2.26.2009

Orange Blossom Special

video

...Well, I'm going down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe Californy
And get some sand in my shoes
I'll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose these New York blues...

I'm currently in Florida. For eight days, the story of what brought me here, is kind of convoluted, but Vermont is increasingly a circumstance from which I am trying to escape, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. Instead of some mythic passenger train we flew down on Airtran, I must say, they did a good job, making flying a little more pleasant than it could be otherwise. It was strange driving from Orlando to Daytona at night, speeding through a featureless landscape in an anonymous rental car. But the weather has been great since we arrived and the surf breaks on the beach outside our rented condo, I'm not complaining.

Tomorrow we leave for the Florida Gulf Coast which I think will be more congenial for me and plan on returning to Vermont on Wednesday. I am also spending a week in North Carolina in March... the ties binding me to 'home' grow weaker day by day.

2.24.2009

Spring will come


Spring will come from JG on Vimeo.

...Made over the course a week as a Hippeastrum finally blooms -- it was planted in December. I am planning on spending a good chunk of the next month well south of Vermont -- starting today.

2.23.2009

Still plotting on the Woodward Mountain trail

Sunday I went for a long ski in Ricker Basin, it re-created a route I had previously skied almost exactly one year ago in March 2008. Despite taking advantage of a recently groomed but untraveled VAST trail to get into Ricker Basin, it was a long hard day on skis. Ascending up the bowl to the top of the ridgeline remains a quad-burning, shattering experience -- arriving at the top is met with much relief. To add insult to injury, I could hear other backcountry skiers whooping it (hooting and hollering amongst themselves) in the bowl closer to Bolton Valley trails. I didn't bother to bring a camera to save weight and because it was snowing hard pretty much all day. I am the only person I know who thinks skiing uphill (over 2000 feet of climbing in the course of the day) is perversely rewarding. Snow conditions will be great this week as today (Monday) was met with more heavy snow in central Vermont -- and the usual chaos on Interstate 89.

And the plot of the previous week's trek on snowshoes on the Skyline trail. I was unfamiliar with the terrain and there was a cloud cover in the morning which explains some of the rather erratic routefinding at the start of the hike.

2.16.2009

Skyline trail between Stowe Pinnacle and Mt. Hunger

Not many words, but just some images from a long day's hike from Stowe Pinnacle to Mt. Hunger. I started at 9 am and was back at the Mt. Hunger parking lot at 4:30 pm, very tired and sore.

Looking north towards Stowe Pinnacle from the very rough, poorly-marked and seldom-traveled Skyline Trail.

After a cold January there has been a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle, and the remaining snow cover is as hard as cement, great for hiking with snowshoes.

A view of Stowe in the afternoon as the cloud cover dissipated.

The thick coating of hoarfrost made it feel like walking through a world of powdered sugar.

These images were taken with my Pentax K100D Super and a Sigma 17x70 lens in RAW format and post-processed with Ifranview and Gimp, the panorama was made with Hugin.

2.14.2009

My trainspotting, squirrel-watching aimless life

This squirrel's Napoleonic pose makes him look a lot more decisive and commanding than I feel at this point in time.

Who knew, when the tide began to turn (sometime in 2007? 2006 perhaps?) that economics -- typically characterized as the dismal science -- would turn out to be such an interesting and timely subject. Back in the swirling mists of time, I dimly remember sitting through an Econ 101 course in college, all I recall, was that it was extremely boring: Unrelenting, stultifying tedium unbroken by any flashes of wit or insight.

Now, however, economics -- macro and micro -- seems quite directly tied to matters such as my ability to keep a roof over my head, consequently it is a much more interesting subject, I feel like like a patient who has been given a diagnosis, and the prognosis is not good: Time to get my affairs in order.

Which is my usual windy, verbose preamble, for recounting that I attended a presentation this past week by Jeff Carr, consulting economist for the state of Vermont, his description of the long-term structural problems facing the state, and the likely impact of the just-passed stimulus package, was not at all encouraging, one of the few positive things he had to say, was that a complete collapse of the financial system was only very narrowly avoided back in September, when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

As I have noted, the cumulative effect of this situation is having a paralyzing effect on me. I still have a job to go 40% of the time, that should give 60% of my time (3 days a week) to spend on other, productive activities. What I'm finding, however, is that even getting dressed in the morning is becoming a struggle. It's easier just to stay indoors; watch the birds and squirrels in the backyard, even picking up a camera takes too much initiative.

The squirrel has not been around much this winter because of a new rodent-proof bird feeder -- but he did appreciate a handful of North Carolina peanuts.

Perhaps, like me, the animal is pondering what to do next.

When I'm not staring out the window or attending presentations on the financial apocalypse during what would normally be considered working hours, I spend time online with such aimless websites as twitter and Facebook or playing simple flash games like pool online. I even find that I also lack the energy or inspiration for the time-suck that is blogging, one would think, that I would have the time to produce hundreds of cogent words a day, thousands of words per week, but no, it is all a blank to me now.

This isn't very constructive and I hope that as the days grow longer I will find the motivation and energy to plot a move forward and take some action, my present mode of living can not continue indefinitely, it is very demoralizing and unhealthy. Perhaps the crisis still hasn't fully hit home enough yet, Dr. Johnson observed, "Nothing so concentrates the mind like the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight...", maybe when I begin to really feel like a condemned prisoner, I'll figure out what I want to try and do next: Something has got to give.

2.12.2009

Told ya so (live blogging the catastrophe)

At the recent "Compete or Retreat" symposium blogger Megan McArdle gave a wandering and digressive talk entitled "(Blogo)spheres of influence"; this was kind of ironic for me to sit through, because "Midnight Modern Conversation" has got to be the least influential blog in the history of the world: A site vainly searching for a readership, though I know a consistent theme or topic would help the cause.

Anyhow, economist Art Wolf was also involved in this event, he recently gave a commentary on the present situation to Vermont Public Radio, some words in the introduction struck me:
The economy is in terrible shape. Worse than anyone predicted a year ago. Far worse than economists forecasted as recently as six months ago. And it will continue to decline in coming months. (Emphasis added).
Let's see: On March 18, 2008 -- about ten months ago -- I wrote a post entitled "I don't feel stimulated" that pretty much predicted with a high degree of accuracy how things have played out:
I feel like I am living in Weimar-era Germany or some South American banana republic. This 'stimulus' is really more of a bribe passed by feckless and cowardly elected representatives in Washington. It's contemptible and fraudulent, and if the government was a commercial entity (like, say, General Motors) I would wonder if this check -- when it shows up -- would bounce. It could be argued that Americans (addicted to debt, prone to living in McMansions and driving SUVs, etc.) get the government we deserve: "We the people..."

To use another analogy, I feel like I am perched on top of the longest drop on a rollercoaster.... waiting for the plunge, and it's a long way down....

[the post concludes with....]

I expect that the captains of finance who profited the most from the previous excesses, and who are largely responsible for the current mess, will walk away with rich severance packages.
I am not being at all original in pointing this out again; I already wrote a post in late September -- "Arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" -- vainly calling attention to the original "I don't feel stimulated" post: Some days, I feel like Diogenes with his lantern (the anecdote about masturbation in the Agora is pretty funny). A lot of blogging, however, seems to consist of flogging veritable herds of dead horses, so I will make the same tired point again without compunction.

And, on the subject of posts on the present economic situation, I have noticed that variations on "Kondratiev Wave" are showing up the analytics reports of this largely unvisited site; I wrote about this topic back in November 2008.

Since I can apparently predict the future, perhaps I will plan a trip to Saratoga this summer to lay some money on the ponies... that seems as likely a source of income as any of the possible alternatives these days.

2.07.2009

Hockey images, UVM vs. Providence

Just some images from Gutterson Field House at UVM on Friday February 6 2009 -- UVM vs. Providence, a Hockey East game. The rink is a very tough environment for a camera and the seats were not ideal for taking photos. These shots, however, do give a good sense of what it's like in the arena -- which can be euphemistically described as 'intimate': Given the financial situation at UVM at present, I don't think that a new, larger, more modern facility will be in the cards anytime soon.

Between periods after the Zambonis had done their thing.

... and the face off after UVM tied the game in second period.

UVM got off to a slow start but then picked it up and played fast and aggressively in the second and third periods, and won 4-1. They also won on Saturday by the same score.

The UVM goalie also had a strong game in the net.

Setting up on the point during a powerplay.

Some other photos from last season are here -- these were from a much better location that was closer to the action. For this game, however, I think I was a bit more aggressive with the camera settings, and also shot RAW so as to have the most potential for post processing adjustments. The Pentax is not a great setup for this sort of thing and I also do not have the expensive lenses that would work better in this kind of light, so I can't complain too much about how these came out.

2.04.2009

"We can bake more bread, or fight over the crumbs": Compete or Retreat wrap up

Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Council gave an excellent keynote speech at the recent Compete or Retreat symposium, although I thought he was describing a foreign country, a strange land with a successful record of public-private partnerships and where consensus between disparate groups was an achievable goal (it is also very true that California faces huge economic problems at this point in time). He also mentioned that language -- as in tempered language -- plays a role in helping to work towards larger common goals, it is counterproductive to demonize opponents, and chose words wisely (ie, people live in 'homes' not 'units'). A side note: I actually had lunch with Carl Gaurdino, we discussed such vital business topics as the upcoming Tour of California and the Webcor Cycling Team -- he's a cyclist and triathlete.

I suppose I should take Guardino's counsel about 'temperate language' to heart and not characterize the person who left this comment on a blog as an ignorant, bigoted fool (or worse -- neo-Stalinist comes to mind). Jeb Spaulding -- a Democrat -- took quite a bit of heat from various local left-of-center blogs for merely participating in the event, and apparently some Democratic legislators chose not to attend because of the sponsoring organization's ideology.

I have two comments on this: First, as a citizen of Vermont, I am interested in 'best practices' and would cheerfully support political leadership that I thought could lead the state out of the present morass -- regardless of party or ideology (within reason). Second, the panelists at the symposium were quite diverse, the event was not a run of the mill Chamber of Commerce-GOP love fest, I've sat through that kind of gathering before, and they are usually quite uninteresting.

Panelists at the morning session.

The afternoon panel. Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, said that she was sick of panels, commissions and talk, she said that now is time for action and reform.

The Free Press, a dying but sometimes still useful institution, has a pretty comprehensive write up of the day so I won't summarize what was discussed.

I was glad I helped -- in a small way -- publicize "Compete or Retreat", I met some new people and honed my PR skills a little bit, however, I will say that there was a certain atmosphere of 'preaching to the choir' at the event -- which was unfortunate. There also were common themes of poor choices in tax policies and wasted human capital running through the various presentations. My own sense is that things are bad now and going to get worse, and that there is a huge leadership vacuum here -- short-sightedness abounds. Finally, let the record show that I have never been a huge fan of Jim Douglas or (especially) the national Republican Party in its current form.

2.01.2009

Unbroken snow on the Woodward Mountain trail

Some images from a long, tiring day's ski on 01/30/09 in Ricker Basin. There are several feet of loose snow on the ground and there have been no thaws, mixed precipitation events, or rain in many weeks, so the snow is deep and fluffy -- and very tiring to plod through.

The un-skied upon eastern end of the Woodward Mountain trail. It took me many hours of work to go up and over the ridge and I was very tired when I finally got to this spot. I was last up in this area in October, helping to get the trail ready for winter.

Light and shadow on fresh snow at the top of the ridge. I wish I could report that I made a graceful series of sweeping downhill turns in the powder, but that wasn't the case, the descent wasn't long enough to get up any speed in the thick snow.

Moose tracks on the logging road. Twice I came upon grouse hunkered down in the snow, one bird exploded up less than two feet in front of me -- a quite startling experience in the quiet of the winter woods.

A different kind of pyramid scheme.