Old Daily Shows--July 2003

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

Tuesday July 8, 2003 Chiles and invention

An old photograph of those chiles (Thai bird peppers, Capsicum frutescens, from the Italian Market, procured in a bag for $1) now graces the Linux desktop of Tamias, my laptop. Things are beginning to work better on the laptop, to the point where it's a usable system for many things. Still don't have the digital camera connection, and the wireless connection doesn't work. Power management could be better. Startup is occasionally buggy. But it runs.

The concert has come and gone, and with it Susie and Jim. Miss them lots.

I've been writing database software like mad, and some of it even works. Hooray! More tomorrow. I might get to meet Buck tomorrow, which would be cool. He's leaving in a week or two.

I leave for Scotland five weeks from Thursday, 37 days from now. That's scary.

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Wednesday July 10, 2003 USB works!

After a goodly amount of dorking around, USB works under Linux. I've reinstalled seven thousand packages, and it's been interesting, but one more usability item gets checked off my list: I can access my digital camera from Linux. I still can't do it from my own user (got to be root, because of a file-permission problem I haven't yet grokked), but I can get images from the camera.

The first ones I took from it were the ones I shot two weeks ago, when Elizabeth and I went to Lake Placid, on the day I bought my pack. We stopped at St. John's-In-The-Wilderness, the Episcopal church in Paul Smiths, NY, where my grandfather used to preach, where my grandmother played the organ, and where my parents were married. We've got a plot in the back of the cemetery over where it looks out across the river, and I stopped to clean off the graves of my family. Pictures of their stones are what I downloaded.

I'm going to play in a jamboree for a girl I've never met. On July 25th. It's a sad story--four year-old girl had sudden kidney failure, with parents of little means, and so the church and people of their town are throwing parties to raise money to help them out. I'll play bagpipes and maybe some flute, perhaps with John, a friend who plays guitar.

Watson prep is so weird sometimes. All the time, really, I suppose. I'm planning to live out of my backpack next week, to see what things I actually need to bring that I haven't thought of bringing yet. Scary to think that the nylon sack sitting next to me is going to be my home for a year, or at least the home of most of my stuff.

I'm pulling together my packing lists, and shying away from the lists of things to do before leaving. I think it's going to be a good year, but it terrifies me sometimes. I think that's the way of things, really--the anticipation is awful, and the real thing is frequently wonderful. I'm remembering a month and a half ago, when my friends took me on my first roller coaster ride.

Will it feel like the first lift hill did when I get on the plane to fly far away across the sky? Will I wonder, as I did there, what possessed me to sit down in the harness and let them strap me in?

I didn't make a sound for that first run. I lay in the harness as my body whipped around the turns, and just felt. Later, I would scream with the rest, make faces for the camera kiosks, and drag my friends back for just one more run. I did it quietly first, though. Will that be the way of Scotland? Or will it be comfortable from the start?

Who knows. It's going to be a good ride, though.

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Sunday July 13, 2003 Mountains

This afternoon, Dad and Elizabeth and I climbed Mt Arab together. It was great day for it, with storm clouds off in the distance. They moved in once we were on top, and dampened us a bit, but it was great. Gorgeous to stand in the fire watchtower on top and look across the mountains in all directions and see rain sheeting down from clouds below us.

Nice people on top, where I played bagpipes for about an hour. It's always fun to hike up a mountain carrying bagpipes, and get them out up top. People seem to enjoy it, or else they're all very tactful. Oh, it's beautiful, though!

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Monday July 14, 2003 Road

A long day on the road, but a wonderful one. I'm in Rochester now, chez McDonald, and it's nice. Hotter here, though.

Eliz and I drove the whole way with windows down to combat the heat, and we talked or rode in silence, and it was all comfortable. Stopped a few times for food or shopping, and had fun walking around together. Yay! Great dinner at Ming's, where I had udon noodles stirfried with beef, and it was quite possibly the best stirfried beef I've ever had. I've got to learn to stirfry better. Steve, wherever you are, you'd be proud of me. I'm not up to your wok wizardry yet, and don't speak any Chinese, but you helped plant the urge.

Up early for the Public Market tomorrow.

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Friday July 18, 2003 Peoplewatching

As I write, I'm sitting on a Greyhound bus, currently in the middle of Canton, NY. I caught the first bus at Rochester's Midtown Station, made a quick (15 minute) transfer at Syracuse, and have been riding through the sunny North Country ever since.

It's always interesting to watch and listen to the people you meet in public transportation. The girl sitting in front of me, clad rather ridiculously in garish L.A. Clippers uniform gear, seems to be everything stereotypes are made from. Young, asian, encumbered by every form of expensive personal electronic gear you can find--though this is, perhaps, hypocritical coming from someone using a laptop on the bus--interested in loud music, and uninterested in courtesy.

The bus driver asked her to turn down her CD player, because he could hear her music clearly from ten feet away. Nothing happened. He told her again to turn it down. Finally he suggested to one of us that we should tap her on the shoulder and turn down the music--she hadn't heard his announcements, because her music was too loud. She turned it down, but it was back up again within a few minutes.

I sat for a while next to a young woman who's been on a bus since Tuesday, coming from California for her younger brother's birthday. Her guy is in the Army and used to be based in Watertown, but has since been moved to California. I asked her why she didn't just fly, and she said that pregnant women aren't supposed to fly. She was so thin--I hadn't noticed her pregnancy. It startled me to think that she's almost certainly younger than I am.

The gentleman behind me used to live in Heuvelton, but lives in Florida now; he's here to be present when his daughter gives birth. His father just bought a bar somewhere around here, and he's planning to go help out there while he waits for the call. An electrician, he said, though the business of electricianing is apparently better in the North Country than in the land of snowbirds.

The woman to my left got on in Watertown, and is sitting on the bus until it makes its southerly run later today--they needed to close the Watertown terminal, so she's riding north to Potsdam and then back to Watertown before starting her run. She recently got ditched by the man she married, and is headed home to Georgia where her family lives.

The guy sitting in my seat is wearing a red buttondown shirt, with slightly disheveled hair. A small stuffed hedgehog pokes his nose out of that shirt's breast pocket; some red-haired woman placed him there about six hours ago with a kiss on his nose. A silvery watch gleams on the left wrist, and he's very excited about it. A big blue pack is underneath in the hold, and it carries various things, including a Chinese cleaver and a camera. And he is the last person on the bus, along with the driver and the Georgia woman.

I'm especially pleased about the watch. I've been without any real sense of time for about nine weeks, ever since my watch died at school. Just a simple battery replacement, but a lot of shops are afraid even to touch a Timex watch for fear of warranty invalidation and--get this--legal reprisals from Timex. A jeweler once told me that Timex sometimes sends its legal team after jewelers who replace batteries on Timex watches without being Timex-Certified Watch Battery Replacement Technician-Trained Type Persons. But I found a Dakota Watch Company store when Elizabeth and I went to Land's End, and the replaced the battery and a spring pin for me. I know what time it is again!

Some books came in the mail for me, too. Roderick Cannon's excellent history of the Highland bagpipe, and Doug Lansky's Rough Guide to your first trip around the world, which I read on the bus today. Good stuff! It seems more in line with what I'll be doing than many books did, because it's aimed at independent budget travelers, rather than tourists, and specifically people going out for a year or so.

And now the bus is here, so it's time to go!

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Saturday July 19, 2003 Letters

This evening, I wrote letters to people in Scotland who might be able to help me find a place to live, or friends to meet, or places to stay, or things like that. It's always such a strange thing to write a first letter to someone, even if you've got a name to drop ("I know such and such, who said I should write you").

I guess maybe it's that Northern upbringing. We're gregarious once you get us talking, but quite reserved until then.

I can't seem to decide right now whether I'm looking forward to the Watson with eager anticipation, or just with fear. I know that it's the former, but sometimes it feels like being afraid is the only workable option. I'm sure this will pass, and recur, and pass again, but for today, it's where I am.

I often think, as I look out the window of the back door, that I'm really going to miss the chipmunks while I'm in Scotland. Scampi, too. My parents will come visit, and I'll talk to them on the phone, exchange letters, etc. Chipmunks are not known for responding to letters, however, and Scampi's response would likely be "Oh. A letter. Perhaps I can sit on it. Ooh! I can! Prrrrrr..."

It seems, sometimes, like much of the problem with going abroad is that you have to leave home, first.

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Tuesday July 22, 2003 Time passing

It's usually difficult to track the changes that passing time can work on your life. Hard to see the forest when you're on the path inside, so they say.

I'm told that the time after you graduate college is a growing, twisting one; your mind casts about for anything familiar, grasping at memories and hopes. But everything is the same, and everything is different. It's hard not to feel adrift sometimes. The other day, when I went to get my teeth checked, I learned that the tooth pain I'd been having is because one of my gums had receded slightly, exposing the root of the tooth. This wasn't because of lax care; in fact, it seems to have been caused by over-vigorous brushing. There's nothing to be done for it, though. Gum tissue doesn't grow back.

Other than that, I got a clean bill of dental health, which pleased me because, for the first time in my life, I am part of the great unwashed, the cesspool, the unnoticed-by-government, those without health care insurance. This is overdramatized, of course. I've still got my medical care insurance through my Dad's work, thanks to their three-month extension. But no dental insurance, and no visual care insurance. Strange that you rarely notice the safety net until it's gone.

For the first time since I was five, no clear path lies before me. I've got it easier than many, what with the Watson, but that presents its own set of challenges. There's no longer any right answer to what I should be doing during my summer vacation (which will now be two weeks, if I'm really lucky), no guarantee as to where I'll spend the upcoming year, none of that.

My Potsdam friends are still here, mostly, but the others--people I've relied on daily for the last four years--are scattered across the globe like chaff. Bob Gross said to us, three or four days before we graduated, that "never again will you have such easy access to intelligent, informed conversation." Perhaps I'm misremembering his words, but I think I've grokked the intent.

People say the culture shock is worse when you come home from a foreign country than when you enter it. Will it be, I wonder?

I've been rediscovering the joy of practicing. This is really good, because it's something that I'd been worrying about. It's been a while since I really felt like playing my instruments, felt like doing it because I wanted to, rather than because I thought I should, because I had a concert coming up, because I was afraid of letting my skills atrophy.

Somewhere in the middle of the last month or two, I started getting nervous about it. It's bad to not enjoy practicing when you've set yourself up for a year of doing little else. It would be a waste of Scotland to not practice wholeheartedly while there, a waste of my time as well.

I took a couple of weeks off. I started playing guitar again, and stopped playing flute or bagpipes for a little while. Last week, when I visited Elizabeth, the only instrument that came along was my practice chanter. I did play a bit on that, but only when I felt like it. I played Elizabeth's guitar, and sang with her (incidentally, it's really fun to sing with your girlfriend, especially when you're in love. I love you, Eliz, even when you're off having fun in PEI. Happy 21 months, sweetheart!), and didn't think about Celtic music.

When I returned home, a copy of Paddy Keenan's Ná Keen Affair waited for me, courtesy of Terry and Dale, who were cleaning out their CD collection and wanted to get rid of it. What a wonderful album! I've been learning tunes by ear from it, for fun. Last night, I learned Paddy Taylor's, a reel that goes more frequently by the name Tripping Up The Stairs. Tonight I learned a pair of singles (Herb Reid's, and She Told Me She Couldn't Dance) and a pair of reels (Jenny's Wedding, and Craig's Pipes). And I'm digging it! Keenan plays faster than I can imagine, but I'm learning the tunes, and being able to play them at his speeds.

And that brings me back to my original point. I really have come somewhere. Maybe I'll never find a job in computer science, and maybe I'll find that despite my thesis, I have no idea who Gabriel Fauré was. But I know I've learned something. Three years ago, it took me hours to learn a simple two-parted march, with someone repeating the parts for me at my request, and with the whole thing slowed way down.

And tonight, I learned a two-parted reel, a three-parted reel, and a pair of two-parted singles by ear, at (very fast Irish) concert speed, in about half an hour. Thanks, Susie! You know what? This forest is kind of nice.

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Thursday July 31, 2003 Cha

Today I tried lapsang souchong for the first time. I'm not sure I like it. The flavor is very intensely smoky, and I'm wondering if my current headache can be traced to it. It's a very unique flavor, though.

I sipped it and remembered camping trips as a boy scout, like the 67-mile canoe trip we did one year. If we were cooking on fires, every time someone in charge of building the fire would take green wood--sometimes even cutting it from a tree, of all things--and try to build a cookfire over it. Green wood does not burn particularly well. So we'd have to find dead wood, put out the old fire, and finally get a crackling good one going.

I always thought it strange how my habits changed in camp. Normally, I'm very much a night owl, and the term 'morning person' could never be reasonably applied to me. I go to bed late, and don't like to get up in the morning.

In camp, though, I was almost always the first one up. It just happened--I would wake up, feeling good, and I'd get up and be alone in camp. Sometimes I would start the morning's cookfire, sometimes not.

I remember one of the requirements--for first class, I think, though it might have been second class--was that you build a cookfire and cook your patrol's meal on it. Nothing too hard there, especially since many boy scouts consider kerosene to be Nature's Own Tinder. Ever eat anything cooked over a kerosene fire? I suggest you try it sometime.

Kerosene was a forbidden substance in our camp. Our one secret weapon was that dryer lint was an acceptable firestarter. I carefully packed it into little plastic bottles that had been intended for the medical industry, and packed it in my backpack before every trip, along with a flint and steel. I was sort of the fire guy for our troop, always experimenting with fire design and firestarter possibilities. My favorite firestarter, for sheer coolness effect, is the combination of 0000-grade steel wool and a 9V battery. The steel wool acts as a poor conductor, and it heats up enough to burn. There's no weather we ever ran into that'll stop it.

But yes, the cooking fire. The requirement was simply that you build a fire, light it, and cook a meal on it. Our leaders felt this wasn't enough of a challenge for me, so they added a few additional requirements: the fire had to be built in a rainstorm, from dead and down wood, using no dryer lint or other firestarters, had to be lit and left untouched (i.e. no adding more twigs after it was lit)... and then there was the big one.

I was only allowed one match.

And I did it.

And anyway, that's sort of what came into my head when I was drinking the tea.

I was talking to Jim the other night, worrying about things, and he said (to paraphrase): "I've sort of decided to leave fear behind. There's room for a lot of happiness in life when you aren't being afraid." I've been trying to do that, and it's working reasonably enough thus far.

I'm still a bit nervous; I mean, two weeks and two hours from now, I'll be landing in Glasgow. I'm beginning to have some idea of what I'll do, but so much is unknown.

Which is, I think, why it's so helpful to have loving friends and family. Thank goodness for them!

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