Long hot summer

It’s been 76 days since I last wrote a post here. I haven’t written because a lot of the time I’ve been angry. I get mean when I get angry and I don’t like being mean. I always regret it later. I’ve saved my rants for Facebook and Twitter because they’re kind of like the ancient privies archeologists are constantly digging up. You’ll find interesting stuff in there now and again, but you always have to remember that at some point in the past someone decided it was best if the thing was covered in shit.

Summer-2010-ClipArt9-SunWearingGlasses-800pxTrump got nominated last week and Hillary was nominated last night. I supposed it’s possible someone might not know what they’re going to do about voting, but I don’t think it’s too likely. My guess — and it’s only that — is that the biggest source of uncertainty is turnout. If people were magically transported to the polls (or it was somehow not necessary to go to a physical place to vote) I suspect almost everyone knows who they’d vote for. Intentions and actually doing something about them are two different things, though, so the only question left is who actually shows up in November. When I feel like looking into other people’s self-absorption I go read Medium (Motto: Facebook comments — with pretension!). There are all these posts explaining why the writer is or isn’t going to vote for this or that person. Some are funny. Some are poignant. Most are thoughtful and, I assume, sincere. All are predicated on the flawed assumption that someone gives a crap what you think. People only care inasmuch as you agree with what they already believe. Change is difficult and uncomfortable and most people handle it very badly. Nobody’s going to change their mind because of something you write except possibly what they think of you.

I write because I ceased caring what people thought a long time ago. It’s part of my charm. It also explains why I spend so much time with the cats. They judge me, but their criteria are clear. I’m good with that.

It’s not just politics that have made this a long summer, of course. A lot of people who should be bitching about things along with the rest of us are dead because somebody else thought shooting them was a better way to go. People are doing horrific things in the name of their religion. Buddhist extremists are targeting Muslims in Asia. Muslim extremists are carrying out vicious attacks in Europe. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League gets asked questions on TV. The horrors perpetuated in the name of religion are legion.

So it’s been a hell of a summer. Like all summers, though, this one is ending. When it does I’ll be doing something I really never thought I’d do again. No, I don’t mean being employed. I assumed that would work out somehow. No, the thing I’m going to do that I didn’t think I’d do again is teach. I’ve accepted a one-year, non-renewable lecturer position at Northern Kentucky University in the Media Informatics program in the College of Informatics. I’ll be teaching a basic web coding course, a course on non-linear storytelling, and another on the impact of video games and virtual worlds. They had a couple of folks leave at the end of last year and it left them just desperate enough that I seemed like a good option. I’ve been cramming like crazy to get ready, but it’s been fun. It’s going to be good to work with students again and be able to immerse myself in stuff I love. It’s all happened pretty fast, but I’m very impressed with the department. I hope their confidence in me isn’t as horribly misplaced as it feels right now. My teaching schedule for Fall has all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I should have at least some time to work on my own projects. There was a time in my life that a one-year teaching gig wouldn’t have sounded so great, but it’s actually pretty perfect for me right now.

That’s what I’ve been doing. Hope your summer’s been OK. Feel free to let me know.

I’ll only judge you a little. Promise.

Power Rearrangers

It’s really all about power, isn’t it? All this stuff that’s going on in the world. It’s about power. The power to make your little part of the world the way you want it. The power to decide what little part of the world is your little part of the world. Call it control. Call it agency. It’s power. It’s the ability to affect — and effect — how things turn out for you, short-term and long-term. And it’s also about frustration. What you do when you realize you don’t have power or agency or control.

This hit me as I was commiserating with a friend on Facebook. I don’t want to say too much out of concern for privacy, but sufficed to say neither of us are having an especially good time right now. I was trying to explain my philosophy of “fuck it.” Basically it boils down to me doing this re-evaluation of the things I like to do and the things other people seem to expect of me. Those things I like I keep.  Everything else gets stuck onto the “fuck it” pile. This is still a work in progress and I don’t recommend tossing everything and making it your life plan, but my thinking is that I’m not going to get to the point of suckering people for money earning an honest day’s wages until I know what the rubes will pay for what I have to offer my fellow passengers on this trip though the cosmos.

I’ve been re-reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. It’s such a good book. It was written in the 1950’s so it’s a nightmare in terms of gender-inclusive language, but it’s clear the guy had it together and he’d have written it differently if he were doing it today. Anyway, it’s about how individuals decide to join new mass movements. His examples come from the rise of Christianity, the Protestant Schism, the Bolshevik Revolution and, because it’s written just after World War II, Hitler and the Nazis. An Andrew Sullivan piece that was otherwise a nightmare reminded me of Hoffer’s book. I’ve been thinking about nucleation points — places where conditions are right for a system to start to change from one thing to another — and it hit me that Hoffer’s book is a taxonomy of how that works. He’s not polluted or distracted by the present day because it hadn’t happened yet. All he had to go off of was a past that was less distant to him than us. And there was that whole “being a freaking genius thing.” He had that going for him.

Anyway, he talks a lot about frustration. He’s careful not to use the term clinically. Hell, he’s careful with all the words he uses, but especially that one. A good chunk of the book is a compendium of how different life circumstances can lead to frustration. He then illustrates how a new mass movement can give people the hope that their frustrations can be relieved. It’s been a long time since I read it and I’m not all the way through it yet, but one thing that’s becoming clear is that it’s not a good idea for a new mass movement to be too specific with details. People are happy to fill in the blanks.

It reminds of of something I’ve encountered a millions times when sitting down to talk to someone about me writing or making a new thing (video, educational piece, whatever). They generally have a pretty good idea about how they want to feel when the whole thing is done. What’s going to make them feel that way is pretty much a mystery to them. Experience has taught me that whatever they think is the answer is probably wrong (or so hopelessly incomplete it amounts to the same thing).  It’s not their fault. If they knew what they needed or wanted they’d have already done it for themselves. They’re not stupid, after all. They spend their days happily doing stuff I can’t — or don’t want to — do. Part of my job is getting them trust me that it’s OK they weren’t born knowing how to do whatever it is that needs to be done. And trusting me to do it. My job is figuring out how to make the thing that’s going to make them feel the way they want at the end. And then get them to pay me that sweet, sweet money for it. People: good at knowing how they want to feel.  People: pretty sucky at figuring out how to get there. Me: just like everyone else.

I think I “get” Trump now. And guns. And abortion. And how you can repeat all this crap about Obama that just doesn’t hold up to even cursory examination. The thing itself is not that important. It’s the ability to believe in the thing. You get to control that. You can own it, literally and metaphorically. Sure you’re more likely to shoot yourself or a loved one than you are a crook trying to rob you, but you own that gun.  You can have that. You can make that happen. And before you start feeling all that damned superior yourself, you might want to be aware that you’ve got just as many blind spots. Think about that stereotypical person on Facebook that really pisses you off.  What are their characteristics? Congratulations. You’ve just listed the things in your life you are frustrated about. You’ve done a chemical analysis of the soil that will list in great detail what will sprout and grow in you. You want to control, those things. You want to affect how those things turn out. And you’ll overlook things and gloss over things and do everything the person you despise does to prop up the hope that you will some day. “If people would only just…” So don’t get too full of yourself, Spanky. You’re just someone else’s garden.

A couple loose ends:  None of this is new. Or original. People have been frustrated for as long as there have been people. It’s one of our defining characteristics as things that exist in three-dimensional space and fart. The new twist is we have a much wider assortment of things to be frustrated about because we have such visibility into the lives and thoughts of others. We simultaneously know way to much about other people and way too little about ourselves. That’s not a particularly good recipe for happiness. Then there’s the whole thing where somehow we’ve decided that “stuff” is what it’s all about. Whoever controls our ability to get stuff controls us. That’s kind of weird.

Waiting for the punch line?  Waiting for the solution? Sorry. Not going to find any answers here. For my part I’ve been looking around a lot lately saying “What the fuck?” I’ve been seeing a lot of other people doing the same thing. I think I get it now. It’s about power, or the lack thereof. It’s people working out frustrations the only way they can.

I don’t know what to do about any of it (if, indeed, there’s anything to be “done”). But at least I know what I’m looking at.

It’s a start.

Trust me. You can't see my face.
Trust me. You can’t see my face and I dress funny. I’m clearly the answer.

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.