goodbye, old friend
Yoda Derksen (1993 - 2009), self portrait. Taken (with some prompting) the 29th of November, 2008. Goodbye, my little friend and chum. Your purr is always just one room over.
Yoda Derksen (1993 - 2009), self portrait. Taken (with some prompting) the 29th of November, 2008. Goodbye, my little friend and chum. Your purr is always just one room over.
There is so much that I want to say at this, but I think that he is his own best advocate, and so I will let the man speak for himself.
The server upon which this site is being hosted is being reset and improved. As such, files and articles may come and go, talking of Michelangelo...
Last night was also the NCAA college championship between UF and OU under the politically fraught and controversial bowl system. While I am not a fan of the lavish attention that college football receives at the expense of academic programs and other sports, it is interesting to see the madness up close and personal.
Since the championship game was being held in Miami, and I receive no other benefits for attending the University of Florida so far from Gainesville, I sort of felt obligated to attend. Of course, getting tickets was near impossible. As a student of the University of Florida, I can enter a lottery to win permission to buy tickets to the game. Had I won one of these tickets, I could have paid $175, and would have had to pick them up at the ticket office in Gainesville - after presenting two forms of picture ID and a valid credit card. I later learned that OU students paid only $110 for their tickets. These were tickets discounted for students in the nosebleed seats. I'd hate to think how much seats in the front or middle tier might have been worth.
Still, lacking for entertainment in Homestead, I figured it was worthwhile to attempt to crash the game, or to go tailgating in the parking lot. Parking was supposed to have cost my small party an additional forty dollars, but we were fortunate to arrive a little late to the opening ceremonies. I say fortunate because the person responsible for collecting money for parking had run off to watch the game, and his staff told us to just park and to enjoy the game.
While we never got inside the stadium, there were more big screen televisions in the parking lot than there usually are at a sports bar. There was considerable food about as well. While we did not so engage ourselves, had we wanted to, we probably could have stepped into one of many drunken lines and taken some barbecue and booze from someone watching the game. We ended up circling the stadium most of the night, just watching the people watch the game - until we found an ideal spot outside of the VIP lounge where there were three giant screen televisions.
I was not entirely surprised to find that local fans were not as enthusiastic as Texas football fans, but few people are. You can usually hear a Aggie or Longhorn game long before you see it. Still, whatever their level of enthusiasm, these were still southern football fans. Some folks were friendly, and enjoyed the game. Others were more bellicose. We watched a drunken skinhead pick a fight in front of four police officers. We watched a man in MSU green (and not much else) bicycle by. Our celebrity sightings outside the VIP lounge included the Miami chief of police, former President Bill Clinton's heavily armed security detail, and the wrestler Mankind. We saw a lot more people in Oklahoma red than I normally expect to see in Miami on any given Wednesday. I got to try and explain the "Sooner" nickname to South Americans.
After a tense first half, Florida won it in the third quarter.
Then we all went back to our trailers.
My old company just axed another quarter of their staff during the weekly meeting this afternoon. It was an unpleasant surprise to most of the assembled staff, and apparently the CEO was too craven a coward to make the announcement himself this time. I am rapidly running out of people that I met there who still work there. This is their third round of layoffs, and each one has cut staff by at least twenty percent. This does not bode well for the future of the company, but I suppose that they are slimming the workforce in order to concentrate all of their diminishing resources on one of their three drug candidates currently in clinical trials.
Once again, I must reflect and recognize that I am lucky to have left when I did. I almost certainly would have been fired in the first round; I was in a superfluous and overstaffed department, and was a malcontent and rabble-rouser. I do wish that it hadn't unemployed so many of my friends quite so suddenly.
I wish them all the best on their roads ahead, and I even hope that the company does survive this latest downturn. Whatever reservations I have about the conduct of certain scientists employed there or the management team, the biochemistry recorded was amazing in its breadth and depth. Many of their drug targets show incredible promise as treatments for debilitating and terrible diseases, and I suspect that given sufficient time and resources, Lexicon will eventually produce a product of note and value.
I'm starting to feel like a clearinghouse for other media, but hey - this is for a good cause.
A special thanks to Fred Wightman for his thoughtful gift. Now I just have to learn how to tie it!
By the time you read this, I should be well underway in my voyage to Paris. At this point, I am probably winging my way over the Northeastern seaboard. In the meantime, I present: my gate at Miami International.
MIA has always seemed a strange and magical place. As Miami is the capital of South America, it was inevitable that all of the expatriates and transnational elites would end up passing through on their way to their final destination in the southern hemisphere. We would always run into someone from somewhen else in our extended expatriate experience, sometimes years after we had seen or spoken to them last. Such communications always ended with a chuckle and the suggestion that we "meet here again next summer".
“An old Sherpa once observed: ‘There is a yeti in the back of everyone’s mind; only the blessed are not haunted by it.’”
Certain parties have suggested that my head resembles certain varieties of tropical fruit. I disagree, but leave it to my public to decide such things for themselves:
If you spend a lot of time at your job performing endlessly monotonous and dull things, like counting the number of flowers produced by a plant (or the population of thrips crawling inside those same flowers), you will often find yourself turning to some sort of interesting background distraction just to keep your mind awake and focused. The music served up by my iPod has always been great, but sometimes I need something a little different. Something to make that brain time that is spent hanging while counting a little more useful, more refreshing.
As such, one of my recent favorite distractions has been Steve Eley's Escape Pod. Graduate school has not left a lot of time or energy leftover for pleasure reading, and I miss my occasional dose of speculative fiction. Mr Eley's podcast gives me a chance to escape from my humdrum surroundings for a slightly longer than half an hour, and provides the perfect accompaniment to mindless labour or car rides into the distance.
The quality varies, and is mostly dependent upon your individual preferences, but I haven't found or heard anything that I really disliked, and thus far there has been much to enjoy. The tales range in nature from fantastic WWII adventures in (meta)physics to cynical comic books, traditional tales of Area 51 skunk-works, and the alien quest for identity and meaning. Santa might even be able save Christmas from the heat-death of the Universe.
Check it out.
Until a few minutes ago, I had only heard excerpts and soundbites from Mr. Obama's speech on race. The chattering classes had provided summaries and commentaries on the event, all of which completely failed to capture the power and intelligence behind the text of his announcement:
Whoever wrote this piece was brilliant, placing Mr. Obama's words within a compelling historical context. One way or another, I would like to believe that this man will change America - and for the better.
"This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune, - often the surfeit
of our own behavior, - we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!"
Adult Geiger beetles aggregating on the underside of a leaf on a Geiger tree just off of US1 on the road to Key West. The beetles are precinctive to the area, and the Geiger tree is their only known host. A friend of mine is working on some of the interesting defensive behavior that the beetles' larvae display.
My friend Jeremy Tolbert has always been a something of a visionary. He was the guy who always saw a little farther down the road than the rest of us, and came up with these amazing plans for businesses or technologies that would revolutionize the world. I will admit to having disparaged some of his ideas as outlandish or impossible from time to time, but he worked persistently to implement or create some of those ideas in spite of critics like his former roommate, and had a moderate degree of success.
Where he did not always succeed, his ideas sometimes did.
Somebody would eventually come up with a "massively multiplayer online roleplaying game", or a social networking system worth billions, or a new way to look at DNA expression that better explained the system, and filled people's imagination and other more fiscal needs.
It was no surprise that he would eventually turn to writing. He has a few short stories published here and there in magazines of speculative fiction, and at one time or another has run such a magazine himself. Yesterday, he released his "intensely personal story of death, Led Zeppelin, and how families cope with death, Babe, I am Going to Leave You" as a free creative-commons tale on the internet. I think that maybe you ought to read it. And while you are at it, you might as well read one or two other things he has written. He is a talented and creative guy, and I'd hate for you to miss out.
You know, a sure-fire sign of adulthood is when you and your old pals finally start swapping recipes for dinner.
One of the little inconveniences we encountered during ACL-fest was our general inability to contact and reach one another within the relatively narrow confines of Zilker park. Due to the enormous crowds packed with thousands of people there, it would have been impossible to find one another without some sort of plan.
Many persons attempted to solve this problem by carrying unusual banners with them. Just as fighting for the honor of the flag must once have provided cohesion and direction during the confusion and mayhem of early warfare, so too did these proud standards provide rallying points for lost travelers in search of old friends. Of course, the more unusual and unique your flag, the better. It would help to avoid discussions such as, "but which jolly roger are you standing at the base of? I've already been to three, and the concert is almost over..."
The next ideal strategy would be to meet one another at distinctive landmarks at prearranged points and times between acts, but to push through the press of the crowd sometimes made it difficult to meet such deadlines. Those same crowds could pack people so densely that you could be standing less than ten feet from your party, but never see them through the forest of strange faces. Even being able to see them might not help, for a particularly popular act might present an audience so dense in attendance and so rapt in appreciation that it would be impossible to greet your friends without being extraordinarily rude, and just shouldering through the crowd.
In the face of such difficulties, we could try to turn to modern technology for a solution. Cell phones have done wonders for the ability of two lost and misplaced groups to find one another in the modern world, but they are only useful so long as one can hear what the person on the other end of the receiver is saying. Crowds and rock and roll make this exceptionally difficult, and so we were forced to fall back on text-messenging between phones. Of course, text-messenging only works so long as there is a network line available to carry your signal. When ten-thousand people suddenly want to see each other all at once, some things tend to get lost in the æther for a little while. As an amusing example, I am only now receiving messages that were sent to me on Sunday afternoon...
Better late than never, I suppose...
And like that, it was over. Three days of music, friends, and excellent food. Later this afternoon, I will get on a plane and fly back to Florida, leaving all of these good things behind.
I will remember, and someday:
I will return.
I mean that. Austin is and will probably always remain my town.
Yes, ACL is under way, and it is that smokin' hot!
For the curious, I will be available for entertaining in the town of Gainesville this long weekend. For my efforts as a volunteer at a Florida alumni barbecue held on the property the other weekend, my name was entered into a hat for two tickets to the first game of the season.
I have never won anything in a lottery before, so I sort of feel obligated to attend. As a friend of mine went to Western Kentucky for his undergrad, I feel obligated to drag him along and witness his conflicted loyalties. More importantly, this offers an excellent opportunity for a sociological study of crowds. Sometimes one has to experience this kind of group mentality and enthusiasm raw and in person to really feel it. Now that I think about it, and now that I have space for it, I could probably afford to pull a few things out of storage, too...
As a person who does not often rise early to see the dawn, I appreciate mornings.
Even when I am forced out of bed by the inevitable: work, a meeting, a flight, somewhere else I need to be... I appreciate the morning. Those early hours where the road is empty, the sky is clear, and the world is yours, and yours alone. A moment to breathe. A pause before battle. A chance to sample birdsong, and reassemble the moments of the night before. One last opportunity to collect yourself and reconsider the week that preceded you before facing the days that are to follow.
Time to drink your coffee.
As one who fails to rise early, I also appreciate breakfast. I prefer to share it with friends. You can share the recovery of events and reconnect with groggy honesty. The intimacy and the shared secrets of a conveniently local diner. There is often bacon, and someone to pass the sugar for your coffee. If you're truly lucky, there are sometimes even migas on the menu.
So: here is to breakfast.
Salutations, old friend.
I've learned a few things this weekend.
The first of which is that I need to plan ahead for whirlwind tours of places where I have too many friends if I ever wish to see any of them for a good and reasonable amount of time. I was irresponsible and easily distracted, and as such I failed to make good a few promises and a few meetings. I sorrow for having missed faces that I've not seen in a year who were important to me, but console myself with the fact that some day, I will be back.
Family curses aside, I must inevitably return if only because it seems that in spite of it all, I might just be a Texan. Sort of like Kinky Friedman, but without the musical or writing talent - or Chuck Norris without the asskicking. Or maybe more like Ann Richards without the political savvy and the snark.
What can I say? While I didn't miss the traffic on the interstate, I really did miss the food and the people. I plan on heading back to Austin in September for ACL, and we'll see what happens when next I am in my favorite town I never lived in. I've got such a strange history in my love-affair with Austin that it practically deserves and entry unto itself. Maybe some day soon it will finally get one.
Friends are people with whom you fall back into familiar patterns even after ten years gone. They are good people, and they might as well be family... and you never realize just how much you missed them until they walk right back into your life - even if it is as if they never left.
Hello, family Ketcherside.
It was good seeing you too, even if you did call to wake me up at precisely 8:01 CST after entirely too little sleep. Thank heavens for pecan-flavored coffee, yes? It was also excellent to finally meet the young prince and heir to the Ketcherside throne I've heard so much about. I suppose that he is worthy, in that he definitely possesses the family affinity for novel technology, but he is really going to have to work on that whole "walking" thing before he conquers any worlds.
Much love to the three of you. You kept me sane, and brought me back from the mental Abyss I'd tossed myself down after too many years of going nowhere at Lexicon.
Returning to Houston after almost two weeks shy of a year gone is... unusual. It isn't quite home that I am returning to, but it all still feels terribly familiar. A bit like dÃ©jÃ vu: it is almost as if I have been here before.
The most unusual part of being back is the way I sort of know where I am going when I am driving around. I almost remember where I will have to turn if I want to get where I am trying to go to. It is an unusual sensation, as most of the time I lived in Houston - and certainly during this last year's upheaval and constant shifting - I had no idea where I was going most of the time, and had to rely upon a map to navigate my new environment. Perhaps this is because I have always been a visual sort of learner, and direct myself by landmarks as much as anything else. Little things, like knowing to turn right when you see the "handicapped persons ahead" road sign on Woodlands Parkway.
So now I run around like a madman, trying to overcome my limited planning and sleep, revisiting old haunts, and tracking down as many of my old friends as I can. Another thing that amazes me at being back is the sheer number of people who missed me, and how many I had left behind. I had a pretty reasonable social support network behind me when I was here... but I failed to properly appreciate or utilize them as I should have.
Too stubborn, too independent, and after a few years of disappointment at failing to live up to my own goals and standards... probably too frustrated and angry at myself.
Today my good friend and brother-in-arms Mark Houck was wed to the most excellent Peggy Varniere in a small ceremony at the courthouse in Grenoble attended by their families.
I wish I could have been there. It is not merely that France is reputed to be a beautiful country for travel, or that I really could use a vacation - for while both are true, my reasons for wanting to have been there are far more personal. The ceremony was attended by family, and after more than ten years of friendship, Houck has certainly earned that title in my home.
He was the first person I actually met on my first day at Grinnell, and with his ubiquitous hat and broad smile, I rather hoped that he would turn out to be my still-missing roommate. No, instead he revealed with an enthusiasm for life that would become familiar to us all that he was from Oklahoma(!), and he essentially ended up living across the hall from me for nearly all four years of our undergraduate education. Houck's insufferable good nature and occasional earnest obliviousness in the face of subtle social faux-pas were the subject of much ribbing over the next several years, but those same qualities led to a steadfast friendship in the face of any obstacle... including his good friend's occasional lapses into melodrama or hyperbole. The Houck ancestral residence also became a home away from home, and a stopping point on the biannual caravan from Texas to Iowa. His family showed incredible generosity to a bunch of indolent and hungry college students, and won our hearts with their baking and love for complicated technological gadgetry. Houck became family, another of the band of brothers who fought through heartbreak and finals stress to graduate somewhere on the other side. Through sadness and joy, Houck stood firm by his friends, and kept them standing upright.
Mark would go on from college to accomplish any of a number of things, the most recent of which was to encounter one Peggy Varniere, lately of France. Her enthusiasm and appreciation for the strange and obscure but wonderful matched his temperament, and after some nervousness and many cups of coffee... the pair fell in love. As Mark is my brother, so Peggy is now a sister.
They are an amazing bunch of folks, and I wish I could have been there to share that afternoon with them. May fortune find your path, Mark and Peggy - and may happiness follow you relentlessly for the rest of your lives.
Once again, as I prepare to leave Gainesville for Homestead, I find myself indebted to my friends. I'd never have been able to thrive and survive here without the lot of you, and I certainly would not have been able to move out of here without your aid and assistance throughout the process.
You were an unlooked-for bonus in this town, and you kept me sane and you kept me from dropping out. You emphasized that I could survive this program and this project so long as I found a way to make it mine, and that there was always time to prepare for a superior doctoral experience. You reminded me that there was more to research than reading, and that one's interactions with one's colleagues will inevitably prove more valuable in the real world beyond the Ivory Tower. You also knew how to throw a wild party, and I found happiness in your company.
We drove to the Atlantic coast to see the beach on Sunday, and had a really amazingly great day. We got up and moving in record time, the sun was warm, the water was cool, the dogs were well-behaved, and the waves were rough enough but still playful. Better still: nobody got sunburned, dinner was at the excellent "Chianti Room", and our evening was concluded by fireworks.
Of course, we still had to drive home from all of this excitement.
The blue line represents our path from Gainesville to St. Augustine.
The red line represents our return trip home.
I would like to stress that I was not driving for either portion of this adventure.
My friends are always so helpful:
[We] came up with a proposal in haiku format:To my professors:
I'd like to do bugs and stuff.
All for now, Andrew.
We were thinking about replacing the final line with something deep like:"My soul screams in vain"
but figured that was putting too much effort into it.
My thanks as always to the family Ketcherside.
This morning at around nine AM, my old company elected to fire off eighteen percent of the workforce as part of a massive reorganization strategy. It claimed large portions of my old department, and a few of my friends are out of a job. My heart goes out to them, and I wish them only the best - many of them were good and capable people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There but for the grace of graduate school go I.
God bless - and good luck, guys.
Cooking for large numbers of people is a challenge that I have recently enjoyed again. It is at once easier - and yet more difficult than cooking for the self alone. You no longer concern yourself with producing too many leftovers or leaving ingredients out to spoil, but instead begin to worry that you have insufficient kitchen space to maintain and process several dishes. An interesting complication has been the necessity of simultaneously providing for the vegetarian members of my association with the same ingredients available for my normal meal-plan. Do you simply substitute and shift the relative quantities of components, or do you make a unique and separate dish that acknowledges the 'special' dietary requirements of some of your guests which can also be appreciated by 'normal' appetites? Execution requires far more planning, and far more attention to diverse burners and the suddenly smoking oven... but a good time will be had by all.
It is amazing how much of a difference three hours can make.
Three hours to the South of Gainesville, there is still sun, and the leaves are still green. Gainesville may never quite experience winter, but it unquestionably sees fall as the leaves here turn to yellow and gold and sail and swirl away on the wind.
Visiting family for Turkey Day was good. Family is good. They have helped to fill the empty space that my surrogate family made up of my extended network of friends used to fill... or maybe I have that backwards. Whichever it is, I know that it makes a difference to sit down and break bread with people, and to see the same faces every day. There is more than a sense of community - there is a sense of 'belongingness' that I did not find outside of Austin. Besides, few things in the world beat watching your aged and respectable parents laugh and chase after dragonflies with an enormous butterfly net.
Finally got a new battery for my laptop, and it is rather like falling in love all over again: I have no strings, and I may wander. No longer do I need to worry about squandering power frivolously on such things as a monitor with gamma bright enough to read. No longer must I race from outlet to outlet, hoping that I will have enough charge to last all the way through class.
So life is good.
Then again, I am about to re-enter hell-week. You should either expect extended silence from this station, or lengthy tales of procrastination. One of the things I do not miss about the whole educational program is the sheer number of things that must fall together at the last possible minute. I am moving forward, and with far more diligence than in my undergraduate years - but... Yeesh. Corporate life retrained me to accept lower standards, but I am starting over and I refuse to hand in anything less than a solid effort.
Time will tell.
Sometimes it seems that it pays to be a little paranoid. You never have any idea when your day is going to turn from perfect - to perfectly frustrating. For example, your friends might tell you that you are crazy for wanting to leave for your four PM flight with more than two hours of spare time, but you know you need it - just in case of 'emergencies'. Little things. Like your car's battery suddenly, spontaneously, and mysteriously failing to start some two hours and twenty minutes before your flight. While you are in downtown Houston, instead of at home, and can therefore not afford to abandon your car all on its own for half a week. So you have to call your insurance to get the numbers for a towing service to have your car hauled home - all while you are trying to board a plane.
So you call on your friends.
Who thankfully have not left Houston yet, and who curtail their afternoon plans to try and help jump your car. You don't care if it starts again after you stop it next - right now you just need to get to the airport. Of course, the car proved unjumpable. The battery has either had its charge boiled off by the hot and humid Houston afternoon, or it is completely and spontaneously dead. Or maybe the starter is having issues. Or the alternator, or the distributor, or any of a dozen other things that could go wrong. The problem is that one of those things has gone wrong, and now you only have two hours to resolve it and drive half an hour down the road to the airport.
And now it is raining.
So your friends not only take your sorry backside to the airport - but some of them also sit around and try to deal with whatever minion the towing company sends their way. Having learned that it will be frighteningly expensive to have your car towed all the way back up to Conroe, they elect to hunt down a new battery in a city that is not their own, and replace yours and then drive your car home for you where it will be waiting for you in the parking lot.
Which is more than amazingly cool of them, and you are now eternally in their debt.
You ever need anything?
You have but to call.
They say that everyone dies alone, but I am not sure that I agree.
I mean, there are times when it is good to be alone, but I'd rather be alone with other people than alone by myself. Please do not mistake this to mean, "alone in a crowd" - I would far rather be alone and by myself than trapped in a crowd of individuals whose existence or patter I care little to nothing about.
An old friend of mine by the name of Danielle Long called last week and inadvertently reminded me of this.
I'd spent the evening with my boss and a few of his friends in a bar, and while it was good to have people around... there was just no connection, and I didn't really belong. Worse still: most of them didn't really belong either, but I think they lied to themselves and said that they wanted to be there because they wanted to somehow try to connect with someone because it was better than going home alone - to be reminded of a wife who had left you, or to find their alcoholic husband that they could bring themselves to cheat on but just couldn't quite bring themselves to divorce, or to feed their dogs and finish off the last of a bottle of Crown alone, or to stagger with their intoxicated roommate home just long enough that they could close the door to their own room and actually be physically alone again for another eight hours. For all the bluster and noise of that bar, none of it meant anything - because none of it connected. It was individuals reaching out for affection and reassurance, but finding their own hang-ups and insecurities in the way.
And I went home and Dani Long called me on the phone and I wasn't alone anymore - and within five minutes of speaking to her I felt more awake and alive and involved than I had all day. I wasn't alone, and I was somehow part of this greater invisible community again. I belonged. And the damnedest thing of it all was that Dani could very well have sat on the other end of the room finishing her anthro reading while Liz Twieg stared intently at her bio homework and Jess Whipple pretended to casually peruse a comic book - all of us involved in our own self-absorbed little worlds - but while none of us would actually have been interacting with one another, none of us would have really been alone.
They also say that no one who has friends is ever alone.
I have friends.
At the end of the day, we find that we have lived for too long in the flatlands, and believe ourselves too tired out to tackle the 'arduous' trail to the Delicate Arch, and opt to get a taste of tomorrow's fun by previewing it from a distance. Instead of the mile and a half hike up barren rock, we climb to the top of a nearby overlook, and snap a few photos of the unique strand of rock that we will explore in more personal detail first thing tomorrow morning.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that while hiking all day, we have encountered a large number of German-speaking tourists, red-faced and huffing up the trails. I suspect that they are the advance guard of an invasion force, but they seem friendly... so instead we offer them water and a little advice on the dangers of heat stroke, and let them on their way.