Oct 23

It him 5K

We had a lovely weekend, thanks. There was supposed to be rainy weather, but it held off for the most part. It was sunny and cool yesterday. I spent part of the day working on yard stuff. We watched a bit of football, and I did some school work. There was more of that today, and there’s class tonight. I have to lecture doing the NLCS. Playoff baseball and my class.

I have to talk about media and identity and a potential World Series clinching baseball game all at the same time. I’m going to have a word with Major League Baseball about this.

The highlight of the weekend was on Saturday morning.

We went across the river and did a 5K with Gritty. No, not this guy. This is one of Gritty’s little helpers, I guess.

Here’s Gritty, and someone currently turning into the beloved mascot, apparently. The Flyers have an icon on their hands, and this is a fundraiser run. But it isn’t one where you set out to set a new record. There were stops like this, where people were singing karaoke with Gritty.

There was also a long jump stop, and an egg race. You could also take a break to do a little ribbon dance. It was a festive and family sort of event. This was my lovely bride’s favorite stop. Listen to the freeway.

I passed these guys early on in the run. Here they are finally making their way to the finish line. Not bad for all the difficulty they seemed to have being able to see.

I call this my Kennedy pic. If only I had it in silhouette. All those people in the background, the mascot’s handler in his suit. The two of them walking, in deep talk about some important state secret. Gritty flashing a subtle peace sign to the camera, but intent on the conversation.

This one, I turned into a phone wallpaper.

Now I have to get back to it. Slides to prepare, clothes to iron, Gritty poses to work on, etc.

Oct 23

It is the middle of October, apparently

Cool. Coolish. Coolish and gray. Except for the parts that are bright and sunny. That’s today and maybe all week. But we’ll have a change of pace on Friday and Saturday, when we have a lot of rain in the forecast. And on Sunday, looks like wind. On all of this, the seasons will change. Summer ran long and autumn will be the less for it. Or summer ran right on schedule. I’ve no idea how it works here.

And it’s all so variable, anyway, right? You enjoy the pleasant days, marveling at your good fortune, and try not to think too holistically about what it all means. Or you think about what it all means and try to enjoy the day.

All of which is confusing. For a Monday.

Not to worry! We’ll have all week to ponder this, and other mysteries of our time.

So many mysteries of our time. That’s why I’m taking a social media sabbatical. I decided this just last night.

Recently we discussed Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? in class.

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?””

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

I’ve felt that. Felt it off and on for a long time. And while Carr is talking about other, slightly older elements of the web itself, social media has only exacerbated the problems. I asked my students if they have experienced these same things, and a general now that you mention it consensus emerged.

So, I figured, time to experiment. World events are making it a little easier, too.

How’s it going? Going great so far, thanks for asking. Early observations: I know less. Maybe that’s good. I’m skimming less. That’ll help. The habit of reaching for some platform or another in down times will fade — probably. I’ll get a lot of time back. Like, a lot. My thumb has enjoyed the break. I wonder how long it will last.

Tonight, I’m going to read (part of) a book.

We went for a bike ride just after noon. Warmest part of the day. Just mild enough to wear a gilet. Warm enough to feel like I could take it off. Not that any of that mattered, slow as I wound up riding. Difficult to get overheated when you don’t work too hard.

But the views!

Also, I’m tinkering with new video ideas. It’ll come to nothing, of course, but it changes things up a little bit, maybe.

Problem is, you need those lovely bike photos to prove it all. Usually your bike is leaned up against something, the scenery in the background must be picturesque. The lighting just so. Maybe I should just concentrate on the ride. This was a 21-mile route and I didn’t have to take my feet out of the clips the first time, which is the ideal experience — except for the being slow part.

We went to campus later in the afternoon for a faculty meeting. Faculty met. Information was conveyed. Questions were asked and questions were answered. The meeting ending early, which might be a faculty meeting first. Some people lingered to chat, which was lovely.

Before long it was time to get ready for class. Imagine having to teach opposite the hometown baseball team in the playoffs.

Some may say, Hey, you’re teaching a media class. That’s media! And that’s true, but entirely. We were talking about groups — activists, hate groups and group dynamics — tonight, so if the fans somehow won the game, maybe we can dive into that next time.

The best part was that I got them out of class in time for them to watch most of the game. I’m sure they appreciated that; the good guys were winning. There’s nothing quite like the energy of a local pennant chase.

Oct 23

Fall down go boom – plus some truly special Queen

Heads up: There’s a bloody leg at the bottom of this post, and I’m not talking about the British expletive attributive. I’m saying there’s a photo of a leg with a bit of blood on it. It’s in black and white, but there’s no mistaking what is going on there. Just so you know.

Saturday was slow. Luxuriously slow. We sat around and watched football, shaking off shot side effects. I checked my email two times too many. My lovely bride took a nap. (She dislikes naps on a fundamental level, so this is indicative of the speed of the day.)

Late on Sunday afternoon, as a break from housework and school work, I proposed a casual little bike ride. We stood over our bikes in the driveway and I said Where would you like to go?

She said, “No, no. You’re idea. Your route.”

So I thought we’d do the square route. But I realized that there isn’t a lot of opportunity to ride and talk on those particular roads. So I selected another series of quieter roads. The point being to just be outside and enjoying the opportunity to have a little ride without bigger goals. To pedal and not pant.

We went, then, through corn fields and across three intersections. After that the road ends. We turned right and went down a nice little hill, around a curve and to another intersection, where we turned left.

(Incidentally, I updated the art on the front page of the site with 10 new photos. The above photo is a clue.)

At that left-turn is a quite little intersection. The National Guard has a facility there. There’s a farm. And another building a small fertilizer concern, that has pearls of wisdom painted up near the roof. This was the second time I’ve been by there, and so we went by slowly, trying to read them all. There are, I think, a few I missed. One day I’ll have to stop and take photos of them all, because I’m sure there’s something important for me to learn in those old faded sayings.

A bit before that I had decided that I would ride us by a few houses that have had an explosion of Halloween decorations. There are at least two of them on this little soft-pedal I planned out, and here’s one now, just there to the left.

A little boy runs into the road. Probably five.

“There’s a party going on and you’re invited!”

He’d come from the direction of the Halloween yard. I looked to him, watching where he’s moving, maybe I said something to him, I don’t recall. I looked back up and there’s my wife’s bike, a half-second away from me riding into it.

When you touch wheels on bikes, you’re going to crash, and that’s what I did. Fell to my right, foolishly putting my hand down to try to catch myself before I rolled into it.

The kid ran off to get his folks, yelling about this guy that’s crashed. My lovely bride stayed up right and she wheeled around. Probably apologizing before she’s even seen me. I was flat on my back. Bike still between my legs.

She said “Are you OK? What can I do?” I’ve been listening to the little boy running off to get his folks. And before I’d even opened my eyes, as I waited for all of the parts of my body to report in with pain, I said Stop that.

When I opened my eyes I was laying opposite the direction of my travel. Still not sure how that happened. But I’d pointed in the right direction that the boy had run. His family must now be outside because she’s saying to them, in her really reassuring tone, “He’s fine. It’s OK.” I wasn’t sure, yet, if I was, but that was nice and encouraging.

This is a residential neighborhood, but there is still the occasional car, so the first thing I noticed when I stood up was this guy standing around me with his arms out wide, blocking off an oncoming car. Someone moved my bike out of the road and there’s a truck where a guy has stopped to offer help. But all I need are a few bandages. First thing I noticed was that my left index finger hurt, and it was bleeding, right on the tip. Second thing was a bit of road rash on the outside of my right calf, which is the direction I’d fallen.

How did I cut my finger, anyway? We’ll never know. We’ll also never know how I scraped my right forearm, a little, but it never hurt. Not like my left finger, or my right wrist, which I put out to catch myself. I tentatively peeled back my right glove to see what I’d done there, but the glove did it’s job. It looked like I’d have a wicked bruise in my hand, but no abrasions. (Today, my palm was just fine.)

My left finger and right leg, then. And also my right wrist, which I immediately diagnosed as the mildest sprain ever.

These nice people quickly retrieved their tub of first aid stuff — like they keep it by the front door or something; this mom was so well prepared, you could tell her boy is the rambunctious sort, even if he was being shy. He’s sprinted back out with an antiseptic spray and I doused my index finger. I took two Batman Band-Aids to cover the thing. Someone else drove by offering to take my bike wherever. My lovely bride had already volunteered to go back to the house for the car. We were only about three miles away at that point. But I said none of that is necessary. This is the silliest slow-speed crash in the world and none of it is as bad as it looks. My leg looks pretty awesome though, right?

We rode back to the house. She stayed behind me, keeping a careful eye, I’m sure, making certain that I didn’t run into anyone. I wound up riding part of the way back with puppy paws so I didn’t have to hold the handlebars with my aching wrist. This is funny because my bike is a little short on me and that’s hilariously obvious when I try to ride in that position.

The shower was fun. Clean and grimace and dab. Clean and grimace and dab. Keep your spirits up and dab. We have some special first aid bandage stuff for road rash that works incredibly well, so I’m wearing that now. The best news is that I wasn’t even sore this morning, except for how I managed to sleep on both that leg and wrist.

Today, while doing class prep, I found myself rubbing my eye. My right wrist popped and it felt immediately better. Not perfect, but a lot better. So I took off the wrist brace and I haven’t worn it since. (Fortunately, we have three varieties of wrist braces in our personal health care stores … )

The biggest problem is that the Band-Aids are limiting the use of my left index finger. If you see any typos in this post, that’s probably because I am typing with six or seven fingers instead of the usual seven or eight.

I should have thought up that excuse years ago.

Tomorrow, I’ll go put a thank you card in those nice people’s mailbox. I’m going to go buy some super hero Band-Aids to put in there, too, to make up for the two they gave me.

I think I’ll ride my bike over to do it.

Back to last Wednesday’s Queen + Adam Lambert show. This was a fun concert. Had a great time. All of the YouTube commenters are jealous that they weren’t there to see the North American debut of the tour. And the more I think back on it the more little bits of it I enjoyed.

Except this part. The crowd let me down. I wanted to be a part of a moment like the end of the utterly classic George Michael performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute show, but this crowd, while good, was not up for that.

“Somebody to Love” peaked at 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and made it to the nine spot on the Cash Box Top 100 in its original 1970s run. The version with Michael reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, and stayed there for three weeks. It’s criminal that it didn’t have that reception in the United States, where it stopped at 30.

All told, this song was Triple platinum in the US, the 2011 version was platinum in the UK, also platinum in Denmark and Italy, and gold in Germany

Since I mentioned it, here’s the version with George Michael fronting the song. It’s a fundamentally perfect live performance. No arguments will be entertained.

The look from Brian May at the end of the song says it all. Speaking of May, this beautiful sequence happened at the show. “Love of My Life” has always been a singalong, but this … Watch the whole thing.

That’s just special. I am so so glad we got to be a part of that.

Oct 23

The stuff that makes the hodgepodge of life

Welcome back to Catober, the only month that guarantees a daily post on the site, and constant pictures of the kitties. They’ll go up each day between 10 and noon, and we’ll take turns giving the spotlight to Phoebe and Poseidon, because they’re jealous furballs. Phoebe was up first today, Poseidon takes over tomorrow, and so on. If you miss a day (and how could you?!?!?) just follow the Catober category.

But that’s not the only thing we’ll see here this month, oh no. All of the usual stuff is on tap throughout October as well, of course. One of the key features will be an extensive denial of this being October — a recurring theme of the site until March or so, of course.

But I digress.

I spent the day elbow deep in making notes for class this evening. (Class went well, thanks for asking! The students talked about Neil Postman, a Jonathan Haidt essay and Edward Bernays.

To balance that out, I left them with this uplifting little Ron Garan interview.

We also talked about some design composition rules and color theory, because this is a class that mixes the philosophical with production. It’s an unusual hybrid as these classes go, and the students, thankfully, are up for it.

Watching them get invested in understanding Postman and the Huxleyan warning was a great moment.

The Yankee went to campus with me, to take part in a regular feature called Pizza With The Pros, a program accurately named. They bring in a sports media pro, buy pizza for the students and learning and networking take place. My Monday night class take place during this program, so I might see a few minutes here or there this semester, but not much. Perhaps I’ll be able to see more of them in a future term.

Saturday I slept in. We went for a bike ride. It was a shakeout ride for my lovely bride, since she was doing a sprint tri on Sunday. I just tried to stay in front of her as we both complained about the breeze and our legs. After, we drove over to Delaware for first state chores.

We visited a Chick-fil-A in a mall, which is the slow-moving and entirely uninspired variant of an efficient fast food distribution model.

After that, we visited a museum’s gift shop, for gifts! Actually, we picked up our Bike the Brandywine shirts. This was a metric century to enjoy the sites of the greenest parts of Delaware and the Brandywine tributary. It was supposed to be last weekend, but it was canceled in light of the rain and huge winds. That was the right decision, honestly. No way in the world you want to be on soggy roads being blown into a bunch of other cyclists, if you can help it. But we have the map for the route, so we can go back. And, Saturday, we got our shirts. They’re a nice green.

We also visited Trader Joe’s, which wasn’t busy, but was crowded, and navigating those other customers was plenty of fun. We also visited another grocery store, a Food Lion, because they carry Milo’s Tea. We could get it closer, until about a month ago, when suddenly the local stores stopped carrying it.

Food Lion is an older sort of grocery store. Everything is manual. Everything is slow. And the lines are delightfully long. This allowed us the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the older gentleman behind us, who asked about my tea. Asked where it was from. And so I got to tell him it was from a factory on a hill not far from where I am from. He didn’t think I sounded like I was from Alabama, and he wasn’t sure, he said, if that was a compliment. He didn’t sound like he was from anywhere in particular. But he’d hitchhiked through Alabama when he was young, he said. Making him one of the few out-of-staters in his age group I’ve ever met who said they’d been to Alabama but didn’t say they were one of the Freedom Riders. (I wish I’d kept count on that over the years; I don’t think there were that many buses.) He said he’d been through Montgomery. Said his mother was from Tennessee. His wife was first generation from Germany or thereabouts, and his mother-in-law, he could understand some of her dialects, but not all of them.

I thought about turning the accent on, but there’s always a question about that. should I do the fake Virginia tidewater accent everyone wants to hear? The low country accent that I don’t have? Or should I just underwhelm with the low Appalachian hills-and-hollers sound that belongs to my people, but not me?

And by the time I’d figured out how to shade my vowels, it was, finally, my time to check out.

On Saturday it was cloudy in the morning and the sun came out just in time for that bike ride. Sunday was beautiful throughout. Not a cloud in the sky, 78 degrees and a light breeze. And so I took an afternoon bike ride. I noticed this mantis hanging out on the window as I got ready to leave.

My bike computer’s battery was dead, so I had no idea how the ride started, but it felt fast. I was moving well and not working hard. The wind was behind me on my out-and-back. I thought the road was pulling me forward, but it was the breeze pushing me on.

That was something I didn’t realize until I turned around and the wind was in my face. That explains why I wasn’t riding as efficiently on the way back. Also, I was being miserly with my fuel for reasons that made no sense. But here’s the thing. I found some really quiet roads. I headed southwest, which is generally a direction we haven’t explored here yet. I saw some beautiful countryside, and some Revolutionary War era sights. And this proud little municipal building.

Not bad for a township made up of just 2,580 people.

I went out that direction to find some more historical markers. It was a successful trip, and you’ll see some of those coming up on future Wednesdays. But these views made for a fine Sunday afternoon ride.

The only problem was that, for the whole of my route, there was nowhere to stop for a snack, and I started thinking about hamburgers and fries in such a way that I couldn’t shake it. There wasn’t even anyone grilling as I rode through, which would at least explain it. There’s only so long a PB&J can last, and that actually explains it.

But it was a lovely, lovely day to spend pedaling out to the saltwater marshes and the estuaries that dot the river coastline. The area was called Wootesessungsing by the indigenous people (the Lenape, I believe it was) before the Swedish, and then the English, came in the 17th century. I learned the name on one of the signs I saw; Wootesessunging has apparently never been published online, according to two different search engines. Just goes to show, you’ve got to get out there to see these incredible things. Not all of it can be found online.

Catober will be found, though, right here, all month long. So be sure you stay online for that.

Sep 23

Thanks, now leave, Ophelia

Three days in a row of rain and gray. It might have been more gray than rain. Hard to say. About even, maybe? Sometimes you couldn’t distinguish between the two. And another day of it tomorrow. Thank you, subtropical storm system for promising four days in a row.

We didn’t even get the big winds.

At least we didn’t get the big winds.

I did get this, however. When it rains more than enough, the place where our driveway and the road meets will puddle. And, on Saturday, I watched it puddle, and disappear. Puddle. Disappear. By the third time I was ready to find my raincoat and see if I could understand how this was happening. The disappearance wasn’t bad, but there was no way it rained enough after the disappearances to mean puddles that big once again. This was, then, a hydrological, geological, sedimentological mystery.

Where was the rain going? And where were the puddles coming back from? I sat in my office window for a while watching this, trying to figure it out. Trying to decide if it would look crazy to go outside in the remnants of a tropical almost storm and just stare at a puddle. Couldn’t I just stare it from the window? Where I was warm and dry? I was staring at it. That was strange enough, right? I’d already inspected the basement twice, surely this is a strain of thoroughness beyond what is necess —

And then the wind blew.

Turns out that when the wind blows from the west south west at just the right velocity, the puddle takes on the same appearance of the chip and seal road from 35 yards away.

To be fair to myself, I was staring through double-paned windows.

Since the weather was the weather, I didn’t go anywhere. (We had a big fund raising bike ride planned for Saturday, but the weather canceled that. The right choice, I’d say.) That just means more time with the cats, and your favorite weekly feature. (Another correct choice.)

Phoebe discovered, or rediscovered, my backup clothes basket. She likes it very much.

What? You don’t have a backup clothes basket? Get with the times.

Anyway, here’s Phoebe again, on her ledge. And she’s not judging you and your clothes basket choices, not at all.

Poseidon … he’s definitely judging you. He needs more things to jump in and he thinks this is your fault. (Yes, they are related.)

Fortunately for you, Poseidon is a forgiving creature, and this box will do.

Inside the box was a gift. It was not for him, but rather for me, but the cat also won.

We went to an event for my godsister-in-law (just go with it) on Friday night. It was a backyard thing. Cookout. Nice people. A two-person band played. They had an amazing light show.

My lovely bride and her godsisters have been making this pyramid photo their whole lives. When that sunset started to showoff they figured they would, too.

I’m the second photographer, and that was in between moments, and one of several I took trying to not get in the way of the official zapper. But I like the authentic smiles.

My godsister-in-law’s husband (so my godbrother-in-law-in-law?) is friends with the band. I think they all went to school together. The Jollies, the two guys playing and singing have known each other their whole lives, I’m told, and they have a nice tight little sound. They played a Pete Yorn cover. It was so random it took a moment to register. But it was really quite good.

I ran into the two of them during a set break and complimented them for the choice. “Not everyone plays Pete Yorn covers,” I said, “but they should.” The guy did not miss a beat, that sorta response you know he’s waiting for because he’s pulled this out before and it works. He says, We play that for people like you.

And then he told me about another Yorn cover they sometimes do. Like it was a test, or something. But I, too, have “Musicforthemorningafter.” It’ll show up on the site eventually.

The Jollies, though, great light show.

And then it rained Saturday. And it rained Sunday. It was gray today. I had two meetings this afternoon and class this evening. We talked about Marshall McLuhan and Ibram Kendi. We talked about them in class, I mean. In the meetings we discussed fire codes and e-sports and documentaries.

On the way home I decided to try the drive with no map. This was my ninth time on this campus, after all, and the sixth time I’d driven myself. You have to try sometime. Why not try on just the third time you’ve done it at night.

Between here and there, there are two tricky intersections. As in poorly designed intersections. One sneaks up on you the first time, but you don’t forget it. Though I had a bit of difficulty judging the lanes in the dark. So I rounded a building, but I knew where I was. The second is a country intersection where five roads improbably run into one another. You could take two spurs and get back to the comforts of home, and I’m pretty sure the map has told me to take them both on different trips. I took the longer one this evening. The road didn’t run out where I expected — which is a big question mark since we’re talking cornfields and nondescript side roads at night — but I did find I was on a road I knew from my bike rides, meaning I knew a route back. (It was just around the corner from me.) And that’s fine, except everything happens at a slightly different speed in the car, of course. You must remember that that longer bit is now shorter, and you probably just weaved around that pothole when you were on two wheels. But, before long, hey, there’s another right turn you know and you’re pointed exactly in the right direction.

The only problem with learning the roads by bike is that I almost always take the long way when I’m pedaling.