heading down to Massachusetts to participate in a librarian panel at Hampshire with some other librarians. The situation morphed from a “Hey can you come down and be on a panel for an hour?” into a “We’ll give you a one hour tour, then a one hour interview with our Communications team, then a one hour break, then a one hour panel, then a dinner with everyone…” and as much as I’m looking forward to the panel, I’m also feeling a bit bait-and-switched since I heard about their million dollar Mellon grant (they are reimbursing my mileage for the trip). Which just reminds me why I asked Hampshire to take me off of their mailing lists in the first place, a decision I’ve never really regretted. Liked the place just fine, but feel they don’t owe me anything and I don’t owe them anything. It will be interesting to go back. I’ve been on campus a few times since the bulk of my friends graduated but never for more than an hour or two. If you’re in the area, here’s the announcement. Free and open to the public.

Escape from DC

Library of Congress Interior I

Note: If you happen to read this blog on its actual website you may notice that I have updated the template. Let me know if you see anything weird.

I got back from DC on Friday night. It’s a decent story, the whole trip. I was invited down to go to an all-day meeting for a library-adjacent project that Mozilla is doing along with IMLS and some other folks. I got invited because I understand tech and digital literacy and understand digital inclusion issues. “Great,” I thought, “I’ll extend my trip a few days and see a few DC sights while I am down there…” Great plan, mostly. I got in Tuesday and went to the MLK Jr. branch and caught an MLK movie playing the Black History room. The meeting was fine, just sort of long and I am not great at meetings. I got in and they had misspelled my name on my name tag and even though I’ve been doing a lot of meditating and other uncrabby-me work, it still set the day off on a bad foot. I appreciate being invited to high-level meetings. I like the people there and feel like I contribute usefully, but there is something about them that brings out the worst in my psyche. I wish I understood it.

By the time the meeting was over on Wednesday, and I was having dinner with a Twitter friend (Hi Kyle!) it was clear that leaving town on Friday was going to be a mess because of the snow. I called the airline and they could reschedule me for a fee but not cancel my flight without a fee. Later in the week this moved to free rescheduling options but still no cancelling. I bet on it being cancelled and bought a train ticket for Friday. Since I flew out of Providence and not Burlington this was a shortish ride. When I went to bed at a friend’s place (Thanks Mary!) on Thursday after a long day of walking around downtown DC and dinner with a friend my flight was cancelled, entitling me to a refund (I can pay for my ticket online but a refund takes several weeks and forms to fill out). I got up Friday and went to the train station to get my train only to find that my ticket had been purchased for the day before. I accept this absent-minded professor brain I have been gifted with, but it’s a pain sometimes.

Despite all the news of people fleeing the city, I was able to get another ticket and had a nice Acela ride to Providence. The quiet car is a thing of beauty. Took the MBTA from the train station to the Providence airport and as I was lugging my bags from the train station to the parking garage (a schlep of about twenty minutes) a bored newslady grabbed me and asked how my day had been. Apparently there were no more flights in to or out of PVD and she was thin on story material. I blabbed for a while and then got to my car to find that I’d lost my parking ticket. Nervous about “lost ticket” threats I explained my “I just left DC!” story to the guy who took pity on me and charged me about half of what I would have paid if I had my card on me (money Mozilla doesn’t have to reimburse, you’re welcome!). Got home via the Miss Cranston Diner just in time to see myself on television.

Spent the entire day at home Saturday watching it snow and didn’t see another human being. I also visited the White House on Thursday (actually the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) to talk to the folks I spoke with over the summer, but there’s no real news and I said I wouldn’t be blogging about it. You can see some nice photos of the four-story library which is inside it and a photo of the bowling alley in the basement. Apparently once you get inside you can just walk around with your Appointment pass all day long.

Today was shoveling (Westport for eightish inches) and watching some football with Jim. I head back to Vermont tomorrow. Being back on the road has been great since I’m feeling good enough to do it. Here’s to more good days.