Preparation

The JMT preparation is going full swing. I pulled a few full days of research and planning during which I read or re-read the two trail guides I purchased, and a ton of trail journals of other hikers’ JMT trips. I made color copies of our map pages, posted them in Jake’s room, and have begun adding mileage notes to the re-supply points. It is an interesting tool to look at the trip this way.

JMT Maps
JMT Maps

We still have several unknowns, some of which may remain unknowns until we get to Yosemite Village and talk with the rangers. I have found some more up-to-date sites for information on facilities and such at some of the potential resupply locations and the news is a mixed bag. This year’s snowfall has been 50% less than usual which is good for us. Some of the more dangerous river crossings should be more manageable than expected. But the storms took out two of the major power transmission lines that feed the first two resupply points and it is unclear as of now whether or not these will be open.

There are four standard resupply points for the JMT; Tuolumne Meadows, Red’s Meadow Resort, Vermillion Resort, and the Muir Trail Ranch. One of the challenges to consider is that between Muir Trail Ranch and the Southern Terminus at Mt Whitney (about 110 miles), there are no resupply options near to the trail. If you are not interested or willing to leave the trail, this means that you have to carry about 10 days worth of food out of Muir Trail Ranch. In addition, Muir Trail Ranch does not have a standard gear/food re-supply available. Mostly it is just a really expensive place to do a mail drop resupply. Because of all that, many JMT thru hikers skip the Muir Trail ranch and carry 12 days of food from Vermillion Resort.

Jake and I like neither of these options. Luckily, neither do many of the PCT thru hikers and the PCT guides have loads of detailed info on the best ways off of the trail to the best points to access towns for resupply runs. Jake and I are going to go that route. I have found one already, but I need one more. Going off trail to do these runs adds a day or two to your total trip length per stop, but that does not really bother us.

I have been splitting my time between planning and conditioning. I am still not in fantastic shape and am working on shedding some pounds – but I have been regular with my stretching routine and floor exercises. The past 10 days or so, I have done all but one of my hikes with my full pack and at least 35 pounds. I did get my own trekking poles and am really pleased with them. In addition to the added stability and taking some the strain off of the knees, I like how they get your upper body and arms more involved in the hiking.

Just yesterday I did my first hike in who knows how long in shorts instead of pants. I can’t really consider this back east because I am ultra sensitive to poison ivy, super prone to contracting it, and despite that – utterly useless at identifying and avoiding it. But that is not really a problem in the Sierras. Much of the time we will be well above tree line anyhow. It felt great to hike in just some thin running shorts. This move will end up helping me out on added pack weight due to clothing as well.

In these last 11 days or so until we leave, I will continue to read and re-read the guides and journals to make note of more campsite locations, stretches of lesser water availability, places of higher bear activity, and when we are likely to approach the more difficult river crossings so that we can hit them early in the day before the day’s snowmelt swells the streams and increases the strength of the current.

I did a nice 9.5 mile loop yesterday, with a 40 pound pack, that has about a 1,200 foot elevation gain over the first 3 miles. Today is writing and planning with a milder walk in the evening. Tomorrow Jake and I will drive up to Flagstaff and summit Mt Humphries – an 8.5 mile round trip with a 3,500 ft elevation gain. Monday or Tuesday we will do one of Jake’s favorite Grand Canyon hikes – 17 miles round trip down the Bright Angel to the Colorado River and back out on the South Kaibab trail. This is a drop about 5,000 ft climb about 5,000 ft trip.

That’s it for now. Rock out!

Tech Talk 5 – Clever Title!

I was excited when the iPad was released. This seemed like a device that would allow me to go on the road without my laptop, and still have a reasonably sized screen for doing work, reading and writing email, surfing the web, and watching my shows. It would also be a huge advantage in terms of books. I am not just a TV addict. I go on the road with 4-20 paper books also. That is a cumbersome load. (We will pick this thread back up in the books/podcasts edition.)

After the initial wave of ravenous excitement died down, I went into the store to play with them. I do like the Apple stores, but my biggest complaint with them is that you cannot try out the devices in anything remotely like real world circumstances. Very few people spend their time computing standing up at a high bench. Even fewer people use their iPads standing up with the device laid out flat on a high table. But at least you can get your hands on the devices and check them out. I was concerned about not having a keyboard, but found that I could actually type wicked fast on the iPad and was able to use 8-10 fingers to type instead of the 4-6 I use on the traditional keyboard. But I did recognize that it was unlikely I would duplicate those speeds while seated, or in any other position besides standing with the device laid out flat on a table of appropriate height.

I was very disappointed with the hard disk capacity of the first wave of iPads. As much freedom as the device offered, the limitations of how much data it could carry were significant. (Research what that was 30 GB?). Looking into work-arounds, I discovered that there really were not any. There was no way to hook a first Gen iPad into an external storage drive for the purposes of data/content management. You had to either purchase new material on the iPad through the iTunes store (or other online vendor) or move content to and from the device from your computer over the USB connector. If you do maintain your own server, I imagine that you could access that server on the iPad over the web, but the device did not have any kind of file management system that would allow you to move content around that way – you would have to have your iTunes library active on the server and move content via iTunes.

The iPad 2 does have a bigger drive, but still not really big enough (for my needs) to be the only computer I take on the road. They did release an adapter cord, Apple 30 pin connector to female USB receptor, and many of us thought that this would be the ticket. I envisioned getting the iPad2, the usb connector, and a small, rugged, highly portable, 1TB storage drive that takes power from the host device instead of a separate power cord. That would allow me to go on the road with a minimal setup for at least 3 months without needing another storage drive or computer (except for iPad software and security updates, but we will revisit that aspect in just a bit).

1 TB is also imperfect for me, but it beats the heck out of 30 or 120 GB. But, early reports revealed two key problems: the iPad does not have enough power to be able to also supply power to such a device, and the file management system was still non-existent even when using a powered external drive over the USB connector. The connector was released as a means to move pictures from digital cameras to the iPad. In that scenario, you use iPhoto to access the drive. That file system is built into iPhoto – similar to how there is some file management built into iTunes that allows you to move data through the iTunes interface. But something like the “Finder” in Apple or “Windows Explorer” in Microsoft just isn’t there on the iPad.

Tech Talk 4 – Get what you paid for?

The model I briefly outlined in the last episode is kinda how I run my TV life now. The big difference is that I don’t have my archive online. I know I could manage that, but I don’t want to build my own server and develop the security and port protocols and have to maintain a physical, “always-on” server somewhere. There are pre-existing online backup solutions, but media alone, not pics and documents – I am already pushing 2 TBs, and that will only grow. That ain’t cheap for me to pay for online storage.

Instead, I try to imagine how long I will be gone, what I may be in the mood for, what I might want to have as fall back, comfort-food TV/audiobooks/music. If it is a short enough trip, I load 150 Gigs or so onto my laptop from my archive, and manage content to and from the iPhone just off the laptop. On longer trips, I bring a storage drive along. This works, but it is bulky. To travel with this set-up, I have to bring: laptop, laptop charger, powerstrip, backup drive, firewire, backup drive power block, my iPhone, and maybe also my iPod in case there are power issues (or 24 hours of airline travel) and I need another source for media, and a few iPod cords and wall chargers.

As I am carting this load around our globe, I am thinking about Apple. I bought most of this stuff from the iTunes store. Almost all of it is still in the store available for sale. It is sitting there ready to be downloaded and I already paid for it. I have personal experience and have heard other well-documented stories that Apple allows you to re-download up to your entire purchase history once a year. They don’t advertise this. Not every apple tech even knew it was the policy (at least up to 2008 or so). This was limited. If I had a corrupted file and effectively lost one episode of a show I purchased a Season Pass for on iTunes, I had to re-download the whole series. They could not give me a one episode download as that was not on my receipt. Imperfect, but at least they honored my purchase and provided replacement data. (This also had an impact on my desire to create my own portable storage system as a more immediate means of dealing with these issues.)

I appreciated the support from Apple in replacing a few damaged files, but it just got me thinking. Why do I have to store all this crap and carry it around? Why do I have to email you a request and wait for you to analyze the issue before I can get my stuff? I can see my entire purchase history in my iTunes account online. Why can’t I re-download BSG when I want to watch that instead of carrying it around with me on an external drive?

A great example of corporate fighting and odd ownership rights – I have purchased all 7 seasons of Buffy, the one season of Firefly, the Serenity movie, (those three in both dvd and iTunes formats), Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, and Commentary the Musical from the iTunes store. I am doing a Buffy re-watch right now on my laptop and iPhone and taking notes for some future blogging. But I can’t watch Angel this way. Angel is not in the iTunes store. I did buy all 5 seasons of Angel on DVD, but those are still in India. Angel was available for streaming on Netflix (and hopefully still is), but I suspended my Netflix account a while ago. I will probably re-activate it to do an Angel re-watch next (and re-watch Slings and Arrows while the account is active) or see if anyone will lend me the disks. But I can’t really watch on my iPhone over netflix. It works, but not everywhere I like to sit in this house has a wireless signal. I am lucky enough to still be on an unlimited data plan with AT&T (they quit offering those once they realized that iPhone use exploded) but even that gives you a choppy stream – not really worth watching.

But this all seems to get cumbersome and ludicrous to me. I have access to watch Comcast shows online through their xfinity program. Since we have almost all the paid channels on our account in PA at RAI headquarters, i can follow HBO and Showtime and some other good cable network shows. I have paid for the complete series of several shows on the DVD format. I have paid for many many complete series in the iTunes store. I had Netflix. I check out Hulu. And still I can’t get all the content I want and can’t get it to all the devices I would like to use to watch said content, and I can’t watch what is available from wherever I would like. I can’t even access all the digital material I have already paid for and downloaded without access to my storage drives.

Isn’t there a better way? Isn’t that way already here? As it turns out, the answers are, “Yes” and “Sort of”.

But, there are a few more pieces of the puzzle before we get to the new solutions.

Tech Talk

Note: I did start this in September. Some things have already come to pass, but I am not going to re-edit this to change all the tenses and deal with time shift. The info is still good despite any potential time-based grammar difficulties…

I want to talk about some of the new technology Apple has recently released, the new releases in the pipe for this Fall, how those will help solve many of my recurring problems (and probably some of yours too), and how this adds one more layer to the  (largely untapped) capability modern technology has made possible, and a few ways we could use this technology.

To be able to really describe what is coming and how it will help, first, I will tell you about how I use media and how that has changed over just the past 5 years. Along the way, we will talk about international copyright law and piracy, and a few other things. It is about twice the length of the recent doggy tales serial and I plan to use a similar format. Probably 10 episodes, covering around two pages each, but with more text and less pics in each post. And we will close with the new Apple tech, what it can do, what it might also do, and what it could do. Also, a few thoughts on additional ways to expand the use of this technology to allow greater access, flexibility, portability, and back-up solutions to everyone.

We will come back to this point, but let us take a moment to clarify two terms that we use somewhat interchangeably in common speech, but that do have distinct meanings in this context: Storage and Backup. To keep it simple and easy to visualize, we will use traditional bound paper books as an example. The bookcase in your home is a place for storing your books. You can access any book on the case any time you are co-located with the bookcase. If you have two copies of the same book and both copies are on the bookcase, you do not really have a backup copy, you have two stored copies. To get from storage to backup, you need to have the second copy of the book stored at a different physical location, as distant from the original storage site as possible. Now that you have two copies stored in different locations, you have achieved Backup.

Let us begin.

The two constants in my shifting media equation are both hard disk space. The space on my iPhone (29.3 GB), and the space on my laptop (320 GB – which has to hold all the software, all the core documents I may need from 7 different businesses, lots of past project details, several website backups, tons of photos, and my changing media).

As a quick example of how this works in practice, I have been mostly on the road since   mid April. I brought my 2 TB firewire 800 external storage drive along. This has been awesome to have as I have purchased at least 6 audiobooks, a few movies, and several TV episodes (Friday Night Lights Season 5 for example) in that time. Having the storage  drive along has allowed me access to my media archive, given me the ability to store newly purchased content, and the freedom to delete new content from my laptop and iPhone to free up hard disk space for different material without losing a local copy I can access at will. Since it is my media archive, I can load any of my shows, movies, books, podcasts, and so forth, back onto my laptop and then the iPhone, also at will.

The thing is that I love TV, but I don’t watch TV like a lot of people do. I hate commercials with a passion. I don’t do laugh tracks. I am not into the procedurals. I don’t want the dialog dumbed down to reach a wider audience (see above: “I am not into procedurals”). I don’t want a story-of-the week kinda show. The only exception I can think of is Star Trek The Next Generation, and even with this show, my favorites are the 4 or 5 part story arcs.  I want a good, long plot. I like characters, but you can’t win me on characters alone. A good story makes up for many other deficiencies. Friday Night Lights is a great example of this aspect. I love that show, but I do not like very many of the characters. On the other hand, characters alone can’t pull me in, you gotta have something for them to do. Ideally, I want you to have already built a world and then invite me in to play. I want a 5-7 season show with a continuous narrative. While I do critique poorly done finales, I am not so fussed about how a show ends, as long as it was a good ride.

I made a transition around 2006 to life without an actual TV. Several things happened at one time and this morphed my TV experience. I was living with friends in Northern Virginia (NOVA), working in their small business run basically from home. I got an 80 GB iPod classic (the biggest one they had at they time), and I discovered that one could purchase TV shows from the iTunes store and watch them on a computer or iPod. These have no commercials. If you buy a whole season or a whole series, you don’t have to wait a week in between eps and a summer or more between seasons.

If I have an hour or two in my day to watch some TV, I don’t want to have to scroll through what is on at that time and hope I find something passable. I want to spend that time watching a show I like and am to some extent invested in. I want to follow that arc out to the end. Tevo, DVRs, and OnDemand helped, but I don’t really have a home (or TV) to set that stuff up. Netflix can be great, but it has its own very broad though still limited collection, and it is dependent upon a decent internet connection maintained for the duration of your viewing experience and may or may not really work in every other country. With the iPod and my iTunes store TV show downloads, my TV was now portable and largely internet free. In line at the DMV for two hours? Watch a few eps of the West Wing and learn something about how the different branches of our government actually work on the day-to-day and maybe even get a little inspired about politics again, or at least balance out your rage with the inefficiency of your local government experience. I felt like this was technology made just for me!

I was heavily into three new shows at that time (2006 in NOVA) – Lost, BSG, and Friday Night Lights. I did not have a very good place to watch actual TV at home, and whenever possible, I prefer to be outside. I watched BSG on Fridays at some dude’s house. And I watched Lost and Friday Night Lights the day (or sometimes a few days) after they aired when the new eps were released in the iTunes store. The laptop I had at that time had terrible battery performance, and I was not smart enough to know that one could simply replace the poorly performing battery with a new one. (Though I had a Dell and this was around the time of the exploding replacement batteries.) I watched a lot of TV sitting outside in the evenings with that iPod in my hand, eyes glued to the action on the beautiful 1 ½” x 2” screen.

This is a different story that we won’t really get into here, but not long after, I decided to move to India and start a few companies with my friend Ram. For two years in India, I continued watching TV on my laptop and my iPod. I was able to do more laptop than iPod viewing while in India, but access to content was a problem. I did bring a lot with me. I had: the Gilmore Girls DVDs through season 5, My So Called Life, all of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly on DVD, the first few seasons of Lost on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of BSG on DVD/iTunes, a few seasons of Friday Night Lights on iTunes, 10-15 movies on DVD – I had stock. But access to new content and new eps of currently running shows was a problem. We shall make a quick detour to talk about the global media industry (music, TV, movies). This is actually relevant to several aspects of the larger discussion and to my particular issues with new advances in tech.

Quick Update

The Tech series is coming along nicely. I am through all the back story and working on the capabilities of new tech and how to use them and the view to “the future”. I expect to finish it this weekend and begin releasing an episode a day on Monday, maybe sooner if i have enough time to write and edit. If you ever wonder what tech guys do, or why they think that watching videos of conferences and reading articles should qualify as paid work time, or what the heck a CIO/CTO does – you are about to find out!

The dogs are all doing well. The training continues and with few set backs, everyone is developing nicely. Last night we had another successful three dog romp on the beach and a leash free walk home for all three boys. They did super.

We have a slight delay on the Man Box Vocal booth project, but nothing can defeat the unified force of The Schmied and the Fro.

Lucas and I are preparing for a quick trip to PA to see my folks, acquire some fall appropriate clothing, collect my golf clubs to help me get in shape for a tournament on the 26th, and handle some life admin stuff like driver’s license renewal and fun letters from the IRS.

I hope you all are well and enjoy the break in the rain today!

The next Blog Project

The results of the latest informal poll are in: you guys like the serialized story approach.
I checked with my two original reviewers, Kelly and Karen, before releasing the dog tales as a serial and they were both all for it. The Fromminatrix, one of my regular readers, reported some specific advantages of the format: the shorter length episodes are easier to digest in traditional blog-sized bites and the innate cliffhanger nature of the format creates a bit of anticipation for the next chapter/conclusion. So I am going with serials for some of the longer tales I plan to share here.

There will be some shorter tales, and some chatty general info posts (kinda like this one), but I am moving towards telling and sharing some longer stories.

Right now, I am working on some Tech related material. I don’t have it all plotted out yet, so I don’t know how many episodes, or how the material will be sorted. A lot of issues come into the interconnected larger story. I think I am going to have to write it out some more before the shape reveals itself.

The goal is to tell a tale about how we use tech (specifically media – TV, audio/e-books, movies, music – though the same principles should apply to most if not all forms of downloadable content) and how this has been and continues to change. One end goal is to talk about the new innovations Apple has released recently and will be releasing throughout this Fall (including iOS5) and how these innovations can change the playing field.

Some of the things that come up along the way: a bit of backstory on how the way I use media has changed (not the whole history of that, just since about 2006 when I went sans TV), how living in India impacted this story, a few bits on regulations and poor global vision, the limitations of the law and regulation, a view (or maybe two or three) of what content delivery may look like “in the future”, and a bunch of cool gadgets.

Towards the end, I will share with you what has been my vision for how to continue to adapt my system to greater efficiency while carrying less crap on the road, and finally how Apple has (seemingly) decided to solve a lot of these problems for me.

That is a lot. We shall see how it comes out. But I think that it will be fun and interesting even for folks who don’t care a lot about tech. If you do care about tech, and if you have some content portability issues that you are trying to figure out, you just may find some solutions as the story unfolds.

As always, thanks for reading. Thanks for your support. Your suggestions, comments, and input are always welcome.

Be back at you soon.

So What?

I am doing some of my favorite things.

Laptop on the deck listening to the night sounds of bugs and Kind of Blue, enjoying the slight cool of after dark on a muggy day.

I am seriously behind on my writing projects but will do a little housekeeping in that department right now.

I feel good. The porch project is complete and lovely. I spent two weeks bonding with a cool cat named Jake.

Finished Slate 1
Finished Slate 1

While I was generally too tired to actually re-explore Old Town Alexandria, or meet with many local pals, I did enjoy blending into the dog culture of Old Town. And, I did have almost two full days of much needed down time that I spent almost entirely napping.

Finished Slate 2
Finished Slate 2

After a month long project, the last two weeks of which comprised 10-12 hour days on my knees, it was refreshing to be in any other position.

finished slate 3
finished slate 3

I have a few other tile/construction projects in the wings – one bathroom remodel in PA, 1-2 bathrooms in Centerville VA, and maybe a larger project putting a heated tile floor into a big basement and another bathroom remodel.

finished slate 4
finished slate 4

I have not yet decided if I want to knock the dust off of Renfroe Tile full time, but I am going to knock out as many of these projects as I can while the work is here to be done. Tile is physically hard, but mentally engaging. It is rewarding to see a project from start to finish, and working for yourself is always high in my book.

finished slate 5
finished slate 5

I have a few ideas of how to re-vamp the Renfroe Tile Operation and have had great input from my friend Maria and a pretty kick ass business name from my Mom. But there are still many kinks. The money is nice when you work alone, but you (or at least i) do go slower flying solo. And it is much harder on your body. Having an apprentice or partner is nice, but that can be limiting in its own way. Right now, my operation is highly mobile. Lots to consider.

finished slate 6
finished slate 6

Part of me still would like to know what having a salary and a schedule would be like. Part of me would like to have my own place to live again. But how much can you miss what you have never had? I have not really had my own place to live (CONUS) since I left Richmond in October of 2003. There are many many times that I have missed and wanted to have that again. But, being nomadic has advantages as well. Low overhead and the ability to travel are two huge pluses. But I do miss the stability at times – and I often miss having my own space.

Nice sight after a long sit in traffic
Nice sight after a long sit in traffic

I have several fantastic pockets of stability and places that my bud Karen would call “Safe Places”. I am in one of them (probably my favorite) right now. But there are downsides to nomadic life beyond not having your own home. As I discovered (very slowly) it makes dating rather difficult. That is not an immediate concern or a priority, but it is a piece of the pie. There is also a high degree of depending on the kindness of others. But I have come to find this more of a benefit than a disadvantage.

finished edges 1
finished edges 1

It does grate against my innate desire for self-reliance, but it also helps keep me connected to people. And there are ways to be a good guest. I like to think of it as a blending of kindness and sharing and mutual care taking, but that could just be a lofty way to gloss over the parasitic nature of nomadic life. Everybody needs help. And everybody with a house and a job has stuff they need help doing. I generally try to figure out what that stuff is and help do it. Usually this works out pretty well.

finished edges 2
finished edges 2

Tomorrow I have to try and get re-organized. I had a loose plan for the next few months, but it is morphing now as life has its own way despite my intentions. One of the bigger questions is also sort of job related. I believe I had a decent opportunity to do some good networking and perhaps even land a normal job. As things tend to go, while I was setting the ground work for that, these other opportunities fell in my lap. I do not think that I have lost this lead on entering the normal working world, but I don’t know right now if I actually want it or not. This is one of my unceasing difficulties with making large decisions – I don’t usually know what it is I do want. That also has pluses and minuses. Being open to trying new things has led me down an interesting path around the world and through many different kinds of work. But I do not really have any specialties.

finished edges 3
finished edges 3

I like not having a specialty. I am good at lots of things. If I do have a specialty I think it is TCB, Gettin’ things done. I do like facing new challenges. A lot of my life as a consultant was exactly that. Meet a client, listen to what they think they need, help them figure out what they actually need, then do it up.

Jake 1
Jake 1

That bit of meandering gives you a decent snapshot of what it is like in my head right now. Pluses and minuses, business names and ideas, and planning…

Jake 2
Jake 2

So, the tile!

I am really pleased with how this project turned out. It is beautiful, and it is one of only three tile projects I have done that I also get to enjoy utilizing!

Jake 3
Jake 3

As always, I see things that I would do differently but it came together nicely. I am so in love with Maria’s idea to use those pebble tiles to transition into the french drain and the yard. They looked great before, but with the grout, it looks so natural that it is hard to even remember what it looked like before.

Jake 4
Jake 4

There are of course more pics, but I think I will leave the full project photo album over on the Facebooks.

Thanks for reading. I am off to review the digital pile of half finished ramblings and see if any of them want to play…

If it’s gonna be That kinda party…(or who is longwinded?)

An old friend asked me a question that got me going a bit and I decided to answer it here. I do have a little bit of recap and some other things lined up and cooking for the blog, but this is fresh out of the oven so I am serving it up first.

“Indian Dream
Heya Nick— was thinking the other day about how the American Dream really isn’t for me–house, car, 3.2 kids, etc. I was wondering if other countries have ideals along these lines and thought you might know about India’s.
??
~Niki”

The street behind my house in Palkulangara
The street behind my house in Palkulangara

Disclaimers/Preamble –

The Macro.
The nature of this discussion, and with an eye towards keeping it relatively brief, generalities must be used that will not capture the nuance of individual differences. That may seem obvious and unnecessary to state at first but pause and allow it to sink in.

If we start from your premise it could not be more vital to realize. You begin by saying “I don’t fit the mold”. And you know you are not alone in this. I would imagine that many if not most of your friends (mine too) feel similarly out of touch with the common or mainstream view of “The American Dream”. With a little more digging, informal polling, and supposition, it does not take too long to discover that “The American Dream” is not really as widely aspired to as we may have been led to believe (or as it once was say in the 50s). I do think that some of the core elements that lay behind the common symbols of “The American Dream” still can and do pertain for many of us. I also don’t want the whole package. I would like a house and a better car but I don’t want any kids.

The point I think is behind the metaphor. In a word, security. The house, car, kids image conveys a degree of material success we understand even if not consciously. The people in that vision are not living paycheck to paycheck. They have enough to eat. They are not too cold in the winter. And if you are inclined this way – they have enough of their basic creature needs met that they may be able to spend some free time in intellectual pursuit (or whatever other kind of pursuit they prefer. This does end up being a bit of a Rorschach blot.). I don’t think you need to be spoon fed any more over analysis of what “The American Dream” is or isn’t but I believe that little exercise will help put any comments on the ingrained national dreams of other cultures in perspective.

View of my street from Ram's balcony
View of my street from Ram's balcony

The Micro.
India is huge and diverse. Yes, America is diverse, but we are also way more homogeneous than a place like India. I know we have poor people and poor areas and while I have not been everywhere in the US, I have never seen poverty like the poverty I witnessed in India (except maybe some of the “refugee areas” in Jordan outside Amman). Of course not all of India is people in poverty. And despite being there for about two years, I saw very little of India. I only left the state of Kerala twice (aside from international travel) and rarely strayed far from Thiruvananthapuram or Kovalam. Actually I did little more than go between my place in Palkulangara and my office in Pettah. Even in that small circle – there is a vast difference in how the people of different classes live.

View of Pettah Railway Station from the roof of my office
View of Pettah Railway Station from the roof of my office

There is also the caste system to consider. While officially the caste system is abolished (sort of), there is a huge difference between written law on the page and what lives in people’s hearts. If you want to pick a somewhat familiar example, race relations in the US can give some perspective. For the areas I frequented in India, I would say it is similar to how I remember the deep South in the late 70s and early 80s. A lot of white folks I knew did not behave terribly to black folks, but there was still something in their attitude and the way they talked that reflected that somehow, inside, the white folks did not view black folks as equals, as “on their level”. Like I said, the white folks may still behave fine – be polite, friendly, supportive, collegial, but you could feel the difference.  I don’t believe that most of the white folks I am referring to even knew this about themselves, so deeply was this ingrained. That is probably more than enough belaboring of the point – it is a very different place from here and the people are more different from us and from each other than you tend to find in the US.

Kovalam Evening
Kovalam Evening

The last disclaimer (maybe) –
All that culture stuff and difference between folks well stated there is a final point. People are just people and all of us from everywhere pretty much want the same stuff. Even the people I have met that I disagree with the most on almost every single issue, we still basically want the same stuff – food, warmth, safety.

Kovalam Lighthouse and my favorite mostly locals end of the beach
Kovalam Lighthouse and my favorite mostly locals end of the beach

The non-answer –
All of that lofty preamble fizzes out to this. I don’t really know. My sense is that the innate diversity of India prevents enough of an unconscious consensus to form something like “The Indian Dream”. (A corollary example – in Kerala alone there are over 50 active political parties and THREE different active communist parties. Consensus is still a ways off.) My dear friend and partner Ram wants his kids to be free to do whatever they want, to follow their dreams. He does hope that they will pick a path that involves helping people and giving back. But he also recognizes that being the best you you can be no matter what path you choose is sometimes the best (or only) way to really contribute to society. But, Ram is an exceptional human.

Renfroe and Manoj Ramkamal
Renfroe and Manoj Ramkamal

I met many parents who had specific jobs or careers picked out for their children. I met parents who had mates picked out for their kids. Arranged marriage is still pretty common in the parts of India I know. Most of the younger folks I met (18-24 mostly guys who worked for me) wanted a wife and children. But it is hard to put your finger on the source of that desire. Is it tradition and family values wrapped up in memory from a country where large families are still the norm? Or is it more basic? Perhaps wrapped up with the two pronged fork of taboo to borderline impossibility of sexual experience outside of marriage for most folks and the lack of information about sex and birth and birth control. The age old motivator for marriage and the natural result. Most of my young buds wanted to work for an international IT company. To ensure that I am not unduly feeding a common stereotype let us keep in mind that I built an international IT company and they worked for me so I was definitely already fishing in that barrel.

I have the most knowledge of the aspirations of people of the middle to upper class mostly due to language. These are the folks who know English. I did learn some Hindi and Malayalam. (Gotta love a language whose name is a palindrome. And quick aside, why isn’t the name for a palindrome a palindrome? Somebody really dropped the ball there and that has always killed me.) But my ability to name all the lovely foods I wanted to eat in the mother tongue or pronounce the name of my neighborhood so well that the rickshaw drivers stared in amazement does not provide a solid enough base to get to the “tell me about your hopes and dreams” stage.

doing what we do best
doing what we do best

I think I will wrap this up for now. Good question though and you did get me thinking about some things I have left alone for some time. The last stage of this writing got me going about my day to day in India, outside of work, where I spent way more time with lower class folks. But those are tales for another time. You did get me going though. Hopefully, you will get something out of the exchange as well.

And because it feels like sort of a cheap trick to take you down that road making it seem as if i did have an answer when i did not, i will share a potentially related anecdote from Dr Cliff Edwards, Dean of the Religion department at VCU during my time there and teacher of most things Buddhist. When he was studying in Japan, one of his teachers told him this. (I shall paraphrase.)

You don’t need to become a Buddhist, and maybe it is not possible. You were born a Christian in a Christian country and you are going back home. Be a Christian. You can be a Christian and still follow the ideals of Buddhism. I don’t know that anyone can throw off the religion of their land and their parents. Be the kind of Christian you want to be.

In case this came from a dark night of the soul place instead of a curiosity place, i say, be the kind of American you want to be. That is what this place is supposed to be about after all. Having the freedom to be who you want to be and live how you want to live. We seem to forget that. (That is probably not fair. People are actually arguing over nuances of definitions related to “your freedom stops at my door/face”. But that too is a discussion for another day.)
And I’m out!

What has been happening? – Part I

Here is a relatively brief update given the preceding period of silence –

I had a little alone time here in PA as my folks and grandpa went to Florida for Spring Break! It was an up and down week for me.  It should have started with a phone interview with “Big Consulting Firm”, but that did not happen, which made me less than positive feeling. I fell off of the regular exercise, I did not run for about a week, the weather went into the cold cold place again with touches of snow, and I got a little cold that I am still fighting off. I almost never get sick so I tend to fight sickness with denial!

Odd timing – my folks came home and I had the phone interview the next day.  That went very well and has my spirits lifted. I am still pursuing some other leads, but I would really be pleased if this one worked out.  I should know more within two weeks or so. I am still a bit under the weather, but I am doing my stretching and exercises and running again.

Running –

That week long break is going to disrupt my first set of goals, but I will keep going and simply make new ones after the 20th.  It is now impractical to meet my frequency goal, and my distance goal, but I might still make the pace goal.  The pace goal was simply 5 runs at or under 9’00/mile pace by 3/20. I got my first one on a two mile run about 11 days ago. Last night I ran 1.4 at a 9’00 pace.  I did not quite make it up the hill after the break and with the sicky feeling, but it was awesome to get out there and run through the first wall of discomfort.  But that gives me two runs towards the goal of 5 at that pace.  I walked for awhile and then ran the last .5 back to my house when “For Whom the Bell Tolls” kicked in.

Tech goodness –

My Lacie 2TB firewire 800 drive arrived and I am very pleased with it.

Lil' Lacie

This allowed me to move all of my data off of the Seagates and reformat those.  They were still formatted for Windows, and had some suspect sectors as well.  Now all my data is not just stored, but actually backed-up. I have not gone to the next next level with off-site back-up but this is good enough for now.

In honor of the new drive, I decided to take the time to learn how to rip my dvds. I am not interested in piracy or anything like that – I just wanted to back-up my tv shows and movies as i already have several damaged disks, and I would like to be able to watch my collections without carrying the disks, and being able to watch on the iPhone and (one day) iPad is also a plus.

I knew that I had the software to do this as I have started this process several times, but got confused and quit.  You need Handbrake, which is free (or something similar).

I finally found a decent enough step-by-step guide online to help me have the “Ah-Ha” moment. For me, the problem was looking at all the files on a dvd and trying to figure out “where is the movie, or episode”.  Even in Handbrake, with a dvd inserted, then mashing “source” you get the same kind of view as in Finder or Windows Explorer – what files to choose?

The “Ah-Ha” moment came in realizing that all I had to do in the source window was select the DVD and click OK.  Then Handbrake would read the DVD and give me new options. For movies, it is pretty simple, you select the longest unit.  For TV shows, you have to do a little leg-work.  Note the total time of the individual eps, then you can select them and get the right names or ep numbers with the right episodes.

Smart folks can probably do cool stuff with all the options, I just left the stock settings and mashed the iPod 5 support button and hit start.  Voila!

These import into iTunes as movies and thus are under the movies tab instead of the TV tab (another good reason for giving your new files good names.) But that is a small issue and they move right on over to the iPhone – which is lovely.

I have not done my whole collection (much of it is still in India) but I did a few seasons of TV and some movies and some comedy shows. Not since the era of cassette tapes and Walkmen have I been able to listen to the comedy stylings of Chris Rock while out walking, but now I can – again!

Lil' Lacie playing with all her Apple buddies

The new iPad has been released and I did have to fight the urge to go get it.  Several things made that simple to do.  That’s a lot of loot to put on credit without a better paying job than the ones I have now. They two key elements I was most excited about did not materialize – the bigger 128 GB HD (which is still very small to me, but much better than 64GB, and a method to access a USB external drive to move data without needing a computer.  That second part was not in the official plans, but I can’t be the only one who is excited about moving into a “Post-PC” world (to quote Steve Jobs).  I can’t go on the road for very long with just a 64 GB HD.  I can go longer with a 128, but it would be best if they just built/released/fixed the interface to allow something like Finder to work on the iPad to move stuff on and off via the USB kit.

And finally, the Otterbox defender case will not be ready for a while yet. As cool as the new little magnetic cover they built is – that is not enough protection to me. I am not sure for whom that would be enough protection.  So, hopefully the universe will align and I will get a new job and Otterbox will release the defender case at about the same time!

A little housekeeping

Since i have been a little more nomadic than usual the past 18 months or so, i do not have a very good idea where my things are. I do not think of myself as very materialistic, but i do have some things that i enjoy quite a bit and like to keep on hand. One recent example was the search for fiction before the Mexico trip and my inability to locate all of Asimov’s Foundation Universe novels and Herbert’s Dune novels. Another more recent example is the unfulfilled desire to watch some films on DVD, since i do not know where my DVDs are right now.

Hanuman Temple, Tamil Nadu, with Sarala

A quick bit of background. I came home from India and soon thereafter moved to Arizona. After a year in AZ, i moved back East, originally setting-up in my old suite in my folks’ basement in PA. I was splitting my time between PA and Richmond (RVA) and other points further south, and my grandfather was soon to return to PA to stay with my folks for about 6 months.

Peavine trail in Prescott, AZ with Jake

I closed out my grandpa’s house in Brandon, MS and drove his bedroom set to PA.  I packed up my stuff quickly and took it to the family storage shed and set-up the basement with all of my grandfather’s gear. I did all this very quickly, because i was always eager to get back to RVA to see a girl. I also was expecting at that time to have a job in RVA soon and to move back down there. That project got delayed and complicated for reasons that are best suited to another discussion.

The point is that i packed my stuff quickly and haphazardly. Some of my books were put in wine boxes, most in paper bags or backpacks. Some things went out to the storage shed, and some were hidden in closets or under the stairs or the attic at my folks’ place.

Another factor to add to the chaos.  During this period i remodeled the first floor of my folks place. I took everything apart and rebuilt it.  So, we had to move a lot of things around in order to make room for that project.  After that, we had a painter come in and do the whole house – another period of rapid packing and moving of items.  And that was capped off with my remodel of the bathroom in the basement. Keeping track of exactly what is where has not been easy.

Yesterday i said ‘Enough’!  In addition to wanting to find my stuff and get it organized, i was also without my computer as it was getting its Superdrive replaced at the Apple store.  I spent an hour or so at the storage shed, and two hours at home collecting books and looking for other things.  Then i began sorting…

 

The Sorting Floor

 

 

*by this late hour, my laptop was back and smart enough to read CDs and DVDs again.

The boxes i bought on the first run to the store are way too big to deal with books.  So, despite weariness and the late hour, i went back out to find small boxes.  Without putting some order to this mess, i would have no place to sleep.

A few hours later – Presto!

Sorted and Labeled!
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