To CA and Green Valley

The trip to CA was lovely. My folks drove me to the airport in Philly and I had no issues with security.

On the plane, a lady with a 4 y.o. and a baby was seated next to me. Turns out that these were not only the best behaved children I have ever seen on an airplane, they were better than over half of the adults. The biggest impact they had on me was that the little girl would do a form of the milk step on my leg while she was nursing. That was actually kinda cool. Having a nursing mom next to me on the plane was absolutely no problem for me. It made me think of three awesome ladies – Kelly, Karen, and Olive.


Terrie came to pick me up from LAX which was super sweet and a great surprise. We accomplished my major chore – buy a canister of fuel – and searched for vegetarian food. Joe recommend we check out Indian places and I found one with a name that sounded like it was from south India. They were closed which was a big bummer. The next place we checked out was open and had a sign on the building that said “southern Indian food”.


This place was exactly what I have been looking for since I came back from India. They had all my favorites: masala dosa, mutter paneer, uttapam, poori, parotta, puttu with kadala curry, idly with really dry chamundi.

These were my people. We talked about India and they were shocked and pleased when they learned that I knew Thiruvavnthapuram well and could speak a little Mayalayam and Hindi. They knew my old neighborhood, Palkulangara, and where my old office was located above the SNDP hall by the Pettah railway station. They had an image of the key figure for SNDP folks – Sree Narayana Guru. By complete circumstance I was wearing a vibrant yellow shirt – the key color for SNDP.

Mayura restaurant in LA – Sree Narayana Guru (and the SNDP movement that grew up around him) was one of first voices strongly advocating for an end to the caste system and the concept of the Untouchables.


SNDP Hall below my office in Pettah, dedication ceremony for the new Dr. Palpu memorial library

20140410-064332.jpgMy old office

They fed us great food and I shared some pictures of the big event in which we celebrated the opening of the Dr Palpu Memorial Library.

20140410-064343.jpganother view of the Pettah office
Back in Green Valley, I spent some time relaxing, soaking in the sun and the warmth, cutting grass, setting up my tent, and working on my disc golf
putting. Out back of the house, two hummingbirds were having a blast at the feeder. I enjoyed watching and listening to them, and I even got two short videos.

Sorry about the sound quality. That was the last straw for my lifeproof case. It will protect your phone. It will also make it largely unusable.

Stuff and Things 96-97 96-97

Howdy folks. It is getting pretty exciting round these parts. I am leaving in a week. I am thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and really jazzed up and a little scared. One of my new hiking friends and i were talking a bit about fear/anxiety. I shared a thought with her. This is not my original concept, just something i have heard from many sources and that i draw strength from at times. Bravery and courage do not imply an absence of fear. To be brave, to act with courage, is to be afraid and to carry on despite your fear.

I am practicing with a few acts of bravery here in PA 🙂

G+L+N 2003

The previously endless task list is no longer endless and all the big chunks are done. There are still a few things to tend to. If you are as “particular” as i am, there are always more things to do. All the resupply boxes are packed, addressed, and ready to ship out. I have a stockpile of backup food prepared in case i need to have my mail drop angel Liz adjust my portion sizes. I have two boxes of backup gear packaged and labeled for easy identification in case stuff breaks, wears out, or i want something else once i am out there doin’ it.

I filed and paid my taxes. I enrolled in a health insurance program. I got my booster shots both for regular USA life and for almost definite international business travel that will commence as soon as i return to everyday life after the hike (Tetanus and a Typhoid booster). My car is at the doctor’s office getting a new lung so that it will be ready for my folks to use in my absence.

I got some great tent repair tools from the maker of my new tent and have patched the hole i inadvertently made in the rainfly the second time i ever set up the tent. This kit includes a very lightweight device that will preclude the same kind of incident occurring again.

My desktop since 2006
My desktop since 2006

All of that necessary surface stuff aside – there have been some interesting emotional shifts and other reflections during this time of preparation. I look back at the years of drinking and smoking and continue to wonder how and why i lived that way at all, and for so long. There are so many great benefits for me in being sober and an ex-smoker. (I can never be a non-smoker. Even if i thought that it was possible for that title to apply to a former smoker, which i do not, Bill Hicks would crawl out of his grave, join Facebook, and become my friend – just so that he could unfriend me for applying that label to myself. No one wants that.) I will be 5 months smoke free on Friday, but i don’t really feel any different. That does not make me want to smoke again. I love not smelling terrible (or at least not terrible in THAT way). Many people have commented that it should be much easier to hike now. I don’t feel that. I don’t know if not enough time has passed, or if it has more to with me just having a very large lung capacity and staying active even when i was about 40 pounds overweight. I like not smoking. I like not spending the money i used to spend on cigarettes!

The not drinking has many more tangible, immediate, and longer term effects. One of the biggest things for me is that i am not depressed anymore. After living in a constant state of at least mild depression with several rather severe swings into deeper dark places – i have not even really been sad since i quit drinking, and it feels great. Aside from an initial few weeks of changing body chemistry, i sleep so well now. I fall asleep easier and actually sleep all through the night. What a great change that is. Having good sleep alone has probably helped reshape my attitude into the happy sunny guy you all know and love those days 😉 (Yes, i used to be even grumpier. Don’t you wish you knew me then?) I am still me, still have my own ticks, and tendencies, but i let more stuff go now. I am hanging on to less. I do still bottle things inside and am far more likely to channel emotions inside to try to understand and control them rather than just letting them run free – but i am doing it less.

A final thought to keep this “brief” and not spiral into a super lengthy introspective ramble – an unexpected correlation between long distance hiking and sober time. Many guide books offer the advice that if your goal is to thru hike a long distance trail like the PCT, you have to expect some changes out there due to fires, floods, landslides, mudslides, endangered species, and other factors. However you do choose to surmount these difficulties, the key is to walk a continuous foot path from start to finish. You don’t want to have to say, “i hiked the whole PCT, except for that bit near Idyllwild because of the …”. I understood this immediately, both what they were trying to say and why it might be important, particularly in your own memory and in talking with other hikers.

My buddy
Me and Lucas at Mickey and Max’s House – 2011

I quit drinking (this time) in January of 2013, just a few days after finding out that one of my dear friends and mentors who also struggled with depression and addiction killed himself by hanging. But on April 14th, 2014, the day i will start my thru hike attempt, i will be 6 months sober. That is because i chose to drink last October. It was something of an experiment. I didn’t go crazy or shirk my duties or anything – but i did drink for several days. I am glad i did it. If only to know that i don’t need to ever run that test again. I hated it. I was so very disappointed in myself for doing it. I had to make sure that i made a few public statements about it so that i would not have a bunch of my supportive friends trying to wish me a “happy one year sober” in January of 2014 that i did not earn. I don’t declare that i have been sober for a little over a year except for that little incident in October. That would sound and feel false and wrong to me. I don’t want to have a similar thing with my thru hike. I am not a purist in the sense of “every possible mile of the PCT must be walked”. There are several alternate routes that are not mandatory, they just take you to different sites and i am really excited about hiking those paths. For me, those alternates do not break my chain of thru hiking the PCT. Skipping sections in a car or something like that – something that does break the concept of walking a path all the way from Mexico to Canada – that would violate my personal goal. So, i get what they are saying and i am on board!

I am not judging the choices others make. That is their decision and their lives. You go out have the hike that you want to have. This one is mine.

PS – i keep meaning to write about music and m/ METAL m/ but i just have not had the time. And yes, those issues are timely and hike related! My new buddy Minda and i have a lot of common musical tastes, though as of yet, she has not found any Metal that works for her and we have been talking about metal. I wanted to write a bit about it and explain what it is about Metal that appeals to me. It may not be what you think…

Anywho – be well folks.

Rock On!

PPS – i have written about my dogs throughout this blog and i am sure i will again. With the anniversary of both of them passing – Guthrey at the end of March in 2004 and Lucas 03/30/2012 – my company getting really active in the MidEast again (which happened right after Guthrey died), and me going to hike in California again (i hiked the JMT a few months after Lucas passed) it has been on my mind. I miss my buddies every single day. No day is really harder than any other. But i am feeling it quite a bit right now.


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.

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.

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.

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!


All of this talk and thought about Meditation, and doing a quick write-up on the CDs i sent to Karen has made me recall many things about my time in India. The CDs come into play because one of them is mostly devotional songs for Lord Ayyappa – the patron saint of Sabarimala.

The historical/traditional story of Lord Ayyappa will come later (soon) as will the story of my pilgrimage there.  For now i will just say that it is a holy site and a pilgrimage destination for Hindus from all over the world.

On the Way to Sabarimala - August 24, 2007


It is in Northern Kerala in a mountainous/heavily forested region.  There are purification rituals that you undergo as far as 45 days before making your pilgrimage (no meat, booze, smokes, sex, impure thoughts, and so forth).  You have a special pooja ceremony with a specific priest in the morning before you leave for your trip.

Depending on which of the two paths up the mountain you choose, you may (as i did) bathe in the holy river Pamba before making your ascent.

Cracker in the Pamba - August 24, 2007


You climb this mountain barefoot.

There are many, many other pilgrims with you on the trip.  There would be anyway, but the site is only open to pilgrims a few specific times each year.

I am bringing this up because i do feel that it is time for me to begin writing and sharing more openly about my time in India and in the Mid East.  I think that the story of the pilgrimage to Sabarimala may be a good place to begin.

Cows in the road - Way Home - August 25, 2007


Also – there was a terrible accident there last night and over 100 people died in a stampede.

The cause and details are a little sketchy right now and probably the “true story” will never be known.

It seems that vehicles were probably involved (there are not supposed to be any vehicles in the area) as well as incredibly poor infrastructure and planning for a site that gets predictably huge crowds at specific times every year.

While the whole incident is tragic and i am sending out good thoughts for all involved, i also do not yet know if any of my people we there at the time.

I have sent some mails out to my partners, employees, and friends and have not yet had any replies.

One of the reports states that only 5 Keralites were killed, though there are 8 unidentified bodies.

I do not think my guys were there at this time, but this is a special time of year cosmologically to be at Sabarimala.

A few of my guys - Red Bananas, Pettah, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India - 11/21/07


Anyway, some carefully crafted invective about organized religion, greed, poor leadership, poor government, and poor planning are sure to follow, but for now i just want to send out good thoughts and reflect on the unknown and the transitory nature of existence.

If ever we needed another reminder to make each moment count and to live each day to the fullest and to follow our dreams – to do what we love – this is a good one.

Over 100 people died on a holy pilgrimage to an ancient and sacred site where they hoped to share their faith and get closer to the spirit of God.



Yesterdays (in keeping with the recent Billie Holiday theme)

The past few days have been pretty weird.  There is a cloud of multi-flavored nostalgia following me around – sometimes it rains good memories, sometimes bad feelings, and not a few lightning storms of unresolved issues.

I sent two emails to family members to follow-up on some thanksgiving conversations.  One dealt with web design and made me think about my guys in India and my success and failures there.  Our corporate websites and domain names expired quite recently and were not renewed.  I have not really done much with any of those companies in two years, and the websites were not very good – they served more as examples of why I chose to leave than as examples to steer international customers to our shop – but it is still sad to see them go.  I do still talk with my partner Ram regularly and we still talk about and share business ideas, and I do still plan to start more companies outside the US, so you never know what may happen in the future.  The patient was on the table for a long time before anyone had the guts to call it, but the “death” of Red Bananas is still sad.

Me and RamKamal - family celebration at an employee's house
Me, Vijayraj, Ramkaml, and Govind - the birth of Red Bananas

I played some harmonica during thanksgiving which led to a discussion that revealed that a few folks did not know I played harmonica in a metal band for a few years.  So, I wrote a brief thing on being in a metal band and gave a link to the band’s MySpace page which has a few sample tracks, one of which has me playing harp. I had to find a very brief way to mention in the mail to my cousin that this MySpace site does not have my name anywhere.  Truthfully, I am not really sure why that is.  We had a very nice run together.  Things got a little tense between two of us towards the end of my run in the band, some of it musical/band related – some of it personal, but I don’t get it.  So, it just brought up memories of bad times a little more than good times trying to figure out something that I don’t think I ever could figure out.  I try to focus more on the good memories; touring, performing, bathing in creeks, cooking food in parking lots on camp-stoves, feeding XstraightXedgeX kids, coining the catchphrase we put on our business cards “…the straight edge metal band that drinks”, performing on the radio live, playing CBGB, getting to open for Sliang Laos!, and all the rest of the great shows and good times.

I have been thinking about a few cyber-reconnects with folks from the past recently.  Some are comical and fun and some can be confusing.  I have two cyber friends that one could qualify as long lost loves {the loved from afar, love your best friend, never really worked out kinda loves – not the other kind(s)}.  Sometimes it is a little tempting to drop the “so what the hell happened” bomb, but that is actually way more fun to think about (which is not a lot of fun) than it would be to do.  I have been on the other side of some somewhat similar coins, and have actually put some time into thinking how I might answer such a question as well as wondering if I should prepare and freely offer up this info, and the answers just are not fulfilling for the “injured” party.   What can anyone say: I just did not love you, I did not love you the way you loved me, I was a stupid kid and wanted some hot semi-random sex more than poetry and flowers, i did not know you cared, i did not know i was that important to you, your intensity scared me, I did not realize it was such a big deal for you, I know you think you loved me but you did not even know me, I was a big fat faker and did not really know who I was, you did not know who you were, seriously – how could you have loved me, you are great and I was in a terrible place, this is great but i learned i do not want it – take a few minutes and you can continue to fill in this list, none of the answers, even the deeply true ones, provide comfort or itch that place inside you that still needs scratching.

One of these lost loves was with a lady who did have some real problems and seems to be doing very well today.  It makes me really happy to see that, and it makes me want to say that, but I don’t have confidence that I can do it without in the end (or the middle, or near the beginning) turning it around and making it about me – or the me I was then, which by default, makes me try to make her into the her she was then, and that is (in simplistic terms) the person in the time that was having the troubles that I am supposedly so glad that they have overcome?!  And it all gets twisted and fracked up pretty quick.  So, I step away from the keyboard and just be happy from afar.

In part I bring up the “love stuff” because I did get that call recently – the “what in the hey-heck-ho-de-do happened” call and I am not entirely sure how to respond.  This kind of area is one of the only ones in which I have issues wrestling with “the truth”.  In almost every circumstance, I do believe that the truth is the best policy, if for no other reason than it gives you less stuff to remember.  But there is some distinction between leaving things out and lying, and I never know how to deal with this.  When I look back, it seems that all of my “high-minded” attempts to save someone’s feelings by hiding some of the truth did not work out too well.  But this is a different kind of thing.  I am not so much troubled by trying to obfuscate real issues to ease the blow, I am struggling to leave out stuff that is probably not useful or relevant but just hurtful (though entirely true) that I am tempted to say out of my hurt and anger.

And, I have not been in this situation for some time.  I have only really dated two people since about 2000 – one in 2006 for a few months, and one for about a year from 09-10.  There was also one brief fling in the early aughts, and one false start in a long line of false starts with a recurring love interest from high school in 04, and what could have been a complicated sticky international potentially un-requited love mash-up in 05, but – for once – I kept my mouth shut, silently loved from afar, and enjoyed the friendship.

All of these things are fogging up my brain and I am trying to figure out how to vacuum up the thoughts, send them to the right place and make room to get back to work at looking for work.  The situation is getting desperate now as I continue to run out of money and lose sanity living with my folks.  I am still on my most recently developed timetable and things can still fall in line if I manage to hold down my end and put forth appropriate effort, but like sands through the hourglass, these are the times that try men’s souls – or however that goes…

I am going to start a blog…

From October 7th – In preparation for the launch of this blog:

I have been thinking about this for over 10 years because there is a lot to consider.  I have not started it yet and am not starting it now because I still need more information, but I have resolved enough of my concerns to know that I am going to start a blog.


I am a writer.  For a long while I was hung up on putting my product ‘out there’ for free.  Three elements have eased me over that hump.

1: The immense success of the two-fold Scott Sigler podcast novel publishing model – give it away for free and be able to demonstrate to traditional publishers that you have a following of size X – and also self publish limited runs but only after half your target run has been pre-ordered guaranteeing that your personal costs are covered.

2: The ‘new’ Creative Commons relatively easy copyright formula.  (I probably should have figured out how to trademark that use of ‘Creative Commons’…)

3: The success of other writers who have used blogging as a means of honing their craft and transmuted their free blogs into product.  I don’t really care about ‘product’ in the strict marketing sense, but I have had people steal my words for their benefit before we even really had the net – and I would like to make money because not having any and living in your parents’ basement is – less than ideal.

It is both hard for me and uninteresting to me to tell incomplete tales.  I tell pretty long stories.  I don’t have short answers to questions, and I really like to explain why and how it is that I have come to certain conclusions.

1: One of my overseas 18 month adventures needs to be told and has fascinating stuff in it.  I was on that adventure to Doha, Qatar for my family company, Renfroe Associates International.  Some of the things that happened, my reactions, and my feelings about all of it pose complications.  The core of RAI is me and my Dad.  I have to consider how anything I say about that may impact our current and future business, our relationship with certain companies and individuals (and maybe countries and governments) and it is possible that some of it could be classified.  The tales from Doha will largely just not enter into the blog.  One day, when we are all more financially secure – I will put it out there.  Hopefully that will be sooner than later, but who knows.

2: Another overseas adventure, my 18 months in India founding 3 companies, also really needs to be told.  It is marvy!  But there too we find complications, fewer than with RAI, but similar.  I love my chief partner in India, RamKamal.  There is less danger of saying anything that could have any negative impact on Ram or our companies, but I am currently searching for new contracts and very soon will re-enter the world of consulting/full-out working for someone else who is DC based.  I am not embarrassed about any of the things I have done, even the embarrassing ones, and I am not afraid to share these stories, with one small caveat.  I can’t tell them incompletely, and I have to recognize that what I write can impact whether or not I get interviewed.  I don’t think that anyone at the top of any company, anyone else who is or has been a CEO or President or Big Kahuna or Whatever, would have a real problem with my take on business development, team building, operations management, marketing, and the real deal on how that does or doesn’t work (and the rest of what goes into building an organization), but they are not going to be deciding who gets the interview.  That person may not have ever been in the position to understand the pressure and the kinds of decisions I had to make.  Hopefully I can tell the India tale sooner than later, probably much sooner than the Doha adventure, but who knows.

I can tell you anything you want to know about Renfroe Tile as long as Mike, Steve, Matt, and Tony sign consent waivers and that would probably be pretty easy to acquire.

There are some of my book projects that will not come into it.  I am not going to blog about my intense beef with what is happening in Epistemology or philosophy in general, or some of the other technical concepts like use/mention distinctions and other minutia.  I probably won’t blog about “how to fix education at the collegiate level” – or “what’s wrong with universities”, because I am still trying to decide if I need this as my fall-back business.  I’d rather give it away for free, but if I can’t get another job…

But that still leaves a whole bunch.  I write constantly – but I do all of my writing in my head.  Since I got out of college in 1998, I stopped putting it also onto paper or electrons.  Since I have ceased to utilize an outlet for all this stuff it is cramming up my head and driving me a little nuts, so I am going to start giving it to internetica.

A few things I still have to research – Form and Function.  I am pretty anal about most things, but most especially how information is organized.  It should be easy to find whatever you are looking for really quickly.  I am going to write about golf, and cooking, and running, and smoking/not smoking, and my family, and dogs, and hiking, and travel, and religion, and politics, and everything.  I don’t want 15 blogs or even two.  I want to do it all in one place.  I could probably have figured out how to do it in the time it took me to write this (and read it 700 times), but then I couldn’t sleep because I would still be writing this in my head until I got up and typed it out.  So research comes later.  Good night…