Time Traveling

I get easily disoriented, which I’m thinking is a result of working from home for all these years (and it being the same home, ditto the years).I love traveling, and (aside from a little packing anxiety) it’s usually fun and actually invigorating. It just takes me a few days to reset my daily schedule once I get back home, which I imagine happens to a lot of us.

I’m just saying that I’ve been traveling a lot in the past month, and I feel a little off balance. A routine spring trip to see my daughter and grandson in Austin was followed by the news that my mother was having some health issues, so I hopped back on a plane to spend some time with her, helping out as I could while she recovers.

Here I am, then. I stepped back into a busy schedule and haven’t really had a chance to catch my breath, which doesn’t help the acclimation process. Nor does my personal climate change, whipping back and forth between warm temperatures and plenty of sun to what we have here in the Northwest. Which is basically a Northwest weather caricature of rain and clouds, nothing momentous but GOOD GRIEF. Our normal rainfall in May is 1.97 inches total; Tuesday the area got 1.9 inches. We’ve moved way past having a healthy reservoir of water for the summer into stupid territory. Nobody needs this much wet.

So it throws me, as the sun we’re about to experience—for a longer stretch than we’ve seen since September, or maybe August—will also throw me.

My Arizona trip last week was pretty unremarkable, aside from sun. My mom needed rest, and she’s a blur on her slow days, always active and energetic, so my mission was to poise at the edge of my seat, looking for any hint that she was about to pop off the couch and do something dumb, something she didn’t need to do and wouldn’t enjoy considering her current shortness of breath. I cooked and cleaned a little, but mostly I hung out, playing visiting nurse.

I also walked the dog, and then just walked myself, taking advantage of the weather to soak up some vitamin D the organic way. And once again, I satisfied myself that even with my erratic exercise over the past couple of years, I show no signs of becoming deconditioned yet. I even ran a bit with this dog, not particularly fast but faster than a jog, for maybe a quarter-mile each time. Considering I was doing this at about 5000 feet above sea level, I have no complaints.

The most significant thing about this trip, though, has to be a new appreciation of my mom’s relentless search, in her retirement, through the wonderful world of genealogy. I’ve never been interested, my opinion being that exploring personal ancestry is an overblown exercise in vanity. I could document a direct line between my family and George Washington, and intellectually I’d still know it was meaningless. My great-great-great-grandfather and I share about as much genetic material as random strangers, or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe (even basic math shows a bit more than 3%; even if it were George, way back when, he’d add another couple of iterations and we’d be looking at less than 1%).

But, as I wrote this week,  my inner history nerd got a little interested when I rummaged through her work. My great-great-great-grandfather was Lewis Sigars, born in 1807 in New Jersey (I got this wrong in the column), and just having a name and a date gave me a reference point to the beginnings of my country. I surprised myself by my interest.

And yesterday I found this.


I posted it online, sort of pleased with myself, although the obvious connection with Nixon and our current executive branch wasn’t on my mind. I was mostly thinking about newspapers, once I found my stash from the 1970s and 80s. Connecting the dots, I realized that we’re soon going to lose a pretty dramatic memory tool. We’ve got new ones, and the lack of physical, dead-tree newspapers won’t mean, I think, any less information on the past. It’s just interesting to hold the yellow pages and remember.

I’ve also got the paper from 1980 when John Lennon was murdered, as well as the July 4, 1976 edition (and a few later ones, including from when the Soviet Union self-destructed and the Nisqually earthquake 16 years ago). I have no idea what to do with these or how to preserve them, but I bet I can find out.

That said, I can’t help but see the Watergate comparisons that are floating around these days. It seems logical, but history can fool you. And more importantly, I realize that I’m an eyewitness, having solid memories of that time and my fascination with what was going on. Toss in a lot of books on the subject, and I could give you a good sense of what went on. And why the historical parallels aren’t all that historic, or parallel for that matter.

In fact, the comparison of these two presidents, Nixon and Trump, does a disservice to both (but mostly Nixon). Two different men, two different eras, two very different situations. President Trump appears to be lurching from bad news to worse; Nixon had a big brain and had been in the politics game a long time. I don’t see it.

I do see what’s going on, though, and I know that my concern for our damaged civics is outweighed by my curiosity. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I can imagine all sorts of moves before the history can begin to be written. I’ll be watching, and at some point, if something actually historic happens, I’m going to save a newspaper, you betcha.

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Knowing What I Know

Anybody know what this is?

Or who this is? Maybe that’s easier. I honestly have no idea if it’s obvious or murky.

It’s just history. My history, anyway. This is a still from Two-Lane Blacktop, a 1971 film that popped up on this Top 250 Films list by Sight & Sound. I remember the film vaguely but I can place the night I saw it, a drive-in theater somewhere in a sketchy part of town, at least to a 14-year-old. I’m assuming I was 14 or so; I’m pretty sure one of the neighbor guys drove.

The three people in the picture are Warren Oates (foreground), Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, and James Taylor. I probably went because of James, seeing as Sweet Baby James was an album I wore some extra grooves in.

It was a good list, I think. There’s a quiz involved (of course) if you want, checking your personal viewing history against cinema historians. And let me stop you there.

I’m trying to imagine a person who doesn’t watch movies. I’m sure they’re out there, even limiting it to only those in the western world. I just can’t quite see it.

For the rest of us, though, we don’t need a list to know what we like. It’s more of a convenience and maybe inspiration. If you’ve never seen 8-1/2, Tokyo Story, or for that matter Two-Lane Blacktop, maybe you’ll see about checking them out. I was lucky, when I was a teenager and slightly older, to have time and access to a couple of nice repertory film houses, where I saw a lot of these movies just because.

I was just thinking about reactions I’ve seen in the past to things like this. There’s been a lot of ink spilled regarding our collective disinterest in expert opinions, although I think it goes deeper. I think there’s a distinct push-back in some quarters on opinion itself.

I’ve seen it personally, but of course. I offer my opinion up once a week. These days it’s not likely to be a controversial opinion, although you might be surprised. People object to all sorts of things.

It just surprises me that there’s so much hostility to opinion, and it’s been building for longer than you might think. People seem disinterested in disagreeing with an opinion on its merits or for whatever reason; they just want the opinionated person to shut up. That’s essentially the response. Shut up.

I was in the office of one of my newspapers six months ago, just after I’d received an email (also sent to the paper) taking me to task for suggesting that people who felt the election of Donald Trump freed them up to commit assault and battery or worse on people who didn’t resemble them, and particularly people who wore clothes or had skin color that suggested they didn’t spring from somewhere in Europe.

It was a bullshit response to my column, sort of a petulant, whiny email about broaching a subject that didn’t involve grandparenthood or my lawn. I told the writer that he should do himself a favor and stop reading, which didn’t help matters: He seemed insulted that I didn’t roll over, apologize for my insensitivity to whatever and promise never to do it again.

We talked about this in the office a little, this strange letter and my reaction to it, which is honest and pretty much always my reaction. I don’t care. I acknowledge, but I don’t care. I’m comfortable with having an opinion, with understanding that it’s by definition subjective and mine. I’m aware that people might disagree.

I just don’t know what it means anymore.

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The Grass Is Greener

I’m sure it’s fascinating for weather geeks and meteorologists to observe the Pacific Northwest. The mountains and water come together to produce unique weather.

It’s just sort of dull. Yesterday the entire region was waiting breathlessly for an aberration, a very unusual (for this time of year, but really any time) pattern of warm and unstable air, creating convection and some remarkable clouds, but leading to the inevitable, which is what everyone was all aflutter about.

This would be thunderstorms. Unusual up here for certain; it’s just not normally in the cards. We’re almost never muggy the way we were yesterday. It was a huge story, with Twitter going crazy and updates coming constantly.

For thunderstorms. A little lightning. It lasted about 10 minutes up here. Woohoo.

But speaking of which, we’re pretty soggy here. Saturated, really. The past nine months wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever experienced Seattle seasons that didn’t include August: Gray and wet, alert the media. It’s just the cumulative effect, though, of day after day without much in the way of a break We got wet and stayed wet.

This created a sense of lawn-mowing urgency, at least in me. I mean, since I’m wallowing in trivial matters here. Might as well indulge.

I can’t mow my lawn in the rain; no one should, but people do. I just have an electric lawnmower, which rules out wet, so it’s a constant dance of timing. I took advantage this week of some sun to get out there and mow it a couple of times, but I can’t relax yet. That grass is thick and lush, nice to see but totally useless to me and a pain to cut after a few days of growing.

My son would do it, but here’s where my father lives in me. I’m not willing to turn over my lawn to someone who’s never mowed it, as strange as that sounds, until it’s manageable. I know this yard like I know my own face in the mirror when I shave.

I’m going to Arizona soon, to see my mother and help out as she prepares to sell her house and move, and just to be a presence as she’s having some health issues at the moment. I always enjoying visiting and spending time with her, and I’m glad I can help. I just haven’t figured out how to get the grass to stop growing for a week. Suggestions welcome.

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Civil Discourse

A Facebook friend posted the other day about trying to watch Better Call Saul, the AMC prequel to Breaking Bad. He mentioned that he was trying, but found it pretty slow.

I started watching BB from the beginning, or maybe a couple of episodes in, so I’m pretty comfortable with the pace, the slow, Southwestern crawl under blue skies and stunning scenery. It feels normal, and I’m not sure if that’s just style or a reflection of New Mexico lifestyle; it just feels right to this Southwest émigré.

I watched the first season, 10 episodes, of Saul when it premiered, although it fell into the pit of downtime that we should be used to with cable and premium channel series. I like this format, the short seasons and the long wait for the next one, but sometimes outta sight, outta mind, y’know?

I’m all caught up on Saul now, and I’ve noticed something. There’s a fair amount of conversation in this series about civilians, just ordinary people who aren’t connected to a drug cartel or involved in any criminal activities. “Civilian” isn’t an unusual construct (I’m thinking it’s used in The Godfather, but I’m not interested in that particular rabbit hole at the moment), but it struck me as a great synonym. I want to use it more often.

I want to use civilian mostly because it helps tamp down my annoyance with people who aren’t interested in the same things I am. People who consistently misspell “you’re” or scatter stray apostrophes willy-nilly don’t jump out so much, and why should they? A lot of us grew up in a world where reading something meant that somebody wrote it, someone interested in making sure his or her point was taken and so took care (or someone took care) that it was grammatically correct and hopefully without much in the way of spelling errors.

Everyone writes these days, though, and labeling someone as illiterate or unschooled makes about as much sense as scanning their shopping lists for typos. It’s a different animal, and those folks who seem confused by contractions are just busy, I suspect, and casual about the whole thing. Civilians, in my words. Move on, people.

Same for politics. I listen to a Pod Save America, a political podcast by some former Obama people, young guys who came onboard in their 20s, and I noticed a while back that one of the guys is fond of saying, “D-trip.” As in, “Go to the D-trip site,” or “Over at the D-trip…” It took me a while to notice it because I got it.

“D-trip” is shorthand for “D triple C,” which is shorthand for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Not a mystery to me, because I’m not a civilian. I like this stuff. I wouldn’t expect random people to like it also, even if I think we’d be better off as a people to brush up a bit on our civics. This is inside baseball stuff and has nothing to do with intelligence or awareness or responsibility.

The more I think along these lines, the more I like civilian. Don’t care about baseball? Civilian. Don’t know anything about the canon of Joss Whedon? Civilian. Don’t like Stephen Sondheim? Civilian. Maybe uncivilized, but civilian.

I’m pretty sure it’s in The Godfather. The sensibility is, anyway. Don’t let civilians become collateral damage; that’s a line not to be crossed, and when it’s inevitably crossed it won’t end well. I take this seriously, then. Don’t get me started on baseball.

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So this happened.  Paine Field is a couple of miles from my house, and I’ve seen hundreds or more of these small planes fly over my head, not to mention the Boeing big boys. I’ve seen Air Force One, in fact, a couple of times. You think we don’t imagine this happening all the time? No one hurt, so we’ll just be thankful and wonder about the odds. And we’ll look at those planes a little differently from now on.

And this is neither here nor there, but I finally saw Arrival

It’s funny; I wrote about going to the movies last week. How I don’t go anymore, really, and Arrival is a good example. It sounded interesting when it came out, and I nagged my family a bit about going with me, but it never happened. Then, after it was released on home video, I repeated above nagging with no serious takers. It’s just hard to find the time, as fun as it might be.

It struck a nerve with my daughter, though. The combination of thought-provoking science fiction and motherhood guaranteed it, and while I might have just rented the film myself and watched eventually, I waited until my trip to Austin to catch it.

For someone who grew up with Slaughterhouse-5, the theme was familiar, which didn’t matter a bit; I thought it was pitch-perfect and original to boot. I was mostly amazed to see a female protagonist, and such a meaty role. I’ve always been a fan of Amy Adams, and I imagine she wanted this one badly. She isn’t anywhere close to having a slowdown in her career, but I can’t help thinking this was the role of a lifetime.

I’ve never stopped paying attention to what’s going in the world; I’ve been this way since I can remember. It probably was a reaction to tumultuous times when I was a kid, and then just a quirk or whatever of my personal psychology.

I just rarely engage the news these days. Some of that was just shock that Mr. Trump won the election in November, and my need to detach for a bit so I didn’t freak out. That changed eventually to curiosity, but I’ve never felt the need to toss in my pennies.

I’m also pretty comfortable with having my fingers on the cultural pulse, with plenty of caveats. I knew about sous-vide, for example, even if I had no particular interest or desire to check it out. I had to eat the result first.

So I’m aware of the 5:2 Diet, or whatever it’s called. Read an article this morning about it. I’m not interested in a diet, or losing weight, as weird as that feels, but I kept nodding my head anyway. It sounds like it’s not any more effective than anything else, and that motivation is really, always, the key. If I’ve got this program right, a couple of times a week with this plan you’re supposed to fast, or at least eat a fraction of a normal intake. The idea is that for some people, it might be easier to just restrict your diet severely for a day, then eat normally for three days, then another fast, and so on.

It’s all psychological, which is why I was nodding. The analogies create themselves. If you spend about 20 bucks a day, every day, and you want to save $35 a week, you could spend $15 a day and get there. Or you could spend your $20 five times a week and spend $2.50 on the other two days. Whatever floats your boat.

Studies show that this diet doesn’t work any better than others, which makes sense because they all work. We’re the ones who don’t.

I’ve been watching the scale for 40 years. What started out, when I was still a teenager, as vanity and an awareness that I could easily put on the pounds kept me coming back to those creeping numbers. It didn’t stop me from getting pretty fat, and I’m hesitant to call it obsession, only because that’s a clinical term and it can be horribly debilitating for some people.

And now, when vanity has cooled down to just a vague wish to be presentable and not embarrass myself, I’m in this weird, bizarro situation in which I still worry a little about weight but for exactly the opposite reason. A few pounds have gone away since January, not all that troubling and mostly because I was in an awkward place in terms of clothes. I’m around 165 pounds, down from 170, which is really, statistically, an ideal spot to end up, but I don’t care for my reflection that much. I look frail, to my eyes, or at least skinny. That’s vanity, too, but I’m not 20 years old and there are now other things to worry about. I don’t have wiggle room if I get sick and my appetite diminishes. I think about that a lot.

Just not as much as I think about planes. At least for the moment..

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I Sous-vide, Therefore I Eat

My daughter asked for my opinion a few weeks ago, a rare event just by itself. She was mulling over a birthday present for her husband, and she wondered if this was a great idea or maybe not:

If this doesn’t ring a bell, I understand. This is a sous-vide precision cooker, with the added bonus of having Bluetooth and wifi capabilities if that’s what rings your bell.

I’ve been aware of sous-vide as a sort of faddish cooking method, or that’s the way I saw it. I enjoy cooking, or at least a little, although recently it’s consisted mostly of me drumming up some sort of meal for my wife on long days. We’ve all become scavengers in this household, with our own schedules and preferences, which is fine but hardly efficient and certainly more expensive. I could do better, but I wasn’t much interested in new ways of doing it.

Sous-vide isn’t a fad, though. And it’s not new: Slow cooking is an old technique, and sous-vide is by definition slow cooking. And it’s a technique that was rediscovered half a century ago, now pretty widely in use by restaurants and caterers. You can read more about it if you’re interested, but the short version is pretty simple: Put your food in vacuum-sealed bags (or remove as much air as possible; this doesn’t affect the cooking so much as prevents spoilage if you’re making a bunch and planning on freezing or refrigerating), heat water to the temperature you want the food cooked to, maintain that temperature for a certain period of time, and end up with food that is perfect.

I imagine anyone who needs to cook for more than one knows about slow cooking; the crockpot has been around awhile. I also imagine most of us have at one time or another poached an egg or something else. Sous-vide is similar. The results aren’t.

The results made me a convert. I spent last week in Austin with my daughter, and she used that baby every day. Inexpensive beef became the best steak I’ve ever eaten. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, so tempting at the store and so unsatisfactory when I get around to actually cooking them (aside from battering and frying, which is fantastic, of course), were amazing.

But it’s not poaching, not really, and not all that slow. This fancy device heats the water and circulates it, keeping the temperature exactly the same. Preheat the water to the desired temperature (say, 129 degrees F. for perfectly medium-rare steak), clip the plastic bags with the food onto the side of a stockpot, and walk away. The food won’t overcook, and the cooker will even send you an alert on your phone when it’s ready (about an hour for those perfect steaks). Give the meat a quick sear for a minute on the stovetop if you want that nice crunch and you’re ready to go.

And it’s spectacular, honestly. The food gets cooked to the same temperature all the way through, edge to edge. Vegetables, desserts, eggs: You can pretty much cook anything. Call this an endorsement.

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Happy Accidents

I’ve never been particularly creative when it comes to visual stuff. I have no talent for drawing or painting, although with patience and the inclination I can produce a decent sketch. Then again, I imagine a lot of people can do the same thing. I’m unremarkable.

I’m comfortable with my own perceptions, and my own taste. I know what I like, and why I like it. I have several friends who are spectacular in this arena, including more than one who make a living at it.

Photography has always had an awkward place in the visual arts, at least in my mind. Nicéphore Niépce is generally considered the inventor of photography, and invention is what it was; it sprang from science, and innovations were shared between science and art. Louis Daguerre was a well-known theater designer before he started dabbling in this new medium, for example. Nearly 200 years ago.

Then there’s the universal nature of it. Everyone takes pictures, and of course now it’s just crazy. Wading through this swamp of captured moments can make my eyes glaze over, and sometimes the people who try the hardest produce the most pedestrian images. It’s tempting to intuit ability and talent because you’re interested, and look: You made a photograph. That must mean something.

I was very interested in photography when I was a kid; I even had a darkroom set-up, a closet where I filled bins with chemicals and made contact prints. I needed an enlarger and never got one, and eventually the interest moved on to things I actually had ability to do, not needing much in the way of equipment.

And equipment is big. Knowing what you have and how it works is at least half of photography, I suspect, and probably more. The creative sensibility can’t be learned or taught, or at least that’s what I’ve observed. I like to take pictures and share them; I don’t have a gift for it.

I spent the past week in Austin, just getting a booster shot of Bix, and while I took my share of pictures there was less of an imperative. Mostly I use my phone to capture moments I can send to my wife and my mother; I don’t even bring my DSLR anymore.

I compensate for what I lack in talent by taking a bazillion shots, along with some video in case there’s a screen capture I like. This is the seduction of digital photography; you can take as many as you like and hope for the best. It’s the only art form I can think of that can produce something special by accident. Not special the way a composer or writer or sculptor, etc., can have a happy accident of creativity; I’m talking about a guy with a phone, and a little boy.

So, we went to Ruby’s, a popular BBQ place in Austin that has a nice playground in the back. After some spectacular food, we took him out to play for a bit. He got on the big climbing toy and crawled into the slide tunnel thing while I waited at the bottom, ready to snap a picture just because I could.

So this was an accident.

I just snapped it and moved on. Later, liking it and wandering through filters, wondering if I could improve it a bit, I tried grayscale and this happened. It’s not a particularly high resolution, and obviously I didn’t make any adjustments in terms of aperture or shutter speed; I just pointed and clicked.

But I’m left with a nice reminder, and I think I’m going to print and hang it above my desk, where I can look up and remember. It’s about a boy, and it always is.

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There Are No Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson is now an octogenarian, joining a club that makes me uneasy, if grateful. As I mentioned a few days ago, most of the film actors I watched with enthusiasm in my formative years are still with us. This is a curious phenomenon for me, the idea that famous people should never die; the apparent sorrow floating around social media when one of these folks passes rarely acknowledges that, you know. People who live into their eighth or ninth decades have done pretty well in terms of lifespan.

I say formative. I mean this in context; I was very interested in actors when I was a kid, much more as I reached my teenage years. That’s my excuse, anyway, for looking back and finding mostly men. I was looking to identify.

So there we are: Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood. All still here, and all now over 80 (this year, at any rate). All of them of my parents’ generation, stardom cresting when they were in their 30s.

This doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t; I can add. More poignant for me is the realization that strikes from time to time, which is that in 10 years these people will be gone. Perhaps not on to their reward, but most likely missing from screens near you. Hackman is already retired, and Hoffman seems eager to work but finding less and less out there, I’m guessing.

Redford was my favorite, I think, due to Butch Cassidy; I took my first date to see Jeremiah Johnson, when I was 14. I’m Facebook friends with that girl, which I guess is not a big story but still feels weird.

My wife and I have been talking about this lately. We saw Willie Nelson last summer because it’s Willie Nelson, and because it won’t be all that much longer. We’re now checking out James Taylor tour dates near us.

But I think Nicholson gets the nod, at least in terms of his impact and the number of his films I’ve seen. Redford already had some visibility and was working a lot when he was cast in Butch; Hoffman’s big break, The Graduate, was too mature for my young eyes, as was Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde.

So was Easy Rider, but I managed to catch Five Easy Pieces and The Last Detail before succumbing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I took another date, this during my senior year in high school, and I remember her commenting afterwards that she thought it was the best movie she’d ever seen. It was hard to argue.

So, yeah. Jack is 80. I’m getting closer to 60. All of this makes sense, as strange as it feels. And as I find myself wishing for just one more performance, I’m aware of the imperative that’s always been there but feels a bit more immediate. I’d pay to see that, in other words, and hope I get the chance.

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Graying Out

Every 3-4 years, eyeballing it but probably close to correct, I write a semi-screed about nostalgia. Sentimentality about the past is right in my wheelhouse, but it’s personal for me. And about me, mostly.

What annoys me when I come across it is nostalgia that offers no context and delivers cheap comparisons. Lots of us can look back through rose-colored glasses on our own lives, but I’m talking about a particular form of truth twisting, a time-specific chauvinism that focuses mostly on other people and how they’re spoiling everything. And usually they’re young people, who take the brunt of all this judgment.

My kids are young people. I’m a little protective, maybe.

And a big part of this surely is a desire to stay current, to understand how we got to where we are and, by the way, understanding where we are in the first place.

This isn’t sustainable, I know. Moore’s law alone suggests that technology has always been outracing an individual’s ability to evolve along with it, and technology is driving the car here. It’s actually driving the actual car, come to think of it. At some point, most of us will have to accept that we just aren’t going to keep up.

I’m something of a generational chauvinist myself, although not really in the sense that my cohort had to make special sacrifices and were shaped by events. Mostly I think of us as being awfully lucky.

We were, too. People born after 1955 never had their life trajectories altered by compulsory military service, never had to take that into consideration when looking forward (even if it might have been a good idea for some of us).

We entered the job market at roughly the same time as ubiquitous computing did, and as rapid as technologic advances came we were able to keep up, or at least those of us with the interest and that particular kind of work.

We never had to straddle the two eras in popular music. We were teenagers during the golden era of 1970s filmmaking, and by the time we were old enough to sneak into mature movies, it seemed more a rite of passage than an evolution of the art. The most significant political moment of our young lives wasn’t an assassination or an unpopular war; it was the resignation of a president, a confirmation that the system worked the way it was supposed to. Lucky.

But time will always catch you, and keeping up with change will eventually focus more on blood pressure and degrading joints, not messaging apps. The rise of contemporary folklore isn’t the fault of young people; it seems mostly due to older folks who for whatever reason decided to believe everything they read, and pass it along on Facebook. Including a lot of those good ol’ days posts.


I wrote a column this week about some of the issues involved in the United Airlines incident, and tossed out a stray comment toward the end about vertical video (i.e., the video from smart phones not turned sideways). I don’t have strong feelings on the subject and don’t see how it would make a difference, anyway; I just hate having to edit it together with regular, widescreen video, and I assume TV news editors hate it, too.

But someone who apparently is interested if not passionate about the subject, enough to scrape the ‘nets for that one comment in a small newspaper, linked to it and me on Twitter. For a second, then, I felt out of touch, yelling at those pesky kids with their vertical video to get off my lawn.

And then the popup showed up.

I’ve always been pretty snotty about computer security, manifested by more than a few obnoxious conversations with people who didn’t deserve it, and it’s not much different these days. I just tend to keep my mouth shut more often than not. I’m not going to save the world.

But if someone says they’ve been “hacked,” when really someone is spoofing their name or otherwise doing something they can’t prevent without going off the grid completely, I usually roll my eyes and move on.

And if they talk about suspecting they have a virus, I assume they’re just old. There are plenty of bad players out there, and bad code, but I figure it’s either malware or just ignorance of how the modern personal computer actually works. Even if it’s an actual virus, I assume it comes from ignorance about security (file that under the believe everything they read commentary above).

I’ve always been a skeptic, never really trusted anything when it comes to people and computing and good intentions. As far as I know, I’ve encountered one virus in nearly 30 years of personal computing, and that was a dumb VBA macro that a client sent me in a Word document. It wasn’t designed to do anything particularly malevolent, and I caught it right away. I don’t trust but verify; I just don’t trust, and it’s served me well.

Yesterday I started getting this popup on my desktop, a pretty unsophisticated one; it looked pretty much like something designed 20 years ago, and it said something appearing benign, like “A new system setting has been changed; download version 1.20.” Somehow malware had snuck in, annoying and hard to figure out.

A virus scan showed nothing. A malware scan came up with some false-positives, all of them from quarantined malware that another piece of software had waylaid and isolated in the background. My internet connection seems to drop a couple of times a day for a couple of seconds, only noticed when there’s a flash of buffering on a video or my weather widget goes blank, and this I chalk up to a 9-year-old router. My task manager showed nothing suspicious running.

This is also a fairly new build, with an operating system coming right out of the box, and I assumed that System Restore was enabled by default when, it turns out, that’s not the case, so I had no way to turn back the clock other than to roll everything back to day #1. All for a stupid popup that appeared a few times a day. I stewed a little but it really didn’t affect me.

It was my son, looking over my shoulder, who suggested the eventual answer. It was a simple Rainmeter script (Rainmeter is an easy-on-the-CPU skin that shows me weather and system widgets, as below) with, in fact, just an update. I unplugged my Ethernet cable and clicked on the popup, which of course couldn’t connect but showed me the URL. Problem solved.

Rainmeter widgets


Except for the nagging thought that I jumped to sinister conclusions without considering the alternative, which was minor but it still worries me. I don’t want to be that guy. I may be anyway. I start complaining about the kids these days, stop reading. If I tell you that I drank from water hoses and rode my bike all day without a helmet and never glanced at a screen (I note that the average American watched about 7 hours of television daily when I was growing up), understand that I’m a lost cause.

And viruses? I’ll get a flu shot. Life’s way too short.

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The Week That Was

That’s what it feels like, anyway. It wasn’t just five straight days of driving to church, which for us is a little more involved than most, given that we live 30 miles away. Driving is the easy part.

It comes with the territory, her busyness becoming mine and then there’s just the fact that I’m all in when it comes to this week, always have been. I did some explaining to new members recently, trying to explain how, for me, going through the three days and then Easter morning is a spiritual discipline. It’s not unlike a meditation routine, or a prayer life, or exercise for that matter: I do it not because I wallow in each discrete moment, but because I know I’ll feel better for having done it, and that the benefits linger long past spring.

Or that’s what I think. From choir practice on Wednesday night through the last hallelujah Sunday morning, I went on a little journey. And now I prepare for a quick trip to see my daughter and a boy who seems almost completely transformed from the pictures and the FaceTime visits, sprinting into boyhood. I’m ready.


I lost a reader on Easter morning, not unexpected but sad all the same. Dennis Hughes was a Presbyterian minister and teacher/mentor/friend to my wife, his name bouncing around this house for years. He played a big role in her ordination five years ago, but then it was always a big role.

He was also a reader of mine, occasionally sending an email when he read a column that resonated. He was kind and enthusiastic in all things, and a few weeks ago I mailed him a copy of Learning to Walk, which he seemed eager to read.

From the ordination. Dennis is wearing the white alb and red sash.


He’d been living with cancer for years, and he drifted toward the end of his days here with joy and serenity, apparently, but then. That was Dennis.


Jason Ford is a friend of my daughter, from college, and his story is familiar if still floating in the rarefied air of those who manage to capture lightning in a bottle. He parlayed talent, education, and an idea into an Austin-based start-up, which he eventually sold for a boatload of money.

And he just wrote a remarkable piece about what he thinks about all this. If you feel hackles rising, maybe read it again.

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