transcontinental winterlude, part ii: journey to the east

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

my drive to pittsburgh unfolded pretty much as predicted in my itinerary, with the notable exception that i decided not to push myself to drive from boulder to chicago with only a powernap.

car-based powernaps suck pretty hard in the winter.

instead, i booked a cheap hotel in omaha, which split the drive into two easy 8ish hour pieces. i arrived at the hotel late after leaving boulder in a leisurely manner, woke up feeling rested, and headed out into a clear, cold nebraska morning. as i crossed into iowa, the sides of the interstate were quite literally littered with cars that had gone off the road during the dark and windblown night. i was glad that i had opted for the layover, and even more so when i was delayed getting into chicago, first by more snow, and then because i missed my exit and couldn’t turn around and had to figure out a new way to approach the city. this would have been an annoying turn of events at the tail-end of a nonstop from colorado, but as it was i remained relatively unfazed, and when i finally made it to my destination, i was rewarded by the homemade gnocchi and surly wit of dave carter, whom i had not seen in person in years.

FTW, as the cool kids say.

prior to chicago, i had stopped in san jose, ogden, and boulder, as planned, and i tell you whut, there are few warm fuzzies to rival four nights with four friends in four states, trailing behind you across your mental map like twinkling christmas lights, reminding you of how many cool people you know.

so thanks, everybody.
keep up the awesome. :)

the fifth and final light in my eastbound string was pittsburgh, and a bright and festive light it was, indeed. i made it just in time to follow reed on a gleeful crosstown slalom run through the snow-laden streets around cmu to meet a hardy group of friends who were gathered at the sharp edge to discuss the upcoming weekend and drink beer. i really like pittsburgh, and it was fun to have a couple of days to enjoy the town and see my friends. on thursday, colin helped me make two ginormous pots of stew for us to eat on sunday night, and on friday, we all headed north to set up camp and discover what frostburn had in store.

for those of you who need the cliff’s notes: there’s burning man, in the middle of the desert, for the full week before labor day, and then there are the regional burns, all around the world, all throughout the year. every year, more and more people complain about burning man being too big, too commercialized, too popular to be worth the time and expense, and the regional burns are productive outlets for addressing these complaints. don’t like big city life? take the spirit of the party back home. invite your friends. start your own traditions. put your creative juices where your whine is, and leave the gentrification of black rock to the suckers.

or at least, that’s one perspective.

don’t get me wrong: i still love going to burning man, and plan to go for at least a few more years, life willing. it’s like going to vegas, or disney world, except the tourists wear glowfur instead of khakis, and there’s no money once you get there, which makes day-to-day decisions about what to do way less stressful. the sheer scale of black rock city, and the talent that it attracts, and the level of participation that it inspires in its citizens, is amazing. rejuvenating. inspirational. unlike anything else on earth. but it is, in fact, really big. and expensive. and exclusive. and lots of other things that mean that it shouldn’t be the only option on the table. so i wholeheartedly support the regional burns. and, of course, all displays of awesomeness completely unafilliated with the burning man network. i look forward to visiting many of the new temporary towns and cities that are emerging around the world during my time here, and i even hope to play my part in building some of them along the way. so it was fun to see what the pittsburgh burners had to offer.

it was a good group of people, and on saturday night, they burned a wooden snowman in effigy, which is a twist on the rite that i found somewhat clever and amusing, at first, but once there, it won me over on a deeper level.

it was very cold, and snowing lightly, and it took a while for the flame to catch, but when it did, i felt the crowd ignite with it. we stood there in the middle of one of the roughest winters in recent memory; three feet of snow had fallen in the past week alone; a recession was going on in the outside world, and two wars; our political discourse was degenerating into an ugly spiral of name-calling and publicity stunts; and there was still another long month between us and spring.

and yet, here we all were, camping in a small stand of woods on the fringes of suburbia, huddling together for warmth one moment, and stripping off layers the next, as the flame began to roar and reach high into the night. at one point, people began picking up handfuls of snow and hurling them onto the fire, as if daring it to go out, but it was far too strong. it was like a collective shout of “take that, old man winter! show us what you’re made of. we’ve got everything we need right here.”

in other words, pittsburgh gets it. and it was an honor to share in their burn.

on the way back to our camp, rachel led us to a dome i hadn’t visited yet, and we were met there by three people, sitting around a woodburning stove, discussing religion in rather serious tones. feeling somewhat dazed, and glad for the warmth after tromping through the snow for a while, we sat down. matthew was wearing a scarf made out of a chain of small stuffed elephants, and whryne kept interjecting comments, some of which were in response to the conversation that continued unabated around us, and some of which were random observations about other things that caught her attention.

i lay back on the bench that ran the circumference of the dome, and smiled blissfully in response to the whole situation.

soon, two of the serious sounding people left, and the one who remained took off his shirt and began making pizza after pizza in the woodburning stove, which suddenly had my full attention. the dome also contained several hammocks, suspended from the upper bars, and many dangling bike wheels, which sounded cool if you strummed their spokes with a spatula. in short, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and i will now do all that i can to help judy and adam make it to the playa, if that remains their goal.

i will also continue to banter with them on facebook.

upon returning to camp, i finally tried my hand at flaming simon, and then a group of people pulled up with a small wagon and began constructing a statue out of precut pieces of balsa wood. i called it “the robot emperor”, because it reminded me of the emperor in my tarot deck, but it was also clearly a robot, so there you go. it was holding a book in one hand, and something i can’t remember in the other, and it was sitting on top of a pyramid, like a simultaneously ancient and futuristic deity. it was awesome to watch them erect it, which was clearly a part of the show, as it happened very quickly, like a puzzle being put together on fast forward. then, of course, they set it on fire, leaving nothing but a pile of ash for the people who wandered past later to wonder about.

and that is a pretty good summary of the events that took place between 7 and midnight on saturday, with the notable exception of the period during which matthew and i carved out a snowfa underneath the disco ball that was dangling from the porch at bat country, and proceeded to converse with everyone who entered or exited the bar. that was a good time, but honestly, the details kind of blur together, so i think that’s all you’re gonna get.

many other things happened over the course of the weekend, including probable low-dose carbon monoxide poisoning from the ridonculous jet-engine style kerosene heaters that we rented to heat our main tent, and the appointment of henry as pharaoh, due in some part to his forward-thinking planting strategies and commitment to gathering input from the people, but mostly because it was widely held that he looked killer in the shiny gold hat.

my eastward journey was therefore a complete success, and i had one night to recover in reed and sue’s lovely guest room before turning my nose back west and heading to bloomington, where i was due to be reunited with a great many things that were being stored for me, and also to visit with friends who had not make the pilgrimage to frostburn.

but for that story, you must wait for part iii…

metaposts, an introduction

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

the best writing teacher i ever had was a man named andrew hess.
andrew was the grad student who taught my section of the expository writing class that all freshmen at NYU were required to take as a part of the general education sequence. most people hated this class, and, as with many classes that are taught by an assortment of grad students, a lot of them probably had pretty good reason. the odds of me ending up with andrew as an instructor were slim, and even slimmer because his section of the class met at 8:30 in the morning, which would never have been my first choice, but it so happened that it was the only section that fit into my schedule that was also a ‘computer section.’

the whole idea of this is actually kind of baffling now, but this was 1997, and most people didn’t have laptops, and some people didn’t even have a computer at all, so you didn’t always get to turn your papers in digitally. you actually had to, like, print things out, and find a stapler. but my freshman year at NYU they were trying out this new thing by having ‘computer sections’ of writing workshop. we met in a computer lab, and turned in our papers via email. we also did things like chat together in class about something we read.

it was all meant to be very cutting edge, and, in what i suppose was a foreshadowing of my future interest in hci, i thought it was exciting enough that i wanted to sign up for it, even though it meant going to class at 8:30 in the morning. i had just finished going to highschool for four years, after all, and i had to get there at 7:15, so 8:30 sounded quite reasonable. after a full year of staying up until 3 in the morning on a regular basis, and almost never getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, i changed my tune, but in the narrow window between eras, i signed up for andrew hess’s section of writing workshop, and it changed me. for the first time in my life, i had a teacher who saw right through my bullshit, and tore my writing apart, and challenged me to really think about what i was saying instead of just babbling because it was easy for me to babble, like i’m doing in this blog post.

la la la la.

it was hard, and it scared me a little, and if i ever get my act together and actually write something that makes me proud, it will be partly because of andrew hess, and i will say so in the acknowledgements.

anyway, one of the things that andrew did was ask us to write something that he called a ‘metatext’ after each of our papers. the idea was to give us a place where we could express our thoughts on how the paper went – did we like it? did we leave something out? what hung us up? what did we know was confusing?

this practice raised the caliber of andrew’s editorial comments to a whole new level, because he knew what we already knew, and this experience felt to me like fresh air was finally being let into a room that had grown very stale and stifling, and it made me rather giddy.

one of the things that the metatext helped me with was being comfortable leaving things alone even when i didn’t feel like they were finished yet. i have a very hard time with drafts. i try to make things fit together from the beginning. and i fail. because that’s not how writing works, really. you need to test things. see how they feel. rework them and move them around. i resist this, because my thoughts? they are messy. and it’s hard for me to explain them. and no matter how many times i learn the lesson that it’s faster and more rewarding to just let myself say them a hundred different ways and then pick the ones that work best, i still feel bad about asking other people to sort through my muck, and nervous about going on the record with things that i don’t really mean.

i’m saying all this not because i’m feeling particularly narcissistic this evening, but because it’s a pretty good description of the core of my dilemma with blogging. i was thinking about it as i was writing the last post about kwerk because i kept getting stuck, and it made me nervous, and i remembered andrew hess, and writing workshop, and metatexts, and i thought: maybe i should start writing metaposts? separate places where i let myself ramble about what i think the post did pretty well, and how it compares to the form of the idea that i’m trying to find a way to express, and what i think i might do to make it better.

it seems worth a try, a least.

i can hide the metaposts after the jump, or something. maybe find a plugin that lets me attach notes. then people with interest in such things can read them, and the main posts might get leaner, as a result.

i’ll go write a metapost for the kwerk post now, and try it out.

i thought that this was going to be the metapost, but then i decided to tell stories instead. :)

so andrew, if you ever read this – thank you. i will have you know that you also made me very sensitive to the fact that czechoslovakia no longer exists, and i hope that the past ten years have treated you well. i am trying to focus on kwerk, and finding ways to make money in the meantime, but i am also starting to write a short story – pretty heady sci-fi – and when i finish, i will seek you out, and send you a copy, and if you have the time and interest to tear it apart, it would be a tremendous honor.

15 minutes: Why you need something other than a non-stick pan

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

OK, so, continuing with the “write for 15 minutes and then post” game that began yesterday (that’s what the “15 minutes:” at the beginning of the title means. I will try to stop commenting on it in the future unless I need ways to kill time. :), today I remembered a little rant that I had the other day that I thought it would be good to blog at some point.

Initially, I wanted to title the post “How non-stick pans are ruining a generation of home chefs”, but that seemed a bit harsh, so now I will just say this: if you ever want to make sauce or gravy – and really, if you are cooking with meat or onions on a regular basis and you don’t want to make sauce or gravy… why not? – please don’t use a non-stick pan.

The science behind this plea is quite simple, and I will let Wikipedia summarize it for me:

Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing bits of food from a pan in order to make a sauce with them. When a piece of meat is roasted, pan fried or prepared in a pan with another form of dry heat, a fond, or deposit is left at the bottom of the pan with any rendered fat. Usually, the meat is removed from the cooking vessel, the majority of the oil is poured off, leaving a small amount with the dried and caramelized meat juices. The pan is returned to the heat, and a liquid is added to act as a solvent. This liquid can be plain water, vegetable or meat stock, a spirit, some wine, verjuice or any other liquid. This allows the cook to scrape the dark spots from the bottom of the pan, and dissolve them creating a rich sauce. [1]

This method is the cornerstone of many well known sauces and gravies. The resulting liquid can be seasoned and served on its own (sometimes called a jus), or with the addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions or shallots. The sauce can also be thickened with a starch such as flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot, or reduced with a steady heat forming a richer concentrated sauce.


You see, something really cool happens when you heat up sugar, and it is what we call caramelization. You know, like caramel. Caramel is sugar that has been cooked at a high enough temperature that it turns brown, which gives it that characteristic nutty sweet caramelly taste. If you just heat up sugar alone and then add butter and milk in appropriate proportions, you get caramel, or butterscotch, and you have a happy day before you.

When you heat up other foods that have sugar inside of them, however (and a lot of foods have sugar in them somewhere – yay energy!), those sugars start to caramelize after a while too, and the way the food tastes changes. Caramelized onions, as the most famous example, are just onions that have been cooked for a long time. No caramel is added. It comes out of the onion like magic and bunnies. Cooking is chemistry, people, and chemistry is fun. :)

If you use a nonstick pan, however, you miss out on a lot of this fun. The sugars brown best when they get to stick to something for a while and get crispy, but nonstick pans are built around the notion that sticking is terrible, and we want to avoid it at all costs. That makes home chefs who aren’t used to browning action freak out a bit when they start cooking something and the sugars begin to caramelize, and the innate reaction is to stir and scrape and curse at what suddenly seems like a pan that will be really hard to wash.

As wikipedia explains above, however, you should just chill. Wait a few minutes. And add water. Or brandy! The process of ‘deglazing’ is an entry level concept for sauciers everywhere, and I think it’s a shame that people might not be able to learn it just because they got tricked into thinking that non-stick coatings are the best thing to happen to home cooking since the microwave.

I’m a couple minutes over, so now I leave.
I might come back later or post again with pictures.
In the meantime, have fun! Deglaze something! Trust me! :)

weekend project – send party materials to antarctica

Friday, October 24th, 2008

um, the latest burningman newsletter announces that mcmurdo station is having a regional burn over thanksgiving weekend.
and they need us to send them toys.


if i can’t find something to contribute to that cause then i need to rearrange my priorities.


Friday, October 24th, 2008


it’s a computer-animated show about a guy who wakes up one day to find that 99.9% of the population gone, and all ‘technology’ that runs on anything more sophisticated than a DC battery is broken.

now he’s trying to figure out what happened and walk across the country in case some of his family survived.
adventures ensue.

it’s being posted in 3 minute installments on youtube.
there is a new one EVERY SINGLE DAY!


there are already more than 150 episodes, and i’m only on episode 45 so i guess it could all go to crap but so far it’s addictive.
they are pausing for a few weeks now to let people catch up and then spread crazy theories on message boards while simultaneously debunking the other crazy theories that all the STUPID people are coming up with because, srsly?! WTF are they thinking and why can’t they spell?

so far i am abstaining from spreading my half-baked theories and complaining about plot twists because i would rather just laugh at the comments and eat popcorn.

though i will say that if I wake up tomorrow and the apocalypse came in my sleep and my car won’t start and i want to go 3,000 miles for kicks?
i’m making friends with a horse.

props to colin powell

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Powell endorses Obama and speaks out against the blatant bigotry inherent in the “I’m worried he might be Muslim” argument.

yeah, but when you face the sun? please cast no shadow. light’s too bright. kthxbye.

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

i was listening to marketplace the other day and there was this piece about these new apple ads starring “mac guy” and “pc guy”. story goes that they make mac users out to be all slick and savvy while showing pc users as geeky and frustrated. i don’t have a tv, so i haven’t actually seen these ads, and i should probably go watch one on youtube or something before writing this post, but whatever, because i’m not actually responding to the ads, i’m responding to the way they were covered on the radio.

the piece talked about how apple might be biting itself in the ass with the ad campaign because “mac guy” is so self-confident as to be annoying, and current mac users might not enjoy the association. marketplace quotes marissa gluck, a marketing analyst, as saying:

The character of the Mac guy is almost too perfectly cast. He is smug. He is condescending. He’s just that uber-hipster you love to hate. It just makes you want to slap him.

fair enough. condescension not always the best marketing strategy. noted.

but the piece goes on from there. after assessing “mac guy” in this manner and questioning apple’s wisdom in promoting itself through him, it cites a study by a media research group that surveyed 7,500 different computer users with regard to their lifestyle habits as well as their computer usage. the direct quote from a representative of the research group was:

This is a group that is not afraid to shout its accomplishments from the mountaintops. They’re happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments, and that can come across as possibly a bit conceited.

can and possibly being rather major keywords in that summary, imh?o…

but the Marketplace correspondent summarized this information thusly:

They found that Mac owners pretty much personify the Mac guy from the commercials. Among other things, they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe.

and at that point, i’m scratching me head a bit, guvna, because i thought we were talking about how this stereotype might not be the best to use for the PR division, but now we’re using our own NPR-special heads to decide that mac users have superiority complexes because —

The survey revealed that Mac users often describe themselves as perfectionists. They’re also more likely than PC users to whiten their teeth, drive hybrids, drink Starbucks coffee and eat organic food.


i think that what i actually said aloud after the “they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe” nod was something like “or, um… their computers actually let them do stuff and then they are happy…”

now again, for clarity, i’m not talking about “mac guy” here at all, because i still haven’t seen the commercials, and i’m definitely not saying that there aren’t some annoying, conceited mac users out there, with myself on the ballot like everyone else.

i just found it striking that being “happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments” is apparently so closely synonymous with “being an arrogant arsehole” in our cultural vernacular that the two can be used interchangeably on a major evening radio program, not just without the commentator batting an eye, but with her apologizing for her own audacity in sometimes engaging in similar behaviors herself.

um… yah.

sent from my iBook, sure, but…

[begin sarcastic grunting voice]

me think things.
me say some things out loud.
me change mind sometimes.
you do whatever.
we grow.

[raised-eyebrow smile at world and self as transition from grunting voice]

onward with the week.

so impressed

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

go read rice boy now.
so simple, so nuanced, so gorgeous.
i’m hooked.

not a picture of my halloween costume

Friday, November 9th, 2007

but it’s the best one i encountered this year by far.
i mean damn, that’s cool.

YouTube costume

no, i don’t know the dude. the pic is immortalized on flickr.

thanks to the ReadyMade magazine blog for pointing the way.

this time, we’ll build a better town

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

that’s what i really meant to say.

miyazaki is the best there is.