If you are new to a town, or possibly just confused by it -- if you find yourself sitting at home wondering where it is that people go, or what it is they do on, for example, a Monday night at eight o’clock, there are ways to find answers to these questions.

If you really cannot figure out where people are, get in your car. Let’s go for a scenic trip around town. Where people are is usually, in a small suburban town, where all the cars are. Take a drive through the busier streets of your town. You will probably find, as I have, that large amounts of people tend to be where large amounts of paving is found. On Monday nights at eight o’clock in my little town, people are at Wal-Mart and churches and Golden Coral.

You might think that restaurants are an obvious place for people to be, but you might find, like I did, that this is not true. People are at Golden Coral but not Applebee’s. People are at McDonald's but not Burger King. Lots of people are not, however, at one particular place.

It may seem obvious after I say it, but even though there might be large amounts of pavement there, people are not at closed places. This would seem to spell out pretty simply, to me, that in a town not much different than mine, if you want people to be visiting your establishment the most important thing you can do is not to close it while people are still going places.

Go ahead, drive around a little further. What else do you see? People are at the movie theater, but not at the book store. People are at the dollar store and the mall and the gas station and the liquor store and Whataburger and the grocery store, but not at the pubs. The other main place you are probably noticing that people are, as you drive around and see these places, is that people are at their homes.

But enough of that—

Sure, driving around seeing where cars are tells you where large numbers of people are, but it doesn’t tell you were people are going. So pick a car, that dark red one right in front of you is good. Now follow it. Follow them to where they are going. Individual cars go places the masses may never lead you.

A new Chevrolet Aveo with the dealer tags still on that expire in less than a month, in a town like mine, driving down a street lined with chain stores and strip malls is going to Target.

If you are a car pulling out of Target right as the car I am following pulled into Target, going the same direction I am going, you are going home.

The white Dodge Durango with a well worn sticker on the bumper backing Rudy for President fourteen months before the elections, you are being towed.

A charcoal colored car with a woman and two small kids might be going to rent movies for the evening.

If you are a muddy 1992 Toyota royal blue pick-up truck you can bet your ass you are parked in what was, until a year ago, the Bennigan's parking lot with a gaggle of other muddy trucks, sitting on your tailgate talking.

It’s okay to give up now. You don’t want to follow people forever. You might soon find yourself in a grim situation you cannot easily get yourself out of. And it’s also okay if you didn’t find anywhere to go in this town. You can go where everybody already seems to be. You can go home now to watch TV. Maybe tomorrow you’ll find something to do, somewhere to go.

Well, it's been a topsy-turvy couple of months.

Firstly, where for the last two and a half years I've worked for AdECN, I now work for AdECN, a Microsoft™ company. That process started out with the employees being told that negotiations to sell the company were under way, but not with whom (though there had been a few contenders). Then, when things had progressed to the point where there was intent on both sides and i's and t's were being dredged up from the muck for dotting and crossing, it was stated that the company would stay in the Santa Barbara area, likely even in the same quarters, should the deal go through. Weeks later, that was changed to the company would be moved to Washington. With the parties converging on total agreement, some of us were even taken to the Seattle area to check it out, see where we might want to live, meet with folks, etc. Then shortly after that, it changed back to staying here and the deal was swiftly closed. One thing I've learned is that you don't take anything for granted in a complicated business arrangement until the deal is done, done, done.

During that time, about two months ago now, I also went to a doctor for a physical. Since I'm 46+ years old and haven't really seen a doctor for about thirty years, I figured I oughtta. I made the appointment and made clear my age and what I was asking for, which was "the kind of physical you're supposed to get when you're fifty". You know, in addition to the turning and coughing, maybe an EKG on a treadmill, the whole bit. In fact, I got very little (not even reflexes, but maybe that's old school now) in the way of being physically examined, though the "doctor" did order a battery of blood tests. (She also brushed a hand across my forehead and muttered "some pre-cancerous growth there", whereupon I mentioned that I'd been sunburned the week before and she said "Oh." That's one of the reasons I'm getting a new doctor. Which I would have had to do anyway, thinking I'd be moving away from the area.)

There were two major conclusions from the blood tests, the surprising one being that my thyroid gland had become quite lazy some time ago. I was immediately prescribed levothyroxine, which is thyroid hormone, to be administered orally once per day probably for the rest of my life. She told me that, if the low dosage she was starting me on was sufficient, I'd feel like a new man. I would realize that I hadn't even realized I wasn't working up to par. Well, it was true, in a way. I've seen no particular change generally, but almost immediately after beginning the regimen, I found myself playing volleyball for two or three hours straight, where just a week or two before I'd have to sit out quite a bit. That was a nice change.

A third thing that's happened during this time is that two young women moved in next door to me. Very friendly, very outgoing, but not in an obnoxious way. We talk regularly and one of them has joined my Pub Quiz team. This (befriending neighbors) is almost a first for me. Quite nice. Neither of them has quite made it out to Saturday volleyball yet, but they assure me they will.

Acting as a constant backdrop to the excitement since July 4 has been the Zaca Fire, a forest fire that has now burnt a fifty mile swath just the other side of the mountains from here. Every so often it reminds us that it's still there, either with the sudden cloudal eruptions that can resemble mushroom clouds, or the more prosaic showers of ash. When people say they've seen it snow in Santa Barbara, you'll know what they mean.

Hi everybody! I hope you’re all doing good and that the summer was good to you. It was real good to me. I got to go to girl scout camp, play soccer in Amsterdam and spent about a week on a working farm in Amish country here in Ohio. It went by so fast! I can’t believe school starts again next week. I think 7th grade is going to be a lot more work than the 6th was. But that’s ok, I’m up for it.

I wrote another poem about how everything is connected. I called it “Connect the Dots”. I hope you like it.

Connect The Dots

Between the flash of lightning
and the sound of thunder
Between the insect in the spiders web
And the appearance of the spider

Between the dark of night
And the light of day
Between the coming of age
And the lost days of youth

Between the certainty of black and white
And the confusion of gray
Between the comfort of old friends
And the excitement of new ones

Between the sour taste of lemons
And the sweetness of a cherry
Between the wet blades of grass
And the dryness of the dirt

Between the time we are born
And the time we will die
Most of it is spent
Trying to connect the dots


Dispatches from Macedonia

A brief rundown of why I have no time to indulge my normally ravenous internet addiction:

I took a trip to Struga, the smaller town around the lake from Ohrid, with a large group of Americans, Croatians, Germans, Albanians, and a Hungarian. We switched back and forth between Macedonian and English, sometimes in mid-sentence. Struga is laid out much differently from Ohrid and not as tourist-focused. Instead of Macedonian folk tshotshkes, English-language nationalist t-shirts, and cheap Chinese goods, the street-side booths sold Balkan pop music, Macedonian-language nationalist t-shirts, and Albanian Islamic books. Struga has a much larger presence of Albanians. If nothing else, you could tell because all signs were at least bilingual Macedonian and Albanian, if not tri- or quatralingual if you threw English and German into the mix. Macedonians identify Albanians with certain very particular (and generally unflattering) physical characteristics, but I couldn't tell Albanian from Macedonian in the crowd except by the women wearing headscarves. I guess I haven't been here long enough to absorb the Balkan gaze. But another American here has made it the subject of his anthropological research. We had a fascinating conversation.

And I spontaneously came out to him. I've been careful about betraying my sexual orientation here because I can't guess where Europeans will stand in the same way that I can guess for Americans. My roommate, for example, is very Orthodox and clearly uncomfortable with homosexuality. We had an discussion where we exchanged curse words in our respective mother tongues. I'm unhappy I did this in retrospect, because he didn't pick up the normal swear words, but the racist and homophobic ones. He chides me for being politically correct when I ask him to stop using "jew" as a verb to mean "rip off" (for which he has plenty of opportunity, because you start to finagle over very small differences of price here after a while). I shouldn't have taught him the full range of English swear words, but it's too late now. In any case, the less he knows about my orientation, the better. And as for Macedonians, the men at the very least seem fairly invested in a macho image that probably doesn't tolerate gay men well. Even gay men who feel no need to threaten gender roles, like me.

On the other hand; these people I'm regularly interacting with are academics. Their countries are generally far more liberal than my own. It seems a bit silly for me to be more reticent about my sexuality here, among people who would identify Democrats as solidly conservative, than I am at home. And Victor Friedman, my BA advisor, brought his male partner with him to the conference. No one has bothered about it, everyone seems to know the exact situation, and they continue to pay him almost extravagant honor, Macedonian and foreigner alike. In any case, this other side of the argument won out temporarily and I corrected an assumption the anthropologist made about which gender of person I might have waiting at home. Now I wonder whether he will tell others or keep it to himself. I'm not particulary bothered either way, but I'd like to see how it turns out.

I also took a trip to St. Naum, the national monastary of Macedonia at the Albanian order, at the very southern tip of lake Ohrid. The monastary was somewhat underwhelming, but the program arranged a wonderful lunch for us on an island with Macedonian folk dancers accompanied by musicians. They were in full costume and danced far more intricate, layered versions of the dances I've been learning every night in optional classes. After they finished, those of us who had been taking lessons stood up and did circle dances to the remaining music as Macedonians vacationing in the same area wandered over and joined in. It was union through movement.

Finally, today I got up at 3:00am to hike with Maksim and two Polish girls named Barbara and Karolina to the top of the mountain that rises behind the center where I'm staying. First we climbed to the tip of the village of Konjsko in the pitch dark, then we turned on our flashlights and searched out an goatherd trails, footpaths, or simply open spaces we could use to keep going higher. As it turned out, it took at least two hours for us to reach the summit, making the early start absolutely worthwhile. We would pass through a forest, then reach a rocky plane with a less steep grade, then enter another forest and scramble along the edges of ravines. There always seemed to be more mountain after every peak we reached. But we finally did ascend the summit, just before the sun crested the horizon, and we lay down together in the rough and windswept grass to enjoy the light. On the walk back, we were so tired that we grew a little delirious. Everything became funny, even simple sounds or words repeated over and over. We got lost and had to spider across a steep forest slope while we grabbed on to tree trunks, so as not to fall into a riverbed, but we were rewarded by a breakfast of wild plums and blackberries that we found along the way.

On the way we ran into an elderly couple taking a donkey up the mountain to gather fruit for making rakija. They were unbelievably friendly. They suggested we take a picture of ourselves with them and the donkey, then they chatted with us a bit about the climb to the summit and the village where they live. When we left them, the village was awake and everyone was doing their jobs.

And then I went to class at 9:00am.

And that's the not short short rundown. 

Hiking through Horseville
Invited in for coffee
A short rundown that's not short

So yeah, BioShock runs great at 1280x1024 with details on high. There might not be antialiasing but I honestly can't tell. I am pleased, and now even more eager to play. Also, WoW installed on laptop; now to rip some of my more ah, light movies for the flight home.

Brewing Log 1 - Brewing Log 2

First, I realized I had no container to use as the intermediary between fermentation and bottle. This is important because if you bottle straight from the fermenting bucket you have a chance of getting the sediment mixed in. If you siphon it to an intermediary first you can cut out the sediment entirely. Well, I ended up using the giant kettle from way back in step 1 - worked just fine. I siphoned using physics mastery granted by grinding rep with Eric, the resident (at work) brewmaster, Eugene faction.

First, of course, I spent an hour or so sanitizing all 50 bottles and the piping. This was done in the kettle, about 12 bottles at a time, 10 minutes each set. Not bad, but I see that using bottles 2x as big will speed up this step as well.

It turned out to be easy, although you waste a squirt of beer each time ... still, worked fine. All you do is pour water into the piping, hold it there by plugging one end, connect it to the racking tube sticking out of the bucket, and let it flow. The weight of the water flowing down will pull the beer into the tube, over the lip of the bucket and down into your chosen intermediate container. Brilliant! Unfortunately, it does require a high place to set the first bucket on, and the porch isn't really the best place. I think we need a house (with a garage where I can put a worktable and some planks to raise it higher).

Once the whole thing siphoned - well, almost all of it since I wasn't sure how deep to put the racking tube in to avoid the sediment - I set aside the bucket with the totally nasty-looking dead yeast on the bottom and put the kettle up on the porch railing for the second siphoning stage - this time into bottles. We lost 6-8 bottles due to stopping the siphon early, which was more than I wanted but oh well - next time I'll mark the racking tube so I know how deep it goes into the bucket; also, I now know roughly how deep the sediment layer is so I can get more out.

The final step was pretty easy thanks to the bottle filler. All you do is attach it to the end of the siphon tube and stick it in a bottle. The valve on the bottom is pushed by the bottom of the bottle, which starts the flow. When the bottle is full you simply lift the filler, the valve drops and cuts off the flow. Most clever, I approve. We did it in batches of 12, and then capped them and put them back into the box I received them in (as part of the brewing kit). Finally the boxes went into the bathroom, under the sink - what can I say, we're really short on space in this house.

And the next half hour was spent cleaning the bucket, on which old foam had about a week to harden. The less said about that, the better.


Well, the fermentation is supposed to take up to 14 days - but I suspect in my case it was done by day 4 or 5, if not earlier. Everyone mentions checking for bubbles in the airlock, but I don't believe I ever saw any in there. I understand the reason for using a glass carboy now - it's a lot more reassuring if you can actually see what is going on in there. Finally, I'm not sure what the stuff is supposed to be like prior to bottling, but it smelled to me as if it was still too sweet and thick. Does so much really happen in the bottles now to turn the stuff into drinkable beer? Hmm ... I guess we'll find out in a couple of weeks!

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