Feb 24

You’re going to watch the video and follow all of the links, right?

Once this day got started, this day got productive. Let’s see, there was a late breakfast. And then I gave Phoebe some extra milk. I did dishes. And then I checked email, and updated various computer things. I pulled in the day’s delivery from the front porch.

I recently met someone who works at the local Amazon distribution center. She told me about the many different kinds of jobs in her building, and the one she’s doing now. I promised to check with her before we ordered anything heavy. Make sure she’s not working that day, ya know. Of course, I could barely pick up the box that arrived today. I hope she didn’t have to heave that to and fro.

I also took care of the garbage and recycling. This was an involved process. There was an extra bag of garbage. And more recycling than usual, owing to cardboard. I haven’t moved this much cardboard since we moved. Some of the cardboard that I recycled today was, in fact, from the move. The move was last June.

Standing at the giant bin, breaking down cardboard boxes by tearing tape with my keys, I narrowly avoided giving myself a cardboard cut. Paper cuts are bad, but cardboard should be registered and require a permit. Dangerous stuff. The guy that works there was patiently waiting on me to finish the task. He was standing down by the two cattle gates at the entrance. I was the last visitor of the day, according to his watch, which said 4:51, but he was ready to get out of there a little early. This was not the regular guy, Milton, that I’ve come to wave at, but another fellow. People are punctual about their early dinner plans, one supposes.

Anyway, the sun was out and it was an easy enough chore, even if it all took the better part of an hour this time. When I backed the car out to set off for the inconvenience center I looked into the yard and the trees beyond and said, “Spring is starting and you can’t convince me otherwise.” I said this to no one but the cardboard and the other recyclables, because there was nowhere to put a human being in my car. But nothing about the drive, the chore, or my return made a convincing counterargument, either.

The long-range forecast calls for the low 60s this time next week.

In class last night we did not talk about the weather. I warmed up, though, with a little history lesson of Voyager 1, the golden record and Blind Willie Johnson. Voyager 1 has been flying my whole life, and more than twice as long as my students have been alive. And these last few months, Voyager has been slowly, sadly, limping to its own end, decades after exceeding its mission parameters. It’s no less sad for the over-achievement. Perhaps more so. Doug Muir wrote something beautiful about it.

Also, a student asked me what I thought about Jon Stewart’s return to The Daily Show. Short version: It felt right. Last Monday’s re-start was a start, a clearing of the throat, a framing of the conversation. His return is going to be best understood over time. So let’s see what he does between now and November.

And what he did last night. My goodness.

My lovely bride and I did our first research in grad school on Jon Stewart. It was one of the first 2,200 or pieces of scholarship about the comedy-satire-politics show. I think the preemptive criticism in the run up to his return was overdone. Stewart still has one of the most unique and powerful voices in the much broader genre, and the circumstances today aren’t that different than nine years ago when he walked away. More acrimonious, but let’s not forget from whence we came.

If anything, the show runners have to consider how the Daily Show’s style of accountability — via the technological breakthrough of database queries and video playback — is finally more widespread now. That, if anything, blunts the ability for him to tackle his first real target, contemporary media. (People forget who the real satire subject matter is.) That part will need to be reshaped, perhaps, and along the way, he’s going to annoy everyone sporting a little letter behind their name. I could do without making the superficial punchline an ad hominem attack, I never liked that part, but he’s still got plenty of punch in his gloves. And the ratings are there too, much to the chagrin of last night’s subject matter.

For the actual class we discussed Ellen Ullman and Nicholas Carr. Basically, what is the internet doing to us, and why is it all bad? The Ullman piece was prescient, she wrote it in 1998, still stands by it, and, what’s more, was correct. The Carr readings date to 2008 and 2010. The latter is a book chapter of his, but that essay in The Atlantic should give us pause.

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.

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.

The first time I read that piece I saw a lot of the same complaints. And so I’ve been trying to change my habits — sometimes with more success than others. I think the change has been fruitful, when I’ve been most successful at it.

One of the assignments the students have to do soon includes an element where they chart their own media consumption. If this is done well some people will look at that and think, “Yes, that seems about right.” Others, however, will look at the data they’ve collected on themselves and be stunned.

Maybe that’ll mean something for them going forward.

Let us go forward together, back under the surface of the water.

I made this video before class yesterday with the intention of publishing it then, as well. Only I made a critical error in the rendering and exporting process. (A two-paragraph explanation of everything between now and then goes right here. An explanation made all the more hilarious because I teach this stuff. So I figured: Tuesday. Today, suffice it to say, instead of having to remake the entire video, I remembered Premiere Pro has a pretty decent autosave function, which was a big time-saver.) Having correctly rendered and exported the video, I was able to upload it and remain quite pleased with the result. I think you’ll like it too. I think the beginning and the end are the best part.

Also, enjoy the flounder, the sea anemone and the beautiful eagle ray.


Tomorrow, I’ll have a few more diving photos for you, we’ll go back in time to meet a local 17th century man of considerable importance and I’ll probably try to find a way to talk about riding my bicycle in place. Because, right now, I’m going to go ride my bike.

Feb 24

You’re going to want to watch this video

Poseidon asked for a meeting this weekend. And, being staff to the cats, I was obliged to accept. The thrust of the meeting was this: He wants to sometimes go first in the site’s most popular weekly feature. Usually I operate on a “ladies first” policy, but he stamped around on me and made his point. So, this week, Poseidon will have the honor of the first check in.

You see, Poseidon is quite proud of his head-on-foot prowess.

And his hiding skills.

In that box is some poly sheeting which I need to put on the greenhouse. I ordered these sometime back, but I am waiting for the weather to warm up again — so maybe next week. Also, I might need still more parts for the job. Phoebe had the same reaction to that realization as I did.

But she’s ready to supervise from her supervising post.

My lovely bride picked up some flowers this weekend to brighten the house. They’re doing a lovely job.

Now they just have to survive the cats.

Let’s go back underwater. And we’ll do it with a video. This one is full of great fish. And there’s a wonderful up-close visit with a beautiful eagle ray. Don’t miss it.

And there are still a lot more photos and videos to come. Keep showing up, because I’ll keep posting them.

But, for now, I have to head to campus. Monday has once again gotten away from me.

Feb 24

Combien de temps?

It was 44 degrees and sunny outside today. And the days, as Wendy Waldman wrote, are getting longer. I’ll take that.

I talked to a former colleague today. He’s in Las Vegas working on Super Bowl productions. He said it was raining and cold. So maybe I have the better end of the deal today. Who can say.

Anyway, I have some writing to do and some grading to get to … so let’s work through a few things quickly here.

In class last night we talked about selected readings of Marshall McLuhan and Ibrham Kendi. This particular group seems unimpressed by McLuhan, which means I should have prefaced the assignment a bit better, but they were good sports about the reading, and several fine points were made in our discussion. I think I’ll show the class the first 90 seconds of this video next week. “And you … are numb to it.”

From Ibram Kendi, we discussed a chapter of the book that inspired this upcoming documentary.

The chapter that they read and talked about comes earlier, and focuses on Portugal, and Prince Henry, and an influential book. I think the assignment is powerful given the times and, sometimes, the personality of the class augments that. But the basis of the reading, for our purposes, is about the timing of the book written by Henry’s biographer, Gomes Zurara, and Portugal, and soon, Europe’s increased navigational skill. Circumstance meets opportunity, meets economics, basically. Or, at least, it seems so from way over here in the 21st century.

But if that is to be a documentary coming next fall, I wonder if this particular reading will stay in the syllabus for much longer after that.

When I taught this class last fall, the Kendi conversation was a bit different. So often these things just come down to the dynamic of the people in the room. I know that to be the case, and yet it always impresses me, one way or the other.

Just so you don’t think there were no photos of me diving in Cozumel, there were. Here’s me and Jennifer the turtle.

So we’re checking this turtle out, and she’s wedged herself into that little rock and coral formation pretty good, such that I wondered, for a moment, if she was stuck. You stay a reasonable distance away, because you’re not trying to harm or even spook the creatures. And after we’d been there a moment or two the turtle seemed to realize that we weren’t going to do her harm, and so just sat there, ignored us and allowed us to take pictures.

These are drift dives, and there are seven people in the water. But what a drift dive means is that not all seven people are in the same place. It’s hard to swim against these currents — more on that on another day — and so you c’est la vie in bubbles. You see this, you miss that. With Jennifer the turtle, then, was the local divemaster, me and my lovely bride. The dive master, at one point, takes his fin off to try to show a sense of scale, because that turtle was very large. We’re all moving around, taking turns giving the best views. At one point the dive master is just to my left and I hear him scream. Underwater, of course, that sounds like “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Now, I know that only the three of us are here. I know where all three of us are in relation to one another. And I know it’s this guy, the professional. The first three synapses that fired were “The dive master is yelling,” and “It can’t be good that the dive master is yelling,” and “What will I need to do for this man, and then what?”

All of which happens, of course, in the moment it takes to turn my head to look at him, to my immediate left. I see him there, wide eyed, and he’s pointing back across me, to my right.

We’d been so focused on that turtle that we hadn’t seen the shark, sleeping just four feet away from us.

This was a nurse shark, and nothing to be scared of. The yell was more of an “OHMYGAH! LOOK WHAT WE ALMOST MISSED.”

This was funny because when we got back to the surface and he was telling the other four divers about it, he tried to tell the story like we had somehow missed it, but for his expert eye. Someone pointed out that he was the one making the “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” noise.

And that someone …

He also said, did the dive master, that believe it or not, he named that turtle. He was the pleasant jokester sort, and so I asked, with a big grin, if he meant right then. No no, he said, several years before. So that’s Jennifer the turtle, and it was lovely to meet her. And her shark neighbor.

Let us quickly return to the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I am playing all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. And today’s installment puts us in the late summer or early fall of 2004. It was a good time for music collection, if you were around people with musical tastes you liked, or if you had a good library close at hand. If you had one or both of those, and a CD burner, you could add to your collection quickly and inexpensively. Both of those two things will be the case in a few of these upcoming installments. The library, in this instance.

I borrowed from the local municipal lending institution, R.E.M.’s “Eponymous.” I did not own a copy of a single R.E.M. song at that point. Hadn’t needed to. But here was a greatest hits and here was the clean copy at the library and i had one of those giant cylinders of blank CD-R discs at the office.

And so …

Because this is a greatest hits — I think in the most artistic possible meaning, which is to say they wanted to fulfill their contract with I.R.S. and get onto their new deal at Warners, and a greatest hits record is a good way to check a box on a list — there’s not really a great point to dissecting this. And since it was a library addition, I always thought of it is a catalog addition, something to round out a corner and fill up a part of a CD book. It’s great, but I never listened to it all that much because, basically, most of these songs were always on the air somewhere, it seemed like.

I was struck, listening to this yesterday, though, how the tracks improve over the course of the CD. The instrumentation, the lyricism, the production values, all of it. The tracks were shared on “Eponymous” in chronological order, so that makes sense. And somewhere around “Driver 8,” which was off their third album, you can hear the full band understanding they were going to reach their real potential.

So that’s fun.

Also, and there’s no really good way to illustrate this, but while you’re basically listening to the first wave of modern rock music there (Remember, it’s the early 1980s and the boys from Athens are the absolute antithesis of everyone else playing anything at that moment. So we’re talking R.E.M., The Pixies, Camper van Beethoven and not much else.) you are also hearing the stuff that inspired the next 15 or 20 years of music.

They called it quits in 2011, of course. They’ve denied reunion rumors and said no in countless interviews in the years since. It’s easy to believe. And probably the right choice for everybody involved, but still a bit unfortunate for fans.

Update: And just a week later, this happened. There’s a touring act commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Murmur” and that show was in Athens and look who all got on stage. Reportedly, this was the first time they’d been together in 17 years.

Feb 24

For a brief moment, I was ahead, and now I’m behind

On Saturday, a finer day was never made, I tried the Cascadian Farms blueberry granola with a box of store brand raisins. Once again, the raisins were undefeated in augmenting the flavor profile of what I put in the blue breakfast bowl.

This morning, I tried mixing the first two varieties, Bob’s Red Mill Honey Oat and Bob’s Maple Sea Salt. I added raisins, of course. And, so far, the mix of these two have been my favorite. But I have also learned something uninteresting today.

Basically, photos of granola in a bowl all look the same. So my breakfast experiment will continue — this week I have to try other mixes and then soon I’ll perhaps go pick up some other brands and flavors to try.

You’re broken up by this decision, I know, but the visual editor has sent out memos. Memos.

Another memo has just come down, in fact, reminding me to get on with the most popular weekly feature on the site. So let’s check in with the kitties.

It’s so cute when Phoebe covers up her eyes to go to sleep. She’s very serious about her relaxation.

Poseidon does it, too. Though, lately, he’s been interested in balancing on legs and feet.

We have a joke about the two of them, siblings. My lovely bride notes when they’re doing the same thing.

Come play with us. Come play with us.

Then I say, “You’re freaking me out!” Because it’s weird when they do the same things together. And she laughs. The cats are unimpressed, because they’re cats.

But, as you can see, they’re doing just fine.

We’d all be doing better if we were diving, I’m sure. Today’s feature from our recent trip to Cozumel is a video. There’s some great footage here, including a closeup of a turtle.


And, of course, we’ve many more photos and videos to enjoy in the days to come.

I’m now on a nice little streak of consecutive days in a row on the bike. This weekend I set a personal best in that regard. Today, unrelated to that entirely useless notation, I received the monthly email from Strava. I always love this part.

That’s about right.

On Saturday I had a big ride. A long climb from virtual sea level up beyond the virtual snow line. This, Zwift calls the Epic KOM. It’s 5.9 virtual miles up hill. None of it is particularly steep, but it does not relent. About five miles in, you get above the virtual hot air balloons.

And then you reach the top of the climb. After that, there’s a bonus climb, a .68 mile ascent averaging 13.6 degrees. If i am not mistaken, that’s still the steepest climb on Zwift. Strava tells me I’ve done it seven times now, and regret each visit. Saturday was my second time up that climb in a week, and perhaps my third best effort up the thing. (In January of 2021 I was minutes faster, according to my ride notes.) Also, the view at the top is pretty nice. If you can still see straight when you get there.

So that was 30 miles Saturday. I got in 28 miles late last night. And I did 22 miles this afternoon. Somehow, this is how the day got away from me. So, now, I must return to campus.

If you’ll excuse me …

Jan 24

And so long to January

This is today’s granola selection. Humorously titled, or scandalously titled, depending on the mood you are in when walking down aisle number four one of the local grocery store. This was the third variety I’ve tried since this little experiment began last week. My skin is positively glowing from all of this healthy eating.

The label promises a triple berry crunch. “Take that, Mostly Naked granola! We’ve got THREE berries!”

It’s not my favorite. It tastes like an imitation of the Captain Crunch berry flavor, or perhaps the opposite is true. It’s a bit of a sickly sweet flavor. It might have been one berry too far. The back of the package tells you that “sweet strawberries” and “bold blueberries” and “cranberries” are inside.

First of all, the cranberry lobby has to work on this. They’re falling behind on the branding. Also, there are toasted pumpkin seeds, I’m sure that’s meant to counter the berries which, again, the label promises to be “UNAPOLOGETICALLY AMAZING.”

What if my taste buds are changing? What if the too sweet thing is now too sweet for me? This is quite existential.

Tomorrow, I’ll add raisins to that variety. When three dried fruits are too many, four may be just right.

This is the 23rd installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 42nd and 43rd marker we’ve seen in this series. Both have to do where this modern county office building resides.

Prior to being a place where important government bureaucracy takes place, it was a jail. This very building. And before that, an older building was the town’s slammer.

And prior to all of that, the first jail was just down the street. The first jail was established in 1692. Tough on crime since the 17th century. But that was just down the road, which was, I’m sure, a sandy, dusty path.

Before it was the jail, this lot was the old market. Indeed, this is where the stret name comes from. And it might be hard, from this distance, to determine which precipitated the other. The old store, or the now historic building that sprung up around it. It’s a weary little area, weary but proud.

Between that, the late night of this search, the centuries-ago timeline, and the incredible ubiquity of the term “Market House” I’ve come up empty here.

That’s no way to end the month, but if you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Let’s wrap up January this way. Here’s my dive buddy in Cozumel, and some great shots of some yellow grunts, an angelfish if you look in the right spot, a terrific flounder specimen and much more.


Don’t worry, at this rate I’ve still got days and days of underwater material to share. February is going to be colorful around here, too.