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Swimming through the thickness of life's waters
Kruger Rant

(***This is an article I plan to cross post to LinkedIn. I'd greatly appreciate any feedback, additions and/or critiques.***)

Everyone seems to have an opinion about social media ranging from vital through the greatest evil ever. Social media is both ubiquitous and poorly understood, being a rapidly evolving and fickle beast. Two very similar nonprofits with similar approaches to social media can have very different results on almost every measurable level. The why is never simple to figure out because it's the wild wild west out there. How wild? Well there's another regular circus that can help demonstrate how weird the social media world is and that's the US presidential race.

Every four years my Social Media community seems to divide into two groups, those who want to talk endlessly about US presidential politics and those who don't want to hear any of it. Anecdotally those not talking much seem just as likely to vote. This duality of engagement is just the unpredictable kickoff I need to show how nuts social media is. Election season is useful to those interested is social media because it provides an intense focus on how the web and social media are used to literally help change the future, For those claiming to be experts the opportunity is largely unparalleled and very interesting, demonstrating both the power, reach and limitations of social media. Eight years ago the Obama campaign changed social media history and changed the way social media was used, both inside and outside the political arena and we've been watching the odd interactions between social media and politics ever since. But do we understand it? Not really.

For example, if Facebook likes were votes this election would turn out very differently. The statistical website FiveThirtyEight took a fascinating look at who is winning the Facebook like race. Counting Facebook likes sees Bernie crushing Hillary by a 3:1 margin and Trump getting almost twice as many votes as Cruz. Then Bernie would beat Trump by a very small margin. Don't be fooled though. In case you think this is remotely meaningful then you need to know who has the most likes... and it's Ben Carson, long out of the race.

Carson's Facebook success and campaign failure seem at odds with each other, and of course they are. He got people riled up enough to like his posts, but not enough to vote for him. Social media "experts" have loads of advice for how to do it well and how to drive outcomes, but here's a prime example of that simply not working at all. Explanations abound on how most engagement is by a small percentage of people, how youthful certain venues are, how likely they are to vote, etc. They don't quite explain it and it still feels unpredictable.

Twitter is even more insane. Trump has the most followers (7.67M) with Hillary second (5.9M) with Bernie way behind (1.8M) and Cruz further back (1M). Hillary only got on Twitter April 2013 whereas the other three all joined in early 2009 and had a big head start. That said the middle of last year Hillary had a lot more followers than Trump and Bernie a lot less than Cruz. Recent accomplishments is part of the success of their campaigns but so are changes in their media coverage. As an aside for context, the father of political Twitter, President Obama has a staggering 72M followers, which is almost 6 times the followers of all of the current batch of candidates combined.

And what kind of Twitter activity drives these outcomes? Here are the candidate's daily average of new followers and number of tweets they make:

The number of tweets is often a factor. Too many or too few can both be bad for engagement. The last time I looked at these numbers primaries were left right and center and since then all of the candidates have slowed down considerably on rates of new followers per day, so seemingly real life activity has an impact. Notoriety clearly has a lot more impact. There really does seem to be no such thing as bad publicity.

In case you think Twitter still seems more sane than Facebook let me muddy the waters further. The number of fake followers on Twitter is a significant spanner in the works thanks to bots that target popular accounts and accounts that employ unscrupulous services to artificially grow their follower numbers. Further, as witness to Twitter's decline, a lot of legitimate Twitter accounts are mostly inactive. What this means is follower numbers are far less meaningful than you might hope. One online service ranks the campaign's followers as follows:

If they're right then it paints a very different picture indeed, and Hillary now seems to have the most real engagement. Interestingly Bernie has the best quality of followers by far, but still only 50%. So can we use Twitter for the vote? Hell no!

On YouTube it's Donald Trump who is winning by a landslide, with Bernie, Hillary and Cruz following in that Order. YouTube was seen as one of the major reasons Obama won the first time and now is seen as critical to any campaign. It's estimated that political adverts on YouTube get vastly more views than ads on local TV and are worth tens of millions to candidates, plus they stay there forever. It helps but how much is never known.

Those are the big players. Smaller players are no clearer. For example Reddit is dominated by Bernie supporters. Sanders was mentioned in more comments than the next two highest candidates combined, namely Hillary second and Trump third. Reddit trends young and liberal so it too is clearly not a balanced reflection of the US voter pool.

On Google It's no surprise that Trump's courting controversy and apparent masterful manipulation of the media get's him the most Google searches by a very big margin. The elections are a big enough deal that we can benefit from Google's own analyses. Their republican search statistics and Democratic search statistics are very interesting to see. Both of those pages also include the top search terms by candidate and the top questions asked about them and at any given time you can see what conversations are driving interest. Again it seems to make sense...except that search interest appears to be about feeding the trolls more often than not and again certainly does not parallel with votes.

So there are lessons in all of this and maybe the biggest is that social media is a powerful but unpredictable medium. PEW found that on most social media heavy activity is concentrated among a minority of users. You might argue that the social media race is more a reflection of how argumentative/trolls each candidate's supporters are.

As an aside, the AP has a page that gets updated many times a day where you can see what the trending Google and Twitter interest right now is.

The world has changed. Most people now get political news from social media and if it's true of politics then it's true of most other things. Social media can make a huge difference...but it can also fail spectacularly. There's a lot to learn and a lot we're still figuring out, and this is complicated by just how unusual an election this is. Let's face it though, it's a coin toss, a zoo, a shot in the dark, but one that every candidate has no choice but to take.

To those whose jobs require making sense of all this, you have my profound sympathy...because it makes little sense.

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Current Mood: confused confused

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Happy birthday gerisullivan. I hope today is a spectacular day and that the coming year sees dreams come true and great projects realized.
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Happy birthday gerisullivan. I hope the day is marvelous and the year ahead sublime.
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I am finally considering becoming an American citizen, after four and a half years of being eligible to do so. What has brought me to this point is nothing to do with the usual reasons one hears; quite the opposite really. Instead it's the hope that I can deeply connect to my new community, that I can feel a part of making it stronger. To make this connection I'm asking you to please take a little time and read this note and then I'm hoping you will help me complete that connection.

My apartheid-era South African upbringing exposed me to some of the darkest human failings. It opened my progressive's eyes to similar injustices here, though it took me years to appreciate the subtleties on this side. Many of you post about these issues, so I know they are dear to your hearts; sexism, racism, homophobia, persecution, economic injustice, etc. Many other issues still fly under the radar.

Apart from the occasional donation or social media post Idid little to get involved, even though I'm a get involved kind of guy. Why not? Well, if I'm honest, mostly I felt like as a foreigner it wasn't my place.Instead I found myself ever looking over my shoulder at South Africa, as if it was there I should help. It left me impotent because this has become home.

So as I revisit thoughts of whether to either renew my GreenCard or to get citizenship I found that loving this city and the treasure trove of people I have found during my travels were only part of the answer.For me to feel like I belong I must participate. I must feel like a part of making a better, sweeter, kinder, fairer world.

It was a chicken and the egg conundrum, so to break it I've dived into some human rights volunteering seeking a connection strong enough to break my outsider feelings.

I found a group striving to make a difference and using innovative ways to do so. They are Social Justice Fund NW and their agenda is to help resolve issues of social injustice like poverty, gay rights, racial inequity, etc. and do so at the root, not merely treating the symptoms. I'm part of a giving project made up of diverse individuals hugely representative of those most affected by the inequities most of you are also passionate about ending. They are a remarkable group that I'm learning from and growing with. I chose SJF carefully, asking around first to those in the know and they came highly recommended.

SJF's approach is to gather a group of folks just like us to do philanthropic work with social justice outcomes. Our group will raise money, accept and review grant applications from nonprofits, and then grant money to those we believe to be the best of them, particularly the ones most ignored by the current business-minded charitable system.

We must also start the hard conversations with our friends and talk about the issues we'd usually rather not talk about, and yes, I'd love to chat to you.

We're tackling issues I know most of you care deeply about.We'll help nonprofits full of dedicated, overworked stalwarts doing astonishing work at the leading edge of social change. And here's where you come in. Here's where I do something terribly awkward and difficult for me, embarrassing even... but also important.

Here's where I ask you for a donation.

If we do our part right, and we will do everything in our power to do so, then your donation will have a disproportionately large impact because it will be applied where it is needed most. If you'd like a sense of the kinds of groups we'll fund, check out last year's remarkable grantees: http://socialjusticefund.org/2013-Grantees .

SJF serves Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,so those of you in other locations might ask yourselves why I'd be asking you too to donate when we may be far from you. Well, one current example is gay marriage. It had to start somewhere, right? That first ripple was not the first time a state made it legal, but one of the many battles that proceeded it. Some of you were a part of that. We aim to help those making that kind of ripple, and many ripples will reach you too.

All of our freedoms are inextricably linked and we are in this together. Please help us to help all of us. I'm busy reading and evaluating grant applications for the 31 finalists and so far I'm stunned at the work being done out there. It leaves me wishing we had much more to give because we'll end up saying no to too many deserving groups.

Every member of the team backed up their volunteer commitment with a personal donation we could afford. I donated $500. It would be wonderful if you could please make whatever donation you can afford. I would be thrilled to see some of you go as far as matching my donation, and I will make an additional $50 donation of my own for everyone who does match me, up to double my original donation. Plus my organization's 3X matching gifts program will turn every dollar I donate into four, adding $200 to your donation.

You also don't have to give it all at once, you can make monthly or even quarterly payments. Then please tell me about your donation so that I can tell SJF that it's for the Portland giving project.

We will make sure every donation counts, no matter the size.

Here's the link for donations. Please specify the PortlandGiving Project under the Designation field and for tracking purposes please add my name to the comments: https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/SocialJusticeFund/donate.html

If you're in or around Portland and you'd first like to know more or hear directly from some of those our work will aid then I urge you to join us this Saturday for our Oregon Social Justice Summit to learn about local progressive movements, hear directly from some of the most inspiring organizers in our region, and meet others passionate about social justice: http://www.socialjusticefund.org/oregon-social-justice-summit

Or ping me and we'll do coffee or a phone call.

Thank you for your time and for reading all that, even if you choose not to give, but I hope you do. And any of you who want to take this conversation further, please drop me a line. I would love to share a coffee and exchange stories.

Here's a photo of our team of volunteers:

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Hearken the voice of reason. Racial venom is like social dynamite.

I've been doing some writing about the last days of apartheid, so far mostly for myself but hopefully some will be sharable. In the process I've been rewatching some movies on the subject and listening to music from the time. I was rewatching, Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony and it took me right back to those times.

It also reminded me of an example of music from South Africa that was popular toward the end of apartheid, a plea for sanity and an end to the cycle of violence. Scenes of men preparing for battle were censored by the government controlled media. I remember loving this song. It is performed by Chico (Sello Twala), but features the voice and english poetry (see below) of The People's Poet, Mzwake Mbuli.

Mbuli started with anti-apartheid protest poetry at Trade Union events and was repeatedly detained by the authorities and his music and albums banned. He persisted at great personal risk, becoming a popular hero of the revolution. He continues to speak for the people today, highlighting issues like HIV and AIDS, political violence and corruption.

Papa Stop the War
Listen to the voice of reason
Words of wisdom have to be ushered
A better world has to be built
Listen to the voice of reason
Now is the time
To unchain the minds
Now is the time
To unchain the hearts
Images of a new dream
Images of a new society
Should emerge
Hearken the voice of reason
Racial venom is like social dynamite
It is like a revival of a perilous syndrome
A syndrome of death and destruction
This is the voice of concern
A voice of social redemption
An eye for an eye makes the world blinded
reconciliation and reconstruction
Is like a dark cloud
Giving way to the blue sky
Human kind must put an end to war
Or war will put an end to human kind
Africa and the world
Cannot afford self pity
If something is not worth living for
It is not worth dying for
Yes this is the voice of reason
In search of liberty
Human kind think positive
Choose life not death
This is the voice of reason
That shakes the conscience of human kind
That was the voice of reason

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When I entered their offices I saw her sitting at her desk staring intently at her computer screen, concentrating hard. She looked tired, drained by the world, worn down by her obligations. I was in a nonprofit that serves the homeless at a time when they're all still struggling in this down economy. Even at the best of times most nonprofit workers are overworked and underpaid to a degree that leads to a very high burnout rate.

I was there to make a donation. I'd promised myself that if I had savings in the bank come the end of this year that I was going to donate generously (for my finances) to two of my favorite nonprofits serving the homeless. I turned to the volunteer receptionist and asked if she could confirm that their seasonal matching gift challenge was in effect. According to their website, starting today every dollar donated through the end of the year will be matched by 50c by donors, so a $100 donation would turn into $150. She called to the tired lady, who made a quick phone call and confirmed that this matching donation was indeed active.

"In that case, I'd like to donate two fifty," I said, presenting my credit card. I was not going to mention the amount in this tale as I generally see that as being pretty crass really, indeed all too often I see it as cheapening a donation by turning it into a call for personal attention. But the amount matters to the experience I need to share with you and so I put it in.

The tired lady nodded and the receptionist asked, "Two dollars and fifty cents?"
"Um, no, two hundred and fifty dollars." I shook my head. "It would seem absurd to me to use a credit card to donate a mere two dollars and fifty cents." I replied, genuinely surprised.

"Oh, I'm the one who keeps track of the donations and I'm dealing with $1 or $2 all the time," tired lady replied. I'm somehow charmed by this because I figure it's some of the homeless and the poor giving whatever they can, maybe even paying it forward for past assistance. Still it's clear that times are hard and that they don't see donations of this size very often, despite being a desperately needed nonprofit that feeds the homeless and poor, while giving them a place where they can find a kind of family and make real human connections. It's a place where they are connected to those they serve, seeing them as real people who can get through this, rather than poor wretches who heed alms. There can be tyranny in good deeds, but I give to this nonprofit because it is not who they are.

At this point I've noticed that both women have perked up and it's dawning on me that this is a much bigger donation than their norm. But I'm not done yet. There's a reason I made my donation in person and it's that I need extra paperwork from them.
"I need you to fill in this form for me," I said, "It's for our matching gifts program where I work. I'll return this to my office and in the next week or three they will send you a check for another $750. That will bring it to $1,000. Then if we add in your 50c match that will take it to $1,125."

The 3:1 match by my organization is exactly why I picked $250. I love that my donations of hundreds will turn into thousands and yes, I love telling nonprofits about it. It's a wonderful perk of my job that I can't ever put in the bank, but that I always count whenever I tally up what my gross pay is. We're allowed up to $10K per year of matching gifts and we can match cash donations dollar for dollar through three dollars to the dollar. We can also match volunteer hours, which mostly means that every hour I volunteer at a nonprofit my organization will give them $40. How awesome is that? Much as I value my other benefits, like leave, medical, 401K, etc., I'm kind of in love with our matching gifts benefit.

Both women were beaming now, tossing out thank-yous like confetti at a wedding, a new spring in their step as they bustled to process my donation and paperwork. As I headed out the tired lady took my hand and held it, standing close and looking me in the eyes. "Thank you. Thank you so much. This really made my day. My week." As I look into her eyes I can see that she is so very, very sincere, that she means those words quite literally. I was touched.

"You're very welcome," I replied, "but it's you folks that I need to be thanking for all that you do. You're doing amazing and desperately needed work here. So thank you, thank you so much."

Once outside, much to my surprise, I found myself quite emotional. I had forgotten how my donation was not just for those that the nonprofit served, but was also for the morale of the exhausted volunteers and staff. I was filled with a deep feeling of gratitude for this comfortable life I have and for this opportunity to help others in my community, and for an employer who can turn my small good deed into a much bigger one.

I was also filled with some small elation. I felt lighter. It's been a hard past few months, far more than I've talked about here and coming at me from several angles, leaving me doubtful. What I'd expected least from this day was to be so uplifted. It was a balm. I had forgotten this as well, that giving to others is always a gift to oneself too.

And yes, I'm paying it forward too, as I must. I come from dirt poor. I got help. I am so fortunate to be in as comfortable a life as I have. Some folks talk loudly about how opportunity abounds if one but chooses to take it, but I know this to be a destructive fallacy. The truth is poverty is a trap that very few escape, no matter how hard they try.

If you could look back in time at the uncertain and malnourished boy I once was, as I timidly peered around childhood's doorframe at my impending manhood, lacking financial and psychological resources for the battle to escape poverty, then you'd hardly have believed it was possible for me to get to where I am today. And it wasn't really. I had some luck in this game; my stumbling about blindly saw me trip over something useful and life changing, a career in tech that was attainable without the expense of a university education.

And there was much help along the way. Some of it did more harm than good, kindness wielded as a cudgel to beat respectful gratitude out of us. But it helped nonetheless, and -- combined with more selfless giving -- it was vital to us. It helped us survive and saw us get a decent education, our best ally in our war with our paucity of resources and all of our own doubts about our potential and worth. Without it we too could have been homeless. With it we remained on swampy ground, but with hope.

I owe much to people like tired lady, with their full hands and empty pockets, and their hearts wide open. There are select individuals through the years that stand out in memory's esteem, teachers who dedicated their lives to her poor kids, a housemother who saw shining potential in me and blew on the faltering embers, the one social worker who sincerely wanted more for us than for her privileged social resume, the family friend who encouraged me to make art, the damaged and soul-bleeding friend who helped me survive my late teens and even took me in when I ran away from home.

Hell, I even owe my mother, the albatross around our necks and the shackles around our ankles, the stealer of compliments and sower of self-doubt, for she taught us to read, to learn, to think and to question, to open our eyes to the truth. These skills were tools for picking the locks of life's barred doors. When you're climbing out of the pit you need every possible handhold to have any chance of getting out.

So to you, tired lady whose week I made, with your sweet soft smile and eyes that sent a thousand worthwhile stories echoing through my darker memories, thank you. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your generous soul. Thank you so much for making my day... my month.

And to you, my dear friends, if you have any paying forward you have yet to do, now is the time. With a little help, people not unlike me will thrive in our tomorrows and will thank you for it. And so do I.

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Current Location: Portland, OR

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Hey gerisullivan, I came back to LJ just to wish you a happy birthday. I hope your day is/was fantastic, and that the coming year is one of your best ever.


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I've just been promoted to president of the United States of America. I plan to use my lottery millions to finance a publicity campaign to convince the nation that this was all their idea... and also to launch my pop music career. I plan to raise your taxes in order to pay for the massive pay raise I deserve. If the job does not work out then I'll retire on the island I plan to conquer next week... but first I'm going into space with the Russians as a space tourist-come despot. Yeah, I know... a quiet week, but I'm sure I'll have more to report on next week.


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There is so much I agree with in this intriguing radio bit about science fiction in Africa, and much of it I've been saying for years. The BBC get's South African SF author Lauren Beukes to answer the question, "Is Science Fiction Coming to Africa?" I think it was the wrong question... but the right answer.

BBC World Service - Your World, Is Science Fiction Coming to Africa?

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Wishing all my friends in the northeast the very best ahead of that monster winter storm. Here's hoping you all stay safe and warm.
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Here's my seasonal cartoon to all of you. Here's wishing you all the very best for 2013. May it be the best year you ever had, a year of dreams coming true, good health, prosperity and much happiness. Happy 2013!

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When I was a very young boy my mother asked me why everyone always smiled at me. I replied that I just smiled at them and they smiled right back. Through the years she repeated this story back to me so I never forgot it. I've to keep that alive in myself as I get older and more jaded, so when this atheist ponders whether to say happy holidays or something else, I try to go by this simple rule:

I say Merry Christmas to Christians, happy Hanukkah to Jews, happy Kwanzaa to those who celebrate African heritage, and so on. I'm happy to wish everyone the best in whatever they believe, and if I don't know, or if they're a fellow atheist, or if they're sensitive about political correctness, then I say happy holidays. And if they hate the season I say, have a nice day.

And the little boy I used to be reminds me that no matter what you say, if you say it with a smile and genuine warmth... and maybe even love, then almost nobody will take offense, no matter what their preference. And the reverse is true too, so any greeting offered to me with genuine warmth is mostly received as such, no matter the form it might take. Most of the time it's not the words that matter, it's what's in people's hearts. And when in doubt I assume the best.

So, from the bottom of my heart, I'd like to wish you all a very happy [fill in the blank] and a wonderful new year. I'm glad we walk this road together.

And if you're pondering what to say, just smile... and mostly they'll smile right back.

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I find these to be creepy cool, part of a fascinating advertising campaign for the MASP Art School in São Paulo, Brazil. It shows the organs of Dali, Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso painted in their own style. I'm sure they are intended as a visual metaphor, but the results are unique either way.


Click on the image to see a larger version. Credits under the cut.Collapse )

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They pulled in to the parking lot in their bright orange-red Camaro, U2's 'One Love' blaring overly-loud from the stereo. Then they got out, a grey-haired middle aged couple with seemingly no place to go but their apartment home during the middle of a workday. They were followed by their two tiny fluffy white dogs.

It's a funny old world. Too many clichés don't work anymore. Do you have similar examples?


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One of the things I love about having a bunch of geek friends and being connected to them on social media is how well they keep me informed on geeky stuff that I might well miss. For example, the following wonderful gems came up on Friday and served as great fodder for conversation at my Saturday writers' group meeting.Pretty fascinating collection that is just one sampling of what I get on Facebook and Google+ and used to get more of from Twitter. And so I leave you with what we all need more of, the motivational penguin:
Animated image of the cute motivational penguin

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Image of crime scene tape"Get the f*ck away from my car!" the driver shouted at me.
I pointed to his flat rear tire, "I just-"
"Dude, get the f*ck away from my car!" All I could see of him and his passenger were their eyes. The car had tinted windows and he'd opened them just a crack. I shrugged and went on my way, initially perplexed and a bit disturbed by the driver's unexpected rudeness.

After I had a chance to think about it, it's my own behavior and naiveté that perplexes me. This was a car with tinted windows that had pulled into a corner of my apartment complex parking lot and then parked there awhile with the engine running. I'd noticed this sort of thing in the past and thought nothing of it, thinking maybe they were simply lost or picking someone up.

If I'd thought about it for more than just a moment then things would have been clearer. The initial signs were admittedly subtle, but they were there and the odds were decent that these characters were up to no good... and I should have seen that. I should also have immediately noticed that the driver was not being rude, he was being threatening. He did not want me getting close enough to witness whatever they were up to and his overreaction should have all but confirmed the suspicions I should have had.

Just when did I stop seeing the obvious warning signs of criminal activity? Somewhere along the line since moving to "safe" Portland, I changed from a street-smart big city boy to a someone no longer looking out for signs of trouble... no, not just trouble, real danger. You feel safe here, but crime should never be forgotten because it is all too often accompanied by violence.

Truth be told, while I'm a bit pissed off at myself at how soft I've become, I'm also grateful to be living in such a relatively safe city. But safe and relatively safe are not the same thing and this incident left me reflective about my own bad old days living in a high crime area.

Me in my early 20s in HillbrowThere was a time that I lived in the dangerous neighborhood of Hillbrow, back when the city of Johannesburg was claimed to be the crime capital of the world... and the Hillbrow suburb was the crime capital of Johannesburg. Ranking dangerous cities is a guessing game at best and mostly just lies, damned lies and statistics. Johannesburg remains a dangerous place, and these days I see that Joburg is only ranked 50th in the world, behind three other SA cities. I find those numbers to be dubious, just as I did back in the 80s and 90s when they said we were the worst.

Even so, it was bad back then, really bad. To remain unscathed you had to have good instincts and solid street-smarts, and eyes in the back of your head. As a white guy in a mostly black neighborhood I was a target. This was not racism, this was simple practicality. Due to the legacy of apartheid and the enforced poverty of black South Africans, it was simply logical that white people were most likely to have more of value to steal. That means more cash, credit cards, nicer watches and jewelry, etc.

I remain deeply grateful that I stuck it out and was living in this mostly black neighborhood at the time of our first democratic elections. My ex wife and I were just two of maybe a hundred other white South Africans to join the huge street party of hundreds of thousands that spontaneously erupted onto the streets of Hillbrow after Mandela was announced as our first democratically elected president. That was an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience that I still greatly cherish, but it came at a price, and that price was living with intolerably high crime rates.

This crime was the product of extreme poverty and an apartheid government that saw only crime in white areas as a priority, neglecting the safety of all others. Crime was rampant in black areas, but we whites were so insulated from it that many ignorantly still believe to this day that the crime wave only came with the change of government.

Hillbrow by nightI saw my neighborhood of Hillbrow change from a whites-only neighborhood to a 95% black neighborhood over a period of time when the apartheid laws forbade mixed neighborhoods. Initially only the most desperate of the poor took the chance of moving into our concrete jungle. The apartheid government saw the high-rises of Hillbrow as an antidote to their own neglect of the needs of those they oppressed and so mostly turned a blind eye to it all, mostly declining to charge or evict these people. The more they did this the more word spread and the faster this migration to Hillbrow became.

What it ended up doing was ensuring that for the most part only the poorest and most desperate moved to Hillbrow, and the tsotsis (criminals) who had been left to run rampant in the townships were among the first to make the move to these richer feeding grounds. People I knew who lived in Soweto and Alexandria told me that life there had become so much safer since all the tsotsis had moved to Hillbrow.

This didn't happen overnight, but rather snuck up on us. We accepted it as reality one new danger at a time, like the parable of the frog in a a pot of water not jumping to safety if the pot is brought to the boil slowly enough. If it had all happened at once then most of us would have left in a hurry, but after we finally moved out we were left wondering how it was that we'd put up with that much crime for so long and we were unable to answer the question of why we had not moved sooner.

Just before I moved out of Hillbrow it had become intolerable. We heard gunshots most nights, often several times a night. We regularly saw people mugged on the streets and other violent confrontations, sometimes from our balcony. Break-ins became common and countermeasures were ramped up as a result; buildings added automated security, barbed wire, security bars on windows, steel security gates on doors, building night watchmen, armed response security guards and so on.

Walking the streets required confidence and awareness. You had to see the bad guys and you had to act in ways that deterred them before they thought of attacking you. Most times, the simple act of letting muggers know that you're watching them by looking them in the eye is enough to deter them because they prefer the element of surprise.

You needed to avoid getting trapped in an alley or other out-of-view spot, meaning you often walked in the street rather than on the pavement (sidewalk). You made sure you had no visible valuables to draw muggers like sharks to chum. You carried as little as possible, to reduce both risk and potential loss. If you had to carry cash then you hid it in several different places, leaving one or two bills for the muggers to find easily, because if they found nothing then their disappointment often turned into violent retaliation.

That and all the other signs of a society in disarray, hookers and pimps, widespread homelessness, runaways, police corruption, widespread drug use and dug dealers on every corner, and the feared car hijackings. Murder rates were horrifying, rape rates were even worse. Even after the end of apartheid things continued to decline in the face of massive urbanization, an influx of millions of illegal immigrants and crime cartels from around the world, and the new government's decision to release both the guilty and the innocent from jails because they had almost never received fair trials under the old racist system.

A photo of my South African houseWe eventually fled Hillbrow for the suburbs, spurred by the second time I managed to dodge a four-man gang of muggers, along with all the other crime horrors we could no longer accept. A month after we moved, one of our former neighbors was murdered during a car hijacking as he exited the building parking lot. The question was never why did we move, it was what took us so long?

Even so, the suburbs were safer, but not safe. Homes became fortresses, with alarm systems and armed response units a required deterrent. Rampant hijackings meant getting into and out of your car required care and speed. South Africa was for a time a world leader in home and car security systems and the tech we had twenty five years ago still far exceeds anything I've seen in the US to this day. The brutality apartheid had bred into us meant that violence was all too common and retaliations equally harsh. We are the society that bred such deterrents as the anti-rape 'tampon' that would slice off part of a rapist's penis (see a photo here), a female-condom-like device bristling with internal hooks designed to snare rapists (see a video here), not to mention the anti-hijacking flamethrower option for your car (see a video here).

My hard won instincts from those years initially saw me laugh at what Americans considered crime-ridden cities. My first US city was "notorious" Detroit, where locals actually apologized to me for their "dangerous" home city being my first US experience. This made me laugh because there was less crime in my entire 4.5 moths in Detroit than I'd have seen in a day in Hillbrow, or even in a week after I'd left Hillbrow.

Yet somewhere between then and now I lost those self-protective instincts and became... soft. My inner good samaritan has always been strong... but he can be stupid, so very stupid. It has in the past gotten me into situations where I can't win and other times into situations where I'm in some danger. I'm miffed at my dulled senses, but also grateful that I don't much need them anymore. This is a wonderful city full of gentle souls and kindness and I'm lucky to have found it.

Except of course now some criminal asshole has taken to using my apartment complex lot for his shenanigans, and he threatened me. But he was an idiot. The only way he could have made it clearer to me that he was an undesirable was if I'd seen it happen, so I'll be keeping an eye out for him and reporting him to the cops if I need to. Maybe I just have to relearn some of my own ways if I want to keep my new home safe and stop those memories from creeping out of the shadows of memory and becoming real again.

No more frog in a pot syndrome. My eyes need to at least be open.

P.S. Hover your cursor over any of the images if you want to see a caption. More visible captioning of embedded images with LJ is hard.

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Current Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

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No storm can repress a smartass! For a compilation of a range of smartasses watch the video below.

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Denny's have cut a deal with Peter Jackson to serve Middle Earth foods. So, do you think Tolkien would be turning in his grave... and maybe gagging too, or would he see the funny side and go get himself a plate of Radagast's Red Velvet Pancake Puppies with Peter Jackson?

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Nerds rock. Once some math geek realized that Google was turning equations that you searched on into graphs... well they had to come up with a graph for a favorite geek superhero. If you do a Google search on this equation:

y=2 sqrt(-abs(abs(x)-1)*abs(3-abs(x))/((abs(x)-1)*(3-abs(x))))(1+abs(abs(x)-3)/(abs(x)-3))sqrt(1-(x/7)^2)+(5+0.97(abs(x-.5)+abs(x+.5))-3(abs(x-.75)+abs(x+.75)))(1+abs(1-abs(x))/(1-abs(x))),-3sqrt(1-(x/7)^2)sqrt(abs(abs(x)-4)/(abs(x)-4)),abs(x/2)-0.0913722(x^2)-3+sqrt(1-(abs(abs(x)-2)-1)^2),(2.71052+(1.5-.5abs(x))-1.35526sqrt(4-(abs(x)-1)^2))sqrt(abs(abs(x)-1)/(abs(x)-1))+0.9

You get this.

Pretty damned awesome!

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Bike Commute Challenge 2012September is over and that means so is the BTA Bike Commute Challenge that my organization was taking part in. This past Friday was my last commuter day and I went out with a bang by taking my longest ever round-trip home. I wanted to beat last year's total of 202 miles for the month. I was aiming to hit 204 and be done by 8pm, but I got lost... twice, and instead finished with 211 miles at 9pm.

My total for Friday was 31.5 miles, the most I've cycled in one day since I started biking again. Considering that a friend did a marathon of 107 miles over 7.5 hours this past weekend, I know far greater challenges are on offer. Nevertheless, I'm really pleased with my effort as part of a commuting challenge where only days you actually go in to the office count. By comparison my best bike-commuting day last year was 16 miles. Not only did I almost double that this year, I also beat it two other times and matched it on a fourth occasion.

Going back to my 211 miles this year versus 202 miles last year, on the surface it seems I barely beat last year's total, right? Some of you might be wondering what happened to my pledge to beat last year's total by 50 miles? Well, I did, but to see how you have to look at the averages.

Last year I had 21 commute days, averaging 9.6 miles per commute day, where a commute day is a day you actually go in to the office (per BTA rules). This year I had only 15 commute days because September had 2 fewer workdays than last year, plus I took two vacation days for Worldcon and I had two work from home days thanks to a bike injury (ironically). In other words the 211 miles was achieved at an average of just over 14 miles per commute day, about 4.5 miles/day more than last year.

If I had merely matched last year's rate I would have ended this month with 144 miles, so at a minimum I exceeded last year's total by 67 miles, well over the ambitious target of 50 I set for myself. Or one could do the reverse and multiply this year's average by last year's days and say that if I'd maintained this average over 21 days then my total would have been 295 miles, or 93 miles more than last year. Either way, I crushed my goal and also beat last year's total in terms of raw numbers.

Given even greater context, I could have gotten away with only 105 miles of commuting, so I more than doubled what I needed to do in those fifteen work days. And yes, for every day that I went in to the office I did bike, so per BTA rules my participation was 100%.

All in all it's a commuter challenge so the question is, did I challenge myself? Well, aside from the totals and averages and three times setting a new personal record for miles covered in a day, considering I rode for most of that time with an injured arm and for the last week and a half with an injured neck, and that I rode on my beat-up, heavy old bike... I'd say yes. That and I really felt like I was challenging myself and doing well to boot.

So what's my goal for next year? Well, I might consider beating this years total only if I have found a way to afford a better bike by then! And then only if I can find a fun way to do the extra miles, like long rides with friends. I'll still take part, for the team, but doubt I'll do more than that next year. Put another way, while I got a lot out of these two challenging Septembers, I'm not sure what else I can get out of this commuter challenge and I think looking for other challenges might be more productive for me next year.

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Current Location: Portland, OR

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"The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one - but still they come!"

How many of you remember Jeff Wayne's: War of the Worlds album? It featured Richard Burton speaking as the protagonist and was captivating to me when I was a boy.

I remember it being pretty huge when I was a boy, sort of eerily captivating and felt like a throwback to the days of radio broadcasts, where we waited eagerly for the next bit of narration to come along. It came up a couple of days ago and I was surprised that I'd not really heard anything from it in a very long time.

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This is sensational. I kinda collect dance videos... and somehow I missed this incredible one of Marquese "Nonstop" Scott... until now. People, I implore you... watch this and be amazed. It starts slow, but then gets awesome. And the slow bit in the middle is actually a setup to a great climax. Incredible stuff.

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Dear youthful fair-weather cyclist,

I loved your enthusiasm as you blew by me on your fancy bike, you looking spiffy in your hipster bike gear. You cut quite the dashing figure. You glanced back at me and my clunky bike and uncool clothing as if to say, "I am young and fast and you are old and slow! Watch me fly!" I didn't mind. Maybe it's because I don't have your Tour de France gear and think of cycling as my commute, not a race?

Besides, I knew it was Portland's hilly southwest. It's not about bursts of speed, it's about steady rhythm and associated gear usage, and about knowing the traffic light cycles. As you rushed from red light to red light I caught up to you repeatedly. Each time you seemed more annoyed to see me again than the last time, before seeing the light change to green, leaping to that cool standing stance to remind me of your energy and speed, and racing off again.

Then I caught up to you one last time on the big hill. I didn't mean to, honest. I was going the same speed I always do, a steady, comfortable cadence of habit. There you were, struggling up the hill in too high a gear, a he-man gear for heroes and young bucks, huffing and puffing, while peering back at me like a marathon race favorite about to be passed by an old guy with a limp. Pride gave you one last burst of energy and you made it to the top of that 2-block stretch just ahead of me, but the effort seemed to break something inside you and it is there that I blew past you one final time.

Link to a photo-based diagram illustrating my epic uncoolnessI fully expected you to pass me again, given that there were no more traffic lights and the hill was now much gentler... but you did not. Concerned, after a few minutes I looked back and was shocked to see that you had fallen several blocks behind me and looked like you were dragging a huge weight behind you. Poor boy. You were so exhausted from all that misdirected exuberance, seemingly devastated and broken; the hare broken and beaten by the tortoise.

I worried about you a bit. Would this put you off biking? Had you invested enough in that fancy bike and all that epic gear to keep you interested? I wondered if you asked yourself how this old fart, maybe twenty years older than you, could have blown by you like that? How terrible to be passed by fashionless forty-something on his overloaded chunky red bike. I really must apologize.

I urge you to forget that most unintentional humiliation and to forget me. Hell, at my age you probably assume I already forgot it. Fear not! Soon you will be more biking fit... and maybe wiser too. Then you will again race by me, your imaginary laughter filling my ears. And me? Why, I'll just keep going at the same pace I always have, the cadence I used all through that wet winter you're so afraid of, the winter of your discontent.

But now is the summer of your content. Fly, young cyclist, fly with the wind in your hair that barely touches your aerodynamic futuristic ensemble. Soon you will be the hare that bucks the trend and I will again be the tortoise with the chipped and dented shell.

Enjoy these sunny days... for soon the rain will return. Winter is coming.

Old Fart

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Current Location: Portland, OR

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I had an odd day yesterday, one of those days where people say things like, "Life/God/the universe works in mysterious ways." First, for some reason I decided to wear a t-shirt I'd not worn in quite a while. I noticed that it had some cat hair on it. Since I have not had a cat in a very long time it meant the last time I'd worn this shirt was before I moved out of my ex's house, marking the emotional end of my marriage. I wondered how long ago that had been... and found out that it had been exactly a year. Yesterday was the last day of that year and today was the actual anniversary.

While I was pondering the timing of my cat-hair experience, the quote widget on my homepage told me that Douglas Adams once said, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be." This saying pretty much sums up the last year and much of my recent state of mind and the origin of it is simply splendid. The quotes that come up are not usually that personally meaningful. The previous one had been from Barbra Bush and concerned Clinton's oral sex and the following one was about the failings of capitalism.

So, just how have I changed in the last year? A year ago I was walking during lunch breaks for exercise, but was not really losing weight. I was dreaming of more hiking and camping, but had done little of either in the last five years. I had not been on a bicycle in years, but wanted to bike more. I was not eating all that well, though there had been some overall improvement. Even so, my allergies were bad enough that I'd thought about moving away from Portland. It meant regular doctor's visits and 4-8 courses of antibiotics a year for repeated ear infections. There were also several aspects of my life that felt chaotic and out of control.

A year later and I'm a consistent biker and in the best shape I've been in for many, many years. I've gone on more outdoor hikes in the last two months than the previous five years combined and have a big hiking and camping trip planned for next month. I'm cooking better and healthier food than ever and as a result of all of these factors, I've lost 30 pounds and am in far better overall health than I've been in for a good long while. My doctor told me that whatever I'm doing, I should keep doing it... and that was 20+ pounds ago and I've not seen her in quite a while (and I can't wait to see her face the next time I see her). My allergies are still a challenge, but I've had just one ear infection in the last year. I also recently started dating again, someone surprising, in very good ways.

It's not a journey I would have chosen and in truth it started when I was a boy and this last year was merely the latest chapter. There have been rough times, mistakes, regrets... and the whole phoenix from the ashes thing is, well, for the birds. Yet, somehow I've found myself at a point where I'm much happier than I've been since... well, in some ways...the happiest I've ever been. While I still have life challenges, I'm in a peaceful apartment with more order than I've had in a long time... again, maybe ever. All my African stuff is front and center, unbridled and unblemished. Things just feel manageable and filled with possibilities. For the first time in a long time I really value my own company and my own time and I'm feeling more at peace than I can remember being in many, many years. I'm not quite sure where I lost the plot and I know I'm still on a journey here, but I feel like I'm heading in a good direction.

It has not gone according to plan... but here I am, where, somewhere that in so many ways I always wanted to be. I have a feeling this is going to be a special summer, no matter what happens.

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visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or Free iphone travel guide

Hrm. Not as interesting as it used to be. Just Alaska left to visit. Still trying to decide between a long road trip or a winter cruise.

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Stroop Report - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 06b.jpgMy calendar tells me today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs on the anniversary of the start of the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. I grew up in an extremely conservative country (South Africa) where antisemitism was rife amidst all the other prejudices found under apartheid, and where so many people were somehow able to happily live with the contradiction of being holocaust deniers while also regularly wishing aloud that Hitler had done a better job... and regularly reminded me of both views.

Most of my mother's family did not survive WWII. After many years of searching, my grandfather found only one distant cousin after the war, and he was the only relative they had found too. The rest of their large Europe-wide family were all murdered.

My calendar reminder has got me thinking of all of them and their descendants... never to be born.

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Had first accident on my bike on the drive home tonight. Minor... and no, not related to my prior post ;). A driver turned right and bashed into me as I passed them. No time to avoid them. Bashed up my left knee a bit, but at the time it felt fine. I felt fine. Adrenaline, I guess.

There were two bikers behind me and they yelled at the driver, telling her she was an idiot and should watch where she was going... which just was not at all helpful. Then they rode off. So much for witnesses! I was glad they left though.

Not that it mattered. I looked in the window and saw that she was horrified and scared. She had two passengers. Front and back windows opened and all three of them were apologizing at once.

Thing is, I think it's the city's fault. This is a section where we cyclists are redirected onto a sidewalk for a stretch and then merge off the sidewalk and back onto the road at a corner. That's the problem, the merge coming off a sidewalk at a corner... and no sign to warn cars. Sure, she should have looked before she turned, but it was peak-time and cars were stopped and bumper to bumper. Easy mistake to make.

So I told them I was fine. I felt fine at the time. Nothing hurt yet and it was just a bump, not a whack. I think I'd have hurt myself more if I had a regular wipeout. I told them that it was more the city's fault than anything else. They thanked me for my calmness and understanding. The youngest of the three women had climbed out of the back seat. She shook her head in bemusement and shook my hand.

Then they drove off, but stopped up the street a ways, maybe to make sure I was okay, maybe to calm down. My bike seemed fine, but the chain had popped off. I slipped it back on and pedaled off.

I stopped up the way a bit and waited at the pedestrian crossing for the light. My hand had started to hurt. I think it got pinched between the handle and the car. I was shaking it to ease the pain when they drove past me. They had apparently turned around and re-merged with traffic. I caught a glimpse of the passenger in the front seat. She was wincing at my pain.

My hand feels mostly fine and it took over an hour before my knee started to hurt. Not terribly painful, just feels like I got punched in the knee. Luckily I still have some good muscle relaxants and pain pills left from when I fell off the ladder! I hope it's okay by morning as I have a hike planned for tomorrow. I'll play it by ear. It is a reminder that even if you feel fine you should still get the other person's details if you're in an accident. Ah well. I'm sure I'll be fine. Bike seems okay too.

Even so, I feel really good about the way I handled myself. Calm, collected and nice... hell, reassuring even. Under the circumstances, pretty good, I think.

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Holy fork shoot! I'm 69! How Millennial is that number! Although, I was 50-50 on a question, and if I answer it the other way I go up to 75.

So I'm wondering how Millennial all of you are? Take the PEW test: http://pewresearch.org/millennials/quiz/

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I need help, please. I've just unexpectedly been granted the honor of naming my brand new niece. They have a fondness for unusual names and I personally like names with meaning. Suggestions please!

An example from among your names that I think they would like is, Zara (of Arabic origin, meaning radiance). A couple of useful resources I've found so far are:

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Went to a fascinating lecture tonight on all the recent discoveries about Stonehenge. The summary is, everything you ever knew about Stonehenge is wrong. My favorite bit was where he spoke about how we get the word henge from Stonehenge, but how pedantic archeologists had so messed with what the word means that technically Stonehenge is now no longer a henge at all. Hah! Typical!

For those who are interested, the lecturer was Mike Parker Pearson and you can find out more about the talk and he has a book coming out in June that is available for pre-order and sounds like it will be a must-read for anyone interested in Stonehenge.

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This is utterly incredible. The earth from space, including a visible atmosphere, aurora borealis and lightening storms. How beautiful our world is. Watch this. Take the time. And watch it is full screen mode!

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There's a little bit of Hulk in all of us.

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Do I make new year resolutions? No, not really. But I am in an ongoing process of trying to improve my life, in terms of health, personal projects and personal growth. So here are my ongoing goals, in no particular order, for this coming year and beyond:
  1. Keep exercising, hopefully biking... though my 2 near accidents and loss of a pedal earlier this week somehow resulted in my knees really hurting, but if not that, then something else... and do more upper body exercise.
  2. Keep loosing weight. My ideal is to lose at least 30 pounds, but without crazy diets or feeling like I'm starving. I want to cook more fresh vegetables and eat less processed foods.... and keep at The White Diet. Supplements too, particularly the fish oil (good results were measurable). The reasons are twofold, namely health and feeling good about myself.
  3. Continue avoiding processed sugar, particularly HFCS, but all processed sugar really. They put sugars in almost everything these days.
  4. Stay off the lactose (most dairy) and get even better about staying off gluten (breads and normal pasta). I miss cheese a lot, but otherwise the former has been pretty easy. Gluten-free pasta has really helped on the latter.
  5. Hardest of all, get into good sleep habits. If I can average being in bed before 12, that would be really good, before 11 would be sensational. So far it's not going well on this front at all, despite my making a real effort. As an example, I got to bed by 11 earlier this week, but only got to sleep at 1:30 or so. It's not just getting to bed on time that's the problem, it's being able to get to sleep on time.
  6. Socialize more and start having friends over to the house. Strengthen my friendships.
  7. More walks and hikes and getting out into the great outdoors. I want to see Crater Lake this year and get to the beach more, but also want to visit some new hiking trails.
  8. Investigate and plan a trip home to South Africa, possibly only for 2013.
  9. Attend five conventions, for SF that's Worldcon in Chicago, DeepSouthCon in Huntsville and our local OryCon, and for work that's NTEN in San Francisco and Open Source Bridge locally, and maybe I'll add the local BarCamp as a sixth.
  10. Watch much less TV, and in my case that means Netflix. This will help me accomplish several of the following points.
  11. Get back into the habit of reading more.
  12. Write much more, namely a number of short stories and work on the novel. Become much more active in the writers' group.
  13. Spend more time being creative. Currently that means doing some pastel art for fun and a bunch of cartoons for a pet project. Maybe even finally learn to play the guitar a bit?
  14. More socializing.
  15. Up my volunteer time, just a bit, either something like Big Brothers Big Sisters, or something less structured and with more flexibility, in order to not interfere with the above points.
  16. Oh yes, an important one is.... maybe I should do the whole dating and meeting someone thing... which may throw some of the above off, hehehe.

Jeepers! That's a lot. I doubt I'll get to it all, but steady progress is the goal. I'll refer back to this list during the year, and likely beyond, and see how that goes. I also reserve the right to change my mind at any time... though as I said, these are ongoing goals.

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The Leeds conference always resonated as the real first SF con to me. That would make this the month of anniversary. Thoughts?

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People still regularly ask me how I am. It happens less and less every day because for some time now I've quite quite clearly and convincingly answered, usually with a smile, that I'm doing well, that I'm mostly healed, that I'm in a good space. People believe me, mostly because I believe me, and it's true. I feel it in my roots.

I know why people ask, why they want to check in. I know I was more than a little raw during the divorce. I know many of you were worried about me. I gave an entirely new meaning to the phrase, "Wearing your heart on your sleeve." That's no big surprise. It was the most painful period of my life.... I think. It sure feels that way, but when I think back to my childhood I have to wonder how this could be worse than all of that and if time had maybe just dulled all the old wounds.

My openness about my emotional state also meant that I made some really strong connections with many of you, but it is also a bit of a 'chicken and the egg' scenario. One of the reasons I was open was because so many of you were open with me, so many reached out to me, consoled me, offered sweet words and deeds. My friendships helped me to open up and my openness helped my friendships. It proved to be a powerful and positive perpetual cycle. That and I decided to just be honest about it because I suck at remembering which friend knows what, so it was just easier to be more open. I say more open because for all that I've shared, very few of you know all the gory details... but more of you than I ever would have imagined.

It's not just that I understand why people ask how I am, but more, I deeply appreciate it. I know this comes from a place of love and caring and that I'm extremely lucky to have been surrounded by so much love, to have all of you in my life.

There are many things I had to do in order to get to this good emotional place, the hard work that comes with any healing, any recovery and mourning, and most of these things difficult. However, if you asked me what the one thing I'm most grateful for is, what the most powerful asset I had was, I'd have to answer, "Friendship." So I'd like to keep the whole open thing going a bit longer and talk about my friends, and yes, that includes so very many of you.

I'm going to mention some names, but that does not mean I value any other friendship any less. Some I mention because of a pivotal role they played, some I mention because in that time and space they were particularly significant to me and some I mention just because the memory stands out in life's peculiar editing process. Most names I have not mentioned because conversations were in private messages, emails, phone calls and the like.

I'm also reminiscing about a very intense time that I'm now looking back on from a new calm but slightly scattered space, and being me I know I'll forget things, so please forgive me and don't, "Curse my sudden but inevitable betrayal." Let me know if I left anything out or if privacy is not an issue and I'll gladly edit the piece. It is after all in homage to all of you, but also a piece of writing that I'll return to in future days, a reminder to that future Grant who may become inoculated to this time and fuzzier on the things that got me through it.

It's hard to believe, but the marriage has only been over in anything close to an official way for just under seven months. It's longer than that if I look back to when I knew in my gut it was over, or even to when we both acknowledged it was over, but those were turbulent times and in my own mind nothing was clear or certain. Past experience has taught me that it's not really over until you actually move out, so if I had to pick a day, I'd pick move-out day, May 9th, 2011. Though the divorce only became official a couple of months later, it was friendly, uncontested and fairly straightforward, so it felt like just paperwork to me, a symptom, a sad necessity that came when I was already well along in this journey.

Damn. Damn and wow. As I write this I cannot help but think, "Holy crap. What a year." It started with conversations about having a kid and buying a Toyota Prius as our baby-seat-friendly car, saw reality careen into a sudden wall and me bleed through a period of despair and disbelief, and left me mourning all that we ever were together... and all we were ever going to be. Now, as the year fades to grey, I'm living alone, enjoying my own company, having adventures, expanding my friendships, planning solo hikes, riding a bicycle regularly, joining yet more social clubs and finding myself in a pretty decent headspace. I'm upbeat and full of positivity.

Put another way, it's not just that I never saw the divorce coming, it's that I never saw the recovery coming either. Who could have guessed that I'd really find my true self in all this, that there were so many gifts to be grateful for and answers that only reveal themselves when tears have washed the illusions away. I wrote the previous line and it reminded me that of course I'm not the first to put that sort of thought onto paper. As the old song about healing goes, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone." But I'm lucky to have reached this point faster than so many others, and I had plenty of help in this.

The journey to this place began on May 9th, when I moved in with Jeff and Lisa. Since this is a tribute to great friends, it is with this wonderful couple that I need to start. What they did for me was colossal; they gave me a safe, quiet and welcoming space to exist in during a very turbulent time. And a loving space too.

They invited me to dinner while I was still in Theresa's house and offered me this sanctuary to me while offering me support and comfort during an evening where we'd enjoyed food, conversation and friendship. I was touched and deeply appreciative of the offer, but uncertain. At the time I was already actively looking at accommodation options and torn between moving in with a roommate or alone.

Several people, including both my ex wives, felt I should move into a place where I had roommates, where I would not be alone. They felt I was not a man who liked to be alone. My gut told me I'd rather be alone, and Jeff, a man alike enough to me to be a brother, agreed with me. His support therefore counted for a lot, particularly in the confused head-space I was in, and we were right. I love being alone; I often refer to myself as an extroverted introvert, one who enjoys both his own space and social settings of all kinds. I also love couple-space and social-space, so maybe I'm more of a chameleon, but I know that I like living with a woman and I like living alone. I suspect I'd hate having a roommate. I know this without doubt now, but at the time I was still uncertain.

I had another problem. The man I used to be was all about the giving and not about the receiving. Often in the past I felt compelled to tough things out alone, but this time I was aided by a growing friendship and strong connection with Jeff that had predated the offer. And I have to also give credit to dear Veronica, the friend who cracked my 'tough it out alone' shell during my first divorce, who really showed me how a friend can help you through this kind of loss.

But also... something had changed in me. Whatever walls were left in me all came down. Really, I felt naked to the world, vulnerable... but open.

The first therapist I saw quoted something profound to explain the change, something that resonated deeply with me at the time and explained best what was happening to inside of me. The quote was, "When the heart breaks, it breaks open." It was so very true of me. Something had changed in me. I'd gone from a shy and defensive adolescent who was determined never to get or need anyone's help, through two botched marriages, to being this new man, this real me, this long-lost, newly-discovered self. It was obvious to the new me that if I was going to get through this one, I needed to reach back when people reached out to me. I needed to need people.

So after a stewing on things, I sent them an email asking if the offer still stood. Jeff did not email me back. Instead, he called me. That's a really big small touch. He wanted me to know that it was an emphatic yes. The moving out was brutal, as you might expect, and I moved in with Jeff and Lisa on that Monday evening with just a couple of suitcases and that overdose of bewildered devastation that usually accompanies such a time. No surprise there as the day will always be a top candidate for being the worst day of my life. I was welcomed with loving kindness from both of them, and heartfelt words from Jeff, the sentiment of which I'll never, ever forget.

Jeff told me how he'd been through a rough divorce, how he'd also stayed with friends, but friends who had never been through a divorce and did not understand how it is so very much worse than a normal breakup. As a result they failed to expect or understand the emotional turbulence and resulting behavioral oddities and things did not go as well as he might have hoped. He told me how hard that had been and how it gave him insight and compassion, and he finished with words something like this:

"You are welcome here. We both want you here. Stay as long as you need and don't worry about your moods and emotions. If you want to talk, come sit and have dinner with us. If you want to hang out come watch TV with us. And if you don't want to talk and can't face anyone, not even to say hello, just go right up to your room and be alone. We understand. We've both been there. We know what it's like. It's all just fine by us. We're not going to be angry or judgmental. You're welcome here. We want you here. This is a safe place for you."

He was emotional as he said it, and I'm emotional as I remember it.

What a gift it was, the words, the love and the safe space. I'd hear them talking and laughing downstairs. They do both a lot. It is a house with much happiness in it. Sometimes I'd see a kiss or a cuddle and it made me happy. I might have expected it to make me sad, but instead I was comforted by their great love. One evening I came down stairs to find Lisa curled on Jeff's chest and lap, his arms wrapped around her, a wonderful vision of love and caring, one of those memories that will stay with me a very long time.

How much difference did it make? Well, the day I moved in with them I also went to see a therapist. It was an hour of despair and tears and I felt lost enough to ask to see her again as soon as possible, which was two days later... and it felt like too long to wait. After two days in that safe and comfortable space I returned to her office so calm and collected, so clear and together, so pragmatic and determined that the therapist asked me if I still needed to see her. That's a lot of change for so short a time, almost unbelievable. There was much sorrow to come, and I knew there would be, but for the first time I was rooted to the soil and knew I could weather anything... all of it.

My dear Jeff and Lisa, I'll never forget what you did for me and I'll always have your backs. Thank you.

There were others who reached out to me, many others. Some had been through divorces and some had even been through what I'd been through. They shared their stories with me, their anguish, their memories and their lessons. So many stories, such a gift of sharing and information. Information is core to who I am. I do learn from the mistakes of others, so I soaked it all in. I learned I was not alone in how I was feeling, that we all go a little mad at times like these, that some hurts really are much bigger than others, and I learned about every stumbling block that had held them back and slowed down their healing. So often it was fear, fear of being alone, fear of facing the loss, fear of letting go, fear of facing the big hurts. I learned not to be afraid of any of it, not to run, but to turn and look it in the eye with defiance, even if it knocked me down.

I made mistakes of my own, including the mistake of overcompensating for being alone by constantly hanging out with friends, even though your mind cries out for a pressure valve to the things bubbling beneath. I posted something about keeping busy and another dear friend, Karen, said something like,

"You can run from the pain, but you can't hide from it. Sooner or later it's going to find you. If you're lucky you will have a friend with you who can hold you in their arms as you cry, but more likely you will be alone, in the dark."

This too struck a chord with me and I recognized the truth. It was a big part of why I learned to face my fears. I saw days of sadness, like the day Theresa and I filed the divorce papers, but now I saw them as opportunities. I knew the emotional backlash would be brutal, but I also knew that I needed to go through this and getting it done all in one go was actually going to be better for me in the long run. Most of those I knew who took a long time getting over a divorce had spent a lot of time hiding under the covers, sometimes literally, sometimes with the help of alcohol of medication, and I was going to have none of that.

I received a lot of love, opinion and advice from Karen and I totally loved that she remained firm friends with Theresa too. It provided a balance and perspective to our discussions that I valued very much. She is wise and funny and not afraid to speak her mind, which was like gold to me. She also remains the only friend to have been to my new apartment so far, and that just a quick tour before we went out for breakfast.

I'm not sure how this lack of guests happened. I planned a house warming, dinners, movie nights, boys nights... you name it. But it never happened. Instead I've just kind of being basking in this alone space, continuing my personal journey, taking positive steps, doing the hard work... and I guess having a hermitage has been working for me and I've just not been ready to change that. However I think I'll be ready for that soon, maybe in the new year. I continue to visit with friends often, just never here in my hermit hole. Maybe I should think about a little holiday party... or something. Maybe a combined January birthday party and housewarming party? Ideas welcome... but I digress.

Brandy is another whose sweet kindness, solid wisdom and unyielding friendship were so valuable to me and is one who also remained firm friends with Theresa. There was a time when I thought it was her husband Brandon who would become my good friend, but the sod went and moved to California (though we still managed to have a couple of great conversations on his visits to Portland, and I'll go visit them in California soon enough).

Before Brandy joined Brandon, she and I ended up sharing many a lunch and other events. We worked just a few blocks away from each other and lunches were convenient. We'd always been friends, but now we became much closer. Someone I know raised an eyebrow upon hearing that I was having lunch with a married woman most weeks, but there was nothing untoward going on. Quite the contrary, it was her and Brandon's deep love for each other, and the many sacrifices made for each other and their shared future, that made our conversations richer and more hopeful. Or maybe sacrifices is the wrong word. It were more like gifts to each other. I really miss them both a ton.

I can't tell you how much those lunches brightened my days and how thrilling it was to develop these sincere friendships with these two, and other wonderful women. So screw you, Harry (from the movie When Harry Met Sally), you and your theory that men and women can't be friends. You were wrong!

Denise is another surprise friend in all this. When my divorce started we did not know each other at all. She was an online friend of my sister in law and had become a Facebook friend of mine. She was drawn to our wedding photos, as clearly Theresa and I had radiated love and she'd really like that. When it was suddenly over, Denise reached out to me to say a kind word and it turned out she was going through a similar emotional rollercoaster. We ended up becoming fast online friends, a problem shared and all that. We remain good friends and even talk on the phone from time to time.

Denise sent me my second housewarming gift and we really have been there for each other through some very difficult times. It is a friendship that means a lot to me. When that bad day that Karen predicted came, when I was in tears, alone in the dark, Denise was there with me online. I could not have talked on the phone if I'd wanted to, but a virtual hug can be a powerful thing.

Bill had been through a similar breakup, one that had cut him very deeply, and he immediately wanted to help me heal. Occasionally you'll see me post about going to see him play a gig. Back in my darkest days, he and I shared a great dinner, a walk along the river and a long chat. He shared so much with me, confidences that heal, and it was a milestone evening, but later he said one of those other phrases that have just been so vital to me in my healing. He had invited me to his birthday party. When I got to his house I gave him a top-quality bottle of whiskey and he thanked me but was clearly distracted and just put it down. I realized why when he pulled me to one side and said something like,

"Now remember, none of these people knows you or knows that you're, 'that guy getting divorced,' so you can choose to tell them, or you can just be yourself for the night."

It was one of those memorable moments where words just strike a chord, where you recognize hard-earned wisdom... and an opportunity. So I was just myself again, not Grant the guy in pain, not Grant the guy who's going through an inexplicable divorce... but Grant, the cool guy from Africa who has done a bunch of cool stuff, can be very funny, is great at conversations, gets on well with people, makes friends easily, and so on. It was nice to be free of all this mess for a night and just be myself. In fact it was fucking wonderful. It was a milestone and a mindset changer.

Another one of those little life lessons that resonated deeply with me and that I quickly adopted and used myself, came from Jay Lake. We chatted in a coffee shop during the thick of the divorce, while he was busy fighting cancer for the third year in a row. He asked me how I was holding up and I told him he did not want to hear my whining, that my problems were trivial compared to his. His reply? "My problems in no way diminish yours." It was a good answer, balanced and touching. We all too often trivialize our own pain when speaking to another who we feel is going through something worse. I myself had heard many of you play down your own pains because you considered your own problems to be lesser life challenges and since that day, many of you have heard me quote this story and Jay's words. And if I didn't, I should have. It's good advice. None of you should ever diminish your own pain. It is just as valid as mine or anyone else's.

Jason also reached out to me in a big way. He lives in LA and is a long-time friend of Theresa's. He's the kind of guy who would drive all the way from LA just to be at our wedding, and he did, and then went out of his way to help on the day. He may be guilty of being too giving, a fault I too have. In fact, at the time I referred to him and Jeff as, "Brothers of my heart," because the three of us are so very alike in many ways. We shared long and frank conversations on the phone and he and I became much closer in the process. The conversations were powerful and memorable.

Susan, my Worldcon dance partner and my boss for the best fan volunteer job I ever had, who also shared much good advice and was the first to tell me, "Be gentle with yourself." Such sweet words that I have regularly used on friends ever since. So many of us fail so miserably at being gentle with ourselves, putting huge pressure on ourselves at all the wrong times. It is wonderful advice that also came up in other venues later, but you always remember the first time you hear something that resonates with you and moves you.

And speaking of dance partners, Kirsten of the easy smile, who went to concerts with me, including a particularly momentous and healing evening with the restorative powers of the wall of sound and energy created by The Builders and The Butchers. When the person next to you is as immersed in the music as you are, and not afraid to dance, it's a wonderful and freeing thing. That there are great conversations and support too, well, that's just icing on the cake.

Most of you know about the three-week solo driving trip that I took to help me clear my head, find myself and enjoy my aloneness, but a couple of weeks before that I went to Worldcon, quite the opposite experience. I was not planning to go, mostly for financial reasons, but a series of friends persuaded me to go, mostly with variations of this argument, "You'll never find a larger source of people who want to surround you with loving hugs." I've been to ten Worldcons and done a lot of volunteering, and this means I've made a lot of friends there.

There is no practical way to mention all the many touching moments from Worldcon, but I'll mention a few. There were plenty of hugs, but I have to mention Dave McCarty's hug in particular. There is something about a big old bear hug from friend who is a big guy, particularly since we guys can really squeeze hard if we want to, but Dave's hug was also surprising in its unusual intensity. That's a strangely moving thing.

I remember Cathy Mullican on the last night of Worldcon, holding my hand and looking up at me from her scooter with emotion in her eyes, while wishing me all the best. Empathy that moved me. And Eric Zuckerman. He was so supportive to me during the divorce, via calls, texts and online, and with such powerful honesty. As we stood in the middle of one of Worldcon's busiest thoroughfares, with tears in his eyes he told me how proud of me he was. That's a powerful human connection right there.

That's just a sampling. There were many other hugs, many other friends with sweet words. Please know that each and every one of you who gave me your words and hugs, filled up this once empty little cup of mine to overflowing. It still makes me emotional to think about all of you.

The road trip also saw me visit with friends: Larry (thanks again for the couch!), Laura Jean and David in Minneapolis, Melinda in Wisconsin (thanks again for the couch space), Helen, Dave and Elizabeth (thank you both again for the use of your guest room), and Leane. That trip was an adventure, but also a kind of spiritual journey. It let me hold what was left of my hurt up to the light, examine it, watch the last of it whither and die and the ashes blow away on the wind. As such it was also hard at times, and you all made an oasis for me in the middle of it, and became a part of my journey.

I also have friendships at my job, a place filled with the kind of people who have spent their lives trying to make the world a better place. It's a workplace, so I'll avoid names, but a few of them are FB friends too, and most of them fall into this category. So much love, sympathy and understanding came my way. Sometimes I thought I didn't have two bosses, I had a mom and an aunt. At divorce group I'd hear about people in such a divorce funk that their work performance suffered and they lost their jobs, or were threatened with termination. Not me. I was wrapped in love and kindness and became closer to a lot of my coworkers in the process. There have been so many long conversations, lunches and the like. It's one of the reasons why it will always be an extremely difficult place to leave. I'm deeply grateful to be working on the side of good and to be surrounded by such marvelous people every day.

Even within my family my friendships have grown. I'm closer to my brother, Adrian and my sister-in-law, Monica than I have ever been. The stories and confidences shared have made us better family... better friends. My brother told me that he did not remember us ever being this honest with each other. He told me how proud he was of me and how I was going through this. He was proud of me. This is not a phrase we used often in our family, so the significance was powerful and deeply moving. And Monica told me that she thought I was a great catch with lots to offer, but the sincere way she said it really touched me. This too has been such a gift.

Then so many of you sent me emails, texts, FB messages and the like, even comments on Facebook, LiveJournal and other social media. There were so many people who reached out to me in so many different ways, it was astonishing. I cannot account for what I did to deserve all that sweetness. I can't mention the names of those who sent me private correspondence, but I can convey my thanks and broadly mention the sentiments involved.

Many of you who have been through big bad breakups before and know about all the crazy shit that goes on in our heads at the time, reached out to me, saying variations of, "I know you feel worthless right now... but you are not at all worthless. You are a person of worth because... [fill in the personal story here]." Or who just told me how much they wanted to give me a hug, or that they were proud of me. Said they were proud of me, really. Just awesome. Some of you said kinder things still, and even thanked me for sharing some of my story. I cannot tell you how much all of this meant to me.

An email or message may seem like a small thing to the sender, but they were not small to me.

Many of you were originally Theresa's friends and wanted to keep me as a friend beyond this divorce. Your messages, regular contact and in many cases socializing as well, all meant a hell of a lot to me. One of the great things about Theresa and my divorce is how we both want each other to keep all the friends we made and to continue to share friends, but to have you ping me and send your sweet words was just... beautiful. And powerful.

I learned from all of them and so many of you (too many to mention), some of the many ways I was lucky in all this. I am instinctively a guy who sees the good in all things, in fact, the guys at the divorce group nicknamed me, "Silver Lining Guy." But to see the silver lining clearly you also need to see all the other clouds in the sky. All of your shared wisdom and lessons, along with your friendship, encouragement and compassion have held me aloft at times I thought I might drown in it all.

Most people come out of a divorce feeling like less than they used to be, like they have somehow been diminished. I come out of this divorce overwhelmed by a full and deep recognition of just how much I actually have, how lucky I am, how rich all of you make me. You folks, you friends in need who are friends indeed, you gave that to me. I'll never forget these gifts of love. I'll never stop paying them forward. Thank you.

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I noticed some lines drawn on the inside of a closet door in my new apartment. The building dates from the 1950s. The lines were the height measurements of a prior resident, a boy named Brandon. He was around 4 feet and 8 inches in 1981 and around 5 feet and 1 inch in 1983, which is the last mark with a date. The last undated mark shows him getting close to 6 feet. Somewhere out there is a tall man, just a little younger than I, who became a man in this place, my new home. Where did your life take you, dear Brandon?

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How many of you still have a paid LiveJournal account? Any reason why I should keep mine?

Edit: Thank you all very much for your input. 10 responses is pretty damned meaningful in and of itself. I'm going to set up my own blog, probably in Drupal, but I think I'll keep this as a paid account for one more year, then move over posts I want to keep, and set up automated cross-posting as a fun exercise and useful option. In a year I'll revisit it and possibly move over to a free account.

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Wednesday I went to the bike store to get a new seat and padded shorts to help get rid of all this saddle soreness that has severely, um, tainted my biking experience. I've been biking every day as part of the BTA Bike Challenge, a Portland initiative aimed at promoting better health and positive environmental impact by getting folks to cycle more during September. Here at work 12 of us are participation as a team (more than half the staff!!!). I am the only member at 100% participation for 100% of possible workdays (quite a few took leave around Labor Day weekend). We have a bet of drinks on the line with two other teams, a friendly competition, no more.

While I was at the bike shop I asked them to check out my bike and found out that I'd been one severely incompetent bike rider. Well, that is my own judgment... and I think it is valid, even though the guy who helped me was super nice and understanding about it all.

Problems with my saddle-soreness, my biking exhaustion, and my epic-fail bike maintenance, included:
  • Severely under-inflated tires, meaning I had to work much harder, and bumps and the like would result in far more impact. This was adding extra time and work to my rides and aggravating the saddle-soreness. Apparently I should be checking my tyre pressure at least every two weeks and aiming for 60 psi on my broad tires.
  • Poorly oiled chains. Apparently I need to oil them weekly and make sure I properly clean the dirt off too. I had not done this in a month, meaning pedaling took much more effort.
  • Bad seat for my build and duration of rides. The padded seat was apparently actually making the saddle-sore worse because of how it spread my weight. Further, the broad padded seat made the bike rides harder (added friction on the thighs).
  • Bad seat angle, also messing with my comfort and peddling efficiency.
  • The last time I'd replaced my removable front wheel I'd somehow managed to put it on backwards. No, really. This meant that the tyre tread was facing the wrong way, making cycling harder. And it is so easy to see that the tread is facing the wrong way that this qualifies as an epic logic fail and earns me a dunce cap.
  • When replacing my removable front wheel I had not reattached the front brakes properly and they were pulled to taught, meaning the pads were too close to the wheels and would catch on the tyre during turns, making cycling tougher.
  • I'd avoided cycling pants, seeing them as akin to speedos and more than a bit creepy, and I didn't need to be that aerodynamic. However, that is but the least of the uses of biking pants. They have padding, magical padding, near mystical padding. So soft and cuddly padding. Saddle sore just goes away. The pants fit snugly and you wear them without underwear, so they also reduce friction. This and the padding both combine to drastically reduce saddle-soreness.
  • My gears were too tight, which made for clunkier gear changes, exaggerated by the age of the bike, due to the much wider gaps there used to be between gears. It also meant that I was apparently never actually getting into my lowest gear at all... meaning I was even going slower when going downhill.

So all of this mean that my rides were much more difficult than they needed to be, took longer and were more uncomfortable. I would get home exhausted, sore, stiff and very sweaty every single night. I was only keeping up that 100% record through sheer force of will, not any semblance of cycling competence. And I hardly ever passed anyone, despite usually pedaling much harder. I thought it was my old bike. Nope. It was me. I had neglected and abused my bicycle... should have been reported to the SPCB.

I got all the above issues resolved, including replacing my seat with one better suited to me and my commuting, and purchased cycling pants with manna-from-heaven padding. And what did all this translate to? A much more comfortable ride yesterday and today... as in near orgasmic! No really. As in even the existing constant saddle-soreness that was there even first thing Monday morning after 2 days not cycling, was gone. Poof! w00t!

So yesterday, on my cycle in, working no harder than normal... I beat my previous fastest time in by 5 minutes, and even passed a couple of folks... and I'd been passing so very, very few people. Until now, almost everyone passed me... hell, some folks passed me so fast that they were already a block ahead before I even noticed... and once there was this old guy with one of those walkers... okay, so the later is a joke, but barely. I was the cycling equivalent of that guy. I will still get passed more often than I pass others, particularly on the uphill ride home, because my bike is big, heavy and old, has broad tyres, clunky gears and upright seating. This does not bother me one bit because it means even better exercise for me, and exercise is my primary motivation here. Still, at least my suffering, struggling and exhaustion have been greatly reduced.

And I love my cheerful red bike. It was a gift, from sweet Janet, given with a smile and a lot of advice, during a most difficult time for me. It is a part of my journey and my healing. I'll take better care of it from now on.

Results were evident on the ride home yesterday, when I beat my previous fastest time home by over 10 minutes, and my slowest by 20! Holy crap. And I felt fine when I got home, not like an old fart on the verge of heart failure, who should be smart enough to just call it quits and get on a bus. Even so, it's been a tough half-month and last night my upper legs were still burning and crying out for a day or two off.

"One more day," I pleaded to my tired, worn parts, "Just one more day!" I so very much want to keep this 100% record. I don't know why... I just do. It's not for competitive reasons, well, not entirely. It's for me.

Today, tired, sore legs and all... I flew in. Oh my ghod, I flew. It was awesome. Two cyclists blew by me on a steep downhill, just as I'd gotten on the bike, before I had any speed of my own. I caught up to the first quickly and then even had to hold back and wait for a safe place to pass, and then I blew by them and their fancy bike with skinny tyres and fancy gears, and all their fancy bike gear. Me the plebeian on the clunky bike, in sweatpants, T-shirt and sandals, and my precious padded-ass pants hidden underneath (thanks for the term, Kirsten). And best of all I blew by working no harder than normal.

It felt good. It felt easy. This bicycling stuff was not as hard as I thought. Now, sore legs and all, I wanted to go a bit faster, to see how fast I could go, so I put foot. I put foot in a big way... well, for me that is, for this tired old fart and his stiff aching legs. By the time I reached town I'd caught the second cyclist too, also on a fancy bike... and I'd had to make up a two block deficit to catch him. We're all a little bit competitive out there. Many times I pass someone and they pass me right back, like I insulted them. Its sill and funny and fun. For me it was just nice not to be passed all the time, for the ride to feel so comparatively effortless, so doable.

My efforts today had decent results. I shaved 3 minutes off yesterday's time. I was worn out and tired, but I felt exhilarated. I laughed aloud as I rode into the garage here at work. I laughed a-frigging-loud. I'd not only made it through the week and kept my 100% record intact, but the improvements were so awesome. It all feels so very doable now. There was real joy in me. It's always good to have those moments, especially during this time in my life where growing is so much a part of my every day.

At just over the halfway point in the month, eleven work days in, I remain the only person on my BTA Bike Commute Challenge team with a 100% record on 100% of possible work days. It's a modest achievement, 11 round-trips for a total of 93 miles. But on my undernourished bicycle it has been really tough, particularly the ride home, which before all these fixes had been 40-55 minutes of mostly uphill cycling. Now I expect 30-35 minute rides home (and hope for faster) and depending on traffic lights, 13-20 minute rides in. The big time difference is because it's mostly downhill coming to work and mostly uphill going home, and downhill on a heavy bike is waaaay easier than uphill.

In case any of this seems boastful, I must clarify that I'm very much a novice and not remotely the best, nor the most impressive member of our team. One of the women on our team is by far and away the best cyclist we have, one who cycles great distances all year long, even through the winter. She is the one I went to for advice about the saddle-soreness and who advised me to get a new saddle and padded pants. She will remain a good resource going forward, and an inspiration to me as the loooooooong rainy season begins and many fair-weather cyclists quit the roads.

Another team member, Cathie, is in her 60s and has just as long of a ride as I do and is at 80% participation. What an achievement. She'd been aiming for just 6 days of cycling, to beat the 5 she did last year, and at just over the halfway point she has already exceeded that goal... with 8. And this on a bike that is both older and heavier than mine, and with just 2 gears. Just incredible, and pound-for-pound, for me she is by far the most impressive member of our team. Still others on the team have tougher, longer rides and are much more accomplished cyclists. I am waaay down the list, but damn it all, I want that 100% out of 100% record for the month. I can contribute that way at least. I can give myself that little gift. I can enjoy this lovely little sense of achievement.

Wish me luck as I go for 100% of 100% of work days through the end of the month. And for me to keep finding the joy in it. And keep trimming down and getting fitter, and yes, both have been happening (w00t!!!).

And kick my ass if I neglect my shiny red bike again.

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Can a cat be a kind of soul mate? Can a feline long for the company of a human... and remember them in their absence for a year and a half? Can this be manifested in a remarkable and intelligent way? Without channeling a crazy cat person or lapsing into foolish anthropomorphism, let me answer these questions by telling you the story of a cat called Petulance.

The story starts over twenty years ago, back in Johannesburg South Africa. My first wife and I had two cats that she'd had since they were kittens. When we lost the female, the male, Peanutbutter, became quite distraught. Peanutbutter had never been cat-alone before and had shared a special bond with the his lost mate, so we decided to get another friend for him. We went to the SPCA and found a large, friendly female on death row and decided her size would make her a match for him. Sadly, it was a nightmare.

They hated each other instantly. As it turned out, she hated all other cats. No really... all of them, no exceptions. Worse, she had a dominant personality and was aggressive about it. Unfortunately for her, Peanutbutter was perhaps the most dominant cat I have ever seen, and I've seen thousands. He was immensely powerful and a tormentor of dogs, but a sweet cat who would later rule many cats as a very benevolent alpha.

It was the unstoppable force versus the immovable ego. She lost, but she could not accept it and was tough enough to take it for quite some time. He really had to beat the crap out of her repeatedly to put her in her place, something we tried to avoid. It took months to get them to the point of barely tolerating each other. We ended up getting Peanutbutter another friend, a kitten that he loved and protected... and that she naturally hated.

Petulance would see many cats come and go through the decade or so she spent with us during her approximately twenty-years of life... and she hated every one of those other cats, without exception. Further, she used her size to bully most of them. Her longevity was a surprise; her first vet visit saw the vet predict she only had months to live, because her kidneys were failing. We changed her diet and helped her innate tough self prove him very wrong.

So, why call a cat Petulance? For starters my first wife had an odd thing about naming all her cats a name that started with the letter P... which it took her years to get over. I liked to name cats for a personality trait or a physical characteristic. We compromised by me picking P names with some meaning. Given Petulance's behavior and the unsuitability of names like Pissy, Petulance became a strange, but earned name.

For all her flaws regarding other cats, Petulance loved people and was sweet to them... mostly, but she took a massive liking to me. She'd hang out with me all the time and look forward to when I came home from work. She was also really smart about it. Monday to Friday at around the same time, she'd go out the cat door at the back of the house, come round to the front of the house and wait for me on the front porch. It was a time when she could get my undivided attention and have me all to herself for a time, even if other cats were around, as I'd scoop her up in my arms and give her strokes and kisses. She liked to stand upright on my arm as I stroked her with the other.

Whenever I took on a new contract and my hours changed, she'd quickly adapt to the new time. This habit only lasted about a year and a half and three contracts before I embarked on my international travels. As I spent eighteen months moving through Detroit, small-town Iowa, South Carolina and finally Mississippi, back in South Africa, Petulance missed me terribly. Without fail, every Monday to Friday evening... not weekends, she would wait on the front porch for me to come back from work.

Every weekday. For eighteen months. She never forgot me and never gave up on the hope that one day I'd come back home. The word pining is not often used for cats, but pining it most certainly was.

When my first wife finally came to join me in the US, I had her bring the aging Petulance with her. At the time we expected our US stay to be temporary, but were not sure Petulance would survive until we got back. The poor cat endured a two-day ordeal of travel in airplane cargo holds and connecting airports. Cats do not travel well at the best of times and international travel freaks them out even more, as I would eventually see with six... yes, six other South African cats that we brought to the US at a later date. They all went a little crazy for a couple of days and were nervous wrecks for longer than that.

However, when my ex brought Petulance into my apartment, the old feline took one look at me and seemed to say, "Oh! It's you! We're together again... finally!" All her nerves and misery evaporated in an instant. After a lengthy greeting with many cuddles and strokes and an extraordinary amount of purring, she set off excitedly to explore her new home. She was so happy to be reunited with me that she had no fear of this strange new place. It was all so very uncatlike.

There was no settle in period. Wherever I happened to be was her home. She was happy immediately, happier than she'd been since last I'd gone off to work in a far off country... and had not come back.

For a few more years Petulance continued to torment other cats, and to happily greet me when I came home from work, and then hang out with me and sit in my lap. As she aged and got weaker, some of those cats took a little revenge on her, but she was still tough as nails and could take it. She lasted longer yet, before age finally caused her kidneys to fail... over ten years later than that first vet predicted.

As she faded fast we took her to a vet and it was clear that she was in a great deal of discomfort and the fight in her had finally died. There was no saving her and only suffering remained. We decided to euthanize her to save her those final hours of agony. As the vet injected death into her, I stroked her and spoke words of comfort as my tears wet her fur, and she passed mercifully quickly. Then, there in he-man Mississippi, where men are not supposed to cry, I collapsed into a chair and my tears became a deluge, much to the surprise and consternation of the vet and his assistant.

I am not often that emotional about a cat, but some of them seem to have a real spark. Something palpable had passed from this realm. A force of some kind. A strange power... a piece of my heart.

Sometimes, when I think of going back to South Africa, I half expect that my Petulance will be sitting on a porch somewhere waiting for me, and seeming to say, "It's about time! Welcome home."

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Happy Birthday to ogre_san. May the coming year be filled with happiness, joy and many more published stories.


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It seems odd to see a live show as a turning point, but it can be. Last night I had an incredible time watching a live band, a kind of healing time. In the middle of all this painful divorce nonsense I really did not think I was even capable of having such a good time, but I was delighted to be proved wrong.

This is a band I've seen twice before before, both times as a backup band, and they have a fantastic live energy. The 5-man band features a number of members who can play multiple instruments, which adds a lot of interest and diversity, but the most striking feature is the fact that for about 70% of the songs they have 2 drummers playing side by side, giving a very high-energy, wall-of-sound effect. And I have to say, two nerdy Portland boys next to each other putting their whole bodies into ferocious, totally-committed drumming is pretty damned impressive, and kinda adorable, and so Portlandic. And the rest of them are just as committed. The band's live energy is so awesome that on their bio on their web page they talk about the extreme difficulty of translating that energy to their studio work. It is no surprise that they have won awards for their live performances, but they have won other awards too, indicating that they have found some happy medium in their recorded work.

They are also an awesome Portland band story. The story goes that each member migrated separately to Portland, Oregon from Anchorage, Alaska a to start a career in music and pure chance, or maybe something about their similar roots, helped them find each other here in Portland. Pretty awesome that they're all from the same unusual city, but it took moving to a new city to find each other and the kind of sound and music they wanted to make. And they are so very much a quirky indie Portland band, just like so many who move here, they find their place and they belong, as I do, because they feel like they do.

So I wanted to see them when they came back to town, but I was not quite ready to see them alone. Fortunately, my dear friend and former coworker, Kirsten, the biggest fan of live music that I know, was up for a new (to her) band experience, based on my exuberant endorsement of the previous times I'd seen them perform. They played two nights and we caught the second.

The warm-up act was Kelli Schaefer, a woman with a nice voice and an interesting sound that was still quite experimental and showed a lot of promise. I would like to see how she develops over the next couple of years. Her style was quite reminiscent of Björk at times, and at other times of Sia and another band whose name eludes me. Kirsten and I sat for this performance, though several rude schmucks talking loudly near us spoiled some of the softer songs, of which there were many. I bought Kelli's download and plan to give the music a better listen without the schmucterference. I'm taking The Builders and the Butchers endorsement of her as a big positive.

And then on to the main show. As soon as the Kelli Schaefer crowd dispersed to the bars and loos, Kirsten and I moved up and found a spot at the very front and middle of the stage. Having seen them before I knew this was the best place to be and I'd never gotten the chance before. Now all we needed was for them to be on their game, and boy were they ever. Apparently the crowd was double the size of the previous night and they were extremely energized by this and really poured themselves into their performance. They are better every time I see them, but this time was simply spectacular, for pure energy and commitment, right up there with some of the best concerts I've ever seen. There is nothing quite like seeing a band at the top of their game and totally committed... and having a great time. It was a great mix of awesome new songs and familiar old ones.

Part of their act is to give out instruments to members of the audience, most of them children's instruments and noisemakers, so much so that some regulars have taken to bringing their own tambourines and similar shaker instruments. I need to find one for myself for the next time I see them. I ended up with two that the band gave out to audience members, one a kind of large kid's rattle and another a toy with bells on it that another audience member later surrendered. Seemed to me it was nothing short of criminal to let it go unused, so I put in twice the effort and had twice the fun.

There is something awesome about being able to participate so directly in a performance, so I was fully engaged, just as the band were, and the audience were. Kirsten and I danced for 2 hours, me shaking my children's rattles, her shaking her child's tambourine. It was also a very audience-interactive show in several other ways and there were many songs where we were encouraged to sing along or, in one case just make tantric aaaaaaaaah sounds. I did a lot of singing out loud, at times at the top of my lungs, and so did hordes of others, and most of the crowd were dancing, more and more as the show more on and the contagious energy affected even many non dancers. It was like we were all swept along by the currents of near-hypnotic energy.

The lead singer also likes to lean into the crowd with his guitar and play over and into the audience, and because Kirsten and I were right up front, he was over us and between us 90% of the time... and why yes, I did help this by clearing a spot for him on the stage right in front of us. Heheheheh, I'm a sneaky sod when I need to be. Wait, did I say sneaky? I meant helpful... and considerate... yeah... that, not devious at all. At one point he actually leaned right on my shoulder for effect, with me propping him up as he strummed the crap out of his guitar. I totally f*cking loved it.

The band was maybe too fired up. The lead singer broke strings on his guitar, replaced the guitar, broke another string, snuck off stage and fixed it while the other band members covered for him by rocking an impromptu jam session... that was awesome, and then when he returned he promptly broke another string. Taking it as a sign, and because the show was almost over, he gave up and stole a completely different kind of guitar from the warm-up act for the last 2 songs, joking that this would become the new look of the band; it was a shiny white electric rock guitar, whereas his were the kind of guitars that look like old school non-electric guitars that have been so thoroughly played for so many years that they are heavily scarred with strumming grooves.

Through all this the band just went right along with the flow, rolling effortlessly with every punch. The lead apologized to the audience and said we were a very tolerant audience, but we were all so much in the groove that, quite the opposite to detracting from it, it all just added to the experience. Because of the lost time they skipped the obligatory (in Portland) leaving the stage and then coming back for an audience cheer-induced encore. The lead singer talked us through it, saying something like, "This is the part of the show where normally we leave the stage, go back stage, take a sip of beer and talk about the show, saying things like, 'Damn, dude, what's with all the broken guitar strings?' Then you'd all be applauding so loud that we'd come out for an encore and perform some 'unrehearsed' music. Let's just pretend all that already happened." I loved it. Like so many, I laughed. I laughed a lot this night, long and freely.

For the last song they let anyone in the audience who knew the lyrics come up on stage and sing backup and they had several other musicians join them from the crowd so the stage was packed for the last number and every instrument was in use... well all except the broken guitars of course. It added to the wall of sound and the 8 to 10 fans, including Kelli who had commandeered a child's drum, were clearly in 7th heaven, dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. It was an incredible finale to a 2-hour concert, and the band were spent. And I do mean spent. They looked exhausted. They had nothing left to give us. And we were spent and sated too.

I know being in a band is a hard way to make a living, so I always try to buy their stuff. I'm more than a little broke, but they had earned some additional patronage, so I bought another of their awesome octopus t-shirts, the new edition with a red octopus that pops way more than my old orange one, and their new CD.

It was, quite simply, f*cking awesome. I had such a great time I hardly thought I had it in me right now. In fact I was almost certain I did not. It was the best live show I've been to in a very long time. It was kind of reminiscent of Johnny Clegg and other African bands I've seen where energy and exuberance were paramount and where musical variety and interplay are intrinsic to the style. So I was delighted when Kirsten, like me a huge fan of African music and also a regular volunteer at Zimfest, feeling some of the same energy, engaged in occasional awesome African ululating, which I found truly delightful. I laughed... one of the many times. It has been a while since I laughed so openly, so freely, so fully, like my whole body was one with the laughter.

I sincerely got a healing from this show, a rush of joy and adrenaline that flushed some of my deep thoughts and pains right out of me. I was in the church of The Builders and the Butchers and I tasted salvation. There was a time during the first moment of the show when the wall of sound hit me and my wounded heart closed in and tightened in my chest, and I thought to myself, no, I love this band and I'm going to open my heart to this night, to this experience, to this vitality, and I did, and the music washed away my cares for a time. What makes this all a little strange is that they have a tendency to write really dark and morbid songs, but it was not about the words, it was about the energy. And yes, I am wise enough to know that my head-space and heart-space were both factors in my enjoyment and reaction to this show, that I needed this right down to the core of me... but it was more that that. It was the band being in the moment too, and the audience, and the sweet friend by my side... and the energy flowing through us all. It was one of those perfect moments in time for me, one I will always remember.

Thank you Kirsten for going with me, for being totally in the moment, for dancing your heart out and shaking that tambourine... and for the ululating... and for the sweet joy of your company. Thank you Barron for loaning her to me for a night.

Wow. What an evening. I'll never forget it. It took me two hours to wind down enough to sleep... and they were pretty good hours. If you ever get the chance to see The Builders and the Butchers live, I highly recommend that you do so.

Today, when I signed those divorce papers that were then delivered to the court, I thought of last night and I focused on that to help me get through the day. I knew that tonight the sorrow would overwhelm me, and it has, but I also know that I will feel joy again, that I will survive this miserable ordeal, that my broken heart will heal... and that my laugh will again be full and free.

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I need help, desperately. What are your favorite pick-me-ups? Happy songs, funny videos/movies, great jokes, what have you? Please share. I need to up my laughter quotient.

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Saw Johnny Clegg perform live tonight. An outstanding, energetic show. Sang my heart out. Gave me something of a healing and made me so very homesick for South Africa. One song paraphrased Hemingway, words for me to live by right now:

The world breaks everyone
And afterwards you will find some
Stronger in their broken parts
In the wild mountain of their hearts
Love can mend a broken soul
But who can trust a heart not whole
Waiting for the wounds to close
In that dark place

Hidden away down ...

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Time for the post that tilts the cup. I'm on the market for an affordable apartment or house-share-type thing in Portland, Oregon. Mostly I need a peaceful place, no loud music and such. I need my own space, though could share kitchens and such. Comfy, friendly, preferably low-allergen, close to public transport and some liveliness/hub-ness (stores, restaurants and such). I'm a considerate tenant. Help?
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This time it's because we're in the process of clearing out two rooms in our house and then we'll move everything out of our lounge into the other room. Then, on Friday we begin 3 days of work on refurbishing the lounge. I might be able to squeeze one or two in, but more likely it will be next week before I can get back to my 30-in-30.


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After a sickness hiatus, I returned to my 30-in-30 on Saturday with this full-page effort making fun of the endless number of ways we have to describe what we are not, rather than what we are. No agrathea about so without the right software I could not add my nice header.

Cartoon making fun of language

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Feedback welcomed.

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Been sick since Wednesday last week, so I decided to suspend my 30-in-30. I'll still be in recovery tomorrow, but hope to get back to it by Friday.

* Edit: got back to it Saturday and did a full-page comic, but agrathea has my camera and I can't get a good picture, so I'll post it later.


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Came back from a work function and quickly knocked of this gag about Pinocchio. Bit of a rush job and a crappy copy of the cartoon, but I think it's not bad for a quickie.

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Part 11 of my 30 in 30. Sadly, those it's aimed at won't see it as a joke.

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Part 10 of my 30 in 30. One third of the way through, w00t!

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