link to it 27nov05: haircut, reciprocity

I got a haircut. Greg and I managed to pull off Buy Nothing Day by attempting a trip to the library. The library was closed [which we knew, because we'd read their web site] but we went to drop off my sister's books anyhow. While we were sitting outside enjoying the sun and the 20 degree weather, we must have seen 15 people try the door. I know it's a hard balance, trying to give your librarians enough vacation time while still being open for the public, but it would seem like the day after Thanksgiving is a sure fire bang-up day for the library to be open. People have the day off. Kids aren't at school. Everyone's going shopping anyhow so they're out and about. Somerville Public Library, you missed a grand opportunity.

We got my sister set up with wireless, thanks to her downstairs neighbors who have a broadband connection. Now she's not only online from any room in the house (except her office, too bad about the giant metal desk) but she's got high speed access in her house for the first time. We did security updates, downloaded some software, uploaded a ton of pictures. The Pew Digital Divisions survey talked about how people with faster connections do more online. This may seem obvious, but previously the largest indicator of how much time you spent online was the length of time you'd been online overall. So, people who have been online for the most years, are the most active online. This strongly implies that one way to help bridge the digital divide is to make faster access available to more people more simply. Watching various municipal wifi initiatives and the resistance they encounter is I bet in some ways like watching people fight about the rural electrification project, except that it was much harder to make the argument that all people wanted to do with electricity was play games and hang out in chat rooms.

I am heading home today with eight new (to me) pairs of pants.
link to it 25nov05: buy nothing boogeyman
We did a lot of driving to come down to Massachusetts, and we had a great and relaxing day at my Mom's place. We're staying with my sister at Casa Highland which Greg and I affectionately call the Casa de Junk Food & Video Games. Do you ever have a friend or family member's house that just seems like a quirky oasis compared to your house in some aspect? Don't get me wrong, we love where we live, but visiting here is like being in an alternate universe with a house full of cats, little bags of brownies, a Nintendo Game Cube and plenty of silly games for it, and a bathroom full of fun-smelling goo. It's clearly not our house because there is no wifi, there is a teeny kitchen and I have to put a pass in my car window just to park on the street here. My sister has extra clothes where I probably don't have enough and she always sends me home with a few pair of barely-worn jeans and a nice pair of shoes or two. I can't dress myself, I'm not proud. If you've ever seen me wearing something that makes you think "hey that looks good on her" it likely came from Kate.

Tomorrow is one of the few holiday-type days that I observe: Buy Nothing Day. Stores call it Black Friday, which sounds ominous but it usually means that this mega-shopping weekend is when they finally get their accounts into the black and start turning a profit. I try to spend as little money as possible, preferably none at all, and find things to do other than going shopping. Since the day comes after a biggish holiday, this is sometimes difficult. Tomorrow my sister has to go to work and so Greg and I have a walk to the library planned, a tasty lunch made of leftovers and my good ideas trail off from there. We may go take some pictures. I may read some of the latest Harry Potter book. I might enlist my sister's help in cutting my hair. While I won't be haranguing people with megaphones tomorrow, I still think it's important to have one day a year when shopping, spending, and purchasing is off the agenda. Not that I shop terribly much in Vermont on a daily basis, but the cash economy is ever-present and while I adore my job enough that they could probably pay me in sand, the sorts of apartments that accept sand for rent payments are few and far between. Part of my day tomorrow will probably be spent idly daydreaming about my live-in library fantasy job, and what it might be like just to live and work in the same place all the time. I've done it before, it can happen again. Happy holidays.
link to it 23nov05: weather boogeyman

The oogyboogy weather report said we'd be getting inches of snow and ice yesterday. I hunkered down and stockpiled food and did work and cancelled appointments and at the end of the day we got an icy dusting of snow and a day off at home with the heat on. I made cookies. Greg did homework. We listened to classical music and rain for hours and hours. I finished my long essay about the digital divide and we made plans to get on the road today and head to Massachusetts for the holiday weekend.
link to it 18nov05: pace slowed
It's been an ornery week but maybe that's just because I got home late on Sunday and I've worked almost every day since, for most of the day. For someone who has never held a full-time job for more than a few months, I work a lot. Today we went down to the vocational school where I work and picked up our dinners for the evening. They are prepared by the kids in the culinary program. It works like this. On Tuesday Jerry who is in charge of the program posts a menu of what they'll be cooking. It's always a full meal. Last time it was stuffed chicken in a phyllo crust with a side of beans and a side of pasta with a salad and a dessert. This time it's Mexican, or Vermont Mexican which means a layered salad, pork quesadillas, corn and rice, cornbread and some tasty-looking cookies for dessert. You order it on Wednesday so they know how much to cook, and they get it in an oven-ready container for you on Friday afternoon. It's seven dollars per person. $7! Cooked by kids I know! It's available to members of the community as well as people who work at the school and it's one of the best deals in town.

So, the good food mitigates the long week which included helping out at three libraries, teaching evening classes at both the local Family Center and the Adult Ed program, staffing five hours of drop-in time at the computer lab, and starting a new book project as well as agreeing to write a foreword for a friend's book project. My Microsoft Word class wrapped up. On the last day my student wore a beaver coat made of fur that my other student, her husband, had trapped. He's an officer in the Vermont Trappers Association and taught me as much about animals and their pelts as I probably taught him about Word. Favorite line from class last night "When you've played around with skunk essence as much as I have...." One of my other students is a Reiki therapist and it was interesting hearing her talking about energy work to the lady with the coat made of animals her husband had killed. The good news is that, this being Vermont, this was not diffcult. I have a week off and then I start my Digital Pictures class in which we'll learn how to pronounce words like GIF and JPG and learn a thing or two about dots per inch. In the meantime I'm spending a few days down in Massachusetts visiting family and maybe eating a little too much food. I'm doing some extra laps in preparation.
link to it 13nov05: outbound
I want to move pretty much every place I visit, and the Phoenix/Tucson area is no exception. I have no allergies here. I can see for tens of miles here. People have pools here that are not ridiculous, ones that they can use more than three months a year.

My talk went great. The audience was sharp and appreciative and laughed at my jokes. I was well taken care of by SIRLS students. Dinner afterwards at one of the faculty members' houses was a delight and a good chance to get to chitchat with people who otherwise knew me a lot better than I knew them.

I started this on the plane and I'm finishing it up at my house, with the furnace on and the flannel sheets firmly installed. The water here runs out of the tap COLD, and has a taste I didn't know I'd miss until I tasted water that has been in a pipe for hundreds of miles. Ola set the house price at $295K, so please let me know if you are interested in rural real estate as an investment opportunity.
link to it 12nov05: earthbound
I am giving a keynote speech at a symposium in a few hours. I have done a remarkable job in avoiding the typical high blood pressure agitation I tend to get before these things, though I'm not sure exactly what I did to make it work. It's the same problem every time. I have a talk to give. The talk is prepared, printed, and even somewhat tested [I give variants of a few similar talks often] and yet I have obviously irrational anxiety about it. I've even gotten to the point where I have "Oh shit where are my slides?" dreams, which is preposterous: THEY'RE ON THE INTERNET. I went to an alternative college and a low-key graduate school so I never had those "I have to take a test, I can find neither the testing room nor my pants" dreams. Never. I feel like I'm worrying about the sun coming up. I've basically never given a bad talk, though some are better than others.

In any case, this time I feel fine. I'm staying in a SIRLS student's house which has coffee and wifi and a giant crazy cat. I got in last night from Phoenix via a completely enjoyable ride given by my Internet-pal Doc who I met for the first time when he picked me up yesterday at the coffee shop. We had a wide-ranging variety of enjoyable "Wow it's a really weird and crazy universe, isn't it?" discussions and drove through his childhood hometown which is a pretty interesting way to get to know anyone. Then I ate even more Mexican food -- tacos and enchiladas and horchada at Nicos Taco Stop -- and settled in.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day which meant no more library visits in Phoenix. Jordan and Louisa and I messed around in Phoenix and tried to go for a hike to see some nature except the accessible trails web page LIES, and stated the trail was paved when it was actually just hard packed dirt. When you're scooting yourself around in your own wheelchair, as Louisa does, the difference between hard packed dirt and paving is substantial. I wrote a huffy letter. Otherwise, the Southwest has been lovely, if mostly glimpsed through automobile windows. Greg and I are considering a trip back here when it's really cold and miserable out our way.
link to it 11nov05: plane again
I'm en route [or was when I wrote this] to Phoenix to see Jordan and Louisa as well as give a talk at the Universiy of Arizona SLIS about the digital divide. Every time I whip out my laptop in an airport lately, it seems that there is someone there who wants to talk to me about computers. And it's not the hipster "Oh what's on your iPod?" conversation, more like the "I got one of those goldarned things and I have no idea how to use it." I don't know how they can tell I'm their gal. I wind up frequently telling people that they should consider seeing if the public library offers classes. Then I hope they don't live in Vermont because their public library probably doesn't have any classes at all.

I work with five public libraries in my general area as part of my job, and I've visited dozens more all over the state. I love libraries, and I love them if they don't have computers in them. I've been thinking a lot about the question of the information poor and about technology competency as a sort of choice. There are many people in my area who don't use computers and don't care to. There are others who are sort of tech-curious and often wind up at my drop-in times, or buying CD tutorials from the ads on television, or putting their computer aside for days or even weeks -- paying their ISP fees all the while -- because they don't have a friend or family member to ask questions about it. I wonder if in five or ten years, these people (who aren't all senior citizens in case you were wondering) will seem like my landlady's friend up the street who doesn't have a car: sort of quirky characters who have to rely on other people to do things that we take for granted as things "normal" people do.

I spend a lot of time asking questions myself. Who is supposed to help these people learn? How much responsibility do they have for their own learning? How much responsibility does the mechanism of the state have, as more and more of its services have some sort of online component? How much of me do I have to share so that people have the skills they need to go on beyond me? It's easy to hate Microsoft and their complicated insecure operating system/browser tag team which has made a generation of people think "computers are hard" when they see the Out of Order signs flapping all over everywhere at their public libraries, but how do we Solve The Problem? Everybody got a big dose of some realities of poverty in the wake of Katrina, where they realized that asking the question "Why didn't those people leave?" had uglier answers than they had ever considered. It's scary to think that the least tech-savvy person that you know is likely way ahead of the truly information poor, the truly poor.
link to it 06nov05: the end of bad
Now that I have gotten the four-figure bill from my plumber for fixing all the forzen pipe damage done to my house last winter [part my fault, part the fault of bad caretaking], I am officially done with this stretch of bad luck and bad news. Greg's car finally got inspected on the fourth trip to the mechanic and he got a shiny new 12 sticker [that's two extra months before it needs to be inspected again, mine has a 10] for all of his slacking.

We went to a Vermont blogger meetup in Montpelier yesterday and you can probably already hear me singing the praises of a state that is so small that it can have one meetup for everyone. I met a lot of nice folks and got to see some friends I don't see often enough. I also noticed that my friend Robert Blake, from Bellingham Washington, was playing in that same Montpelier cafe the next day so we're getting back in the car and heading back there, via the Randolph pool.

Wednesday morning I get in the car to head to the airport and go to Arizona to speak about the digital divide and poverty/library issues to students at University of Arizona's library school. It's a pretty quick trip, but if you're in the Phoenix/Tucson area, drop me a note.
link to it 02nov05: wow, worse
Me: I stepped on a fork and I'm wondering if I need a tetnaus booster shot.
Doctor: Pitchfork or house fork?
Me: One of those big carving forks. I have a puncture wound in my big toe.
Doctor: When did you last get a tetnaus shot?
Me: [Googles this site]
Google: Did you mean: tetanus
Me: Looks like January 2002.
Doctor: Okay, you should be fine. If the wound starts looking icky, give me a call.
Me: Is "icky" one of those fancy medical terms?
Doctor: Yes.

In other news, all three of us in this house got our cars inspected on Monday. Two of us passed, one probably because she is 73 and is friendly with mechanics. Greg's car has one year more worth of wear and tear so it needed some sweet Bondo attention this morning before it could get inspected. My car was fine.

I got back from a great trip to California to the news that Ola had decided to sell the house we are living in. This makes total sense from her perspective [she can quit the job she doesn't like, move in with her son in California, quit looking after this giant Victorian monstrosity, skip evil winters from here on out] but it's a bit of a shocker for us. The house will go on the market this week I think, and might sell quickly, might sell slowly. We're just roomers, so we're sort of scuttling around looking for a Plan B. Right now we live right between Greg's school and my job, so we're really hoping to stay nearby and not pay any more than we've been paying which is, sadly/luckily, not very much. There are ups and downs to moving to a new place, and it may be months before we have to do anything decisive, or it may just be a month from now. In any case, if anyone would like to purchase a knock-out Victorian house in lovely rural Vermont with a view of the river [where we saw a fox walking by with a skunk in his mouth, from our backyard] and the mountains, please do let me know.
Jessamyn is in...
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