Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Ride Home

The ride home is always the hard part.

You left the home with a child in the car.  The ride was shorter or longer depending on where you were going, of course, but it was nice to spend time with this child of yours, this child who isn’t a child anymore, not really.  And then you got there, and there was a lot to do.  Check in; get boarding passes; go through security.  Unload the car; get the bunk bed set up like the roommate did with theirs; haul stuff up the stairs (not as many as last year, but still).  So many things to do that you could focus on the tasks in front of you and not think too hard about the fact that you were there to drop that child off so they could go on to the next steps in their lives, steps that largely will not include you.

And then it’s over.  Everything’s been done.  The goodbyes have all been said, the hugs have all been given, and it’s time for you to turn around and go home.  Maybe you watch them disappear into their new world and maybe you don’t, but eventually you get back in the car and drive home and there is an absence where there had been a presence and you’ve got the entire ride back to think about that.

That’s the part that gets you.  The ride.

Two days ago there were four of us living here.  Now there are two.  More if you include the cats, who would be rather annoyed not to be included.  Cats are like that.

Lauren left first.  Her foreign exchange year started on Friday, and she’s been getting ready for it for a while now.  Paperwork.  Emails.  Pre-Departure Orientations in multiple states.  Packing.  Repacking.  All the things that had to get done.

She had a going-away party the weekend before – nothing big, just a bunch of her friends over for pizza and a bonfire in the portable firepit that is finally getting some use now that Lauren and her friends have discovered it.  They’re good people, and they seemed to have a good time.  It’s nice having them over.

Kim and I took the day off on Thursday.  Lauren decided she wanted to spend her last full day before departure at the next town over.  We had a lovely lunch and then spent an hour or so wandering around the town square, which is lined with nice little shops and filled with music piped out of the town hall in the middle of the square.  There was a baker there who gave us cream horns that he said were past their prime (having been made that morning, and he was now closed) but they were incredible and I will have to go back and get more.  There were antique shops.  There was a neat little candy shop where we got Leninade (a sweet pink lemonade with a strange Soviet-kitsch bottle) and popcorn.  It was a nice way to share time together.

That night was another bonfire only with a slightly smaller group and with chips and salsa instead of pizza. 

Friday was the day. 

Kim and Tabitha said their goodbyes to Lauren early, since both of them had to work that day, and then Lauren and I headed over to the local Cafe, where most of the group from Thursday night joined us for the supersized breakfasts that this place serves. 


It was a lovely time and the goodbyes were hard but eventually Lauren and I got into the car and headed off.  We drove up to the Madison airport, got her checked in – surprisingly easy, which is why smaller airports are nice – and went to the security checkpoint.


Then we went to the other security checkpoint, since the first one is only for the Pre-Check people and who were we peasants to interfere with that?  I didn’t mind, though.  It gave me three more minutes with her.

After our goodbyes I watched her go through the security line, and then she disappeared into the depths of the airport, bound for Europe.  She’s there now, safe and sound.  Other than social media and the like we won’t see her again until next summer, and she’ll be a different person then.  That’s kind of the point, after all.

It was a quiet ride home, just me in the car.

Today it was Tabitha’s turn.  The summer is over and it’s time to start thinking about sophomore year at Small Liberal Arts College, and the process is remarkably similar really – paperwork, emails, packing, repacking, all those things.  It’s a bit less intimidating the second time around, but still.

Kim, Tabitha, and I piled into the car this morning and headed off, stopping to feed the chickens on the way because chickens don’t care about your Life Events but do need to be fed.  It was a pretty day today – reasonably cool for August and not raining, which are the main criteria for a successful move-in day.  Nothing like shifting boxes in a deluge to make you appreciate a sunny day.

We got to SLAC in good time and parked in front of the dorm (the “Small” part of SLAC is nice for parking).  Tabitha and I went up to her dorm room and got her bed put together – a surprisingly complex task given the variety of pegs, holes, and widths involved – and then all three of us carried her stuff into her room fairly quickly.  She’s on the second floor this year rather than the third and that does make a difference.  Someone also lent us a dolly.  Three cheers for technology.  We also met her roommate, who seemed nice.


We had lunch with her and her friend Dustin, took the now-traditional photo by the Welcome Stele, took care of a few errands, and then we had to say our goodbyes.  On the one hand, we know we’ll see her this year, at least for holidays.  On the other hand, it will be a while.


After that, we headed back home.

It’s better with two people in the car, to be honest.  The ride.

So now they’re both in their slots, where they will be for a while, and those slots are Not Here.  The house seems much bigger than it did just a couple of days ago.

When your kids are small you often find yourself wishing for a break, for some time to yourself.  I always found myself missing them when I got it, though, and looking forward to having them back.  I have no idea how I’m going to manage this whole empty-nest thing, but no doubt it will be fine.

I’m looking forward to having them back, though.

Do well, and be well, Tabitha and Lauren.  Have adventures, enjoy yourselves, and become what you will become.  You are moving out into the world and the world will never be the same for it.  It’s yours to change.  I’ll be here when you return.

I’m proud of you both.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Visit to Wisconsin

After you visit someone it’s nice to be able to return the favor and have them come and stay with you for a while.  So when Richard, Magnus, and Ginny said they might be able to spend some time with us this summer after we had been with them in England last year, we were all for it.  It ended up being a bit on the last-minute side, as things often are in this hectic world we’ve built for ourselves here in the modern age, but it all worked out well and we had a grand time with them.

The trick is, of course, what to do.  It’s not like we have an abundance of castles, seaside towns, or other similar things here in the midwest.  But there are a few things of interest in southern Wisconsin and we enjoy just spending time together as well.  It's all good.  

For one thing, we introduced them to Fran.

When we got back from the airport Fran and Sierra were visiting.  Fran was heading back to Belgium the next day, and they had come over for one last evening with us before she left.  I’ve always liked when people from disparate corners of my life meet – we used to have parties in my college dorm premised on exactly that idea, in fact, and they always turned out well.  Everyone ended up playing Werewolf and eating grilled cheese sandwiches and that’s just how a summer evening goes is all that is.


For another thing, they got to know the County Fair pretty well (as noted in the previous post).  Being outdoors is a good way to get over jet lag quickly, apparently, so it had that advantage as well.  We spent several days at the Fair, because it’s a fun thing to do.


We also took them on something of a Wisconsin Weird tour.

High on any list of that description is the House on the Rock.  I’ve described that in earlier posts on this blog, but it’s just one of those things that has to be seen to be believed and even when confronted with the evidence of your own senses you will probably still have doubts as to how such a place could possibly exist without folding in on itself and creating a Singularity Of Weird.  It’s a standing testimony to what happens when you have too much money and not enough medication and it’s glorious that way.  The House on the Rock features in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and I just know that when people read that book (or watch the series on television) they get to that part and think, “Wow!  What an imagination!  This is truly what SF/F is all about as a genre!” when actually it’s just journalism.

Trust me on this.

It starts off innocently enough, with a placid Japanese-style garden, and you think to yourself, “Well, all those warnings of gratuitous weirdity are just so much hype, really.”


And then you go inside.

There’s a little museum there now where you pay your entry price – it’s tasteful and informative, and you can buy all the House on the Rock tchotchkes you want.  Don’t weigh yourself down though – you’ll be routed through the gift shop at the end of the tour also, so you can buy them then.

Then you go into the House which is, as advertised, on a Rock.  Imagine what would have happened if Frank Lloyd Wright had married Elvis in 1974 and they’d set up house together and you won’t be too far off, but don’t forget to add in the occasional full-sized pneumatically-powered orchestra (operated by tokens, which you get free with your ticket and can purchase more of in the House).  It’s, um, uncomfortable.  Cluttered, low-ceilinged, dark, damp, and a fine example the kind of hoarding that’s acceptable only when surrounded by enough cash, it’s easy to forget that the guy actually lived there because really trying to imagine someone living there is an exercise in incredulity.

The cool part, though, is the Infinity Room.  Cantilevered over a ravine, it’s built to look like a perspective drawing and it is, objectively, a lot of fun.


By this point you are lulled into a false sense of confidence.  It’s weird, but weird within tolerance.  You can handle this without alcohol of any kind.  You’re doing fine.  You blithely go down the exit path back toward the museum, meet up with the docent who had helpfully pointed you toward the House, and get pointed in a different direction toward the Collections.

And then it falls in on you.  Room after room after room of So.  Much.  Stuff.  There’s a room with hundreds of doll houses.  Another with dozens of model circuses.  An entire Victorian street full of psychotically overstuffed shops.  More orchestras.  A madly spinning carousel with some 300 animals on it, not one of which is a horse (there are hundreds of horses on the walls).  A room that looks like Tim Burton’s last therapy session, entirely done up in black and red, complete with a wreath of kettle drums, a ship’s propeller, a collection of oversized beer steins, and a pipe organ.  A room with a life-sized model of a whale being attacked by a squid.  On and on it goes.




It’s an experience.  I think they enjoyed it.  They seemed unscarred.

Toward the end of their visit we took the second half of the Wisconsin Weird tour and went to see Doctor Evermore’s Forevertron.

For those of you not up on your steampunk found-material statue gardens, this is pretty much the cream of the crop.  It’s probably not something you’d make a special trip for, but if you happen to be in the area (as we were one day) it is most definitely worth a stop.  You can profitably spend an hour there, maybe more if the weather isn’t beastly hot as it was that day.

It’s just off the state highway, and good luck figuring out where to park since there are no signs or places that look like where you should do that.  Eventually you just pull over to the side of the grassy entrance and walk over to the main area, where you are confronted with this.


You’re allowed to wander at leisure and examine the statutes up close and personal.  There’s a lot of them.  Some are the size of your forearm.  Others would tower over your house.  Imagine Dr. Seuss with a welder’s torch and a drug addiction and there you go.  It’s utterly fascinating.




There’s a lady sitting at a small table tucked away in a corner of the place, and she’ll sell you souvenirs.  You can even buy a small statue if you want.  Wings are extra.

If Wisconsin doesn’t have the sea it does have lakes, so we found an Air B&B on one up in the central part of the state and spent a few days not doing much of anything there, which is what vacations are all about.  It was a peaceful sort of place that way.

For those interested there were kayaks and a canoe – Ginny, Magnus, and Lauren were out on the water before we even got unpacked, cruising up and down the lake.  We were on a small arm of the lake, and to get to the main body of water they had to go left from the dock and paddle a bit.



We brought all sorts of games to play and books to read and things to eat and drink, and I spent a fair amount of my time doing all of those things – there was a deck overlooking the lake where you could sit and watch the world float by.  And there was a fire pit that we made very good use of while we were there.  There were enough fallen branches around us that we just had to gather up what we needed to get a good fire going, and most evenings we were all there, watching the flames and talking.  Good company and good conversation is all an evening needs, really.

Richard, Ginny, and Magnus like to go hiking out on the trails so they did that one day while Kim, Lauren and I wandered over to the local county fair – a bit smaller than ours, but with the usual assortment of livestock and projects.  There was also poutine, a thing that qualifies as food only because it isn’t immediately lethal but which is tasty if you’re into that sort of thing.


On the way home we stopped at Parfrey’s Glen. 

Parfrey’s Glen is a lovely little spot – you have to hike up a winding trail along the creek, and eventually the trail peters out and those who wish to do so (i.e. not this city boy) can cross the creek on the rocks and go up to the glen itself.  I hung out at the crossing, where I met an old friend from Home Campus as he and his friends were hiking back from their visit to the glen.  It’s a small world.  I also took a bunch of photos, since the lighting at the crossing is marvelous.






We visited Madison one day and walked around State Street.  In one of the shops Magnus found a game that is apparently hard to find in the UK and worth hauling back across the ocean, so that counts as a win.  The Capitol Building was also open and eventually we found ourselves out on the observation deck, up by the dome.  It has a nice view of the lakes and the city.


We went to a local minor league baseball game as well.  They actually won, which is a rarity when we go.

We had our Biannual-Or-So “We Dare You To Eat That” Party, wherein people come by with all sorts of things that are legitimately considered food in some places and we see who is brave enough to eat them.  There were some very entertaining field trips to the local Asian and Mexican grocery stores (as well as the main grocery store in town, since no one culture has a monopoly on such foods) in preparation for this, and we ended up with a pile of leftovers because it it, but hey: interesting food.  There was no surstromming this year – for which we and everyone in a half-mile radius were thankful – but there were friends and foods and a raffle that required you to share a joke to win valuable prizes.

A skeleton walks into a bar.  “Bartender!” he says.  “Get me a beer and a mop!”

Eventually their visit came to an end, as all good things do, and they flew off to Virginia to see some family there.  I think they’re actually back in the UK as I write this now.

It was a lovely visit, and we so enjoyed having them stay with us.

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EDIT: Things that should have been in this post and now are:

The problem with trying to recall a lovely but busy time in the middle of other busy (and varyingly lovely – from “very” to “not at all”) times is that you forget things, and there were a couple of things we did with our friends that I want to put down here, mostly for my own memories.

One is that we had a tasty picnic at the home of our friends Heidi and Travis, up in Madison.  It was something of an exercise in logistics, but the picnic itself was a lot of fun.

This was the day that Richard, Magnus, Ginny, Tabitha, and I were up at the House on the Rock, while Kim was busy at the Fair and Lauren had to work at the museum.  My group drove there from the House on the Rock – no small matter, given the construction that has engulfed the state now that Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) has been booted out of office and the new governor has actually decided to pay attention to things like infrastructure and education, much to the outrage of our viciously gerrymandered and mindlessly partisan legislature.  But good roads are good roads, so we put up with the delays.

We also stop for sustenance on the way to a picnic, because it’s Wisconsin and we need to introduce our foreign friends to things like deep-fried cheese curds and frozen custard and Culvers.  Away with your In-and-Out and your Five Guys and your Whataburger – we know where the real king of fast food burgers lives and his palace is blue and white.  Thus fortified, wound our way to Madison for the picnic, where we ate heartily even with the previous stop.  Because we're professionals.

Meanwhile Lauren drove down to the Fair, surrendered the car to Kim, and hung out there with her friends doing Fair Things because it’s Fair and that’s what you do.  Kim drove up and met us at Heidi and Travis’ house.

There was good food.  There was good conversation.  There may be a “comfy couch” in Richard’s future now that Ginny has experienced Heidi’s and knows how they tempt a person. 

There was also a lightning bug hunt.  They don’t have lightning bugs in England, apparently, and they’re pretty much everywhere in Wisconsin.  Heidi and Travis have one of those back yards full of dark, shady recesses where lightning bugs hang out.  It was a natural fit.

Getting home was another fascinating experience, again because of the road construction thing.  We split up into the two cars – the teenagers in one and the parents in the other – and headed off toward the Beltline, which should have been a desperately simple thing except that every single entrance onto the Beltline was closed and all the city felt obligated to provide in the way of advice to motorists unfamiliar with the area was “try another route.”

There was much vocabulary.

We got home eventually.

Another thing I forgot to include was that we went to Local Businessman High School’s summer theater production of 42nd Street.

The thing about LBHS’s theater program is that it is in many ways professional grade.  There are some seriously talented kids here, they pull in others from a fairly wide radius (sometimes as far away as Chicago), and their budget is higher than the entire amount my high school spent on theater in the seven years that my brother and I were involved (including the one-year overlap). 

Needless to say it was a marvelous show.

Neither Lauren nor Aleksia were doing the spotlights this time around – the show conflicted with the Fair, after all – but their friend Ally was the lead actress and she did a great job, as did their other friend Nolan, who always gets the comic parts and can steal pretty much any scene he’s in any time he decides to do so (his version of the chef in The Little Mermaid has become canonical in my mind for that part). 

It was strange to go to one of these shows and not sell 50/50 raffle tickets, but there you go.

One final thing was a visit to the Cheese Shop.  It’s not in Our Little Town – it’s significantly west – but if you’re going to have cheese this is the place to get it.  We ransacked the place.

Because Wisconsin.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Slightly Less Intense Fair

We didn’t do a whole lot with the Fair this year.

Tabitha’s not part of it anymore.  You can technically remain in 4H during your first year of college, but most people don’t do that.  They’ve moved on to other concerns by that point, and unless you’re going to school close enough to make the meetings during the year there’s not much point to it.  She was happy to move on, I think.  She enjoyed her time in 4H, but all good things must come to an end.

Lauren is still a member and she still regards the Fair as the best week of the year, but again – she’s reached a point where she has other concerns as well that impinge on that.  Plus I suspect she’s won as many blue ribbons and trophies as she feels she needs to win by this point.  Her Fair projects tend to have the air of “admissions tickets” these days – they are things she does because that will let her wear the Exhibitor wristband and get in as often as she likes without paying admission, but she’s not really shooting for championships anymore.  It’s just for fun now. 

She had chickens this year – five of them – and two turkeys, who were a bit smaller than usual because of the late start we got on them after the Great Mortality of the first batch.  Only one rabbit though – Keaton has taken over the late and lamented Milkshake’s role as the One-Eyed Rabbit in our herd and thus is excused from Fair duty, so it was just Miley this time around.


That’s not Lauren's duck.  But there was a break in the chicken action, and she was helping out a friend.  The Fair is neighborly that way.

She did make homemade soap from scratch for her other project – none of this “melt and pour” nonsense that you so often see, but actual cold-process soap that started out as three different oils, distilled water, and lye.  She made two different kinds and displayed them in a bowl that Tabitha had made in her ceramics class a while back. 

There were no blue ribbons this year.  A bunch of reds.  A few whites.  I thought they shortchanged the soap, to be honest – the perils of judging that’s not face to face, since you can’t explain to them that this really was not made from a kit – but there you go.  Miley probably would have gotten a blue if she had bothered to pose for the judge, but every time the judge went to shape her up into the proper stance she just melted like warm chocolate.

Not that this bothered Lauren much.  She was at the Fair pretty much every spare moment she had and enjoyed it immensely.

We went as spectators this year, for the most part.

One evening we went with Fran and Sierra, since Fran had not been to one of these things and really what’s more American than the County Fair?  They even had a new flaming juggler this year, which was a nice touch really.



And the first full day that Richard, Magnus, and Ginny were here from England Kim and I had work obligations we couldn’t shake so we took them to the Fair and let them hang out for a bit until we could catch up with them there.

We introduced them to the Fair’s version of lemonade, which is very different from the one you get in England (it’s a carbonated drink there, at least in my experience) but which is, after all, one of the best parts of the entire Fair.


Ginny went on her first ferris wheel.


And of course, there were the bumper cars, which are just the thing for people at or near the age when they get driver’s licenses.




Loading out the Fair was the usual confusion of livestock, projects, and parking issues, though with far fewer of the projects than in years past and this year the nearby church didn’t charge me to park with only 7 minutes remaining in the Fair, which was nice of them.  Lauren and I loaded up the chickens and the turkeys and the rabbit and the soap and distributed them to their various places, and then another Fair was in the books.

Until next year.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Dumplings

I know I’m not really supposed to say this as a parent, but I like Lauren’s friends.  They’re good people.

Yesterday I got a text from Lauren while I was at work, which is something that happens a lot really.  Mostly it’s just the usual details about daily life and things that need to get straightened out – when are you coming home, did you get the chickens, and so on – but this one simply announced that she and her friends were going to make dumplings for dinner for us.

Sounds good to me, I said.

We’re ramping up for the semester now, here in late August, so I am getting home at my usual school year time rather than any earlier summer time.  Kim just started a new position which sees her get home even later.  So we were happy to have dinner made for us.

Ally, Hannah, Aleksia, and Lauren took over the kitchen, cranked up the Spotify playlist, and started making dumplings from scratch.  Dumplings take a long time to make, but fortunately we weren’t that hungry to start with so we could wait.  It was fun to watch them do their thing.

And the dumplings were tasty too.

We sat around the table, eating and trading stories, and eventually the subject of TikTok came up.

For those of you without teenagers in your life, TikTok is essentially the new Vine – a place for people to post short videos (well under a minute – I don’t know if there’s a hard time limit the way Vine had, but they’re usually things that would have fit in that time slot).  They’re really fun, or at least the ones that Lauren and her friends had already curated were.  It helps to have a guide when exploring new territory.

This naturally led us to make our own video.

There’s a song by Mariah Carey called “Obsessed” and apparently it comes with dance steps.  Somewhere on TikTok there’s a video of all us doing the moves for the chorus and it is exactly as awesome as it sounds, even if I got lost about halfway through the take that got posted.  I did better on the first take, what can I say.

Isabella joined us after she got off work and there was dessert and more stories.

Sometimes on a quiet Monday evening there are dumplings and stories and good people sharing time together, and if you’re smart you’ll treasure those times when they’re happening and remember them when they’re gone.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Checking In


So it’s been a while since I wrote anything – a few weeks, at least, which is a while for me.  I haven’t hit the classic blog death spiral yet (1. I’ve got a lot to say!  2. I’ll update with more soon!  3. Here is a picture of my cat) but neither have I been keeping up my usual pace.

Have I missed anything?

I’ve spent the last two days painstakingly transferring an online class from one course management software program – one that allowed things like submodules, timed content, and batch changes – to the new course management software program that we’re all required to start using this fall down at Home Campus, which of course does none of those things.  I’m not sure what never-set-foot-in-a-classroom misanthrope designed an educational software program that doesn’t do submodules, nor why anyone would purchase such a program for use in an actual educational institution, but those decisions are apparently above my paygrade so here I am.

I spent much of today dragging and dropping quiz questions from one place to another, one at a time, quite literally by the thousands.  Like George Jetson, my button-pushing finger is bent.


The last few weeks have been hectic, though in a much more pleasant way than the last two days, it must be said. 

We’ve had visitors.  Fran was here for most of July, and right about the time she left Richard, Magnus, and Ginny came over from England.  They actually overlapped by an evening, and it was fun to have them meet.  I’ve always liked when people from disparate corners of my world meet up.  There are good people in my life.  They tend to like each other.  There will be posting.

The County Fair was back there as well, with its usual assortment of activities and madness.  I didn’t get to see as much of it as I usually have, alas, but I saw a few things.  There will be posting about that as well. 

Things have been happening in the wider world as well that I have a few opinions about.  Our now-too-obvious-to-deny slide into petit-Fascism and degenerate right-wing madness has accelerated just since Independence Day, for example, and it was moving along far too rapidly even before that.  Oh, yes, there will be posting.

At least I hope there will be posting.

I’ve still got a summer class to wrap up.  Two, if you count the year-round one that I signed up for in June.  I’ve got four more classes to ready for a semester that starts in a shade over three weeks (only two preps, though), both of which have to be shoehorned into the new course management software on top of everything else.  There will be major changes in daily life here at the homestead as well – good ones, really, though somewhat bittersweet from my perspective.  And I’ve still got a job that requires my presence, which is an unmitigated good in this world especially since I have good colleagues. 

So we’ll see.

Here’s a picture of my cat.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Those CDs Have Definitely Matured

I’ve got several hundred CDs spread across my office in the process of being sorted, because a week or so ago we had the carpets cleaned.

No, wait.  Hear me out.  It makes sense.  Or at least there’s a clear thread of causality, which is often all you get in this world.  Especially these days.

A week ago Wednesday, Kim informed me that the carpets were being cleaned that Friday morning. 

On the one hand, it probably needed to be done – we usually try to do that about once a year and last year somehow got away from us.  We have a bumbling little robot that vacuums them whenever we set it to work or nudge it by accident when walking by or even think too hard about it even in a derogatory way, but apparently this is not the same.

On the other hand, this gave me exactly one evening to get my office cleaned up enough for the cleaners to have access to the carpet.  My office is full.  There are books piled up pretty much everywhere, there are other piles of paper waiting to be sorted, and there are at least two long-term projects in boxes waiting for me to have the time to focus on them.  All of this had to get moved into a non-carpeted room (i.e. the dining room) along with everything from the living room as well. 

So we had basically no meaningful access to anything on the first floor of our home outside of the kitchen, but hey – it’s just for a day, right?

This is when Kim suggested painting the living room.

I’m not sure why it needed to be painted.  It’s been the same inoffensive off-white since we moved in a hundred years ago and I’ve been happily not noticing it ever since.  But apparently it needed to be painted and it needed to be painted immediately since all the furniture had already been moved.

Meanwhile I’ve got my advising job, my online class, and three major work projects to try to complete in the near term, Kim is up to her ears in her various jobs – including spending that following weekend in lab for a summer class – and the girls are both now gainfully employed at my old museum, keeping up the family interest in the place.  So nobody had any time to do this.

And yet.

Kim and Tabitha came back from the store on Monday night with all kinds of paint, and then suddenly we were painting in between all the other things we had to do.  This took until Thursday, but now the living room has three walls that are a kind of flowerpot brown and one that’s light blue.  I am given to understand by people much hipper than I that this color combination is featured in a video game called Portal, so perhaps we’re just being cultural these days.

I got my office put back together this past Wednesday, but because of the painting project it took me until Friday to reclaim the living room and dining room.  It’s all usable space now, which is a relief.

Except that the big IKEA shelf thing that we use for our various entertainment gizmos got edited.

We took down the analogue speakers that we haven’t actually had plugged in since 2009.  I took the stereo receiver to the basement, since we live in a dead zone for radio signals anyway.  And the giant CD storage unit / shuffler that nobody listens to since music went digital got put away too.

There were a lot of CDs in there.  We have a pretty comprehensive collection of popular music from the time before we had kids, back in the 90s and early 2000s.  There are some older things, though not many since CDs came later than that, and there are occasional forays deeper into the 21st century as if we were trying to reassure ourselves, against all evidence, that we were still cool.  But those peter out pretty quickly.  Mostly it’s 90s and early 2000s.

I took all of the CDs out of the shuffler and sorted them into alphabetical piles and I’m putting them all into books where we can access them if we want to.  My car, for example, is old enough that you can’t use any Bluetooth devices or streaming services, so if you want to have music in more varieties than Oldies, Country, and Top 40, you need CDs.  And perhaps at some point I’ll import the ones I most want into my computer.

The joy of sorting a dead format is that you don’t have to leave room for future growth.  You can just put them away.

I’m sure I will hear from all the streaming mp3 Spotify Alexa music people about how this project is both quaint and incomprehensible and that I am wasting my time in this digital age, and that’s okay.  I’ve never had a corporation reach into my home and steal back a CD that I paid for, though the same cannot be said for digitally downloaded music.  So I’m happy to have the hard copies.

But they are heavy.

And many.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Adventures in Computing

I am not a software engineer.

I have a PhD in American history, specializing in the political culture of the late-18th-century United States.  I’ve read every issue of every newspaper published in Philadelphia between 1787 and 1801 – an eventful time in that city’s history.  I’ve read a disturbingly large chunk of the scholarship surrounding the Revolutionary Generation, their goals, and the political world they inhabited.  I’ve contributed to that scholarship, in fact.  I genuinely do know what this country was founded upon, in sharp contrast with the social media warriors and political demagogues making that claim today.  Unless others have done similar work I don’t expect them to have my level of expertise on the subject.  It’s a large part of how I make my living.

You will note that nowhere in that list of accomplishments is there anything about knowing how to program a computer, having taken any time to try to learn how to program a computer, or getting paid to know how to program a computer.

You do not want me to do anything with your computer more complicated than browse the internet or process words.  Trust me on this.  And yet for the last week I have spent an inordinate amount of my time masquerading as a software engineer, with predictable results.

Home Campus is in the middle of merging with another institution right now, a process that has taken several years and will likely take several more years despite the initial mandate from the Grand Poobahs to have this wrapped and done in eight months.  Fortunately the people on the ground were smarter than their leaders, which is something that happens a lot these days.  It’s gone about as well as the process could have gone, to be honest – no more chaos or dysfunction than expected, and a lot of work put in to make things go as well as they could.

But this summer is when the IT department gets involved.

We merged our emails at the beginning of the month, and despite the fact that I have now four different email addresses taking the place of the one that used to do everything I needed it to do, it went mostly well.  A few hiccups around the place, but again – no more than expected.

Last week they reimaged my desk computer so that it was no longer a Home Campus computer.  Now it’s a Main Campus computer.

Actually, that’s not quite accurate. 

The guy looked at my computer – a six-year-old Mac – and decided not to bother with reimaging it.  He simply replaced it with a Main Campus Mac that is only half that old, since that counts as progress in an institution of higher education that has been systematically starved of funds for most of the last decade.  He then upgraded everything on it and told me to install my backed-up files wherever I pleased on the thing.

I’ve spent most of the last week trying to figure out how to do my job again.

It took an entire day and multiple crashes for my email and word processing programs to come back on line.  I don’t have any spreadsheet capability yet, but since I only use that program under duress I’m okay with that.  None of our shared drives work anymore so I can’t access those.  We did kludge together a substitute, and perhaps I’ll figure that out given time. 

I still can’t print.

Part of me is not surprised by this fact, since Home Campus spent the better part of thirty years walling off Macs and never quite managed to reincorporate them fully.  Getting me onto the Shiny New Printing System they installed a year or so ago was a week-long extravaganza of missed opportunities and excessive drinking.

But the IT guy – who has, I point out, been trained as a software engineer of some kind – couldn’t figure it out last week either.  He spent an hour fiddling with it, downloading random bits of code, having me try this or that, and then we all had to go home.

Today he emailed to tell me he’d managed to get one printer on campus to work with Macs.  It’s diagonally across campus behind a locked door that I don’t have a key for* but hey – it’s a printer.  Except that I had no idea how to connect to it.  


“Here’s the name of the printer,” he said.  “Just download the driver.”

“From where”


“From the Self Help.”

“The what?”

“Self.  Help.”

“And what do I do with this information?”

“You help yourself.”

I did eventually download the driver and I followed the directions therein, but it still doesn’t work and I’m not sure why I am expected to know how to do these things.  I don’t expect him to give me an analysis of neo-Harringtonian republican thought in The Federalist Papers, after all.  Isn’t that what the specialization of labor is about?

I keep coming back to the fact that last week I had a working computer and could do everything I needed to do, and then I was upgraded and optimized and now neither of those is true.

That and the simple fact that I don’t keep any whiskey at work, which is probably a good idea.

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*There's no sign saying “Beware of the Leopard,” though, at least not that I’ve noticed.