Category Archives: General


Jake had an archery tournament today, at Potomac Grade School, in…wait for it…Potomac, Illinois.

Potomac is (more or less) twenty miles east of Rantoul on US 136: just east of Armstrong, where Jake had a tournament last year (and, if memory serves, the year before). It’s a small town – population 681, according to the hive mind – with not much of a downtown area, but with a surprisingly large cemetery.

It’s across the street from the school, which seems an odd location for such a thing.

The lettering on the front of the building was in the same Art Deco font as the (much-photographed) power plant in Austin, Texas. I have pictures of the plant, so I took a few of the school & posted one to Flickr. (Art Deco needs to be encouraged, everywhere it’s found.)

The facilities were a bit limited, compared to previous tournaments: archers shot only from ten meters, because the school gymnasium wasn’t wide enough to shoot from fifteen.

It’s interesting, watching a new sport get off the ground. New schools come online, new tournaments are scheduled. In a few years, everything will sort itself out.

Jake shot well, or so I’m told; I haven’t seen the scores. The next tournament isn’t until February.


I said a while ago that I would cancel my Flickr Pro subscription, and go with a free account. I haven’t done that yet. I dither. I procrastinate.


Flickr’s been a disappointment for years. Keeping it is just foolish. Paying for it is inexplicable.

The worst thing about Flickr is that I don’t know anyone there. I have a few Flickr friends, but most of them have long since abandoned Flickr – for Facebook, for Instagram, or just for life out in the real world.

I still post pictures to Flickr – I’m fourteen days into the picture-every-day project; it’s going well; thanks for asking! – but it’s hard to shake the feeling of futility that comes from seeing single-digit view counts on every one. As often as not, that single digit is…zero.

The question Why do I bother? comes to mind, as does Adept Havelock’s trenchant observation, “Ballocks! I’m wasting my time.”

Perhaps I should switch to Instagram. Or just not post at all.


I went for a walk this afternoon: five and a third miles, on uncleared streets & sidewalks, through freezing rain.

Crossing the big parking lot on the northeast corner of Church & Country Fair, I noticed some trash on the pavement: an empty cellophane packet, with a grocery-store logo and the label Poppy Seeds. Nearby on the ground: a second poppy-seed packet. And a third. And two plastic bottles, also poppy seeds.

It’s hard to imagine any culinary use for so much of a (relatively) obscure spice (especially in the middle of a parking lot). I interpreted it as a desperate attempt at recreational chemistry, one that surely ended in failure. According to Wikipedia, poppy seeds “do not contain significant amounts of opiates”.

On my walks around town, I see quite a bit of trash. People are slobs, but sometimes I almost feel sorry for them: any fella whose trash includes an empty liquor bottle and a condom wrapper probably isn’t leading the sort of life his Mama had wished for him; but when he leaves them on an exposed stretch of sidewalk…?

(Or are the litterbugs women? That would be even worse….)

Plans for 2015

With 2014 winding down, I’m starting to think of projects to undertake in the new year.

I always have a project or two in the works. I rarely mention them to anyone, through innate (and/or overdeveloped) reticence or just to avoid explanations when I give up on one of them. But this time – I have the notion to announce my projects, to publish a list & post updates throughout the year.

So, the 2015 projects:

Take a picture every day.

I tried this once before, but gave up after only a few months. I never could remember to get out the camera – i.e., the phone – during the day, when I was out in the world; and posting a year’s worth of netbook webcam shots just seemed pointless.

But now I have a better camera – aka, the iPhone 5 – and believe I’m a bit more mindful of it than I used to be. So I think I can manage a full series of 365 photos in 2015. (Using YardCam stills – taken automatically, every five minutes, dawn to dusk – would be cheating, but I’m sure a few will creep in from time to time. Don’t judge me.)

I might also have theme days within the photo project: Saturdays are for pictures of Jake and/or Sam, Mondays are for out-in-the-world pictures, that sort of thing.

Write more.

I enjoy writing. I wish I were better at it.

I want to be one of those keen-eyed observers of the human condition, dispensing wit & wisdom through the medium of WordPress.

Alas, that’s not who I am. But I could improve my writing, with a little effort & practice. (More honestly: considerable effort & practice. Or prodigious. Or more time & energy than one person could possibly hope to muster, absent illegal chemical stimulants.)

Finish the YardCam.

Finish? What does that mean? There’s no finish line for this project, no list of required features, no customers waiting with checkbooks open & pens in hand. It’s just an excuse to collect some data, write some code & learn some new things.

The YardCam will never be finished. But It would be nice if it were a little less unfinished.

Replace Flickr.

I’ve had a Flickr account for most of a decade. I still upload the occasional photo, when I remember, but mostly it’s dormant. Flickr itself is mostly dormant, slowly sinking into the trackless swamp that is Yahoo.

I don’t believe that Flickr has a future. (I don’t believe that Yahoo has a future. Its continued existence is deeply perplexing to me.) I’ve toyed with alternatives – SmugMug, Instagram – but it seems that Flickr is like democracy: the worst possible choice, except for all the others.

For 2015, I am resolved to stop paying for Flickr. It’s not worth $25/year. I’ll keep my account – as an “ad-supported” free account – but only until I can find a better place to keep my pictures.

Replace NewsBlur.

I used Google Reader, until Google lost interest; then I switched to NewsBlur. I use it, but I don’t like it very much. Its UI is wonky, its social-networking features just get me into futile arguments with strangers, and its global-shared-stories list has some serious data-hygiene problems.

It’s not worth $25/year, but the free version is too restricted to be useful. I must find a replacement. Feedly looked nice, but costs even more than NewsBlur. The search goes on.

Replace Pinboard.

For years, I failed to understand that services like Delicious (where I started) and Pinboard (where I am now) aren’t replacements for the in-browser bookmarks list; nor even some kind of browser- / platform-independent bookmark synchronization service; no, they’re specialized blogging tools.

The bookmarks I use – the sites I visit daily – belong in the browser (where synchronization across devices has matured sufficiently as to be invisible; it just works, and I don’t have to think about it).

That’s how I want to use Pinboard in the new year: as a linkblog, currently-reading list, etc. Or I might abandon Pinboard for some other service. (Candidates? I have none. I haven’t even begun looking.)

Replace WordPress.

I’ve been using WordPress since (at least) 2009, but never have liked it all that much. It’s a vast, sprawling, all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-to-all-people, Publishing Platform.

It has six or eight kitchen sinks, built right in. I don’t need even one.

I want something simpler. On the admin side, something focused on writing, and less concerned with customization, themes, site analytics, media libraries, etc., etc.

I may want to post images here, from time to time, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep them here.

I tried Ghost a few times, on the late, un-lamented (which is gone; don’t waste your time looking for it, ok?). It has potential, but the thought of migrating 5,966 posts (not counting this one) from WordPress to Ghost just makes me tired.

Maybe there’s some automated way to do that…? Is there an html-to-Markdown converter?


January 1st is a completely arbitrary line to draw across the calendar. (For most of history, it wasn’t even the start of the new year – that happened in mid-March.) No day is any more apt than another for undertaking new projects – or any less.

Still, there’s an irrational appeal to starting fresh on 1/1. Perhaps the 2015 projects – all of them – will pick up a bit of a boost from that. We’ll see.


When I was a teenager – in the waning years of the Carter Administration – I made a habit of wandering the streets of Buffalo Grove, late at night.

Some of these nocturnal perambulations were work-related, walking home after a closing shift at Burger King. Most of the time, though, it was just boredom & a reluctance to find something more sensible to do with my time.

I played Space Invaders at the 7-Eleven. I sat here & there along Dundee Road, munching M&Ms and watching the cars go by. For a brief but deeply surreal time, a friend & I hunted rats in the dumpsters behind the Eagle store at Dundee & Arlington Heights Road.

My friend – a fellow named John A. – was convinced that Eagle would pay a bounty on every rat killed. As we never actually caught any, we were unable to test this theory. (John was known at the time for certain…deficiencies in impulse control, and for incipient alcoholism. One hopes the years have matured him, or at least mellowed him somewhat.)

Buffalo Grove had a curfew – teenagers were required to be off the streets by 10:00pm – and the BGPD enforced this curfew with great enthusiasm. Three or four times that year, they came after me.

Those encounters didn’t do much for my opinion of the police. They were possessed of an unassailable moral certitude, and profoundly suspicious of anyone without a badge. The possibility that I might be innocent of wrongdoing or criminal intent never even occurred to them. Being a teenager was prima facie evidence of guilt – the only question to be answered was, Guilty of what?

“Why did you hide behind the building when you saw me?”

“I didn’t see you.”

“Then why did you hide?”

“I wasn’t hiding.”

“Then why were you behind the building?”

…etc., etc., blah blah blah. Nothing but an immediate, detailed confession would have sufficed.

And yet – in all my dealings with Officer Unfriendly, I never felt that my life was in danger. I never faced the noisy end of a service revolver, and never expected to.

Perhaps that was so-called “white privilege” at work. It’s impossible to say, without peering into the hearts of people from long ago & far away. But those who do not survive their encounters with law enforcement seem always to have been not less innocent than my sixteen-year-old self, but merely less white.

On mid-life crises

The mid-life crisis: when a middle-aged man abandons the dignity & gravitas of his years, and attempts to restore his lost youth with a toupee, a sports car & a twentysomething second wife – of whom, silicone enhancements are traditional but not mandatory.

Me? I have none of those things, so perhaps I have skipped the midlife crisis & gone straight to the bitter old man phase of my life. On the other hand, I never had much dignity & gravitas to abandon. Perhaps I was ineligible.

I read once that the true cause of a man’s mid-life crisis is when he realizes that his wife is getting older – because the typical man is far too simple-minded & lacking in introspection to notice that he himself is aging.

I have an alternate theory.

At first – childhood, early adulthood – the future is endless and without shadow. Tomorrow will come, and it will be better than today. Then, one day, the realization dawns that one has more past than future. There’s a sense that somewhere, an unseen clock is ticking down to zero. And then? The rest is silence.

That awareness brings with it some new questions, to mull over in the quiet hours between midnight and dawn. Questions like, What have I accomplished? Or, What will I leave behind?

Sometimes, the answer comes back, Not much.

My opportunity to change the world – if I ever had one – passed thirty years ago. I’m at peace with that. I’m happy with the life I have, and harbor no secret regrets over the lives I might have had. But I can understand how other men might feel differently, and long for a do-over.

What baffles me, though, is how any man could persuade himself that this time will be different, that the voodoo spell will work for him even though it’s failed every other man in the world who’s tried it. (I am blind to my own self-deceptions, which makes me all the more eagle-eyed in discerning others’.)

Perhaps the error is in one’s expectations. We each change the world, simply by existing; but it’s impossible to say how. That’s why characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey stay with us – they get to find out.

I wish I could

There are things I can’t do, that I wish I could:


I’m fascinated by the speech of people from other parts of the U.S. – from other parts of the world. My own voice sounds harsh and unmusical by comparison. (Not to mention nasal. My nose is enormous.)

I wish I were better with accents. If I could manage a convincing Irish accent, that would be awesome. Or Scottish. (Scotch?) Canadian. Anything but the boring Midwest Neutral I’ve got.


There are people who remember everything. Pick a day, any day in the last ten or twenty years, and they will remember: where they were, what they were wearing, what they ate for breakfast, what the weather was like, who they spoke with – everything.

It’s as if they have a movie screen in their heads, and can rewind to any day they like & watch it again.

In pop-science neurology articles, this is presented as a burden, almost as a disease in need of a cure. But I wish I had it.

testing testing

This is a test of Byword’s publish-to-WordPress feature (which better work, otherwise I’m out $5).

Did it work?

Some formatting:



  • List element
  • Another list element
  • Last list element


…and a paragraph following the header.

The internet is awesome…sort of.

The nice folks who are Pomplamoose released a new video recently: The Internet is Awesome. It’s a happy bouncy meditation on life in the internet age, full of ain’t-this-cool and the occasional electric wah-wah.

One line stood out:

Before the internet, ordinary people could only publish their ideas and creations if they went through a gatekeeper.

When I heard that, I thought: The gatekeepers are still there.

The gatekeepers used to be publishing houses & record companies. The barrier to overcome was in convincing the faceless megacorp that your content would make money for it. Whether it would make any money for you was a secondary consideration.

Now the gatekeepers are internet providers & social-networking sites. The barriers to be overcome are more subtle, but just as high: if your content violates the gatekeepers’ terms of service, they’ll delete it. The real criterion – obfuscated by long, unread, unreadable legal documents with occasional runs of UNNECESSARY CAPITALIZATION – is whether your presence on the faceless megacorp’s network will make money for it. If the answer is No, it will find an excuse to get rid of you.

I’m too old & cynical to see the internet as some kind of libertarian paradise.

Shop. Spend. Obey.

Here we are, the day after Thanksgiving – the day when we’re all expected to queue up at 4am outside Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target & all the other big-box megacorp stores, for a slim chance at paying slightly less for the same junk that’s on the shelves year-round.

That is, those of us who weren’t already queued up at midnight, or 6pm on Thanksgiving day.

It’s unsurprising that the big-box stores are trying to erase Thanksgiving in favor of an ever-longer Christmas shopping frenzy, and a Black Friday that lasts the entire month of November. That’s just sociopathic capitalism at work.

The real surprise is that Thanksgiving has survived the onslaught. With no corporate sponsors of its own – not even grocery stores, which ought to be enthusiastic supporters of a holiday that features a big meal – it should have faded away years ago. But it’s still here.

We Americans have destroyed most of our holidays. They’re still on the calendar, but they no longer mean anything beyond a day or two off from work (for most of us) and an excuse to go shopping. It’s a hopeful sign that we’re still keeping Thanksgiving in pretty much its original form.