Vermont mountains calling me

"When the going gets weird the weird turn pro" -- HST

Ricker Basin, from Waterbury Reservoir

These days, I feel like I am being beaten with a stick. Things are crumbling, there's no sign of a bottom, I hope the new administration is successful but I don't think that one political party has a monopoly on virtue, or one on vice, the more things 'change' the more they stay the same.

To escape the seemingly endless cycle of bad news, today is a ski day. I'll be high up on the ridge on skis, enjoying the fresh snow, and not connected to the outside world (I don't carry a cell phone). The market could lose 25% or another 50,000 jobs lost and I won't learn of it until I get home, and picking clean lines through the woods will occupy my mind and prevent me from dwelling on the difficulties of my own personal situation -- for one day, anyway. Enjoy the snow.


Should I stay or should I go? (Compete or Retreat symposium, Feb 2, 09)

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. -- More from President Obama's inauguration speech.

This blog, it's personal, very diffuse, disaffected, post-ideological, and largely unread. Politics is not a frequent topic -- though "decline and fall" is a minor theme running through many of my posts. I don't partake in the furious and verbose polemics between left and right... some people have way too much time on their hands, life's too short, and I would rather be outdoors.

Generally, however, I subscribe to the notion that the Vermont state government is too big and too expensive, inefficient, and is generally oppressive. Lost in the debate seems to be the fact that Vermont is a small, poor, state, there's not enough money to go around, infrastructure is collapsing, and the state tax code is utterly incomprehensible. But I also have issues with doctrinaire Republican Party mantras about how cutting taxes and less regulation are the answer for every possible problem -- I observed that "Ronald Reagan is dead" in October 2008.

So, with the above paragraphs by way preamble, I have been involved with the logistics and marketing for the upcoming "Compete or Retreat" symposium sponsored by Vermont Tiger, a website that claims to be bipartisan but that on the whole is pretty right wing (the almost bankrupt and rapidly-shedding-employees Burlington Free Press apparently called the organization "reactionary"). But the list of panelists at the symposium is pretty diverse and should hopefully inspire some dialogue about best practices to help build a more viable Vermont economy.

I volunteered for this role because my own job is currently at a standstill, at present I only go to the office two days a week, and there are not many opportunities to be had. Doing publicity did let me try and deploy some new "social networking" tools (twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), but, not surprisingly, the most effective marketing channel was my own personal network that I have developed from living and working in Vermont since 1988.


Spice world: A need for optimism

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. -- from President Obama's inauguration speech.

As I noted earlier, I feel a kind of paralysis, I need to shake off the torpor that comes from being just a bit of surplus labor in the global economy, but it's hard: As I write this, 43,000 new layoffs are being announced. Closer to home, it feels like Armageddon Time (I don't why there is a variant spelling) for the Vermont economy, the body blows keep on landing, where the next opportunities will come, I cannot say. If I was more ambitious I would attempt to define "What is Progressive?" because in many ways I view the state government and its apparatus as the oppressor, and an instrument for creating an environment where just merely getting by is a struggle.

But enough of such gloomy and unfocused ramblings. My friend Ongyel, ignoring the prevailing economic climate, has opened the Himalayan Market in Burlington's North End. He will be importing foodstuffs and other goods from India and Nepal and also envisions the establishment as a social hub for the South Asian community in the area. I wish him every success in this venture and the store does stock lots of exotic and hard to find spices and flavorings at quite reasonable prices; and as a diet of largely consisting of rice and beans looms in the future, this is can only be a good thing.


The frogs

Investor Warren Buffet recently compared the situation in the United States at this point in time to an "economic Pearl Harbor". Looking back on the events of the past week in Vermont, the drumbeat of bad news continues, layoffs and closings everywhere, and on a more personal level, my job perceptively fades away a little more day by day, soon it will diminish to nothing unless there is some unexpected bit of good economic news.

I find that this situation produces a kind of paralysis, it's hard to think clearly, or to plan ahead with such a sense of looming catastrophe dominating everything. When I moved to Waterbury I speculated that buying a place instead of renting could be either liberating or an entrapment; the jury is still out, but I think that 'entrapment' looks to be the more likely outcome. I am caught a vortex and need a bailout of my own -- and I don't need anything like the $150+ billion amount sunk into AIG: Perhaps the government could put me up in unaccustomed splendor at Spruce Peak (owned by AIG) for a year.

Anyway, I spent some time playing with the camera and a manual focus lens yesterday, January has been dry and cold, there's snow but it would be nice to get a storm to freshen things up. It's nice to have a little splash of color in the middle of winter (frogs are a common motif in our house).

At least the days are lengthening; each added minute of daylight is appreciated after the short, dark days around the winter solstice.


Tracks on the reservoir, 1/18/09

Tracks -- I don't know what animals made them, especially the larger set on the right -- on frozen Waterbury Reservoir. Today I skied from Moscow side down to Cotton Brook and then up into the surrounding foothills. There's lots of snow which is good but not much sun which can be depressing... I am experimenting with using Facebook as a photo host, January 09 images here.


Man (with camera) versus wild: Landscape photography workshop @ Stowe

Just before New Years I had the opportunity to take part in a Landscape Photography workshop at Stowe. It was offered as a resort amenity during the holiday week but it was also possible for local residents to take part as well. The fee was really quite minimal for a workshop lasting the better part of a day, especially as it included two meals at one of the resort's rather plush restaurants. The course was instructed by Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Ember Photography, two dedicated outdoor photographers; their work has been featured in various outdoor related magazines and in catalogs for various gear manufacturers.

December 30th, the day of the workshop, was marked by a cold front coming through with a little snow, falling temperatures, and howling winds; not the most pleasant conditions to be wandering around the tundra-like fairways of a golf course. One of the lessons of the workshop was how to handle a camera in less than optimal conditions and that a modern DSLR is a pretty rugged device that does not need to be treated too gently.

It was heartening to observe professional photographers at work who had a very minimalistic approach to gear. Most of their work is shot with one workhorse 24 x 70 mm lens and under most conditions they do not use accessories like lens hoods, filters, tripods, etc. I have found that reading photography forums to be quite demoralizing because there are many proponents of buying a specific lens (often quite costly) for a specific use and other lenses for other applications.... commodity fetishism. I, on the other hand, try to make do with what I have most of the time.

Some examples of my very prosaic images from the workshop are posted here.


Winter is here and now

A blue jay seizes a peanut while perched on a planter on my patio... the container is about 18 inches high, and the snow is not drifted.

A week ago I walked on a beach wearing shorts and a polo shirt, however I have returned to cold and snow in Vermont. Despite the cool temperatures I went for long slogging skis in the woods on both Saturday and Sunday. It's the kind of activity that will pay dividends (an unfortunate metaphor in this economic climate) in the coming weeks and months as I will have many opportunities to ski...due to a pronounced lack of work. I will ski again tomorrow if my legs are up to it -- there's little need to go to the office at this point.


2008: A subprime kind of year on the blog

The sheer repetitiveness of it all is numbing: Every year (here, here and here) I say, "this blog has run its course", I feel spent, tired, sick of my own voice and my petty, self-absorbed concerns. Dr. Johnson, in a not uncommon fit of pique at Boswell, once remarked, "You have but two subjects, yourself and me. I am sick of both." I know the feeling...

Two trends were evident in the traffic logs of the site in 2008. One trend was that as I felt an increasing sense of fatigue, exhaustion and a general lack of creativity, and consequently little of the new content attracted even a small audience. Instead, a significant portion of traffic to the site was drawn to old posts on the subject of my Redline Monocog, doping scandals, and go-go dancers in Thamel. I wish that Tyler Hamilton's ex-wife (image on right) did not haunt my blog, searches on her maiden name were very common in drawing visitors here in 2008, however, I don't think that any of these visitors clicked around, read any of the more recent cycling posts, or checked out my video or photo hosting sites, this behavior was quite discouraging. Similarly, I don't think many of the visitors who wound up here looking for information on tawdry sex acts in Thamel delved into any of the various posts describing my trekking experience.

The other trend I have observed, is that traffic to this site has really collapsed, and that this collapse parallels the economic crisis that reached something of a climax in the autumn of 2008. It's interesting -- and perhaps not entirely coincidental -- that the fall-off in traffic to the site, closely matches the downward track of Google's once stratospheric stock price:

Is the fall-off in traffic a reflection of the lack of quality and originality of this site and the fatigue of the author? Or is it tied in some way to the greater problems of the world at large? Could Google be changing its search algorithms to steer visitors to more profitable web properties than this sorry little excuse of a blog? Or is traffic being sopped up by sites like Facebook and twitter? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'll be curious to see if any reports of marked changes in web traffic start to surface in 2009.

Going forward, there's lots of stress and uncertainty in my life right now, largely driven by economic troubles, so as always, I don't know what I'll be doing with "Midnight Modern Conversation" in the future. I'd like to rework the layout the site, which hasn't changed since I launched it on Memorial Day 2006. But part of me wants to just put this project aside and move onto other, more productive things.