Well, I missed a post

I didn’t post yesterday. Technically my streak ended on January 31. I didn’t post that day either. As I recall, I just forgot. I had a couple of ideas, but I got into the mode where I substituted thinking about doing something with doing the thing itself. I do that with emails all the time. Well, I did back when people sent me emails I needed to reply to. That doesn’t really happen that much anymore. Words can’t express how OK I am with that. Seriously. This lack of steady income thing is, frankly, a pain in the ass, but I don’t miss being dismembered one paper cut at a time.1 Anyway, not posting yesterday wasn’t a matter of forgetting. I put it off several times earlier in the day. Not having a damned thing to talk about seemed like a pretty compelling reason to procrastinate. There wasn’t a point where I said “Nope, just not going to post today.” Apparently there was a point when my brain decided that I was going to quit reminding myself that I hadn’t posted because it didn’t occur to me again until I got up. So here we are. I missed a post.

Carla suggested that I write today about what I’ve learned about forcing myself to write every day. Carla often makes suggestions like that. Good suggestions. Rational suggestions. Suggestions about what a person sitting outside my skull might want to hear out of the cacophony inside it. Because my life story is largely a series of cautionary tales for others, though, I usually don’t follow up on them. This time I’m gong to take a shot at following through. We’ll see how it goes.

I resent structure, but I generally do better when I have it. I’ve figured out that when I can get a post up early in the day I’ve probably struck a pretty good balance between structure and creative space.  “Creative space” is what the people who used to pay me money to do things I mostly wasn’t interested in doing called “fucking around.” The more a task was something I didn’t want to do, the more creative space I needed. Why was creativity necessary? Mostly because I needed to figure out how to make whatever it was that somebody else wanted go away so I could continue to get a paycheck without shoving a pencil through my ear2. I joke now that I’m not housebroken enough for an office job. Well, I really never was. And now I’m not in one. So now there’s nothing between me and the realization that there’s a much shorter natural distance between me and someone in a coma than there is between me and a productive member of society. Here’s another example of where going with my gut is a a really bad idea for me. Some people seem to have a built in “Start” button. I have a “Sarte” button. You press it and nothingness happens. I know now that I’m going to have to fight that and it’s never going to be easy. I will mutter a lot.

I’ve read and listened to a few books lately that have really made me look at what I’m doing in a different way. Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy came out back in September. I can’t tell you how much I admire her as a writer and and as a person. Technically those aren’t two different things, but I don’t want to go down that rathole right now. She is such an amazing writer. She’s managed to create this persona on the page that’s kind of like a one-way mirror. We get to look in and see what’s going on, but she’s able to distract herself by making funny faces at herself. She overcomes her fear by being fearless. Which makes no sense if you think about it but is so clearly true you decide the best course of action is to just not think too much about it. The second book is Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Her inner monologues and self-deprecating humor are brilliant. I like to say I like write in a flow-of-unconsciousness style, but she pulls it off. It’s also a great testament to the power of not knowing any better. She had no idea what she was getting into when she did The Guild. Confession: I’ve only watched a few early episodes. I was never a gamer. Doesn’t matter. To pull off something like that is amazing. The book explains exactly how hard it was to create something without knowing what the end product was going to be. I hope it’s obvious why I’d be interested in something like that nowadays.

I’ve discovered I enjoy writing the most when I can do it in the first-person. I don’t know why that is. Probably terminal self-absorption., which is weird considering how little I like myself. I think I grew up thinking people were always pointing and laughing at me so I might as well get ahead of the game and do it myself. I know now that people weren’t pointing and laughing as a general rule, though I did know some assholes growing up who definitely were sometimes3. In a more serious vein, I did come to the conclusion early on that I wasn’t wired like everyone else so I’ve had the blessing or curse (depending on the situation) of not assuming anyone else sees things the way I do. I know now that’s not true all the time either, but damned if I can figure out when it’s true and when it’s not. Thus, first-person seems the safest route. It’s a commercially-limited approach however, mostly because no one knows who the fuck I am and has no reason to care.  That sets me up for posts like this that I’m having fun writing but ultimately don’t matter.

I know I don’t like writing when I’m mad or depressed. I seldom get less of either while writing. It’s probably that self-absorption thing again. I don’t think what I write then is all that good when I look at it later. Maybe it’s because I know where my head was at the time.

I’ve learned I wish I could make money writing haikus. That doesn’t mean I think there’s a way to actually do it, but I can no longer say I don’t have a dream. You want an impossible dream?  There you go.

I like writing jokes. In casual conversation I do OK telling them, but I don’t know that I could get up and do standup. No, that’s not true.  I could do it. I’d have to work on it a lot. I don’t know that I want to do it so badly I want to work at it. I just wish there were somewhere I could write “You know how people always say do what you love for your job? The first time I heard that I thought to myself ‘What? Where’s the money in masturbating?'”

I like thinking about beer. I like drinking beer. I’m still finding out how to write about beer I don’t find tedious.

Many mornings Carla and I hear a bell ringing at the Catholic church that’s across the park our condo backs up to. It turns out that bell once hung in the John Hauck brewery up in Cincinnati. I don’t know why, but that’s what I can’t get out of my head lately. I’m going to write that story. It involves people who are dead, buildings and businesses that are long gone and the small number of still-living people who have first-hand memories of events probably don’t realize they know part of an interesting story. It’ll be a piece of cake.

I’ve got to be working on something. I think this is going to be it.

And that’s what I’ve learned from trying to write every day and missing only two days so far.

1I know there are people I’ve worked with in the past who read this. Understand that I don’t mean the emails you used to send me. I treasured each and every one of those. You know who I’m talking about.
2If at any point I’ve been someone who reported to you, I need you to know that I’m not talking about you. You’re well aware that I’ve done many different things in my life and I’m talking about all those others that don’t involve your wise direction and leadership.
3Probably not you. Probably.

Still supporting Bernie

I contributed to Bernie Sander’s campaign the day he announced. I’ve never regretted that, though there are no shortage of people who’d tell me I ought to. I do not care for Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she was all that great as Secretary of State. Libya?  Yeah, that worked out pretty well. And I’m not talking about Benghazi. It was an awful thing, but I never understood what she supposedly did that was so terrible. The answer is, of course  that she didn’t do anything terrible in that incident. My objection was to the whole policy of taking out Quadaffi. Removing someone from power without having a clear plan for who’s going to replace him.  When has that ever gone wrong? On a more mundane level it appears no laws were broken in the email server thing, but that appears to be more about luck than design. It was a bad idea. There were plenty of professionals who advised her that it was a bad idea, and she went and did it anyway. She wanted use her Blackberry for all her mail and her convenience trumped all. It’s not a criminal offense to do stupid things, But this is the judgement we’re all supposed to get all warm and fuzzy about? “Oh I know we’ve spent millions of dollars and had people devote their entire careers to thinking about how we ought to secure our sensitive communication systems. But I really like my Blackberry, so forget about all that.”

I think Trump will beat her. Should he?  Of course not, but close your eyes. Imagine being miles into space and and looking down on the North American continent. Now imagine the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader flying his TIE fighter saying “The stupid is strong with this one.” And sorry Canadians. Maybe you should paint a line that can be seen from space so Darth doesn’t include you in with us. Anyway, a lot of people really hate her. A lot. They will definitely be motivated to show up and vote. You remember a couple of weeks ago when the Brits decided “Boaty McBoatface” was the way to go for naming an Arctic research ship? It’s going to be a lot like that. There will be no shortage of people voting for Trump. There will also be no shortage of people who are voting against Clinton.

I know no one wants to hear that. Sorry. I believe it to be true. Wishing isn’t going to make it go away. I would be gloriously happy to be wrong. Best. Crow. Ever. But people give a shit about the Kardashians. Reality TV is mistaken for reality. Pardon me if I’m not expecting a wave of rationality to wash across the country. No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people. I think Trump beats Clinton.

I have friends who will vote for Clinton. I will not under any circumstances advise them to do otherwise. They’ve all shown me that courtesy, after all.  It’s your sacred duty to vote for the person you want to win. I’m pretty sure the women I know who are voting for her have a more nuanced view than “I have to vote for her because she’s a woman” but it wouldn’t even matter if they did. That still sounds like a better reason than the hypothetical “I’d like to have a beer with him” that people seemed to have no problem with back when it was Bush. There are no rules for how you get to “I want that person to win.” OK, bribery is illegal, but other than that …

For my part I’m planning to vote for Bernie Sanders in the Kentucky primary.  After that it doesn’t really matter.  I live in Kentucky.  Mitch “Don’t call me Yertle” McConnell is our sane Senator. Eastern KY voted en masse for the guy who’s fulfilling his promise to take their health insurance away. I have a better chance being elected Pope than a Democrat has to win the Kentucky electoral votes. There’s no money for education, but the boondoggle “Ark of the Ham” project gets an $18-million subsidy. Yeah, I could vote for Tinkerbell for all it’s going to matter around here.

So that’s where I am.

Those haikus are looking better all the time, aren’t they?

Discontinue if the Bern lasts for four or more hours.

Circling the drain

The brevity of my posts the last few days are a pretty good indication of where my head is. It’s not terrible, but I can see it from here.

Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I resent the fact you’re bothering me about how much liquid there is in a glass. If you can’t figure out out I don’t know why it’s my problem.

Here a cute picture of Mia and some stuffed animals that one of the cats dragged out. It might have been her, but they’ve all played with them enough that they’re all suspects. Every day she takes over just a little more and I love it. She’s a bright spot. The fact that I can still see bright spots is a good thing.

Man card on hold

I spent a lot of the day trying to install a new radio into Carla’s car. It all seemed to be going smoothly until I hit the point where I powered it on. Nothing. Probably a bad connection in the wiring harness. Redo tomorrow. 

Surprisingly little cussing. 

Man card renewal pending.

(Truth be told I can think of more than a few women I know who would have gotten this done in one try. So consider my tongue firmly in cheek.)

The big birthday brisket writeup

[I managed to auto post an incomplete version earlier.  If the version you read sort of ended weirdly, that’s why.]

I’m calling the birthday brisket success. Overall I’d give it a B or B+. There’s room for improvement, but lots of things went really well. Given all the things that I was doing for the very first time, I’m very happy with how it went.

For those of you not scoring at home, the brisket in question was a whole 13-lb packer that I bought at Bill Finke & Sons in Ft. Wright, KY. I’ve always liked going there. They’ve been at it for a long time and they know what they’re doing. It’s a place I can score tri-tip, for example. That’s not easy on this side of the river. They’re old-school butchers in the best sense of the term. I also made the happy discovery that they carry Humphrey Lump Charcoal.  I’ve wanted to try it for a long time. Curt McAdams recommended it to me a while back and I trust his judgement on stuff like this. He’s a pro.  Anyway, the closest to me I knew I could get it was Dayton, OH and it never worked out to pick any up when I was up there for work. Finke’s rearranged the store a little since the last time I was in and I came across it as I was checking things out. Now I have even more of a reason to love the place. Anyway, here’s what the brisket looked like after coming out of the cryovac.

The flat starts on the left on top and runs to the big chunk of fat on the right. The point is the underside below that layer of fat and is what makes up the whole right side you can see.

I didn’t measure the length of the thing, but I believe that cutting board is 19-inches long and the grid on my Big Green Egg is 18.25-inches in diameter. I explained in the preview post about how this is actually two muscles connected by a big strip of fat. I separated the two muscles (typically called the “flat” and the “point”) and came up with two 6-ish lb. pieces of brisket. I didn’t weigh them because their final dressed weight really doesn’t matter that much once things get underway. The important thing for this story is understanding that the very, very, very rough rule of thumb for a brisket at 220F is an hour-and-a-half per pound.  There are lots of variables, but that’s a good starting point. Just don’t plan a bank heist with a brisket being finished at a certain time as a key part of the plan. So instead of estimating a 19-20 hour cook, dividing the flat and point reduced it to a 9 hour estimate. I knew I had no intention of running at 220F, I’d already decided I was going to go 190F through the night and kicking it up in the morning sometime, so I was figuring on a 14-hour or so cook. Here’s what the separated flat and point looked like.

Flat on the left. Point on the right. If you flipped the flat onto the point like you were closing a book, you’d get what see in the first picture.  The thin end of the flat lines up with the thick end of the point. A good big of fat has been trimmed out.

I made up a rub comprised of 2 parts salt to 1 part each of paprika, cumin, chili powder, onion powder and a half-part tumeric and some black pepper . No recipe.  I literally just grabbed what looked good out of the spice cabinet. The salt is the main thing. Lots of very good briskets have been made using nothing but salt and pepper as a rub. I put the well-rubbed chunks in a foil pan, covered it in more foil and parked it in the fridge overnight and through most of the next day.

Here’s the load of charcoal I used.

IMG_1243The wood chunks are pecan, my preferred wood for smoking brisket. Oak is also very, very good but I grew up in a house with a pecan tree in the backyard. It’s what I like.  There’s one little stick you can see in the center sticking up. That’s a 4-inch long “fatwood” fire starter stick shoved through the charcoal pile.  I hit that area with a propane torch for about 45 seconds and there’s a fire. The Humphrey was amazing. I honestly think I could have started the whole fire without the resinous wood starter.

Now we go to data. I won’t deny that Carla and I were having some beer as I was getting this all ready to go. Was that why I forgot to attach the SmoBoT temperature probe to the grid? I don’t know. Causality is such a difficult concept. Mistakes were made. Isn’t it better that we all look forward rather than backwards? We don’t want Al-Qaeda and ISIS to win, do we? Anyway, after a while it really started bugging me that smoke was pouring out the top of the smoker but the grid temperature was stuck at 60F. That’s pretty much what the outside temperature was. That’s weird. It’s almost as if … Oops. When I put on the probe it was quite happy to inform me the Egg was at 320F.  Just slightly higher than the 190F I’d planned on.

Screenshot 2016-04-28 16.09.31

Long story short, that graph you see is the cooling rate of the ceramic on a large Big Green Egg.  The two dips were me opening the lid to dump heat. You can also see it was completely ineffective because the heat just came right back up and continued to dissipate at its own rate. It’s as if the thing is working exactly as designed! Sometime between the second lid opening and the time the temp got down to 190F the fire was snuffed.  I put the meat on (that’s why the food probes jiggle) but you can see the temp just kept falling. I thought it would be harder to relight the fire in an Egg than it was. Let’s hear it for propane torches. I relit about 9:47 PM and by just after 10 I was rocking and rolling. And I went to bed. Here’s the graph of the rest of the cook. The flat is Food1 Temp. The point is Food2 Temp.

Screenshot 2016-04-28 16.15.58

You can see I was well into the stall by 3AM. I was asleep. Around 4:30AM the fire got wonky. I think it was the fact I really didn’t mound the lump and it took a while for more to collapse back in. SmoBoT handled it while I was asleep. Check out the food temps right around the time all that’s going on. The temperature on the flat is actually falling. I was asleep  Have I mentioned in the last 5 minutes how much I love my SmoBoT?

When I got up I decided to just leave it at 190F. No big strategy. I was just enjoying this view and wanted it to last as long as possible.


If I wanted to be super-critical of myself I probably should have kicked the temp up to 220F around 9 or 10AM. Then I could have gotten the bark going earlier and I would have broken the stall a little more gracefully. Not that I mind the stall. I’ve embraced it. I’m convinced it’s where the magic happens. But it went on a little too long for the flat. It didn’t dry out. But it was starting.

But there are no regrets. I was wanting a day to unwind and just stare into space and I got that. The point was at least an A-  The flat worked well on the awesome Kimmelweck rolls I baked on Monday. So I’m good with a B on the flat. Still better than a lot of brisket I get around here.

When I pulled the flat at 187-ish I wrapped it in foil and stuck it in the only appropriate foam cooler there is.

Before the wrap.
H-E-B is a Texas grocery store.
Resting comfortably.

You can see on the graph I did kick the temperature up for the last couple hours. The fact that the flat rose so much faster than the point should have told me the moisture content of the flat had dropped and I ought to have gotten it off an hour or so before I did. Live and learn.

I’m feeling like this is more about tweaks than anything else.  This was a success by any measure. And a good birthday.

Three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet.

lcd-test-pattern-pro-18a423-h900It’s sort of odd, but I’ve gotten to the point I really hate seeing video on the Internet. It’s funny because I love video. I’ve been shooting it since I was in middle school. I think my first gig was recording a training seminar for teachers. That would have been in either 1976 or 1977. In high school I had access to this weird-ass Akai VT-400 camera/ recorder combo that I used to record whatever I could talk anyone into letting me record. I spent a lot of time with the basketball team.  Up until five or six years ago my professional life revolved around making video in one way or the other. Back in 2008 Streaming Media Magazine named me a Streaming Media All-Star. As best I’ve been able to determine, my team at UC was the first ever to stream a high school graduation live on the Internet back in 2001. That’s a footnote-to-a-footnote kind of accomplishment, but it illustrates the point that I’ve been at this for a while. I still care about video a lot. I’m enjoying this writing thing, but I’d kill to direct a multi-camera shoot just one more time.1,2. But I do hate seeing video pop up on social media.

It’s not the production values (or lack thereof) that bother me. I can’t tell you how many “Intro to TV Production” courses I’ve taught. When you see some of the stuff students do intentionally for a grade when you warned them not to, you’re not terribly overwrought when you see people with no training fall into the same traps. It’s definitely not vertical video. I feel the same way about people who get all holier-than-thou about that issue as I do about people who turn up their noses at a well-made lager because, well, it’s a lager. The phrase “douche canoe comes up almost immediately.

After putting milliseconds of thought into it while making a Facebook comment on this topic, I came up with three reasons I dislike most video on the Internet:

  1. Environmental Demands. Few videos are silent. Most have sound. I’m not always in a place where it’s appropriate for sounds to be playing. I keep my phone muted a lot of the time. When I was in cubicle-land I had headphones, but a lot of time I wore them just to muffle outside sounds. Sounds are intrusive. The Internet may be a dark, seething morass of overdeveloped outrage and underdeveloped potty-training skills, but at least it’s usually quiet.
  2. Cognitive Throttling. I read fast. Like everyone, I read differently depending on the circumstance. If I’m trying to immerse myself in the piece I read every word and am happy to go back and re-read a passage again. If I’m in a hurry or looking for a specific thing I’ll scan until I locate what I’m looking for. Everyone does this to one degree or another. The brain is an amazing thing. The amount of information you can take in at a glance is quite remarkable if you think about it. Of course you don’t have to think about it. That’s kind of the point. Until it’s video. Now you’re getting locked into a single speed. Whatever’s in there you’re looking for, you get to wait for it with everyone else, damnit. It’s going to drip, drip, drip and you can’t do anything about it. That five-minute video is going to take five minutes to watch. Plus anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds extra because there’s probably going to be a pre-roll ad.
  3. Cognitive Hijacking. When you watch a video, you’re outsourcing your cognition to whomever made it. You’re only going to see what the person who made it wants you to see. You’re only going to hear what you’re given. The camera is never passive. It draws attention to itself in varying degrees depending on the technique being used, but you’re not the one who’s deciding what you’re looking at. That’s been done for you. Saying “I’m going to watch TV” or “I’m going to a movie” pretty much means you’re signing up for this voluntarily. I like how Steven Spielberg manipulates my cognition. Uwe Boll?  Not so much. But that’s just me. My main objection to most video on the Internet is that I’m usually doing something else and I can’t really afford to sign over my consciousness to this other person who might or might not share my cognitive goals right then. One of the hoary chestnuts of the Internet is that videos have to be short because no one will watch long videos. Bullshit. People will hang in exactly as long as they need in order to get out of it what they want. You just can’t shove 50 unrelated things into a long video and expect people to wade through all of them to find that one nugget they really want.3

If you have a video of your cat doing something adorable and you label it as such, I have all the information I need in order to decide whether or not to watch it.  And let’s be real. I probably will. Because cats. On the other hand, I have no interest in watching a recipe. Some of the best recipes in the world have been passed down through generations on 3×5 index cards. How is making a video supposed to improve on that? Some particular technique in some step? That’s fair, but then just show me that. You can just write out the rest and I’ll be very happy.

Video is good at showing complex spatial relationships among multiple objects. That could be anything from a baseball game to a gymnastics meet to a video on how to remove a car stereo from a car. Video is good at showing parasocial cues like smiling and body language. Video is good for demonstrating complex techniques. We’ve all seen the line drawings of how to tie a tie or assemble some piece of furniture. Most of the time there’s this one key step that video is perfect for. You look at the drawing on the instructions and you wonder if Screw 2B goes into hole 3C or whether you’re supposed to invade France by way of Belgium4. There are certain things video is good for. It’s not good for everything.

I always liked to tell my students that it’s nearly as hard to make a really crappy video as it is to make a good one. The amount of effort that goes into something has absolutely nothing to do with how good or appropriate it is. The flip side to that is that just because it’s easy to shoot a video and put it up, it doesn’t mean you ought to. I could go on for at least another thousand words about the crime against humanity that is the “video user guide” for most software. Just admit it. You were too lazy to write out the text for what each menu item does. That’s all I want to know. I don’t have to see you do it.

To get my point across do I need anything more than words?  No?  Then stop. Can a picture help show a two-dimensional relationship? Yes? Add that sucker in. Is there something we absolutely have to see in motion  and hear in order to understand? Yes? Then video is a good idea. Otherwise it’s not. It’s not that complicated.

1OK, maybe not kill. I’d be willing to kick you. Call me?
2I did order one of these things way back. It was supposed to ship this month but it’s been delayed to July. Not perfect, but it could be fun.
3As an aside, I think 360-degree video is a cool and interesting technology, but I’m betting people are really going to struggle to find a good use for it in a story-telling setting. How do you direct attention when you just opened up the world by a whole lot? I’m definitely not saying it can’t be done, but I sure don’t know what it looks like. Then again, that’s the fun part, right?
4I’d like to apologize again to the governments of Belgium and France for that misunderstanding when I was assembling my Weber grill.

Big day for Dunkel

Portrait of the Young Cat as Slightly Stoned

We had to take Dunkel to the vet today to get his teeth cleaned. His litter mate Mia has Bartonella’s which often causes dental problems. Porter, who’s genetically unrelated has no issues, but Dunkel needed a good cleaning. He’s getting tested for Bartonella’s as a precaution, but the expectation is he won’t have it.

Anyway, we dropped him off at the vet this morning. I picked him up around 3:30pm. The hours between were odd. Dunkel is the straw that stirs the drink around here. Mia looked for him. Porter was nonplussed.

I’m glad he’s home. Sure, I was able to go several hours without him sticking his ass in my face, but it wasn’t worth it. I missed the head butts. He’s a big goofball with enough fur to make another cat, but we wouldn’t trade him for the world.

Bump in the road

I’ve never been anything resembling a morning person. I find more and more now that if I don’t get started on what I really need to get done in the morning it doesn’t get done. As the day goes on it’s like my head fills with cotton.

What I’m trying to say is that I had several things I wanted to do today and I didn’t get any of them done  One of them was the post about the great brisket cook.

Here’s a nice picture of s sunrise  I should reacquaint myself with these things.