• Life

    Posted on February 23rd, 2014

    Written by

    No Snow, Lovely Weather

    tree and ferns

    There was a threat of snow this weekend, so we did our Sunday errands on Saturday night in the hopes that any snow would come & be gone before Monday morning, when I have to leave the house. Snow is a BIG DEAL here because they don’t salt the

    roads, and we live on mountains. That’s right – no salt to melt the ice, just sand for a little traction. Many of the streets get closed when snow comes. Many people just stay home. People in Seattle don’t know how to drive in snow, for the most part (people in Seattle don’t really know how to drive, period; but that’s a different post).

    It’s been raining a lot – surprise, surprise! – but it’s that gentle Northwestern rain that doesn’t stop any outdoor activity. Last weekend we explored a local park with a lovely trail along a small creek. This trail is probably ten minutes from our house (and that, only because there’s a construction detour we weren’t aware of) but it feels like you’re in the middle of the woods. The ground is so saturated from the regular rains, it’s hard to believe that until a few weeks ago, we were having a drought year. The past few weeks have made up for it to the point that if February continues the way it began, it will have been a normal s

    now pack year in the Cascades. That’s a big deal for us Puget Sounders, because our water (and our electricity, not to mention the electricity we sell to California) depends on the Cascades getting enough snow during the winter.

    While everyone on the East coast, in the Midwest, and now lately even in the South getting deluged by terrible winter storms, we’ve been mild and snow-free enough to enrage the skiers. I have not ventured up onto the mountains for winter sports; maybe next year. I enjoy snowshoeing and wouldn’t mind trying cross-country skiing, but the pictures of the roads getting to the ski areas has deterred me enough that I don’t mind waiting.

    In the meantime, there are plenty of lower-land trails to try.

  • Culture

    Posted on February 12th, 2014

    Written by

    Tip Jars

    I know this is a dead horse everyone loves to beat (and isn’t that just the most wonderful expression?) but I can’t resist giving ol’ Beauty a few kicks myself: Tip jars.

    They are EVERYWHERE in Seattle. Yesterday I saw one at the checkout at a grocery store. It wasn’t a collection for some starving kids fund or other, either – it was a tip jar.

    Now. I can understand tipping at a restaurant for carry-out, especially the kinds of higher-end places where waiters have to dress & wrap salads, provide bread, etc. and especially when they take care to package your meal in such a way that you will actually enjoy it when you get it to wherever you’re taking it. But I refuse to throw in at, for example, strip-mall Chinese places with three sticky little tables. Nobody who works in that restaurant is getting a waiter’s wages because they have almost no sit-down service. Therefore I’m not taking somebody away from the work that will get them paid extra money; and I’m not stiffing someone who makes below-minimum waiter’s wages.

    But every restaurant, bakery, bar, and even gift shop in Seattle seems to have a big glass jar half-full of change and dollar bills right next to the register. Do I feel like a heel when I get a cup of coffee in the morning and don’t put something in the jar? Yes I do, especially since that’s “my” coffee shop, in the sense that I’m a regular. (I work across the street. I own their travel mug, which lets me get my drip coffee refills for cheaper. And hey, since I mentioned it let me point out that I paid $17 for that coffee mug precisely so I could get cheaper coffee. The whole effect is sort of ruined when I pay 75 cents for the coffee and feel like I have to throw a dollar in the tip jar!)

    Where do I tip? Bartenders who make a particularly good drink, or from whom I order more than one drink. The latter will get a dollar, the former will get several, depending on the circumstances. Hairdressers – you don’t want to piss off the man standing behind you with a pair of scissors! Higher-end restaurants where I’m getting takeout, especially if I have asked for something special or unusual. But for the love of god, I am NOT going to hit checker’s tip jar at the frigging grocery store. Girlfriend, you get paid your wage – whatever it is – and your benefits – whatever they are, if you even get them – to scan my items, bag them (sometimes with help), take my money and make change. That’s your baseline job. You don’t get a tip for that.

    I blame Starbucks for the ubiquity of tip jars. Everyone knows that if you’re a regular in the coffee shop, you tip your barista at least every few visits, if not every other visit or every visit. If a particular barista makes a really good coffee drink, you tip your barista. The tip jar is there for that purpose. But everyone has gotten used to just dropping their change in the tip jar, every time. Notice how coffee shops price their items – they do it so you always have change. Not a ton, because then you won’t give it up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Starbucks did studies to find out exactly what sweet spot for change-giving might be. This is actually not a good thing for the employees, because it allows Starbucks (or whatever coffee shop) to pay them less than they might be willing to work for otherwise, knowing they can make it up in tips. Some days they won’t be able to, but Starbucks doesn’t care.

    So we’ve all gotten used to dumping our change in the tip jars. Why not at the falafel stand, and the bakery? These guys finally got wise and realized that if they put the jar out, most people will dump money into it. Who doesn’t want free money? So now EVERYONE does it.

    Well, here is where I take my stand. I shall not be oppressed by the tip jar. I shall not be guilted into forfeiting my hard-earned money ON TOP OF the payment for the goods/services I just purchased. I will tip when and how I see fit, and ONLY when and how I see fit.

    And I will use Emilly Post’s guidance to determine whether my personal tipping scheme makes me an asshole or not.

  • Life

    Posted on February 8th, 2014

    Written by

    Shamed into action

    Thursday night, I spoke to a friend I hadn’t been able to catch up with since I moved to Seattle last spring. The good news is that he’s the kind of friend who can go months without speaking and then just pick up right where we left off, no hard feelings. The bad news is, I waited so long. I can blame it on all kinds of things: Stress, time, adjustment, whatever. All of them would be true: I work long days and only have a few hours in the evening to cook, clean, work out, and relax before bedtime. My days off are filled with adventures (or sometimes, nothing at all because I can’t bring myself to do a darned thing). And the stress of adjusting to a new environment, particularly a new workplace that is bureaucratic beyond anything I’d ever imagined, leaves this introvert longing for downtime and non-interaction whenever I can get it. But I gotta do better at keeping up with people. Just so you know, I’m watching you all on Facebook. But I realize you have no idea what I’m up to, so I updated my Flickr photostream with a bunch of pictures. And I’ll try to do better about posting updates, here and on Facebook.

    Truthfully, I haven’t done much in the month of January that was very interesting. Watching football on the weekend, finishing the last few touches of getting truly settled (adding a shelf in the pantry; hooks on the wall for keys and jackets, that kind of thing); making doctor appointments and buying new shoes and exploring a few local parks when the weather was in the 50s. Just living life. I’m lonely, I’ll admit it. I don’t have any real friends out here yet, though I have several people at work who are leveling up in that direction. Saturdays I spend by myself every week; Sundays are the day my sister and I are both off work at the same time and we either go adventuring, or we watch football. Now that football season is over, I’m looking forward to more adventures.

    Our mom came to visit in December and we did a little exploring outside our normal area, including a trip to Snohomish, a quaint little town with a great old Main Street full of antique shops. Then we headed further north to Fidalgo Island and spent a few nights in Anacortes, before heading over Deception Pass Bridge to Whidbey Island, down through the island to catch the Coupeville ferry across to the Olympic Peninsula and Port Townsend. There is no more beautiful place in the world than Whidbey Island, in my opinion.

    Before that, the girls visited in October and we did city things – visited the Freemont neighborhood and paid our respects to the troll and the local Sunday market; went to Pike’s Market and spent some time on the waterfront downtown. I’m looking forward to warmer weather and spring hikes; summer wildflowers on Mt. Rainier and my first back-country overnight hiking trip. Stef is looking forward to a whale-watching trip and camping on the Peninsula, summer trips to the beach and wide-open windows on lazy summer days. In the meantime, check out the pictures and let me know what you’ve been up to.

  • Life

    Posted on November 22nd, 2013

    Written by

    Enjoying the Fall

    Autumn in the Northwest is just like I remembered it: Cool, crisp, and lovely. The smell of leaves everywhere in the air, the smoky smell of fires, the sounds of marching bands – this is fall, and the fall here is long and lingering. Winter hangs over everything, though – the first snows up on the mountains were way back in August. When you can’t visit some places because it’s already snowing, that keeps the onset of winter fresh in your mind. That might be why people here are just so darned appreciative of the fall weather – they know that the sunny days are dwindling and will soon be gone for months.

    Last night we had the first hard frost of the season, and this morning it was actually cold – not just chilly, as in, I put on my jacket if I’m more than four or five minutes early for the morning train. No, it went from mildly chilly one morning to “Oh my God I need to find my knit hat and gloves ASAP,” pull up the hood of my sweatshirt on the short walk from the car to the train station COLD. But yesterday and today were clear and sunny after two or three days of rain, so everyone’s in a great mood and talking about what a beautiful day it is. I’m still waiting for that Seattle winter to set in, the one that makes everyone dreary and miserable from the day after day stretches of no sunshine. It hasn’t happened yet; and the later it gets in the year, the shorter the duration and the more confident I become that I can handle it, no problem.

    But check in again in February and we’ll see if I’m still happy.

    Like I told my sister, though, if we really can’t stand another gray day, we can always head over the mountains to the Yakima Valley for a weekend. It may not be warm but it will at least be sunny – 360 days a year of sunshine over there, or so they say in the tourism promotional materials.

    I really wanted to go clamming this fall and we never got around to it. I heard that some of the beaches weren’t open for clamming due to low populations or over-fishing or something, so maybe we couldn’t have anyway. And there’s always next year, I suppose. We didn’t go whale-watching, go into the Chihuly glass garden at Seattle Center, or even ride a ferry yet either – all in due time, I suppose.

    I’ve been watching a lot of football this season, more than I have in years. There’s something about going to the bar to watch the games that I really enjoy. I guess part of it is that when I’m watching football at home, I’m always thinking about all of the other things I could or should be doing besides just watching the game. Then there’s also the bar bonus that multiple games are playing on multiple screens all at the same time, which keeps the down time to a minimum. And there’s something about watching as a part of a larger group that makes it more fun, too.

    The disadvantage, of course, is that we can’t hear the games. I find that to be a big bummer – I like the commentary, that’s how I learn about football and how I understand what’s going on. The bar we go to usually plays one game over the speakers, and it’s never the Rams game. When we lived in Portland we used to go to this wonderful bar called Damon’s. They had four big-screen tvs all side by side, and each table had a sound box on it with four channels. You could switch back and forth between the channels and adjust the volume at your table, so you could hear whichever game you were watching. I loved that place. Unfortunately, the closest Damon’s is in Denver. The only other place I’ve ever seen with the table speakers is Smokey Bones, but they don’t go any further west than Illinois.

    [apparently, I wrote this and never finished or published, so I'll publish it today - in February, ironically, where I'm still enjoying the weather.] 

  • Life

    Posted on November 12th, 2013

    Written by

    So far behind, I might be ahead

    So lately I’ve undertaken to get back in touch with some old friends. I lost touch with many of my college friends when I started practicing law and basically drowned myself, first in work and then in an impenetrable funk. I can acknowledge now that it was actually severe depression and I was barely functional for a while. I decided to write about this tonight for two reasons:

    First, I decided about four weeks ago that I was going to reach out to one old friend a week, whether “reach out” meant accepting a friend request I’d long been ignoring on Facebook, or writing an email, or whatever. I’m about three weeks behind on that goal but, in my defense, that first one was a real doozy. See, one of the funny things about depression is that it’s a pretty self-absorbed state of despair. I knew that people wanted to reach me and were feeling hurt and neglected by my neglect, but it never in a million years occurred to me that someone might want to reach out to me because they could use my support. In my tortured mind, everyone else was successful, happy, well-adjusted – only I was sunk in the pit of despair. Me, me, me. To be fair, I’m not sure how much help I would have been – I haven’t had much to give these last few years, and what I had was directed into some pretty needful spaces that were of the highest priority; I had to live off the rest of whatever I could spare. But you never know; and the mere fact of it just gives me one more reason to be angry with myself – while I was wallowing in self-pity and guilt, thinking that my friends would never understand – I mean, how fucking hard would it be to pick up the phone and just explain that you’re feeling sad, Jennifer?! Why are you such a drama queen?!¬†- there they were having problems of their own. Is that irony?

    Second, though, I was reading Dear Carolyn this morning as I always do, catching up on her columns since last week, and one was about what to do when a friend “dumps” you. This passage leaped out at me:

    For what it’s worth, when someone is too depressed to write even a measly, “I’ll be back in touch when I get my head above water” email — which a lot of depressed people genuinely are — then an after-the-fact delivery of same wouldn’t give me those two years back, but I hope I’d at least understand.

    God, me too. And what a validating thing to read – I’m not the only one who was ever too depressed to write even a measly “Catcha later” email. She says a lot of people are.

    And if the first effort is anything to judge by, everything is going to be just fine. It will be nice to have my friends back again. I’ve really missed them.

  • Culture

    Posted on October 2nd, 2013

    Written by

    British Humour

    I think we all agree that British insults are much funnier than American insults, but I posit that it isn’t at all because the British are a funnier people. Rather, it’s an American lack of familiarity with British phrases such as “shouting like a pork chop” or words like “wanker” that makes them so funny.

    As further illustration of my point, I must note here that “wanker” is in fact less funny every time I hear it because it’s one of those words that too many Americans have adopted and overused. This is especially true of the kind of American who fancies that they sound wittier or smarter when using British words like “wanker” or “fancy” when what they actually mean is “dickhead” or “mistakenly believe.”

  • Blogging, Life, Seattle

    Posted on September 23rd, 2013

    Written by

    Housekeeping Items

    I’m so sorry to everyone who has posted comments since I moved to Seattle (and promised to blog more often, ha ha). I have been totally ignoring my blog email. I haven’t exactly been busy, in the sense that I have no time to do things, but I’ve been busy in the sense of being totally overwhelmed. People who went to law school with me understand what I mean, I think. I’ve been so overtaxed with all the changes (and a little bit of family drama back in St. Louis) that by the time I get home at night, I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. The thought of producing anything substantive just seems beyond me. There are nights – an entire week of weeknights, sometimes – that I don’t even turn on my computer. That’s huge, as those of you who know me realize.

    With all that said, nothing is bad about my life. Seattle is gorgeous. The weather has been exceptional and I’ve reveled in the beautiful 70- and 80-degree days (and, more importantly, the 55-degree nights) throughout August. We’ve kept up exploring the region. For Labor Day weekend, we headed down to Mt. Rainier and then over to the Yakima Valley to absorb a little sunshine before the rainy winter sets in. This past weekend we explored Seattle neighborhoods via thrift stores – starting at the big Salvation Army downtown, where we found the “get” of the day – a 3′ x 3′ print by one of my sister’s favorite artists, in a custom UV-protected frame and mat combo. It will look lovely on the living room wall, just what we need to finish things off in there. We also found two designer handbags, one an apple-green Kate Spade bag that I adore, and various books, artwork, and odds & ends.

    What else? Looking forward very much to the end of my work probationary period – six months, the longest I’ve ever heard of; it is over (let us hope) October 1 and then I will be officially official. Looking forward to Columbus Day weekend, when the girls will visit for four days, which seems like really far too short a time. Looking forward to some friends visiting, if we can ever get visits scheduled. Looking forward to going clamming sometime in October, and to winter hikes in the forests of the peninsula, under the tall, old growth trees that mostly keep the rain from the forest floor. Looking forward to finding a good time to take a long weekend in Portland and hopefully catch up with some old friends, even if it has to wait until springtime before I can accrue enough days off. Looking forward to getting fenders on my bike so I can ride without my ass getting wet.

    Mostly, though, I’m just looking forward to life, going around and around through the cycle of days but enjoying that feeling that says, This is just where I’m supposed to be.

  • Culture, Life

    Posted on August 5th, 2013

    Written by

    Geek Girl Problems

    You know, there has been a lot going on – sort of a building consensus – in my corner of the internet about geek girl discrimination, harassment, etc. (if you follow John Scalzi you’ve probably heard all the same stories and rebuttals that I have) and especially in the wake of ComicCon, there’s been a lot of talk about how tough ladies have it in the geek world, where it seems that the patriarchal bullshit and sexism seems to be a more concentrated version than in the real world (or at least it pisses us off more, because you’d think that guys who grew up getting picked on would have some sympathy for girls getting picked on).

    This post has nothing to do with any of that.

    Not to minimize any of the above, but I think enough pixels have been spilled on that issue to talk it to death. There isn’t anything that anyone can say that hasn’t already been said, usually better, by someone with an order of magnitude more followers. No, I want to focus on something that Jeff Green brought up today: Griefing. I really think griefing experiences is one of the single biggest problems in gaming culture, and is probably what turns most people away from multiplayer games after a certain amount of experience.

    Jeff, if you don’t know him, is a video game journalist who now works for PopCap. I first became aware of him through the epic World of Warcraft podcast “Legendary Thread.” (Seriously, if you’re a gaming fan and you want a trip down memory lane, listen to some of the old Legendary Thread or GFW Radio podcasts. They are incredibly entertaining and will make you want to play the games they discuss. If you want the current version, check out Geekbox.) He is older than the average gamer, which I point out only because he is neither (1) a thoughtless young jerk, (2) in college, and therefore blessed with loads of time in which to play video games, nor (3) unemployed (and therefore blessed with loads of time…). He’s a dude with a family and a job and obligations, in other words, who likes to play video games. Casually. And has a whole lot of know-how and experience playing games.

    And he wants to play League of Legends, but he’s put off by the gaming community. Jeff, who wrote about not being good at team sports when he was a kid, related a sour incident he experienced during the last Warcraft expansion:

    In [MMOs], I could hold my own much better. I could also either play by myself or with friends, where the pressure was minor at best. Even if I played on [player vs. player] servers, in the end it boiled down to one-on-one situations, where, again, I didn’t feel beholden to other players, and thus did far better. Late in my [World of Warcraft] career, however, I had one experience with random players that has stuck with me ever since. I was playing my level 80 dwarf warlock, Eggbertt, a character I was quite proficient at. I was level 80. I’d invested hundreds of hours into the guy. I’d sacrificed a good deal of my life, ambition, and self-respect to build this guy up. Blizzard had rolled out the dungeon finder, which grouped random folks together looking to complete the same dungeon. Most of the time, this was awesome, and eliminated the need for begging.

    One night, however, I found myself randomly grouped with Serious Players. Equipment checks were being carried out before we began…And within 2 minutes, the “leader” was yelling at me. “WTF EGGBERTT MORE DPS!” “DO U FUCKIN NO HOW TO PLAY?” And so on. I assured him that I did in fact know how to play and that he could calm down because honestly it was just a videogame and not worth the aneurism and, plus, we were just starting. I’d get my game on in due time. Except my time was already up. By the time we’d hit the next group of trash mobs, I suddenly, without warning, found myself warped back outside of the dungeon. I’d been kicked. He’d taken a quick vote with the rest of the team, and they agreed that I was out. And I honestly was infuriated. It was an outrage. I felt wrongly accused. I knew how to play this game! But, that was that, and due to the anonymity of the thing and the millions of players, I knew I’d never find them again to plead my case. But what stuck with me was how serious these players were. How there was no tolerance for error. How the slightest perception of weakness was enough to get booted.

    (Emphasis mine.) I have experienced the same thing, many times. It’s irritating to experience it in a group of people you don’t know, but at least it’s a little more expected when you’re randomly grouping. It’s really almost shocking to experience it in your own group. I used to lead WoW raids back in Wrath of the Lich King, and (if I may say) we had some pretty good 25-man raids, but we only had about 18-20 good reliable players. So every week we filled in with random people. One week we were on the second-to-last boss of the current dungeon, doing fairly well but we were still having to go two or three times to defeat this guy (and so was everyone else at this point in the game, except the very top groups). And a guy we had invited into our raid just blew up and started saying terrible things to and about me over our audio channel. It was disturbing. Everyone immediately stood up for me, told him to not be a jerk, etc. which was nice, but this guy was so vicious I was really shaken. We kicked him out of the group, but we couldn’t kick him off the audio server because the admin wasn’t online with us at the moment. So we all had to log off and wait for him to go away, because he kept coming back in and saying mean things about me. I hadn’t done anything terrible, just made one little mistake but I wasn’t the only one – and one mistake, even if you’re a healer, in a group of 25 isn’t usually going to doom the group. But for whatever reason it set this guy off and he was going to make me sorry. And he immediately went from game skills to gender-based insults, so there was that misogyny component to make him even more repulsive.

    Now I play League of Legends once a week with a group of twenty-something guys I met when we all played WoW. We gather via Skype on Thursday nights and play for a few hours, and it’s fun. These guys all play better than me because they’ve been playing a lot longer; they have two accounts – one for their “real” characters and one “smurf” account that they use to play with me, lower-level characters so we don’t get stuck in games against high-level players that I can’t handle yet. They are patient and kind and are teaching me the overall game strategy and also how to play the different champions you can choose from. But there’s only five of them total, and most weeks only two or three show up so we can’t make a full five-man team. Inevitably there is at least one game per session where we are matched up with a random player; and inevitably this player will start belittling or berating me during the game if I make a stupid mistake. No amount of amazing skills before or after make up for it; as Jeff wrote, there is no tolerance for error from these (inevitably) guys. And they have no understanding that all of their nasty comments just serve to make me angry, and self-conscious, and if anything affect my play negatively. In other words, all the bitching and trolling doesn’t help. It is the opposite of helpful. Yet it’s as sure as the sunrise.

    As I commented over on Greenspeak, I don’t think it has anything to do with my gender. My account name is a female name, but in gaming that doesn’t mean anything – men play female characters all the time. (Though, if I could go back and do it over again, I would have picked a gender-neutral name because why borrow trouble?) The comments aren’t gender-based, they’re not even specific enough to be considered constructive criticism. They’re just things like “Ashe, you suck, why are you even playing?” “Ashe is feeding.” etc. (Ashe is a champion’s name, not my account name.)

    Here’s Jeff again:

    And while I blew it off and jumped right back in, because, really, who gives a shit, this is the stuff I try to avoid online. Playing with players who are more intent on winning than anything else – like being civil or tolerant of others – is of no appeal to me. None. Because once you’re yelling at people online and getting a busted vein in your forehead because someone isn’t tanking correctly, you are beginning to miss the whole point of this entire pastime. (Unless you are a pro, which is another story entirely.)

    It is a real shame that “the gaming community” has earned this reputation, because it keeps people from trying games they would like, and it keeps people who try from liking games they could (eventually) become really good at. I know that there are nights that I am so pissed off by the time we finish playing that I don’t want to play anymore, EVER. Pissed not just at the other players for being mean, but also truly mad at myself for not being better – yes, I’m internalizing the abuse. As Jeff says, who really gives a shit? But being in a toxic environment can be, well, toxic. And it’s something to watch for and minimize, but I just don’t see how I can totally avoid it unless I give up multiplayer gaming altogether.

    That ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

    Maybe the answer is to create a “geezer mode” in games, where you have to prove that you’re over a certain age and employed in order to play (maybe the game imposes a time limit – five hours per week per IP address – to ensure that even people with full-time jobs can compete). But I’m sure the assholes will find a way to infiltrate anyway because there are truly a lot of bored people out there who just want to fuck things up for the rest of us. The answer is to find a group of friends who liked to game together, and try new games as a group. Befriend the people who play well with you and invite them back. And ignore the shitheads.

  • Culture, Seattle

    Posted on July 8th, 2013

    Written by

    Physics and Willie Nelson

    My first exposure to the idea of reincarnation – or, really, the concept of the first law of thermodynamics, if you think about it – was from The Highwaymen. The Highwaymen, if you don’t recall, was a country music supergroup formed by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. The title song is about a soul who lives and dies at various points in history; each man sings a verse and the song ends with Johnny Cash singing about a future life of that soul, flying a starship across the universe and looking for a place to finally lay his spirit to rest after its many adventures. Looking back on the song and the lives of the singers, two of whom have since left the world (in their present form, anyway?) it’s a poignant, melancholy but somehow hopeful summation of the human condition: Violent, short, and brutish, perhaps, but not without a chance of redemption and happiness.

    I’m thinking about all this because my first memories of The Highwaymen, I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, riding in the back of our fancy Jeep Wagoneer, heading up to Baker Lake for one of those mystically perfect childhood weekends. There were a lot of great things about that Jeep, but from the perspective of a restless kid, the best two were that it had a big cargo area that my sister and I could both fit into, laying down, with a fabric cover that could be pulled over it to keep out the sun; and the cargo area had a speaker on each side so we could hear whatever was playing on the tape deck. These were the days before mandatory seat belt laws, and nobody would have batted an eye about our traveling that way. Nowadays you can’t put a kid in a car without the ten-point Hannibal Lecter restraint system or else you risk arrest. “Whatever” on the tape deck was always one of two things, at least in my memories: early 80s country music – Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Alabama, and most of all Willie Nelson (his “Stardust” album) – or Hooked on Classics, those cheesy tapes of classical music conducted at an uptempo pace and set to, for the love of God, a drum machine. (I loved them. Let’s be honest: I still love them.)

    I say my childhood weekends were “mystically perfect” because throughout my teen years, early adulthood, and all of my adult life I have looked back on those idyllic times with disbelief. There’s no way things were as nice as I remembered them. We lived on Whidbey Island, Washington, for four short years, but those years apparently were all it took to shape my entire outlook on the world. Namely, the weather should always be mild, with rainy winters and sunny, comfortable summertimes; everything should be vibrantly green all the time outside, moist and earthy and impossibly fresh with an almost obscene abundance of fresh foods and seafood; there should be an ocean nearby; any place I want to go I should be able to get to on my bike; and weekends should be spent roaming the woods on a mountain, fishing and swimming in a glacier-fed lake, and sleeping in a musty-smelling camper with the roar of a mountain river passing by not 100 yards away. There were trips to the campground’s general store to get Jolly Ranchers for a dime, and these were the days when Jolly Ranchers came in big, flat sticks that would grow incredibly sharp – sharp enough to cut! – as they were sucked away. There were games of badminton on the sunny grass next to the store, with the campground’s two fat pet bunnies – a black one and a white one – hopping blithely hither and yon. There was watching my dad play Ms. Pac Man on the machine in the store, thwarting all challengers by racking up the unbeatable high score – and then playing again, getting an even higher score, just because he could. There was waterskiing on the lake, or rather, watching everyone else water ski – I never got the knack. And there was Sunday morning french toast in the campground cafe before loading up and heading back home for another week.

    As a complete aside, I remember that time with almost nothing but fondness with one exception: It seems like every single night we slept in the camper, though surely it couldn’t have been, I would wake in the dark and have a brief, terrible struggle with panic. Our bunk beds in the camper had a little shelf at the head of each, and I kept a flashlight on the shelf. Each bunk also had an overhead light with a switch on it – very handy, except that the generator for the campground was turned off at 10 every night, so there would be no power. I would wake in the night, totally disoriented by the pitch black and unable to tell even which way I was facing in the bed – I couldn’t tell my window curtain from the curtain that enclosed the bunk. I would grope for the overhead light and switch it off and on, in vain; then I would remember about the power and try to find the flashlight. I would scrabble along the walls and never could find that shelf in the dark. I couldn’t find my pillow. I would lay back down in the pitch dark, trying not to panic; and the next thing I would know I would be waking up with the early morning light filtering softly in through the window. I was always in the same place I had been when I went to sleep, and there sat my flashlight on the little shelf. I don’t know if I ever told anybody in my family about this, but I don’t think so. It was my silent sacrifice that I made gladly in exchange for the pleasures of my wilderness weekends.

    Anyway, as we were driving through the coastal mountains one recent weekend on the way to Westport and the beach – a 79 degree day, sand and surfers and people with their dogs; sunshine and wind and sea; in other words, pretty much perfect – and passing through the hills covered with evergreens, breathing the unbelievably fresh air of the wilderness, I finally came to the conclusion that my memories of childhood, and the perfection of this place, were perfectly clear. It was relocation to the Midwest that made me doubt my own recollections. Missouri heat and humidity, Missouri winters with brown grass and dead trees and bitter winds, Missouri woods with their stifling stillness and dangers – snakes, poison sumac, ticks – and Missouri subdivisions with street after street of houses with no green space, no street trees, and no place for kids to play or go on their bikes – all of that was what made me doubt my memories and chalk them up to just childhood nostalgia. For surely if this place existed as it did in my memories, more people would know about it.

  • How Google Has Made the Internet a Little Worse

    Friends, Romans, Countrymen – lend me your ears. I come not to praise Google, but to bury Google Reader. And heap scorn upon Google for pulling the plug.

    To be clear right up front – this is not a post complaining about how I want more free ice cream, but I want strawberry instead of chocolate. I, like many others, would happily pay for the application I want. I was never given the opportunity to do so.

    You kids these days with your social media and your hangouts and your Facebook chat rooms – hello, AOL circa 1993? – maybe you don’t care about keeping up with a carefully curated list of your favorite sources. Maybe the information age really has rendered us all a bunch of ADD no-attention-span-having viral monkeys who live solely to pass on other people’s “content” – usually without much substance – instead of processing information and producing reactions or even *gasp* original reporting. But back in my day, at the dawn of the age of blogging,* we had this thing called a blogroll. It was a little list that lived on the sidebar of most blogs, and it contained links to the blogs and sites that person found indispensable. My blogroll was my first morning destination: I would click down the list and see what anyone had posted since the last time I visited their site.

    The only problem with the blogroll was that it was public. Similar to the sensitive issue of Facebook friends (who you should friend, who you can block or hide), the blogroll inadvertently brought social pressures. The idea was nice: A list of the blogs I read the most, or even just the blogs I love enough to recommend. But then politics entered the picture. If a blog linked to me, should I add them to my blogroll even if I didn’t really read them? Should I link my friend’s/cousin’s/mother-in-law’s blog about quilting, even though my blog is primarily about politics and my readers don’t care about quilts? You can see the issues.

    Enter RSS readers and the day was saved. See, with a reader, I could grab the posts from the blogs I read all the time and have them all in one place. Best of all, nobody but me got to see which blogs I included and which were left out in the cold. With Reader, I could categorize them into topics. I could tag individual posts so I could remember why I wanted to save them (and come back to write about them later). I could spot trends and capture a large number of links to write a comprehensive post about topics I saw as related, thereby offering some unique content to the internet.

    People are telling me to get over it and get on Feedly. You people are barking mad if you think Feedly replicates or even replaces what Google Reader did. I don’t want something that doesn’t let me control my experience. If I want someone else’s recommendations, I would (A) subscribe to their blog, (B) follow them on Twitter, (C) friend them on Facebook, (D) Talk to them IRL, or (E) all of the above. If I want to get lost in random sources, I have a Google News page with a staggering variety of topics I can glance through. I can go to the NY Times, or Slate, or the Post-Dispatch, or any number of prominent sites and see what’s being promoted, what’s popular, what other users are sharing. There is a staggering number of ways I can view what’s out there on the internet.

    Ezra Klein isn’t sad about the demise of Reader because he says Reader turned his internet intake into an echo chamber. Not to be rude, but that’s entirely due to his own shortcomings. First of all, I doubt he gets all of his input from Reader and if he did, he’s doing the internet wrong. Second, even if he relies on other inputs, he didn’t put a big enough variety of sources into his subscriptions. Again, his failure, not Reader’s. Personally, I want a way to systematically access what my favorite content-producers put out there. I want to do it without having to go to their site and look for it – not everybody posts every day. And I want to be able to read it in a text-only mobile-friendly format that too many modern websites STILL do not offer. I want to be able to save things for later, tag them and file them according to my own organizing scheme. I want to be able to access it from any computer and my phone. And I don’t want the application deciding how long I should be able to keep the links to posts I’ve saved. (That leaves out The Old Reader, right there.) I can still get variety, but I want – I need – that little curated space that is all my own.

    I don’t consider myself a “super user” but maybe I am, and that’s my problem. Clearly I’m in the minority of ¬†internet users out there if I’m one of the few crying about Reader’s demise. What I’m asking for is control: I choose the content inputs, I choose how and when I read them, I choose when to send them away, I choose how to store and organize them, and I’m allowed to make notes on the things I think are interesting so that I can easily search for and revisit issues later. And I don’t want anyone else to know what I’m squirreling away or how I’m categorizing it. Pinterest recently had to cave and allow people to create private pinboards because – as hard as it is to believe in this era of ubiquitous government surveillance and compulsive over-sharing – some people actually want to have a space to organize their thoughts and indulge their reading habits in private.

    I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Google retired Reader because it wants to force me into Google Plus. I’m not buying. I’m not tying my public persona to my not-completely-formed thoughts. Do we or do we not believe that our presence online constitutes a sort of brand? My brand, my voice, whatever you want to call it, requires that I have time to think and process and research and make connections. If everything I save or sort becomes immediately public, the result is that I will only save and sort are the things on which I am already an expert, things that require no reflection (like ha ha, look at this funny picture of a cat!), or things I have already meticulously researched and cross-referenced (but how, without the tool to do that?).

    In other words, by retiring Reader, Google is making the internet worse: More knee-jerk, more reactive, less reflective; more “sharing” of viral content and less supportive of actually creating anything of value.

    I couldn’t be more disappointed. I have relied on my method of making sense of the world, and creating my substantive content (what little I have actually created lately, but that’s another issue) for so long that I’m not sure how to change.
    And so I mourn Reader, not because I have lost a free service but because I have literally lost one of the most important tools I use for thinking and for communicating those thoughts to the world.

    RIP, Google Reader.

    If you have any suggestions for a news reader or some other kind of application that would do the kinds of things I’m talking about – even if it’s just one half (managing my source subscriptions) or the other (managing the content I want to save with notes and organization), let me know. I’ve tried Evernote, by the way, but didn’t like the interface as much. Now that Reader is gone I might give it another go.

    *Seriously, been blogging for more years than most of you knew how to say blog. When I started law blogging, there were less than a dozen law blogs out there.

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