Life after social media

(Spoiler alert: it just keeps going.)

It’s been just over a week since I killed off my social media accounts (the ones I remembered anyway) and it’s been … fine. I already knew I spent way more time on both Twitter and Reddit than I should have. I’ve had some withdrawal symptoms, but they’re fading pretty fast. No, I’m not as plugged into the zeitgeist as much as I once was, but the zeitgeist never seemed to care much whether I was there or not. So I’m not seeing the downside. There are still plenty of places for me to go if I want to despair about the state of humanity. (I call it “going outside.”)

The dumbass in the White House has said something or tweeted something or done something stupid today. His enablers have done something evil. My congressman failed a Turing test again. These are all safe bets. Here’s how they affect me:

  1. I don’t know what it is.
  2. I can’t do anything that changes anything about it.

This was the list as it existed while I was still on social media:

  1. I can’t do anything that changes anything about it.

It’s a subtle, but important, difference.

I’m compensating in a number of ways, but that’s not exactly new. I think that’s the story of my life since roughly, oh, I don’t know, 1968. I’ve dusted off the blog, obviously. I’ve sought out some of the survivors of the Great Blogging Outbreak of the late 1990s. Some are still around. And I’m finding others. And Carla is still on social media so I see pictures of cute kids and animals. Oh yeah, and family news. That, too.

This picture is why I’m going to keep the blog:

Me as Santa in a fire truck
If you’re dressed up as an imaginary character, is it still a selfie?

It’s kind of hard to tell, but that’s me about a year ago getting ready for the City of Florence Tree Lighting. I’m sitting in the cab of a Florence fire truck. It. Was. Awesome. I will never forget it. I’ll also probably never do it again because the process of getting my fat ass into the cab was this weird mash-up of raising the flag in Iwo Jima and the Hunny Tree scene in Winnie the Pooh. It took three of Florence’s Finest to get me in there. No one needs to go through that again.

I often joke that the purpose of my life is to serve as a cautionary tale to others. How can I fulfill my purpose without a place to tell the stories? So I’m keeping the blog. And — because I don’t want to post my email address for all the world to see — I’ll eventually get comments turned back on (once I get a minor spam-protection issue worked out). Being off social media has taught me that I never really cared that much if anyone saw what I wrote. I just wanted someplace to put it.

By the way, this year’s lighting is December 3 back at the Florence Government Center. No fire truck. I’ll post all my public Santa gigs before Thanksgiving.

Missing Twitter

So I have no idea what the ‘ aside’ post-type looks like. So I’m finding out.

Maybe I’ll make my pithy observations here. At least it allows editing.

Done with social media

New technologies only allow people new opportunities to be people. Thus it is, thus it will always be. And people are, by and large, shit.

I’m starting the process of disabling all my social media accounts. I don’t want to have to pay for spam protection, so I’ve turned off comments here, too. I may decide it’s not worth the money to maintain this either, but for the moment it’s how I’m letting people who I don’t see regularly where I went.

If you need to get in touch with me and I have any interest in talking to you, you already know how to do it.

I’d say it was fun, but it wasn’t.

Ribs preparing to cook on the Big Green Egg

A Day for Ribs

It’s hotter than hell out there, which I suppose is appropriate since there’s plenty of evidence that’s where we live There’s way too much depressing shit that I’ll probably pontificate about some other day, but for today I’m trying to look on the bright side. The Astros have been in a funk that — of course — started when they came to town and we had tickets. I’ll admit it. It hurt to see the Reds sweep. But they played better, so no excuses. We’ve had to go 10 innings and call on Yuri Gurriel’s hair to win it for us the last two games, but wins are wins. As I write this we’re up 2-1 in the 1st, and we’ve already won the series. I’m not going to say I don’t want a win today, but sweeping is always hard, our recent experiences excepted, of course.

We bought a couple racks of ribs for this weekend, but after getting the first rack prepped yesterday (a little fat trimming and the silverskin membrane removed on the back, then a rub I threw together) I decided to just do the one and save the other for the 4th. When it comes down to it I don’t really do ribs that often. They aren’t a ton of work, but they’re enough. I’ve gotten pretty good at country ribs (which, of course, aren’t ribs), and they usually scratch the itch.

I’ve had a hankering for real ribs, though, and it’s probably because every time I open the small fridge we have in the basement I see a bottle of sauce from L’il Porgy’s in Champaign & Urbana, Il (the one in Urbana is the one we usually wound up at, but both are good). Since we’re not driving up there to see my father-in-law (since he’s here in town) we’ve not had any reason to go. I love their ribs. The sauce is really good. I tend to be a dry-rub guy by nature, but these will get blessed with L’il Porgy’s sauce in their last hour. Because I want to.

Overview of cooking temperatures

Of course I’m using my Smobot. Those probes you see in the photo are the two food probes . I’m trying out a new (to me) brand of lump (B&B) and I’ve been happy with it. I’d been using GFS, but the last couple of bags I’d used had been abused pretty badly. Small chunks, which isn’t the point of the stuff. This bag has been handled more gently, and I like the size. Nothing ginormous, but good sized lump. That, combined with the brand-spanking-new gasket you can see in the big photo, led to that little overshoot. The Smobot is supposed to compensate for an open lid (and I’m sure it did), but a lot of lump lit when I had the lid up and it appears it was a little generous with the damper when I closed the lid. There is a way to turn off the open-lid compensation, and there’s always a chance I might have done that. I’ll check the next time I go out. (Spoiler from the future: I didn’t turn it off). You can see, though, that it was settled down in about half and hour and there was no damage done.

I know a lot of people swear by what’s called the 3-2-1 method, but I have an aversion to wrapping anything I’m smoking. I know why people do it, and I’d never give anyone doing it the side-eye. It’s just not my thing. Like I said earlier, I don’t do real ribs all that often, so when I do I want the whole experience. To me (and it’s only a personal opinion) part of the experience is not knowing for sure how long it’s going to take. A typical rack of St. Louis-style spareribs will take between four and six hours to be finished. Beyond that, it’s up to the ribs. I’m not working blind, though. With some data and an understanding of what’s going on inside the smoker, they’re perfectly happy to tell you when they’re done.

The bottom line on ribs is that you want to keep them between 165º F (~74ºC) and 195ºF (~91ºC) for as long as possible. That’s when the collagen melts and the ribs turn into, well, ribs. But you have to balance that with the meat drying out. Once you get much above 200ºF (~93ºC) you start running that risk. Pulling them off at 195ºF lets carryover happen without (much) danger of drying out. The wildcard in the equation is our old friend the stall. I obsess about the stall, but to my way of thinking, the stall is what separates real barbecue from just grilling (a noble pursuit, just something different).

Detail of cook

Check out this screenshot. It covers about 40 minutes about an hour after the screenshot above.

  • Food 1 (pink) is the probe on the right in the big picture at the top of this post. The meat there is a bit thicker.
  • Probe 2 (shown in yellow and on the left in the picture) is a bit shallower and the meat isn’t as thick there.

When our story opens (on the far left of the graph) the relative positions of Food 1 and Food 2 are about to switch positions, which is significant. Why? Remember there is less meat surrounding the probe on the left, yet the temperature is cooler. Why? Evaporative cooling. The cause of the stall. The thinner end is throwing off moisture, and the shallow depth of the probe is more susceptible to showing the cooling effect. The deeper Food 1 probe is also throwing off moisture, but the depth of the probe masks the cooling. Think of being at the entrance of a cave versus being deeper in. The deeper you go, the harder it is to change the inside temperature, so it never happens fast.

Notice, though, that there’s a point where Food 2 starts rising faster and overtakes Food 1. That means the thinner end doesn’t have the moisture content to cool the surface at that point. The meat on that end is starting to dry out faster than the thicker end. That’s my cue (my ‘que cue?) to slather some sauce on it to add some moisture. Note that I’m not adding moisture to the meat. No matter what you’ve been told or what you believe, you can’t do that. Moisture moves one direction when heated inside food: out. The moisture in the sauce is acting as a vapor barrier. The liquid in the sauce is evaporating and leaving behind a thin layer of particulates that makes if more difficult — but not impossible — for the moisture in the meat to escape. You can’t stop the evaporation, all you can do is slow it down. You can see from the graph that the added moisture kicked the evaporative cooling effect again, but it’s relatively short-lived. About 30 minutes after I added the sauce, Food 2 has overtaken Food 1 again. I plan to let it go.

We’ll see what happens. At this point it’s just a matter of waiting. When Food 2 hits 195 I’ll pull and wrap them in foil. I’ll let them sulk for about half an hour to distribute the heat. And if I need to tweak anything in my technique, I can try again on Thursday.

Oh, and the Astros won. Everything’s coming up Milhouse.

Final product
Postscript: they turned out fine.

Another Outbreak of Blogging

Mia outside a box and Dunkel in one
On the whole we’d be better off if we’d just realize how awesome boxes are.

So I gave up Facebook. It’s been just over a month, so my account is gone for good. Whatever “gone for good” means in Zuck’s warped worldview we all have to live in. I’ve got no illusions I’m not being tracked a million ways from Sunday. I mostly don’t give a shit. I don’t make any secret that I think most things are crap, so I’m not sure what great insight anyone plans to glean from my online behavior other than I think everything sucks. Let’s face it: chances are I dislike you. If you wonder if I dislike you, the ambiguity means I probably don’t. I’m not really all that subtle. Very, very, few people ever look at this blog, so if you’re reading this the odds are in your favor that I don’t dislike you. But there’s still a chance.

There was really nothing special about the argument that made me say “fuck it.” Of course it was an argument. What the hell else happens on Facebook? On the Book of Faces it’s either look at pictures of cute kids, cute pets, cute kids with cute pets, ugly kids with cute pets, or it’s a hellscape of looking into the empty souls of people you either never want to see again or regret having ever met. The two groups are largely made of up of different sets of people, thank God, which is the only thing that kept it even marginally tolerable. Carla still shows me the cute kid/pet pictures, so I’m good on that. And the kids are all legitimately cute, by the way. I think I’d un-followed the one person with the ugly kid a while back.

I’m still on Twitter. It’s a hellscape, too, but somehow it doesn’t bother me as much. Makes no sense, but there it is. I’ve started looking at Reddit a bit more than I used to. I don’t see me ever becoming a heavy user, but I’ve been fairly narrow in the subs I follow and none of them seem to have devolved into what Neal Stephenson has dubbed “the Miasma” in his latest doorstop … er … book Fall, or Dodge in Hell.¹ If they do, I’ll stop going there, too. It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been watching — and participating in — online arguments for more than 30 years. The biggest difference I can see between then and now in terms of online discourse is that back then people were dicks to each other for free. Now it’s pretty much built into everyone’s business model. And, as we all know, if the right people can make money off it, it’s OK.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

So I’m dusting off the old blog again. I’m not making any promises to anyone that this is going to be a regular thing, but every once in a while I just want to write. The odds of anyone seeing this are fairly low, but are non-zero, and that’s enough. Sometimes 280 characters isn’t enough to get people pissed off at me. Sometimes I need a bit more elbow room.

Can’t say I’m all that enamored with the new WordPress user interface. But that’s a post for another day.

¹ About halfway through, thanks for asking. It’s OK. It’s no Anathem or Snow Crash, but it’s not Seveneves either, thank God. It kind of wraps up (I’d assume) some things that have been cooking since Cryptonomicon, and it’s a sequel to Reamde inasmuch as it’s set in that world. Enoch Root shows up. That’s kind of cool. Maybe it’s his hobby of fighting with period-accurate swords, but somewhere along the line editors have apparently just quit suggesting to Stephenson that he should tighten up his plots.

Parts Known All-Too-Well

With two high-profile suicides this week, there’s been a spate of people posting the number for various suicide hotlines. I truly believe everybody who does it sincerely means well. If you have, that’s great. It’s normal to feel powerless in the face of such a thing. You can’t undo what’s happened, but you want to try to stop it from happening again. Posting a number is doing something. Anything.  And something or anything really is better than doing nothing.

But just barely. I’m going to explain that, but the punchline isn’t some hipster “you’re doing it wrong” thing.  You want to do something good. That meets all the requirements for “doing it right.” Consider this a FYI, not an admonition. Because you aren’t doing it wrong in the slightest.

Depression lies. And sits. And rolls over.

Depression lies. And sits. And rolls over. It knows tricks like you wouldn’t believe. That’s why it’s a bad, bad dog.

What makes me qualified to pontificate on this (other than the fact it’s my damned blog)?  I suffer from depression. More precisely, I suffer from existence and depression’s the brand name. I’m on medication.  I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life. If you read that and say “that’s horrible!” I have only one thing to say to you:  Fuck you. I’m way too goddamned in touch with my feelings.  I have no interest in being miserable because you live in some fantasy world where everyone’s brain chemistry works just peachy. Mine doesn’t.  And it sucks.

There are some behaviors that help. We have cats, and friends have dogs I socialize with when we go visit them. That’s right up there with the drugs for helping out the old brain cocktail.¹ Medication helps.   It’s a little of this and a little of that. I manage, and I’m grateful for that. Not everyone does. And that makes me sad.

For those of you keeping score at home, being sad isn’t the same thing as being depressed.  If you think it is, go read a book. Or a pamphlet. Just don’t try to explain it to me, m’kay? Pro tip:  It won’t go well for you.

One behavior that’s helped me is to stop caring what other people think.  There are literally billions of people on the planet. A vanishingly small number care I exist. The number who care you exist is just as small. I’m good with making it smaller. My life hack was figuring out that making someone irrelevant was a lot less work than actively disliking them. There will always be more assholes.² It’s the good folks you hold on to . They’re the rarities. The rest of em?  Fuck ’em.

“Golly, Tom”, you say, “You sound like an awful person and I wouldn’t like to know you at all!”

To which I say “Hey!  Thanks for saving me the time! My day just opened up! Much appreciated!”

I’m not all that terribly unique in this, by the way. I may put a few more f-bombs into my colorful bon mots. than many folks are comfortable with, but that helps thin the herd. It’s a win for me, really, and that’s what truly matters.  But there’s a downside.³ OK, lots of them. But there’s one in particular that’s relevant to helping some one circling suicide: Picking up the phone and calling someone for help is way high on the list of things that aren’t going to happen.

Work with me here for a minute.  You look at the world and it seems completely fucked. Everything’s pointless and will probably work out badly. I’m pretty sure I don’t understand a lot about the way you Muggles think about things, but I don’t see how you get from “Existence is pointless, things never work.” to “Hey!  I think I’ll dial an 800 number and talk to someone who’s an utter and complete stranger!”

Let me stop here for an important point: it happens.  And I’m glad it happens.  I don’t understand it, but I’m thankful it does and that those phone numbers exist. If I ever find myself in a bar with someone who answers those phones, I can assure you they won’t be paying for a drink while I’m there.  I’m not going to stalk them or anything.  I’ll just buy their drinks. I will need to see some sort of proof of employment, though. So no telling me you work at one because you’re too cheap to buy your own booze.  So, once again, I’m not saying you’re doing nothing if you post one of the suicide hotline numbers. It’s that you may not be doing the one thing that you’re uniquely qualified to do: be that person who’s there when you’re needed the most.

When I was thinking about how to kill myself many years ago (spoiler alert:  I didn’t) I actually did call someone. I called someone I knew, but didn’t know all that well. Later I was gently chewed out by someone I knew somewhat better for not calling her. I’m not actively in touch with either person now. I have nothing but kind thoughts about both of them, but life takes twists and turns the longer it goes and you lose touch with folks. It’s the way it goes. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful that at that time and place I knew them and knew I could call.

If you really want to help, be that person. The one who was there. Who said the random thing at the random time that made a difference when shit got real. Don’t go deleting the Facebook  posts and Tweets that give out the phone numbers or anything, but think about how you’re using your time. You see people every day.  Mostly the same ones. Ask them how it’s going.  Listen.  Really listen.  And if something doesn’t add up, say something.  Ask a different way. You’re not making a commitment to donate them your spleen, you’re just asking how they’re doing. No one’s expecting you to solve their problems. You probably can’t, what with not being  omnipotent and all that.  (You really need to work on that. I’m keeping a list). There aren’t any magic words. You didn’t miss that day in school. Just knowing someone gives a shit means more than you can ever know.

I’ve seen the aftermath of suicide.  It’s personal to me. It’s why I can’t see me ever doing it.  But that’s me and I’m lucky in that. I’m coming off a relatively bad stretch and I know damned good and well that I can never say never. My not giving a damn about what people think of me is actually a defense mechanism.  I figure you aren’t going to hate me any more than I hate myself, so it’s OK to ask for help.  But it’s hard.  Because when you need it the most the effort seems all too much.

That’s why asking if someone is OK matters. Because when it matters, it really matters.

You have my number? Or Facebook Messenger?  Then you got the number you need.  Call me. I’m happy to help.  And don’t be afraid to say something if I ask how it’s going.  There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s an occupational hazard of being human. Go with it.  It’ll work out.

Just hang in there.

¹Ironically, actual cocktails have a decidedly mixed record on that.
²See: Planet, No Shortage of Assholes On.
³Yes! Really!

This thing still on?

Idiots advertise

Just a guess, but I think there are definitely asses still involved here.

It’s been six months since I posted on my blog. And that post was, itself, the first in six months. I made a horrible mistake: I started really using Facebook. That’s a year of my life I’m not getting back.

I really hate Facebook. I don’t think anyone really likes it. We’re all in this abusive relationship with it. There are three things it’s good for (and those three things vary from person to person). We like those three things enough that we’re willing to put up with the 6.2 billion things that piss us off. We wonder why the world is fucked up, then go spend hours on Facebook to prove how stupid and self-absorbed we are. THERE’S your problem.

The trouble is I like making smart-assed comments and I like people to see them. I’ve got the first part covered, but the second requires I put it where people can see it. And, for the moment, that’s Facebook. But it doesn’t have to be.

I’m trying something. I monitor Facebook a little now, but unless it’s an emergency or initial contact, I won’t interact on it. If I don’t know how to get in touch with you outside Facebook, I probably don’t need to be talking to you. I’ll make my smart-assed comments here dump them to Facebook and Twitter (which is also a cesspool, but it’s so ridiculous I can’t take it too seriously. Some of the quips are really good). If we come to our senses and call in air strikes on Facebook, my pointless prose will survive for future generations to feel relieved they missed.

So the thing that’s inspired this:

I’ve driven Carla to physical therapy this morning. This car is in the parking lot. Who the hell would put this on their car? Yeah. People need to stay back. There’s an extremely stupid person driving this car. (Do they make “Asshole on Board” signs?)

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Despite it All

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my mood has covered the entire spectrum from cynicism to hopelessness. I firmly believe we’re circling the drain as a country, and who the hell knows?  Maybe as a species.  Let’s hope the cockroaches do better.  God knows they’ve had the time to see everyone else make all the mistakes.

It’s the Christmas season. I’ve put on the Santa suit for another year and I’m really glad I have. I don’t know what it is about putting it on, but it changes me.  Sure people react to someone in a Santa suit differently than Joe Blow on the street, but that’s not it.  I spend a good part of my day looking at the world with mild to outright contempt. But it stops when I put on the suit. I think it makes me a better person.

Part of the reason I like doing the Santa thing is that I utterly refuse to take money for doing  it. Given that I’m sure the Labor Department would call me underemployed, I’d probably be a better capitalist if I took paying gigs. But I can’t do it.  And not because of any aversion to making money or some “virtue signaling” that I get accused of on Facebook roughly every 12.6 seconds merely because I don’t like being an asshole.  I want the act of putting on that suit to represent what the myth represents. Here’s the deal:  that damned thing is hot. I’m not wearing that cool vest for my health.1 My knees hurt. I weigh too much which is a disadvantage every single moment I’m not wearing a red suit. I’m an introvert who’s center stage with a spotlight on me. It’s not easy.

And I love every minute.

I play Santa because I want to be good without expectation. I want people to look at me and not see the miserable person I think I am. I want to be the person I wish I was allowed to be all the time. I play the role because I put on a Santa hat while Christmas caroling when I was 16-years old and I wanted more. It was like a drug. I wanted the whole experience.  And for about a month a year, I get to do it.

I’m very, very lucky. Any man, woman or, or child who puts on that suit is my comrade. We understand. No matter what we believe when we take it off.

I truly believe that all kinds of fans are about to be bombarded with all kinds of fecal matter in the coming months. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s out of my hands. What I can do is put on a hot red suit and remind people for a little while that it’s OK to be happy. It’s OK to give without expectation of what you get in return. I don’t care who you voted for or how you feel about this or that social issue. My hugs are as big for kids who wear #MAGA hats as they are for #BLM t-shirts. Kids are kids. Parents are a crap shoot, but they love their kids. That’s enough at Christmas.

I was at a gig over the weekend and a mom told me her kid wasn’t a good candidate for me because he was Jewish.  “Tooth decay doesn’t care,” I said as I gave him a candy cane. All I ask anyone to believe is that one person can be nice to another person without expecting anything back.

Confession: I’m also not a fan of the crying child picture.  Anytime you see one I can guarantee that no one in the shot was having a good time.  I don’t judge kids.  I do judge parents.

December 26th will come.  My beard will be trimmed. I’ll go back to not being Santa. I don’t know what prayer means anymore, but I pray that I get to do it again next year. But I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It makes the rest of the year worthwhile.

Merry Christmas. It’s not your obligation to me. It’s my obligation to you,

1 Wait. That’s exactly why I’m wearing it. Never mind. Little known fact: you could actually survive in the Arctic wearing a Santa suit.
2 Please tell me what color the sky is on your planet if you don’t see those as opposite poles.