Mar 24

Charging …

A damp and gray and glum day. It was a great day to sit inside and do not much of anything. A day to think of all of the things I have to do tomorrow, and Thursday, and Friday. It was a never do today what you can put off until tomorrow sort of day. An “I’ve had three phone calls and washed clothes and was doing housework well after midnight last night anyway,” sort of day.

Some Tuesdays are just going to be like that, right? And better it happen on a Tuesday than a Saturday or Sunday, or a Monday.

Yesterday was Monday, and that was a bit draggy early in the day. There was class prep and writing other classes and so on and so forth. I laid out the timing just precisely right for the day. Had anything come up, I would have put us behind schedule for the evening, which was still ahead of my regular schedule.

My lovely bride went to campus with me this evening. She had to address a class and also watched part of a lecture series that’s offered to students. The guest tonight was Dan Baker, the man who does PA for the Phillies, and formerly the in-stadium voice for the Eagles. He’s a Rowan grad. And they had him use his stadium voice to announce some prestigious internship appointments this evening. That was probably a thrill for the students who heard him call their name.

In my much less exciting class — how do you compete with that, really? — we talked about identity, specifically through Eugenia Siepera’s “New Media and Identity.” The class liked this one, which discusses identity and the self, Michel Foucault’s tecnologies of the self, gender and gendered technologies, ethnic and religious identities in the modern landscape.

I think this one works because the current student sees it and feels a lot of this intuitively. Also, it’s a fair amount more sophisticated than what I was taught in their shoes a few decades ago. How could it not be?

Moving from the University College of Dublin we moved to The New School in New York, with a short piece that Kate Eichhorn wrote as a lay supplement to her brilliant work about the online media environment.

My research suggests that these users aren’t outliers but part of a growing demographic of tweens and teens who are actively curating their professional identities. But should 13- or 15-year-olds feel compelled to list their after-school activities, academic honors, and test scores on professional networking sites, with photos of themselves decked out in corporate attire? And will college admissions officers and job recruiters start to dig even further back when assessing applicants—perhaps as far back as middle school? The risk is that this will produce generations of increasingly cautious individuals—people too worried about what others might find or think to ever engage in productive risks or innovative thinking.

The second potential danger is more troubling: in a world where the past haunts the present, young people may calcify their identities, perspectives, and political positions at an increasingly young age.

I got the impression that this one is something that many in my class already begun to internalize at an individual level. Getting beyond that, considering the broad, general and societal impact(s) is, perhaps, something you can only touch on until you see demonstrable examples.

That let us wrap up with Derek Thompson’s recent piece in The Atlantic, which is just brilliant.

And so what? one might reasonably ask. Aloneness is not loneliness. Not only that, one might point out, the texture of aloneness has changed. Solitude is less solitary than ever. With all the calling, texting, emailing, work chatting, DMing, and posting, we are producing unprecedented terabytes of interpersonal communication. If Americans were happy—about themselves, about their friends, about their country—then whining about parties of one would feel silly.

But for Americans in the 2020s, solitude, anxiety, and dissatisfaction seem to be rising in lockstep. Surveys show that Americans, and especially young Americans, have never been more anxious about their own lives or more depressed about the future of the country. Teenage depression and hopelessness are setting new annual records every year. The share of young people who say they have a close friend has plummeted. Americans have been so depressed about the state of the nation for so many consecutive years that by 2023, NBC pollsters said, “We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the 30-year-plus history of the poll.”

I don’t think hanging out more will solve every problem. But I do think every social crisis in the U.S. could be helped somewhat if people spent a little more time with other people and a little less time gazing into digital content that’s designed to make us anxious and despondent about the world. This young century, Americans have collectively submitted to a national experiment to deprive ourselves of camaraderie in the world of flesh and steel, choosing instead to grow (and grow and grow) the time we spend by ourselves, gazing into screens, wherein actors and influencers often engage in the very acts of physical proximity that we deny ourselves. It’s been a weird experiment. And the results haven’t been pretty.

It was interesting to watch what happened in the conversation here. People gravitated to the aloneness versus loneliness part, which is only a part of what Thompson is getting at. And, as young people living in this world, they seem to appreciate what he’s saying about the physical isolation, but the room would split and go back and forth about the value of online interactions. This is great because in the last few weeks one of the things we’ve been talking about is how that technology has removed geographic considerations. How you can find like-minded people wherever, not just on your street, in your class or at your gym. But when they read this they could also see the other side of it — and so many people are emerging with this healthy realization that there’s good and bad, too much and and too little, pros and cons. It feels like a broad thought in a sequence of semi-critical analyses. If that’s one of the four things they get out of this class this semester, I will call it a success. One of the other things is that I was, last night, able to talk about the difference between correlation and causation. What Thompson writes about is, presently, just correlative. Someone asked how much correlation does one need to see something as causal. This gave us the opportunity to briefly revisit the scientific method, and I hoped that some of this might bounce around in their ears until it can latch on to a semi-permanent memory.

If it did, that’d be a great second thing to take from the class.

The other two things are software and production-driven, and they have grades involved with those and they will work themselves out naturally.

These were just the next few video clips off my camera from our recent dive trip, but they line up and feel like a best of collection. There’s some great sponge, your standard issue reef fish, a nice long overhead view of a ray, a regrettably wide shot of a small sea turtle, a close up of the always hypnotic anemone and a closeup with a shark.

It’s amazing to watch a fish or a shark swim along and, when someone gets to close, they put a stop to that. And, in the case of that shark, it was just one big whip of that powerful body to create the distance.

We didn’t check in on the cats yesterday which, despite the many awesome SCUBA photos and videos, remains the most popular feature on the site. We should do that now.

Phoebe just wants your attention. She will jump on any surface and reach out to grab you, if necessary. Unfortunately, that silly portrait feature was highlighted when this happened.

How could you not want to pet her at every opportunity? Look at this face.

Poseidon, not to be outdone, is also a paper bag model.

But if there’s no bag available, he’ll just find some blankets and make himself cozy.

No idea why he, a strictly indoor cat, thinks he wants to go outside all the time, when he needs to be warmer inside the house constantly.

As you can see, the cats are doing just fine. We’re all just waiting for the sun to return, but everyone here is having a great time on the inner coastal plain — where the heavy land and the green sands meet.

Mar 24

An important story of diving strength and grace and power

We held our first backyard activity of the new year this weekend. We put a fire in the fire pit.

As ever, the order is tender, kindling, firewood.


It took a while, because someone put wet wood — and not the kindling and firewood I’ve been storing out of the elements for just this purpose — in the fire pit, but pine straw is eager to burn and when I got enough of that in there you could hear the water sizzling away until, finally, we got those relaxing looking coals to stare at.

It was a good way to mark the weekend, a great way to start the outdoor season, which should run right up until December if last year was any indication. March to December? I’d take that, happily. It was sunny again today, but rainy or damp, and cool, for the rest of the week. We’re just waiting for the mercury to climb a few degrees higher.

OK, here’s the last photo from our recent trip to Cozumel. I’ve rationed these out for two months, and that’s better than I expected. (Don’t worry, we’re going to be able to stretch out the remaining videos for a good long while, too.)

This is the photo where I once again thank our trip planner and my dive buddy. Dive buddies serve a lot of roles. They point out stuff you might have overlooked. They help verify the stories you come back with. They also help ensure your safety. (Or whatever.)

In Cozumel, you do a lot of drift diving. You drop off the boat, go to the depth of the dive profile and just let the current take you … that way. The boat above follows your bubbles and picks up in another place. When you do it right, this is peaceful, easy, diving. You learn quickly that, even with a light current, the water is in control and you make your peace with it. You’re going this direction. You’ll see some great things. You’ll miss some things. C’est la plongée. Or, I guess, eso es bucear.

You don’t swim against the current.

So we’re going along on one of our last dives, the six divers and the dive master, Max, who has worked and dove all over the world. We’re all stretched out in a line, lingering here, drifting there. I’m about the fourth one back. My lovely bride is one or two people ahead of me.

Coming the other direction is a beautiful eagle ray, which migrates through that region in January and February. You see it, you admire it, you drift on. My dive buddy turns around and swims after it to capture video footage. Max and the other four divers are impressed. She’s swimming against the current, probably 100 yards, closing the distance on a creature designed for this environment.

Max this worldly, long-professional, very cool ciao Italian man, looks at me, his eyes as wide as his mask allows. The expression for “What?” works in any language, under any body of water. I shrugged and nodded.

A little while later, we happen upon a turtle, and that tortuga is also swimming opposite us. The Yankee again turns, closes the distance, passes the turtle, and gets in front of it to take another photo. We’re at the front of the group this time, and so she swims upstream past the other five people, who are in disbelief. When she finally turned to join us once more, they were still watching. I gestured to her to show the muscles. Everybody else needed to see the gun show.

And, look, she wasn’t even breathing hard.

After the dive, Max and I are the last ones in the water, waiting to climb on the boat. He said to me that he’d never seen anyone do that, and certainly not twice. I guess he’d never been diving with a varsity athlete, a three-time Ironman, a five-time USA National Championship triathlete, who is also a FINA world championship swimmer.

It was, without a doubt, impressive, but not surprising. Not to me. I’ve been surprised by all of it before. And I need all of the air in my tank just to keep up with her.

We’re still working on her fire-building skills.

Feb 24

Just some more miles

Grading. Forever grading. What I’m poring over is a basic hard news story assignment. There’s only about 40 of these, and most of them from various school board and town council meetings. There are a few people who went to the same meetings, and that’s fine. The students found different angles to report on. But what’s most interesting, to me anyway, is the news they found.

Sadly, a lot of these meetings aren’t getting covered in the small towns because of the spiral the news industry is presently in. Some of the stories my students are writing about are absolutely worth the reporting. Some of the stories are quite good. I know I’ve learned a lot about some of the regional goings on from these stories. I hope my students are getting something out of the feedback. It’s a treat to write all of that feedback, but it can be time intensive — sometimes, I think they, are longer than the stories —

Me? Write long? Never.

Today’s bike ride was interesting. Let’s set the stage. A week ago, this month became my most productive bike riding month, in terms of miles. I’d put in more miles in 22 days than I have in any single month in the last 15 years. (This probably helps explain some aches and pains.)

Somewhere in this area on today’s ride, I eclipsed my first thousand miles of the year.

Definitely helps explain some of the aches and pains. And also the parts that feel pretty good. That’s probably not a lot, 1,000 miles in two months, but I’ve never even had one month with 500 miles or more, until this month.

Which is where this gets silly. I have a spreadsheet with all of these little cycling tidbits on it, you see. Because of that, I knew I could get over 1,000 miles today. And that seemed a great winter goal. Soon I’ll be riding outside again, but to have 1,000 miles as a base, in the basement? It was appealing.

So, when I opened the spreadsheet to add today’s totals to the ride, I looked at the page where I keep the month numbers and realized, if I did just 1.5 more miles, I would have a 600 mile February. Again, not that much, but it’s a lot to me.

So there I was, after dinner, getting back on the bike, just to get that extra 1.5 miles. I did this in jeans, and slowly, because this is silly. But it’s a goal to hit, even if I only just became aware of it.

So I did three miles.

February 2024 is a month that’ll be hard to top. And, since we’re at the end of the month, here’s the big chart.

The green line is a simple projection of where I’d be riding 10 miles per day. The red line reflects my 2023 mileage. The blue line is what I’ve done so far this year.

It’s been a big offseason. And, sometime soon, I’ll be back to riding outside once again.

There are a lot of roads to explore!

OK, I’m out of photographs. I’m going to share one more photograph next week, because it comes with one of my favorite stories of our New Year’s trip. I still have a lot of video to share, but I’m running low on the still images.

Here’s one of me with some grunts and other reef fish in the background. I can minimize my bubbles too!

And this is the saddest site in diving, when you’re back to being just below the surface, and the dive is over.

So, Monday, one fun story, and then a lot more videos in the days to follow.

I suppose I should get back to the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. I’ve been (intermittently) writing about them here to pad things out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares, but usually just memories and excuses to post some music. The problem is, where I am in my collection right now, there aren’t a lot of big, prominent memories attached to any of these.

I was in a burning discs phase, you see. A lot of fairly interesting things were getting slipped into my CD books, but none stayed in the stereo so long that I could tie a lot of experiences to them. This installment sees us in November of 2004. A colleague — who also left the newsroom and returned to a university campus, as a social media manager, where he seems to be doing well for himself — made a copy of U2’s “How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” for me. I can’t recall what I made for him in return. Hopefully it was decent. This is decent.

And so there’s the whole album, if you want to hear it. Nothing quite as iconic, perhaps, as their early stuff, but when I listen to it now, it sounds like U2, and that’s never a bad thing.

Except for the catorce in “Vertigo.” You can still roll your eyes at that.

Feb 24

This one is for you lovers of turtles and old fire trucks

It’s just grading today. So many stories to read and provide feedback on. That’s where I spent my day. And where I’ll spend tomorrow. I find that spreading them out is helpful, because I can be a touch more patient with what I’m trying to offer as constructive criticism. Plus, it lets me stretch out the mental art of evaluation. That has to be a thing, right?

So it’s grading all the way down. Unless you want to hear about today’s bike ride. To shake things up, I thought I would try this new thing where I would ride with one of the pace partner for as long as possible. There are about nine available to you, each riding at a different tempo — expressed in cycling as watts per kilogram. I know, roughly, where I belong, which is between the third pacer, a robot named Jacques riding at a pedestrian 3.2 w/kg and the fourth, a robot named Yumi, who is turning over pedals at an even more pedestrian 2.9 w/kg.

So the challenge is to hang with Jacques as long as possible. Yesterday, I spent five miles in Jacques pack, and that was from a cold start. Today, after a few miles to warm up my legs, I spent 6.5 miles with Jacques. Surely this is down to the warm up, just having a better day or some other thing, there’s no way I made a 24 percent improvement in one evening. Right?

Do you want to see another photo of Jennifer, the turtle? Here’s one with my lovely bride for scale.

There are just a few more photos to share. No really! But a lot of video! No really! I am going to continue to stretch this out as much as possible. Really!

Now it is time for We Learn Wednesdays once again. This is the 27th installment of the regular feature where I am finding the county’s historical markers by bike. This is the 48th marker in the effort, which presently consists of photos I grabbed last fall.

This was on one of the last outdoor rides of the year, a fruitful visit to one of the nearby small towns, and a centerpiece of civic life of Everytown, U.S.A. And I’d love to be able to tell you more about this building, but the most direct source is not online at the moment.

Shame, really. They even have tab on their page, as seen by Wayback Machine snapshots, that promises a bit of history, but I’ve randomly clicked through 15 years of those snapshots and nothing is present. I can tell you this.

Union Steam Engine Company, which was housed in this spot, first operated out of the lot where the old court house now resides. first formed in 1749 and operated from a modest firehouse at the corner of Market Street and Broadway. This museum, then, is the company’s second fire station. The front was enlarged to fit a 1935 model of the Ahrens Fox pumper. By the 1970s, they had to upgrade again, this time it was the building’s foundation, again, to support one of the great big trucks. Indeed, as the vehicles continued to grow, this old building became opsolete. And so it was, that this station made its last runs, in 1992. For a decade it was empty, and then the restorations began. Fighting crumbling walls, no utilities, low on money, volunteers restored the front façade to the original look, replaced replaced the frieze and connected the modern amenities, and then put in artifacts documenting more than 200 years of fighting fires in the region.

A local Facebook post tells me you can see the 1847 John Agnew Columbian Hand Pumper, the ornate boiler exhaust from the 1878 Silsby Steamer and other old tools of the trade, including old helmets, uniforms, speaking trumpets and more.

It is updated infrequently, but the museum itself has a nice Facebook page.

Next week, we’ll visit a 19th century church building, where the congregation that gathers traces its roots to 1745. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Feb 24

Mostly words about reading words

I am grading things. This is a week of a lot of grading. I made the mistake of grading the simpler stuff first. I thought it would build momentum, but now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of things to grade this week. The only thing to do is take them on one by one and try to provide useful feedback to everyone along the way.

In class last night we talked about social media and how it is used, sometimes for good, sometimes for less desirable purposes. These are the four readings the class had this evening.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Power and Limits of Social Media

Social media helps Black Lives Matter fight the power

It takes a village to find a phone

From hope to hate: how the early internet fed the far right

The thing about this class is that I’m always eager to see what they’ll think about the next readings. I hope they come to see how all of the things they are being asked to read over the course of the term come to complement one another and, ultimately, come to work together.

What I’ve been grading today are assignments out of that Monday night class. This assignment asks them to chart several days of their personal media consumption and write about some specific things in that context. First of all, everyone should do the charting exercise now and again. We all think we have a handle on how much we read and watch and listen to this and that, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it on paper. Every time I do this assignment students come away surprised by something or another. That’s useful for some of them, and some come to a conclusion that they want to make a few changes to their personal habits. But the writing is interesting, because they have to tell part of their own story, and you learn a lot.

One student watches 1950s variety shows on YouTube to unwind. Another introduced me to some new music. Still another name drops some bands I played on college radio a million years ago — that must have been an interesting childhood soundscape. Another wrote, beautifully, elegantly, about the impact Little Woman had on her life. It’s a nice assignment.

Then, of course, I spent a few moments reading Louisa May Alcott’s poetry. Her stories, I think, are better than her poetry, but maybe that’s me. Or her books, some of which are magically timeless. Perhaps I should add Alcott back to the list of things to read. She might be another one of those authors that is lost on us when we’re young.

Speaking of books. I finished When Women Were Birds on Sunday night. It was 54 essays Terry Tempest Williams, who, was gifted her mother’s journals. As she lay dying, she says these are for you, but don’t read them until I’m gone. Some time after her mother passes away the daughter is ready to look in those journals, eager to gain the insights of a woman she knew, wanting to learn about the woman she didn’t know. They’re all neatly arranged, these journals, waiting for her to discover what’s inside. They’re all blank. And, from this, Williams writes about her mother, the birds of the west, womanhood, faith, family, and what is there and what’s missing.

It is a writer writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think I finished it in four late night sessions.

The next problem is that I have so many things to read, how do I choose what to read next? I have a random number generator on my iPad and I let it decide. It decided that, next, I’ll read Brian Matthew Jordan’s Pulitzer Prize finalist book, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. Jordan teaches at Gettysburg College and this text has a great reputation for the depth of its research. I saw that right away in the footnotes.

I bought this in December of 2020, and it’s just been sitting there, waiting for the random number generator to call it into action. And chance has good timing. I like to change up the periods I read about, and haven’t read anything from the 19th century since the end of 2021, somehow. (All of which is to say I need to read more, obviously.)

This photo isn’t good, and breaks a lot of the supposed rules of photography, but I love it anyway.

It is the way the light dances at the surface, how the water is blue and white. Sky and clouds and water and you could go any direction you wanted to right here, at least in your imagination. My dive buddy, my lovely bride, is facing away from me, but that’s OK. I like the composition.

Makes me want to go diving. Go figure.