November woods, 2008

Going into the woods after Thanksgiving is become pretty much of a tradition for me (previous post-Thanksgiving hikes are documented here and here). Hunting season is winding down, as the season draws to a close there are a lot less hunters in the woods, so it's pretty safe, as long as one is cautious and remains aware of the environment.

A few images from yesterday, there was enough snow at elevation to justify snowshoes, which of course I managed to leave at home.

An "ancient road" through the woods in Ricker Basin, now maintained as a snowmobile trail between the Cottonbrook area in Stowe and Waterbury/Bolton.

Off-piste in the woods. I approached from the back and initially thought it was an old sap boiler or something, instead it was the remains of an old and badly rotted truck, I think the engine block must have been removed at some point. Given the size of the tree growing up through the frame, it's been in this spot for quite a while.

Near the same spot, a good sized birch tree has grown up in the cellar hole of some long lost building -- this area is dotted with the remains of old farms that have gone back to the land. More images here in my Photoblog account.


Just another sad day

On a day marked by events like this there is nothing that I could post here. I spent the afternoon watching online news coverage from CNN's Indian partner, this experience was quite jarring because the advertising and station promos were still playing as if nothing special was going on but then coverage would show the chaos, mayhem and bloodshed in the streets again (Indian advertising is pretty fast paced, bouncy, and upbeat, from what I've seen).

In the course of my work as a recruiter I communicate with many people from the Indian subcontinent every day so this event does strike quite close to home for me. I've started to see a trend of Indians returning to the home from the US because there are more opportunities there and the softening of the US economy. I was going to try and set up a business meeting in Hyderabad in 2007 on the way back from my trip to Nepal but due to visa issues it didn't happen.

I think that the most pertinent statement on the violence was in the Guardian, a column entitled "It's that well-fed lad in the T-shirt again"; noting that that this act was carried out by young men who did not appear to come from the bottom of society... continuing a recent trend.

The events in Mumbai were a web 2.0 event, twitter was full of posts on the topic from all over the world. I'm really not sure if such instant connectedness is a good thing or not.

This guy was running a poll on his blog "Should I post images of the bodies of slain hostages?" It's all cinema verite I suppose but is this really needed? Does it make the horror of the situation real and immediate or does it just make for cheap voyeuristic thrills?

The Big Picture has images of the carnage that do convey the horror of the situation...


The winter landscape

The winter landscape, the weather has been very cold with some snow. After hunkering down and staying inside on Saturday -- a cold, snowy, and blustery day -- I got up early and drove to a spot I had discovered tooling around on my mountain bike on the shoulder of Owls Head mountain in Waterbury. It was bitterly cold and there was a ripping wind blowing, I wasn't inclined to experiment with the camera too much.

Four images stitched together, from the south: Sugarbush South and North, Mad River Glen, Camels Hump in the clouds, the Winooski river valley, and Woodward Mountain.

Looking due west: This location affords a great view of Camels Hump, unfortunately the summit never broke free from the clouds, and it was too cold and exposed to hang around long waiting to see if it would clear.

"OH1" is where these images were taken: It looks like some developer has bought up the land and envisions putting in a development of fancy expensive homes; there's already one huge extravagant ghastly pile of a house up there and buried utilities are being put in. I personally don't approve of this kind of land use pattern and I won't be disappointed if I learn that this development is having problems moving forward due the current free-fall of the economy. How many million dollar homes in the woods does Vermont need?


Surfing the Kondratiev Wave, or riding the big one, and it's a long way down

Nikolai Kondratiev was a Russian economist with the misfortune to have Stalin as a boss; he was caught up in the purges and eventually executed in 1938. I was reading some article about "1o people who predicted the crash" or something to that effect and he was mentioned, so I quickly looked up the name (the Internet -- particularly Google -- makes this very easy, but also shallow -- see "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nick Carr).

It turns out that before Kondratiev was imprisoned in the Gulag he developed a theory that the activity of capitalist economies can be charted in long waves, or supercycles, and that these cycles are far longer and deeper than what is normally characterized as the 'business cycle': According to the theory, the timing of these deep boom and bust cycles is 50 years or more...

A chart illustrating two hundred years of economic activity.... hmm, what's next? The graphic is from a site entitled Kondratieff Winter that contains additional information about the application of this theory to the present situation. The site was launched in 2007, when, as the site owner notes, the stock market was at 14,000. As usual, wikipedia also has an entry of this subject.

I don't know, it's very disconcerting, maybe I am not brave enough but I live in fear. Not paralyzing fear, but a giddy prickly sensation when I leave for work in the morning and a slightly queasy feeling when I walk into my condo unit at night, and I lie awake in the early hours of the morning and wonder what comes next. And I am not even that heavily exposed (I've never been a fan of borrowing money) by the standards of some of my neighbors...but was it enough?


Bringing It All Back Home on vinyl

A relic from the garage, complete with fading stickers of a very young looking Bob Dylan affixed to the reverse of the album cover.

This album cover is probably one of iconic images from the Sixties. I don't know that there will be anything equivalent from the present tumultuous time, things seem more fragmented now, "we are all living in our truth", so it is harder for an object of art to become 'iconic' and stand above the vast pile of blogs, facebook & myspace profiles, homemade media streams, etc. (A case in point: This site.)

Of course, we don't have the equipment (ie, a turntable) to play this album, so it is purely decorative/archival.

By choice, I don't write much about personal relationships here too much -- and this is deliberate and most assuredly not accidental. I, however, live with a self-professed hippy (I have some counter-cultural leanings of my own) for whom Bob Dylan is a major figure... so our condo amounts to something of a Dylan shrine, and we have most of his oeuvre on CD.


Things are getting pretty rickety

The barrage of bad news continues, it is unsettling, I still have a job to go to five days a week, but I work in the people-hiring business. Given the economic climate, and many predictions that the recession/depression will be long, deep, and drawn out, for how long will this continue? Maybe I should become a repo man (one of my favorite movies) instead.

I have been anointed the social media maven at the office, I update various online profiles, created a page of our company on Facebook, and started playing with twitter -- though I really don't get the point of this service. A couple of things from my twitter stream caught my eye this week:
"i fear whats under attack now not xyz co or industry but very concept of value and money"
And a comment on an interesting, if depressing article by Michael Lewis (author of Liar's Poker, a book he now admits is practically quaint) entitled "The End of Wall Street" raises an interesting question:
So is the US$ the next bubble? What happens when US$ goes down to zero? Should we be shorting US$?
As I have said before here, I feel there are parallels to Weimar Germany in the current situation. Two economic events have already afflicted me:
  • My slender retirement savings have lost considerable value in the past six months.
  • Frozen credit markets and a very dismal job market mean that it would be very difficult to sell my condo if I wanted, or had, to.
To complete the trifecta (this hasn't happened yet, but could be a reasonable expectation based on history)
  • Raging inflation wipes out the value of the cash I have in the bank as a hedge against job uncertainty.
There seems to be a debate over which decade we will revisit: The 1970s (stagnation) or the 1930s (prolonged economic crisis, social breakdown, etc.). Life is a cabaret...


Veterans Day, 2008

As this blog has evolved, I have really gotten away (with a few exceptions) from using content from other sites here: This blog may not be very compelling, interesting, or original, but it is mostly my own.

On Veterans Day, however, I thought I would post this stark and powerful image from a photo essay in the New Yorker. Seeing this image led Colin Powell to endorse Barack Obama, but even without the political baggage it is a very moving photograph.

George Bush said today that he will miss being Commander in Chief... that's fine, he's entitled to the sentiment I guess, and being President in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks must have been a quite terrible job -- a fact that the President's many detractors seem to have lost sight of. I think, however, that Bush's unwillingness or inability to call for any kind of sacrifice at home during the current conflicts, was and is utterly contemptible.

Part of me wishes that I had had the experience of serving in the military instead of going to college right after high school, and, far more importantly, thanks to all who have served.


The day after

The Lydall plant in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, on a snowy day in February 2006. When I worked (unhappily) in the packaging business I spent a couple of hours in this plant on Thursdays, inventorying their supplies and placing orders -- it was a very industrial environment, full of dangerous equipment -- large hydraulic presses that made the floor shake. The plant stamped out metal heatshields and its customers were domestic automobile manufacturers -- ie, not the best industry segment to operate in. The plant's closing was announced earlier this year, work is being consolidated to a plant in North Carolina, with the loss of 190 jobs. I remember that there was an American flag suspended from a large overhead crane traversing the length of plant's interior. I wonder if they will take the flag down when the plant finally closes; if not, it would a sadly powerful image if it remains hanging over the empty space.

With my new access to television (see previous post) I watched the election coverage on Tuesday evening -- we fell asleep, but I woke up just in time to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech. The next day the local news operations had video showing thousands of UVM students pouring into the streets of Burlington, ecstatically (hysterically? -- some appeared to almost weeping with joy) celebrating the election result.

I hope, (like David Brooks) that this is the dawning a new, competent, successful administration that pursues sound economic policies at home and restores America's image abroad. Also, I hope that Sarah Palin stays in Alaska and never is heard from again in the lower 48 -- it really wasn't funny. However, I did not shed tears of ecstatic joy upon learning the results of the election. The problems are bigger than any one person (however competent -- and we don't know how competent the new administration will be) and will not be resolved quickly or painlessly. I know that this is stating the painfully obvious but it seems to have been swept aside in the post-election celebrations. Note to the UVM kids: You're incurring lots of debt ($40K+/year for out of state students) and face a very uncertain job market, so study hard and don't spend too much time in the bars downtown.


Superprestige #2, viewed online

I went over to the dark side on Saturday: I signed up for Internet and phone service from the cable company, and it included 12 months of free 'broadcast' cable. So, for the first time in more than three years, I can watch television again. Maybe this will kill this blog for once and for all: Too distracting. Having gone for a long time without viewing television commercials, it's definitely something of a culture shock to experience the latest offerings from Madison Avenue.

Anyway, the point of this exercise was to reduce the cost of the Internet connection, I had been paying $40/month for a somewhat balky DSL connection, it seemed like a lot of money for what was being provided. The new service is 'economy' class cable Internet access, a 384kbps service for $25/month, it should be adequate for the needs of my household. After a couple of hours putzing around with two routers (the router I had been using, refused to work with the new service, fortunately there was a backup available, and I am becoming quite well versed with such equipment), I was back online.

Television, however, is very passive medium, the viewer absorbs whatever the networks chose to serve up, even as channels proliferate, many niches go unserved, which is to say, there is no television coverage of cyclocross in North America. Anyway, I tested out the new connection by watching Superprestige race #2 online, streamed live online by Belgian television (schedule here), the technology is getting better, the images below are murkier than the video (perhaps because of higher fps rates?). There were a few hiccups with the stream but all in all it was a pretty cool way to waste an hour on a Sunday morning.

A hectic race start as usual.

Belgian champion (and heavy favorite) Sven Nys leads world champion Lars Boom near the end of the race, however they never made it to the very front. Nys blasted out of a group and the coverage gave a good sense of what is like to try and hang on when the pace is high through the technical sections.

Niels Albert had a dominating ride and led most of the race unchallenged. It's somewhat disconcerting that he lists his favorite sportsman as "Vinokourov" on his website... hmm.

And on the subject of cyclocross, congratulations to Jamie Driscoll for winning both races in Northhampton over the weekend, another dominating performance, especially for a young rider.