Back Online!

On August 8, in the morning, my DSL Internet connection in Burlington was turned off.

Tonight, August 31, at about 8:15 pm, I reconnected! I have made a choice to live without television (so far I don't miss it all) but it was a big change to live without an Internet connection. I have a bloated Dell laptop, the oversized screen is pretty to look at, but it sure is a pain to lug around. I've used the connections at local coffee shops (the closest one, right in Waterbury, is closing on Saturday) and various public libraries in the meantime but it is not the same.

If nothing else, the new connection rocks, not bad for central Vermont, not exactly the center of the broadband universe... The speed is from connecting via Ethernet to the modem. I have a wireless router but its performance was erratic and the speed degrades on the wireless connection so I think I will go with the Ethernet connection most of the time.

Blog posting has been severely curtailed for the last month and this shows in the traffic reports which look like the EKG of a dying person... (STAT! the patient is flatlining!). I am still far from settled in my new place but I will spend some more time on this in the future.


At the Old Labor Hall, Barre, Vt, Aug. 25

Friday night instead of going home and staring at the white walls of my condo or driving all the way to Burlington to go to a party I went to the annual meeting of the Vermont Labor History Society in Barre. I went to this event to get out of the house and also because I knew a little history of the building (though I had never been there before) and a little bit about the anarchist labor movement in Barre in the 20's and 30's: This is the kind of history that appeals to me.

I knew in advance that even though I am forty years old I would likely be on the younger side of the audience of this event... And this proved to be very much the case. However I did end up sitting at a table with four young Democratic party activists which was fun and I did enjoy William Greider's talk even though I don't share his faith in the Democratic Party or unions as a way out of the current political situation. He argued that the conservative movement that originated with Ronald Reagan has reached it's high point and will soon recede, riven by its own contradictions and by the fact that it has so distorted the distribution of wealth in this country.

I wish I wasn't so cynical and believed in something positive but it's hard, I think the American people get the government they deserve: spendthrift, addicted to borrowing, skewed by apocalyptic religious fantasies, etc. and I also am reminded of the end of Animal Farm where there are no differences between parties: Men are pigs, and pigs are men.... a fable for our time? It funny that American politics is so partisan and destructive and yet I can't imagine belonging to either political party. And what is worse is that in Vermont there are some 3rd party options (the progressives) and I don't care for them either! Perhaps if the Greens took hold that might inspire me.

Turnout for this event was pretty good (even if the average age was definitely 65+) and very 'pink' (ie, liberal, not 'gay') and it was funny because it was relatively easy for me to close my eyes and imagine what it was like to be in the building in the 20s when it would be packed with 1st generation Italian stone workers espousing anarchist principles and rioting: There was a shooting here, if I had Internet access (see previous post!) I would provide some links, there are a few (not many) references to this on the web, it is an interesting subject: Fight the power!


Update: Here's a link to an article about the history of the building.

The soothing automated female voice that drives me to despair

Abandon hope all ye who enter here” -- sign over the gates of hell.

We never stop working for you” -- printed on each page of my Verizon bill.

I told Verizon that I was moving on July 31, which was only seven days in advance of my moving date. They offer “moving services”, however, and assured me that I would have dialtone on August 9, the first day in my new place. Due to confusion about the correct street address, however, the new service didn't happen until August 15. The confusion may have been partly my fault so I can't get too worked up about this, though it was a major pain, I don't use a cell phone, so no dialtone meant no phone service at all.

The dialtone situation, however, pales in comparison to my misadventures with getting a DSL line provisioned. It was originally scheduled to be installed on August 21st. Because of the confusion with getting dial tone set up, it was never apparent – though it should have been – to Verizon DSL that I had telephone service at all: An internal error on their part. So the 21st came and went with no sign of Internet service.

To call Verizon's customer service numbers is to sink into an automated voice response unit guided by a deliberately soothing, very calm female voice. My guess is that this was developed by someone with a degree in industrial psychology who did some testing and determined the following:

That callers are mostly male
Are likely to be angry about something

And designed the system accordingly. This voice has become the equivalent of the disembodied voice of HAL in 2001 to me... Asking me what I need and why I am calling and “thanks for choosing Verizon”.

The soothing effect only works the first couple of times. When the order gets lost and nothing happens and answers are not forthcoming the last thing I want to hear is a disembodied voice asking me to confirm my number and what my problem is. The lack of human contact only adds to the frustration. Put me in touch with #^*@#! person... I don't have the patience for this.

When I have spoken with Verizon staff, for the most part they have been professional as to customer service protocols... but pretty clueless as to why I am having problems.

One said “I don't see your order (for DSL).”
Another (on the DSL side of Verizon) said “We don't have a customer service record (showing I had dialtone), you need to call the telephone side and tell them this” -- broadband and telephone service are two separate entities-- I suggested that she was telling me to do her job for her.... & she admitted that this was the case!

I've spoken to three other live people and no one has taken ownership of this situation and I've been given all sorts of contradictory information (including an assurance that I would have service on Friday August 25th – which didn't happen). The connection is now supposed to be turned up on Sept. 1st.

It's been a learning experience not having an Internet connection as I use email more than the phone to stay in touch with people and as my main source of news and information. There's plenty to do with getting settled so it could have been worse but still I feel the phone company did a pretty bad job with my order – which still isn't in place. It's like they try to maximize the frustration. In retrospect I would have set up a dial up account for a month just to tide me over.


Can't Buy a Thrill, or, the Retail Therapy Isn't Working

I have many failings, weaknesses and faults (one of which is readily apparent in this blog: Excessive self-absorption), however deriving excessive pleasure from spending money isn't really one of my gross personality defects. Rather the opposite, I probably should be more free spending, part of the reason I am tight with money is that I find it really hard to think optimistically about the future, and hence I am very good at saving for a rainy day, because I expect the deluge at any moment. (In my own defense, I have lots of direct experience with 'rainy days', some which have been the consequences of my own actions, and some of which have been the result of big macro forces over which I have no control).

Earlier this year I had summer tires put on my car at Sears which meant I was stuck at the local mall for the better part of the afternoon while the tires were installed. I was thoroughly depressed and bored by this experience. There was absolutely NOTHING that I wanted to look at. The record/video stores are just chains and the clothing stores are extremely non-distinctive (how many pairs of khakis does a guy need, anyway?). I wound up back at the really dingy depressing waiting room at the auto service place watching The Godfather Part II on AMC. It was pretty funny because there were two other guys there and all three of us knew the movie really well so we talking to the characters and reciting the lines... I think that the Godfather films are touchstones of American male experience.

But now I have moved to a new condo and it is larger than my old place. It is freshly painted with white walls and new beige carpet: Kind of like a cell at an asylum! (The layout of the place is actually quite nice, it's just that the color scheme is extremely neutral.) This means that I need to spend some money on furnishings. For the past two weekends I have made the 25 mile pilgrimage to Taft Corners, Vermont's center of the big box store universe. I find that I am very prone to looking at stuff and being indecisive and wasting time: And when I pull out my credit card and actually buy something, it makes me more depressed...I don't feel well at all. I usually don't carry a credit card balance but there will be no avoiding taking on some debt as part of moving in. I just wish this process made me happier.

The other thing that has really surprised me is how almost everything in some of the big box stores comes from China: I wonder what being a buyer at these chains is like: Are there trade shows like “The All Asia Unnecessary Kitchen and Bath Gadgetry Exposition”? There are aisles and aisles of this stuff....Who buys it? Where does it come from? (and what are the labor and environmental practices there?)


Signs of the end of summer: Blackberries

Even with all discussion and evidence of impending climate change summer still ends quite suddenly in Vermont: It's like a curtain comes down and 'that's all folks'... It's fall. There's fog in the morning, nights start getting noticeably cooler, and trees weakened by disease or salt damage start showing hints of color.

Another sign of fall: Blackberries harvested from behind my new condo. I don't know if no one in the complex has ever noticed these... or people just prefer to get their fruits and vegetables wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket

Picture #1: Using a high-tech flash diffuser (Kleenex!)

Picture #2: With the flash uncovered... I use a very basic Canon powershot (A60: state of the art, c. 2 years ago, and as technology marches forward, that's a long time) to take pictures so the results are pretty good I think considering what I am using.


Where I was when

Summer, 1983, just after graduation from high school. Like many of my classmates I bought a backpack and an Eurorail pass and set out on a low budget and decidedly grubby version of a 'grand tour'. Reagan was president, the Soviet Union was still in existence, Germany was divided, a strangely far away time in retrospect. I traveled from Stuttgart to Vienna and then through Yugoslavia to Athens...and that was just a start.

Somehow in the course of this trip I picked up a small poster advertising a “Gala Comico Taurin” in Biarritz, and very improbably it survived my college years and has been tucked away forgotten in a yearbook ever since. I discovered it unpacking from the move, I think that I will frame it and hang it somewhere in the new place, if only to remind me of when I was young and willing to put up with more privations.

I am living without Internet access but my DSL connection is supposed to be provisioned on Monday which will be a big relief. Verizon offers 'moving services' but I noticed on my current bill that they very thoughtfully keep billing me for my connection even though it hasn't been accessible for two weeks...quite the operation they have going. I am also living without television which I don't miss nearly as much. Semi regular posting will resume next week.


Zen of moving

After some of the most trying four days of my adult life I have managed to complete my move from Burlington to Waterbury. It was a very exasperating and tiring experience. Both Verizon and Adelphia have done their bit to make my life difficult.

Just messing around with camera over the weekend, procrastinating as usual.

Boxes piled in the living room awaiting the movers.

Pile getting smaller...

Empty bedroom, there is no skylight in my new place.

A last picture as I was heading out the door... Monday night I was sweating and swearing profusely as I furiously cleaned the fridge at midnight. I'm glad it's over.

& a big www thank you for my mom who pitched in both on Monday (helping pack) and who came down yesterday to help with the aftermath.


Excellent column on the psychology (and psychosis) of bike racers

Jose Maria Jimenez, dead of depression, addiction and despair at age 32. I would have scanned an image from cycling mags I have lying around but my scanner is safely in a box waiting the arrival of the movers on Tuesday.

A columnist in San Francisco has written a perceptive column on the psyche of these guys...though I think it misses the corruption that is endemic to everything in the sport it seems.

There are much sadder cycling tales

Saturday was a sad day for cycling. It might even rank in the top 25.

That all depends on how many Dutch and Belgian cyclists died young about 15 years ago because their hearts stopped in the middle of the night. Nobody knows the exact figure, since the media can't track all of the wannabes whose drug experimentation fatally thickened their blood before they became recognizable names.

Floyd Landis' name, barely recognizable a month ago, will now be known and tainted forever. Barring a legal performance that scales mountains bigger than any rider has ever conquered, he will become the first Tour de France champion stripped of his title. The great tragedy of Landis' positive drug test, which a second sample confirmed Saturday, is that it doesn't qualify as the greatest doping tragedy tied to a man who wore the yellow jersey.

Marco Pantani, who won the race in 1998, died in a hotel in the Italian coastal town of Rimini in 2004. He had overdosed on cocaine in a room that contained a large stash of drugs and crazed notes that suggested suicide.

Pantani, a wildly colorful figure who once wore a blond wig during a race, had been implicated in doping more than once after his 1998 Tour win. He was under investigation for much of the last four years of his life, and organizers booted him from the 1999 Giro d'Italia because of a failed blood test. The notes in his hotel room reportedly railed against the officials who had investigated him.

It's not clear whether doping accusations or doping itself fueled the breakdown that led to Pantani's death. But performance-enhancing drugs, especially stimulants and hormones, can work like lighter fluid on an unstable or addictive personality.

Pantani's death wasn't exactly an aberration among Tour riders. Since the event started in 1903, war stoppages and repeat winners have limited the list of champions to 54 names. Four have taken their own lives.


But Dec. 6, 2003, was much worse. Jose Maria Jimenez, a 32-year-old former Spanish cyclist, died of a heart attack that day, just like more than a dozen Dutch and Belgian cyclists in the late '80s and early '90s. He was in a psychiatric hospital at the time.

Check out the whole column it is interesting - if depressing - reading and the columnist did a much better job than most US-based writers on this subject.

Floyd Landis will be on the Today show tomorrow but I doubt I will watch. It makes me feel dirty. Do the crime, do the time, I don't want to hear a bunch of implausible excuses.


Places I've been, things I've seen

There is a post at 802Online about the sale of the writer's childhood home in Detroit which is an idea that is completely foreign to me. My childhood was at once nomadic without being particularly distinctive in that my father's career kept the family in smallish towns dominated by IBM.

As an adult one of the more pronounced elements of my personality is a reluctance to relocate even when it would be in my interest to do so...in 1995 I applied and was accepted into a graduate program and then didn't go. How would my life today be different if I had done this?

Moving makes me consider these issues again: A certain stability in one's life can be a good thing, but an inability to change and an acceptance of the status quo is stifling. Stasis (a : a state of static balance or equilibrium : STAGNATION b : a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs) is not good: It's more akin to resignation or surrender.

Places I've lived:
  • San Diego (left at age 6 months, I have spent 4 days in California, total, as an adult...)
  • Framingham, a suburb of Boston
  • Connecticut suburbs of New York (my dad worked in Armonk, NY)
  • Endicott, in upstate New York (the original IBM company town)
  • Connecticut suburbs (BTW some of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States, and boy was I unhappy being there)
  • Gartringen, a village outside of Stuttgart, Germany (high school)
  • Connecticut suburbs again (a theme is developing: By this time I was in college)
  • Burlington, Vermont (I graduated college, and settled in Vermont, for good or ill.)

My dad worked for IBM his entire career and after Burlington (and getting divorced) he moved to Boca Raton, FL, and then Raleigh, NC before he finally retired from the company. That is the kind of career track I can't imagine -- just like I can't imagine what it's like to retire with a pension... something that I will never have!


Mavic at GMSR, Sept 2004

Just another old photo. It was a cold day on top of Appalachian Gap and I was practically hypothermic when this picture was taken. That's Mark McCormack in the background on his way to winning the stage and the race overall. www.gmsr.info


more cycling relics (from my pantry)

I was cleaning out my pantry over the weekend and I found these packets of energy drink samples. They probably date from the late 90's or thereabouts... The Warpaide (ie, the sugary energy drink) had solidified in the envelope but the "Buzrn" (a nasty tasting whey powder concoction) was still loose and powdery in the envelope -- nothing natural in that formulation.

Smartfuel was an attempt to rebrand products meant for weight control and sell them to athletes, particularly cyclists. It was an idea that never quite generated enough cash and was eventually sold off, and now the the domain name is pointing at some web storefront selling nutritional products... but there don't seem to be any Smartfuel branded products left.