Caveat: Blueberries, Beer, Boxes, Boxes, Boxes.

Locations:  Whitewater, WI; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; and roads in between

Soundtrack:  various, mostly NPR

I haven't written in a while.  Last Monday I got notification that my work visa number had come through from the Korean State Dept., so I drove to Chicago to shepherd my paperwork and passport through the consulate there, in order to ensure I had the actual paper visa in time for my departure for Seoul (now in 5 days!).

I spent 3 nights with Bob and Sarah in Whitewater, WI, and it was good to see them before my departure.  I enjoyed my time with Henry (their son of 9 months, now).   Bob is into this show he had DVDs of, called "Corner Gas" – a Saskatchewanian sit-com, basically.  Rather dry, but quite funny and entertaining.  My last night there, we watched a few episodes, and ate blueberries and drank beer (I know, I'm supposedly a teetotaler, but seems like I've been relaxing my dogma a bit, lately).

So then Thursday I drove back up to Minneapolis, but didn't get out of Chicago with my visa till nearly 5 pm, and between rush hour and the severe weather they were having (thunderstorms, high winds, power outages), I didn't get into Minneapolis until about 4 AM.  Oh well.   So Friday was a lost day, I was tired.  And so much to do!

Boxes, boxes, boxes, boxes.  I have packed 75 boxes with books (almost exclusively books!) over Saturday and today, and placed them into my storage unit.  Why couldn't I have opted to collecting something small and light, like stamps?  No… I collect books.  Oh well.  They're all packed away, now.  Must work on all my electronics stuff (5 computers, CDROMs, doohickeys galore), my paperwork (taxes for 2006 still due!), clothes, kitchen stuff.  But the worst is out of the way – all them dang books.

Meanwhile, I have a pleasing announcement to make:  I've got my new Sony Vaio running a "triple-boot":  Ubuntu-Linux, Windows Vista Business, and Windows Server 2003R2.  This is VERY cool.  And I've transfered my email to Mozilla Thunderbird (ending my last horrible Microsoft addiction), and I'm doing most of my work most of the time under the Linux platform.  I feel so… liberated!

I'll try to get my Win2K3R2 working well enough to run SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio, so I can continue to do my .NET development hacking and website stuff there – I'm not ready to take the huge step of migrating my DB work to Linux just yet.  But my desktop is FREE!

Ok… back to all that stuff to pack.

Caveat: Slate Sky

Location:  Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack:  "The Current" (Minnesota Public Radio 89.3). 

One thing I love about Minnesota is the way that in a single summer week you can experience the various different weather patterns associated with an entire year in Los Angeles or even Arcata:  Hot and sunny (although you rarely get as dry in MN as in Calif), overcast, fog, rain and high 50's.  Last two days have been some of the latter – slate gray sky, rain on and off, 56 degrees. 

So, that's weather.  I was driving south on 35W across the Minnesota River yesterday, under that slate sky, and absorbing the incredibly lush greenery of the Minnesota valley, and was struck by an odd memory of a similar vista, years ago, coming down out of Tehuantepec into Villahermosa, Tabasco.  Different climate, but so similar in some ways – at least this time of year. 

Speaking of vistas, I'm hating Microsoft's Windows Vista enough that I've decided to try Linux on my brand new Vaio laptop.  This means hosing the factory-original OS install (as I've been learning!), and this undertaking has already had, and will continue to have, its major frustrations, but I'm committed at this point, and will be transferring my main functions – email, document editing, etc., to the Ubuntu Linux platform.  I will retain Vista for some multimedia functions – if I can get it so I'm happy with it at all.   What's with that weird new Vista bootloader, anyway? – what a piece of obfuscated crap!  And I may try for a triple-boot system, with Windows Server 2003 for my development work (e.g. website, etc. ), as I hate to have to try to get Mono (an ASP.NET compatible Linux hosting/development environment) working under Linux right now.  My website may have to just stagnate for a while.

Sorry for delay in new posts, here.  After getting back from my long road trip, I went into a bit of dormancy, obsessing over all the preparations I need to do for my move to Korea, and sort of bemusedly gazing at the immense amount of STUFF I own that needs to get put into storage.

Oh I love the rain, the overcast skies.  Happy Minnesota.  And, remembering Korea, I know I'll get plenty of that there, too!  And some delicious, Siberian,  intensely cold winters as well, though those tend to be drier than Minnesota's.

Caveat: A Wash

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack: NPR News – debate about the replacement for the 35W bridge proceeds apace, already. There’s a big hue and cry about trying to ensure the new bridge is “light-rail” ready or incorporates a light-rail line, which to me is freakin obvious – they’re gonna have to build a bridge for the “central corridor” light-rail line at some point anyway, and if you just study the map, the 35W crossing would actually work quite well, allowing them to then use the old railroad right-of-way thru the U of MN campus (instead of tunneling under Washington Ave, which would be humongously expensive I suspect!) and integrating the north end of campus and Dinkytown to the LRT route, too, where you know you could accommodate lots of public-transit-minded residents. God I hope they don’t “pull an L.A.” as I call it, and allow short-sighted thinking to lead them into building transit component (bridge, etc.) that actually works against long-term needs and logic (I call it “pull an L.A.” because the L.A. “green line” is the most poorly planned piece of public transit I’ve ever examined). 

Ok, enough ranting about local public policy – I’m leaving MN for a bit, now, anyway, right? I face an enormous task in the next several weeks getting my stuff together for the move to Korea, and I’m not feeling motivated, rather, kind of exhausted from the long drive back. And now that I’m in my own place again, I miss my cat. But I spoke with my sister on the phone and she says Bernie is adapting well, assiduously but successfully avoiding the dog and behaving in a friendlycat way with the boys. I’m so glad for that.

Yesterday was a complete wash, as far as getting things done.

I love being back in the Midwest , despite the hotsticky weather – there was an enormous thunderstorm on Monday night, which was wonderful.

Caveat: Pretty good plains

Location: Bismarck, ND to Minneapolis, MN

Soundtrack: surfing the radio; Radiohead (great for road trips), Dylan (of course), Mexican Institute of Sound (something new)

On the radio, I heard: an opera called ‘The Greater Good’ as I drove into a vast cloud of forest-fire smoke west of Billings; a christian radio station that turned out to have a less-than-conventional twist, which lead me to evolutionarychristianity.org – very interesting; the news that Karl Rove (AKA "Bush's brain") is resigning; a country music top 20 countdown; a new version of “la guantanamera” in which the role of pure cuban girl is played by some innocent named “habeas corpus”; and more, more, more! Listening to the radio while driving cross country is second only to television as a way of sampling the cultural insanity that is the USA – and it’s easier to do while doing other things, e.g. driving across Montana, which, at 700 miles, is interminable and occasionally dull.

20070814_collisionwithbutterfly I had a head-on collision, somewhere west of Bismarck, ND – with a butterfly. I noticed it when I got out at a rest area (see picture).

The sky transitioned from the hazy, smoky mordor of Montana’s forest fires to the wide-open hugeness of the plains, as North Dakota gradually flattened out to the utterly circular horizon of the land just west of Fargo. They call these the Great Plains, and, although I like them a lot, calling them “great” seems extreme. Let’s call them the Pretty Good Plains, and leave it at that.

Caveat: Eastbound

Location: Portland, OR and environs; then EAST on I-84 to US-395 to I-90 east east east, Spokane, Missoula, etc.

Soundtrack: NPR and then the MP3 player on shuffle: tracks of KoRn, Grateful Dead, Jobim, Suzanne Vega, Chemical Brothers… all strung together.

I had those famous waffles for breakfast yesterday morning at Juli and Keith’s, and Latif and Peggy were there. It was a short visit, though, but good to see them. Then I drove into Portland and had lunch with a friend, Arun, and his family – he’d prepared some very good Indian cuisine in the style of his home, Tamil Nadu, I think. I enjoyed it. Arun left HealthSmart not long after I did, he was one of the best programmer/developer types there, and now he’s moved on to bigger and better jobs – unlike what I’ve done, wandering off into yet another adventurous but not so remunerative career. But I want to try to stay in touch with him.

After a long afternoon taking a walk around his neighborhood with him and his older son Kiyosh (about 3 and intermittently charming and mischievous), I departed for the long drive east and back to Minneapolis. I drove until I got to Spokane, but was feeling quite exhausted and decided to splurge a bit and stay in a motel instead of my normal sleep-at-the-rest-area routine. So now I’m in Missoula, and the air is filled with smoke from forest fires, and it might as well be L.A. or Mexico City out there. Lovely.

Not sure if I’ll make it to Minneapolis now in one straight shot or not. But I’ll give it a try.

Caveat: River of Madness

Location:  US-101 and roads from Humboldt to Cherry Grove, OR

Soundtrack:  KSLG (Nine Inch Nails, the new Modest Mouse, etc.) and then my MP3 player on ‘shuffle’

I drove up yesterday after getting an oil change for my truck and spending a bit over an hour out at Mad River beach west of Arcata (in picture).  I used to go out there a lot when I lived here, just to meditate on the ocean and be on the edge of the world.  I’ve actually rather enjoyed being in Humboldt this visit, but I still think there’d still be too many ghosts here to be able to live here permanently.

I have never seen the highway between Arcata and Portland up the coast quite so sunny – it’s almost disorienting.

Madness

Caveat: Firewood

Location: Arcata, CA

Soundtrack: Inner silence.

This is my home town – I was born here and, with a few interruptions, spent much of my first 18 years here. There are some ghosts, still, but mostly, when I come back, I’m overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this place I grew up, and the warmth and centeredness of the home I grew up, though now Peggy and Latif own it, they were part of the broader community that was involved in my upbringing all those years ago, and there’s huge continuity in things.

Arcata_008_2 The house where I grew up now has gardens all around it, and is very different from when I lived here, but it is strikingly beautiful – Peggy and Latif have done spectacular things with both the internal and external spaces.  All surrounded by gardens and greenery, the redwoods off to the northwest still, but both front yard and back now filled with paths and patches of plants.

Drove to David and Vivian’s “up the hill” and helped David move some firewood, and talked for a few hours.

Old books were found – I’ll take them with me back to Minneapolis to put into storage while I go off to Korea.

Caveat: Tree flesh [Cold – End of the World]

Location: US 101 to Humboldt County

Soundtrack: Cold’s “13 Ways to Bleed on Stage” (on of my favorite albums of all time).

[I retroactively added this embedded video on 2011-06-24 as part of my Background Noise project]

But then Beck’s “Loser” came on my MP3’s shuffle, and I remembered when that song first came on the radio, in 94-95, and I was commuting every night on the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi – the one that just collapsed – and I imagined that if the bridge had aged a little faster, it might have been me sampling the river bottom’s mud with my bumper… so I said goodbye to the bridge, even though I’m in Northern California.

By the time I got onto US 101 at Ukiah, the litter on the roads was no longer tomatoes, but instead the familiar fragments of redwood bark that falls off the log trucks. Because of the fibrous nature of the bark, and its reddish color, this, too, looks a quite a bit like road kill, at times. 

I think I would not do well, moving back to Humboldt (which is where I grew up) – but I always love that feeling of “coming home” that I get driving down into the greenness that is the far north coast.

Caveat: Tomatoes

Location: I-5 Up the Central Valley

Soundtrack: NPR via various valley stations

I left L.A. early – 4:30 am., to beat the traffic out of the city. Dawn at the summit of the Tehachapis. Then tomatoes littering the sides of the highway all the way up the valley, falling off of trucks from the harvest, I guess. A sort of vaguely macabre asphalt marinara.

Quote: “No animals were humped during the making of that song.” Meredith Brooks, regarding her 97 hit “I’m a Bitch”, during a discussion of a recent New York City Council initiative to “censure” the use of the word “bitch” in public discourse, in which she suggested the label was as much empowering as derogatory.

Caveat: Chupe de pescado [Korn – Evolution]

Location: Newport Beach, CA

Soundtrack: 

KLoVE (Spanish soft rock station in LA: más romántica);

KoRn’s new single _Evolution_

[I retroactively added this embedded video on 2011-06-24 as part of my Background Noise project]

I spent the morning in Burbank again, catching up with a few people (Vesper, Diana, Luz…) who I didn’t manage to see yesterday.  Then I drove all the way down to Newport to have lunch with Tyler (colleague from HealthSmart) at my favorite Peruvian restaurant, Inka Grill just across the line in Costa Mesa.  I love their Chupe de pescado, it’s possibly the most delicious soup in the known universe, in my opinion:  potatoes, egg, onion, fish, spices, something that makes it chowdery – I ate here often with Tyler and the rest of the HealthSmart crew during those long months now memorialized as the “battle of Lytec” (which we lost spectacularly to the enemy forces, which fought under the banner “poor project scoping and planning”). 

We went back to the Newport Beach offices and I chatted briefly with some of the other folks there, and I had weird flashbacks of T-SQL code as I walked the aisles between the cubicles.  Too many very late nights practicing slash-and-burn database programming,  I guess.  Visiting ARAMARK was better for my sense of accomplishment, and it stoked my ego to see the accomplishments of my era still percolating on the screens of the National Account Reps, but visiting HealthSmart’s IPM offices has served to remind me why I’ve decided to change careers and try something different:  more people-oriented, perhaps less remunerative, but hopefully more spiritually fulfilling.  Not that I’m particularly spiritual person, as many of you know, but I don’t know how else to express the idea I’m trying to get across.

Why do I listen to Spanish soft, romantic rock, when I abhor the same genre in English? It’s a nostalgia thing, I think.  It was the soundtrack of too many hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Mexico, too many 2nd class bus rides.  Not the same songs, 20 years ago, but the genre is full of songs that, 20 years on, can’t be differentiated from those older ones… it’s all a sort of weird slightly enchilada-flavored aural blur.

The smog in downtown LA was atrocious, driving down, I couldn’t even see downtown from the 5 as I went by  – much worse than anything we saw in Mexico City last week.  But this is smog season in Lalatopia, while this is precisely NOT smog season in Chilangolandia at the moment – which is why we went at this time, of course.  Which is why I always go to Mexico DF at this time of year. 

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Caveat: “There is great chaos under heaven, and the situation is excellent”

Location: Los Angeles

Soundtrack: my brother playing L7 and Echoboy on his turntable – good stuff

The quote above is from Mao Tse-tung. Many years ago (maybe 5? 6?) I had placed that quote on the home page (splash page) of my National Account Data Analysis intranet website that I built at ARAMARK (the application affectionately known as Reportomatic). At the time, it seemed very apropos to the IT/database situation there, but I’ve always assumed that the Reportomatic would eventually be upgraded or replaced. 

NadapageAt right is a screenshot of the page under discussion (click image to see larger).

Yet, yesterday morning I went to visit with old friends there: Joanne, Judy, Paul, Tom, Carol, and all the rest, and Joanne showed me that it was still there, exactly the same, all these years later. I was so pleased to have left such an ambiguous legacy!

Not surprising, perhaps, that things have changed so little there, but I still reflect that that company still seems so much more forward-looking and IT savvy than my more recent job, which was a sort of permanent IT disaster-in-progress.

Anyway, Paul and I went out to lunch in Burbank, and had some pretty good sushi at a place called Kabuki. Paul is the most brilliant database administrator I know, and I was surprised to learn he was still with ARAMARK at first, until I learned he’s a new father – this explains a great deal, as suddenly one’s need for stability and reliability in a job becomes more important than one’s frustration with the job’s nature, I suppose. I can sympathize if not quite relate. Anyway, he’s always great to talk with, and parenthood seems to agree with him.

My brother has the most amazing music collection – all kinds of ripped/burned CDs and tons of stuff on vinyl. He’s going through and playing stuff and it makes for a nice sound track.

Caveat: Vista

So… back in L.A., I bought my new computer on Friday.  A Sony Vaio, again, because, aside from this recent screen failure on my beloved laptop, I’ve had pretty good luck with these machines.  My new machine is not, strictly speaking, a clone or replacement of my previous – it’s a bigger machine, with shorter battery life (which is a sacrifice), but with a dual core processor, 160G harddrive, 2G RAM, it’s a much zippier little machine, and has a nice screen and graphics card, too.  I opted for it because, since I’m now definitely moving out of the country, I’ll not have a “desktop” anymore, so this will be my sole computer, and I wanted something a little more versatile for my programming and DVD-watching and so on.  But the big change – the huge difference – with this new machine is, of course, that it comes installed with Windows Vista.  And THAT is almost PURE suckiness.

It’s not that I’m adverse to change for change’s sake.  I understand the impulse.  But why must Microsoft change, for example, which “hot keys” cause things to happen, each time they upgrade?  And then document in such an obscure way what the new hot keys are?  There seems to be a belief in Redmond that no one actually uses hot keys, that everyone is slavishly devoted to their mouse and that hot keys are some weird concession to the handicapped and luddite faction and deserve minimal attention at best and downright obfuscation at worst.  And this happens not just in the operating system upgrades – it’s even more common in upgrades to, e.g. Microsoft Office.  God, what a ghastly new “look” they’ve managed there – do they believe users of word are illiterate, now?  As much as such a hypothesis has compelling aspects, it seems a bit contradictory to presume the user of a word-processor program can’t read labels on menus, and needs little Egyptian-looking hieroglyphics to know what gadget does what.  And these things are forced down your throat: there’s no “go back to the old look and feel” option – the help file even admits so, explicitly.

So I’ve spent my weekend learning, adapting, porting data and files from my old system over to the new one.  A decidedly unpleasant two days, after a great time visiting with my friend Jay and his friend Cuong on Friday afternoon/evening – we went to a Thai place on Wilshire in Santa Monica (Jay lives in Brentwood) and sat and talked politics, Jay’s amazing business plan, life, the universe and everything for at least four hours – I think the waitstaff at the place was getting a bit annoyed with us, even.  But it was good to see him.  I’m thinking of trying to reconnect with some other former coworkers today and tomorrow, before I begin the looping drive back to Minnesota.

Caveat: No sé nada, pero me la sé muy bien

Yesterday we returned from Xalapa.  A very clear day, but despite this the descent into the City from the east was still a sort of diving-into-smog. 

I've been struggling with a bit of bourgeois guilt (or first-world guilt if you prefer) – that feeling one gets when traveling in places like Mexico City (or south Chicago for that matter) when one resides comfortably.  The guy named Colin whom we met the other day here at the Casa accepted the label "freelance anthropologist" but my question is:  how is this different from being a sort of "cultural daredevil" – i.e. someone who goes out into the world from the safety of middle-class America, whether the urban nightmare labyrinths of Tepito or the destitution of rural Guatemala?

Not that I'm placing a value judgement on it – but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're somehow helping or even showing solidarity with the "masses" – all we're doing is "having fun" exploring alien cultural spaces, aren't we?  Is this wrong?

Phil and I went to the main modern art museum at Chapultepec this morning, but he wasn't feeling too hot (maybe a bit of elevation sickness finally hitting?  not sure…), so we returned to the Casa for a few hours of relaxation before we run off to the airport this afternoon for the flight back to L.A.

I took a long walk toward Metro Hidalgo, the little park there where Aura and I used to rendezvous and go on our "dates" all those years ago.  Such fond memories of such dysfunctional relathionships… but haven't all my relationships been dysfunctional?

I then zig-zagged my way toward Chopo, enjoying the feel of the little neighborhoods; the streets; the school kids loitering; the policemen (and a few policewoman, in fact) chatting, guarding inobvious things; the vendors selling aguas and jugos; the old women begging; the young men with punk haircuts and a lot of body jewelry cursing; the dogs sleeping; the smells.

I love Mexico City.