Time and changes

I’m starting this entry too late to do it justice – 10 pm. Despite this, here are some dates and events associated with my family’s residence in my Bloomington childhood home.

Summer, 1976. We move to Bloomington from West Lafayette. Previously my family had come to town for an academic conference or interview and stayed on the square in the only building over ten stories centrally located off campus, a hotel which is abandoned for most of the time between 1978 and 1990. I sleep in a dresser drawer, and retain the sense memory to this day. I recommend the experience, unless you are one of my cats.

Winter, 1978. Snow drifts above the second story of the house, completely burying the garage. My father and I shovel it, regardless. Several weeks prior to this I spent nearly four hours waiting for a school bus that never came with other freaked-out preadolescents, desperately scrounging for sources of heat. I recall the disappointment we felt when a book of matches failed to warm us for more than a few seconds.

Summer, 1982. My family returns from a year abroad. I am much changed. I attend school in fear. My fear is well-based, as the remainder of my high-school career will be marked by unpredictable explosions of violence directed at me. This is somewhat offset by my sudden popularity with the ladies.

Fall, 1984. My sister and I both graduate high school and move out. By odd circumstance we move into a two-bedroom apartment together. Incredibly unrestrained sibling fights take place, but by the end of that summer, sibling rivalry has been fought out and replacing is is an amazing bond, something I never had felt before and mourn to this day.

Spring 1986 (?). Both my sister and my parents return from abroad; in the intervening year, the barn in Mary’s woods has burned down. Or something. I have the dates or who was in town wrong, I think.

Early 1988. My sister returns to live with may parents, probably depressed.

September, 1988. My sister is killed on her bicycle on her way to see a friend. The old world ends; the one I live in begins.

Indian Summer, 1988. A memorial potluck is held in my family’s back yard, a kind of wake for the funeral or something. In my heart I know that I’m leaving town and expect that my parents are too. It’s the last extensive memory I have of the house, a polyglot crowd eating and drinking under the locust tree I’d seen grow from a sapling to a pod-dropping nuisance. I think Mary was dead by then as I recall crossing the fence to stroll up in the woods, knowing I was to leave them.

I loved my hometown but I hated Indiana, the weather and the enclosing horizon, the culture of limits. While my parents, children of the Great West, sought a connection to the older American culture and savored, natively, the more circumscribed expressions of two centuries of Americanness and Midwestern folkways, I chafed. So when my sister died and my girlfriend wanted to move on, I did.

Fifteen years later, it’s clear to me that what I learned most clearly was how to be uncomfortable, because today I find Seattle as tiresomely oppressive as the place I left. There’s no doubt that the cultures are different. What do they have in common? My vantage point.

In my room

My childhood bedroom was about the size of my current bedroom, but a bit more square. A closet faced with two bifold doors, I think, was bumped out from the wall that also held the entry door. I suppose the room must have been about fifteen feet square. In the center of the wall to one’s right, on entering, was a single dual-frame sash window, double-paned, with faux multi-pane inserts delicately mounted onto the window’s frames.

The wood used to construct these multi-pane inserts was a light wood, such as pine, stained transparently brown and dried to a featherweight after twenty years of central heat in the face of Indiana’s increasingly brutal winters. I recall taking the struts out and being puzzled, and little bothered, by the fakeness of the inserts. Today, I rather imagine I will require some sort of faux multi-pane inset when we replace the singlepane aluminum frame windows that predominate in our new house. The wood in the inserts in my childhood home rang like a bell when tapped, in consequence of their perfectly dry state.

The walls of my room were a pale blue, as I believe the carpet was. My single bed ran along the wall farthest from the door. On the wall containing the window, my dresser was between the corner and the window, with about three wall-mounted shelves above the dresser.

I have no clear memory of the blank wall opposite the window, the wall I faced if I sat up in bed. I think I must have changed the arrangement of this wall relatively frequently. I had a desk in the room, at which I did homework, and several three-cove portable shelves that my father had made when I was about seven. Therefore I assume these furnishings were ranged against this wall. I believe a reader of this blog possesses both desk and shelves.

As a teen, the walls of the room were quite nearly covered with posters of musicians and shows, only some of which I still have. I do not recall to whom I gave my large collection of large-size photo posters but was surprised when we moved this winter to fond that I had not taken them with me to Seattle.

On occasion, in my teens, I left the house by my bedroom window after feigning sleep, returning after a night out. I do not recall if my parents ever discovered this. I’m reasonably certain that they will only learn that I also surreptitiously brought a girlfriend over one night and spent the night in my bed with her should they chance to read this. I hasten to assure the reader, parental or otherwise, that I did not ask her to engage in such monkeyshines as entering or exiting via the window.

I have a small woven rug from Latin America in my current bedroom which has traveled with me from my childhood room to this one. On first thought, I think it may be the only thing in my bedroom that was also in that one, over twenty years past.

Stain Me

Tonight I had the months-delayed pleasure of booting up a new computer; well before the move, planning to be as broke as I am, I had grabbed a refurbished Mac Mini with the intent of building it from scratch to be my internet services machine once we landed here. It’s neat, specifically due to that tiny size and dense specific gravity. I did not opt for the firewire transfer setup – I made so many mistakes when I set up the first ancestor of Bellerophon that it would be a mistake to dump all the cruft onto the new machine.

The first OS X incarnation of Bellerophon was a Mac 9500 with a G3 card upgrade running OS X via Other World Computing’s XPostFacto. Prior to that I served pre-blog content from, variously, that 9500, a 4500, and a Power Computing desktop unit, all using a beautiful, Mac-first web server the name of which sadly escapes me. It was not a Tenon product or WebStar or MacHTTP, but some orphanware that dated back to at least OS 8. Boy was it easy to configure, but man was it hard to get it to do modern things such as includes.

Thanks to the Old Apple Web Server Directory, I can more or less guess that it was Netpresenz, but I’m not totally certain of that. zWait a moment; on reflection, I don’t think it was. Hm. I bet the app is still on the 9500; I might have to boot it up to see!

UPDATE: the web server application was Quid Pro Quo, but not that version, this one.

At any rate, the next two weeks will find me busily pursuing paid writing tasks and therefore events have conspired to prompt me to set up my new den area in the basement, where the soon-to-be server will provide hours of procrastinating productivity.

La laa, la la laaa

What do you call a workday that begins at 6 am and ends at 8 pm?

In other news, we bought the floor for the house’s large family room over the weekend, about $1.5k, in a thicker-plank red oak than the existing oak that was under the carpets. On the whole, the remodel is on track to go over our hoped for budget, but not ridiculously so, and the pace that our contractors are keeping is stunning, measured by the yardstick of hearsay.

My mom’s birthday was Sunday, and I called minutes before her midnight, from work.

On Saturday Viv and I had lunch with League brothers Manuel and Jeff and ex-Seattleite daymented, and afterwards took them over to the house to see the remodel in person. It was great to see all of them and interesting to have guests at the house, dust, remodelers, and all.

An oddity about the weekend was that each day was scheduled to within an inch of its’ time, beginning at 8am and ending at 10 or so, and none of my activities involved alcohol.

On sunday, Viv and Spence and I also went to see “Magnificent Desolation,” a Tom Hanks / Ron Howard 3-D IMAX film about the moon landings. It was pretty good, but I was preoccupied. At least I did note with pleasure that the movie dealt directly with the problems the filmmakers had set for themselves: a) re-enactments of Moon-landings beg the re-enactors to address the Capricorn One scenario (pace OJ) and b) the much-remarked-upon single most distinguishing optical feature of the Moon’s surface is a lack of long-range dimensionality, calling into question the wisdom of such endeavors as, oh, as 3-D film concerning lunar exploration.

There were indeed, I’m happy to report, some wonderful, intimate 3D sequences covering such things as lunar rover travel, the landing process and suiting up for lunar EVA, and a lovely postmodern remastering of the LEM’s lunar liftoffoff. Alas, though, I was too preoccupied to properly focus on the film.

My ISP finally deigned to provide service and apparently I am now the proud owner of yet another new router and, according to the service person, “one IP address.” This, of course, make me insane with rage, but having worked such a long day, the form it takes is restricted to involuntary eyelid twitches. I have considered contracting these twitches out to Danelope, as he is ever so much more amusing when fueled by irrational hatred, but have declined to do so, on the grounds that he should actually purchase them from me as an ancillary inspirational resource.

Shortly, as well, the new whybark.com box should arrive. It remains an open question when I will have the time to configure email and web and database dervishes on the device.

In conclusion, why can’t I receive my hard-copy New Yorker on Mondays? It would give me something to look forward to.

Mwa ha ha ha

For some reason I got sucked into a decent, if ultimately pointless Ask MetaFilter thread on the problem of evil.

I wrote a post but MeFi went down before I could post it and I didn’t want to lose it. So here it is.

“transworld depravity?” Ill-mannered skateboard magazine readers? I don’t get it.

I think a part of the problem here is attempting to associate culturally-derived values and perceptions with the attempts of cultures to represent an idea which is necessarily beyond culture. If God is eternal and omnipotent and the universe derives from God, our little corner of that universe can’t wholly represent or comprehend the nature of God at all.

Additionally, it’s clear that what is or is not evil changes depending on the cultural perspective of the perceptor. We tend to associate evilness with torture and murder and so forth; other cultures at other times have associated evil with, oh, porn and gay sex. Still other cultures have sanctified sacrificial murder and even genocide.

A common thread in other posters’ attempts to look at the nature of evil in this thread is the acknowledgement of a differentiation between the idea of a world without evil and the world we live in. Evil, then, is apparently seen as a consquence of living in an imperfectible, non-ideal world, which includes suffering and, most crucially, change.

The deistic idea, which posits an extrauniversal reality, eternal, omnipotent, and ideal, must also therefore depict a sort of stasis, where no entropy can effect change. If this gloss is accepted, suffering is a consequence of entropy, of time itself, and therefore will always be with us. Evil may be described as directed suffering, in my view, and as long as humans remain monkeys with complex troop-building and maintenance behavior, some monkey will be suffering at the hands of others.

Floating Couplets

New Orleans was the original capitol of the American imagination, before this country owned Louisiana. The port at the end of the great midwestern river system that provided the economic engine which begat this nation, its’ place in the country’s heart – and mine – is as central as that of New York or San Francisco. A tad reduced in circumstances, there’s no question in my mind that the city was the center of the Midwestern imagination for more generations than America has owned Minnesota.

I was raised in the upper midwest, mostly. New Orleans was the place you went on a whim and a dare. Since moving to Washington, it was the place one old friend and two new had chosen as home, and one of the choices left by the wayside in my own life. My only work of fiction concerns an encounter between William S. Burroughs and Elvis Presley beneath a portrait of Baudelaire in a New Orleans bar, instigated by Walter Matthau during the filming of King Creole.

I can’t imagine, can only imagine, what my friends are going though. They took that road, cobblestone and sinking brick, and in their various ways made the place their town, stepping into the stream of memory and creation that the city has ever-generously rained upon this nation, upon us, on me.

Released or spewed forth upon us in a great arc across the country, what will the diaspora bring? What news of the Quarter? What fresh mix of fertile muck do they carry on their boots? The Mississippi Delta shines, yes, like a National guitar. It’s the place where everything good about a huge country filters into the swamps. The cargo of alluvial deposits drops, concentrating the finest silt and ensuring the region’s polyglot fertility. It’s no accident that New Orleans sits on the same river as a town called Memphis. The Mississippi is our Nile, and New Orleans the domain of its’ ancient kings, whose ways and troubles we have adopted until we cannot see them for what they are, for good and for ill.

Here lies Vera. God help us.

Vera Smith’s makeshift tomb strikes me as a symbol not only of the devastation and foolishness that have killed uncounted numbers in the past week. It also strikes me as an expression of the character of New Orleans and the nation, the organic character of this country – improvisatory, interim, sensible, creative, adaptable, tragic, flawed.

I read yesterday that Vera’s full name was Elvira Smith. “Elvira” is said to mean impartial judgement, while “Vera” has connotations of truth and faith. Vera’s body lies beneath the earth of a rock garden and a spray-painted sheet. In time, I trust, we will duplicate her makeshift burial palace in bronze and marble, lest we forget. Do her honor, citizens.


While Excavating Past, John Irving Finds His Family [NYT blogerated link].

I am a profoundly reluctant admirer of Irving’s work – I still find it gratingly self-absorbed – but this article unlocks some persistent themes in the man’s work, and I cannot help but be transfixed by the tragic narrative associated with his absent father and the conflict stemming from loyalty and love to his adoptive parent. I’m grateful that my own questions about who I am and where I come from are not subject to the complications of knowing one biological parent and not another.


I wrote a 500-word-plus meditation on the changing fortunes of Broadway in my neighborhood today. I was sitting in Cafe Septieme waiting for Viv, watching the street as cloudburst after cloudburst cycled between sun and wet. Alas for me, my Palm-based blog app lacks an autosave and due to a moment of inattention on my part, poof, away it went.

Our old neighbors Shawna and Christian walked in while we were there with their one-year old. I did not recognize them at first – the baby might have had something to do with it. I forgot to ask about Mavis, darn it.

Finally, Greg reminded me that I should be reading Stacey’s blog, having badgered her into it over the past couple of years. He’s right, I need to, but due to insane business at work and in real life, my blog reading has been much curtailed of late.

Update – he’s doubly right, Stacey’s got the makings of a great blogger. Her posts are clearly unfiltered internal narrative; it sounds like her talking on the page. Hm, I probably have an obligation here to do some basic blog-lore education.

Man, how weird is that! Blog-lore! There is clearly such a thing, and I can recall when there wasn’t!


I read this amusing NYT piece to Viv aloud because she was asking why I was chuckling. Extra points to the author for assiduously avoiding the Napoleon Dynamite and Pirates of the Caribbean referents the photographer so carefully captured. While a tad glib, I am filled with admiration for the writing itself in this article.

Geez, 2-for-2 from the Times. I gotta stay in more; my link-fu weakens!

Twenty-first Century Typist

I have been enjoying Mark Frauenfelder’s transcription software links at BoingBoing over the past couple of days, and had reason to correspond with Mark about something unrelated this week. In the course of the correspondance, I mentioned to Mark how I was enjoying his stuff, and that he might be interested in my homebrewed transcription solution.

I also mentioned that on my last round of interviews, I had explored online transcription services; given the non-existent budgets I have access to, the lowest rates were the absolute determinant in my search. It was also one-hundred percent necessary that I be able to upload audio files directly to the service; if the account setup process was also fully automated, then I was in heaven.

In the end, I settled on both iDictate.com and escriptionsist.com. iDictate’s primary rate is one cent per word, and they offer same-day regular service turnaround (but don’t get too excited, because there are some caveats). Escriptionist offers a flat rate based on the length of the audio files; that rate is $50 per half hour of audio.

Both offer uploads.

iDictate’s fast turnaround and low rates are apparently enabled by offshoring; the scuttlebutt on the internets is that the service breaks up inbound audio files into shorter pieces and sends them to multiple typists. Whether this is true or not, the fast turnaround is quite factual. I submitted three files to iDictate.

All three files were two-speaker interviews conducted over the phone, and each file was approximately 30 minutes in length, in mp3 format. The first file I submitted was rejected for audio quality reasons; I was billed for the 400 words or so that had been transcribed and that appeared in my returned document. Checking my account, I saw that that failed experiment was going to cost me $4.

“Excellent!” I thought to myself, rubbing my hands together with glee. I decided to submit the rejected file to escriptionist.com, but would hold off until I had a completed file in hand from iDictate.

The next file I submitted was accepted, apparently – at any rate, I did not get a rapid rejection notice, accompanied by an incomplete transcription.

A day later, the file had been transcribed. It wasn’t pretty, and there were many instances of roughness in the file (skipped words denoted by asterisks, both speakers unidentified, etcectera). But it was more than sufficient for my needs. Excitedly, I submitted the next file, the second half of the interview. My eyes bugged out of my head when it returned to me in three hours.

I checked my account balance. It reported a total cost of about $100 for all three files. I fairly danced with glee.

Next, I initiated the submission process with escriptionist.com. The process was slow and unwieldy, requiring a personal phone call and many email messages before I was okayed to upload my 31mb mp3. For reasons unrelated to my current DSL problems, the upload took forever – the ftp server on their end was only accepting material at 6kb/sec. Realistically, this doesn’t matter if you can upload overnight. Psychologically, it was frustrating as all get out.

I settled down to wait. On the third day, I emailed to enquire if my file was done. It was, and was emailed promptly to me, along with a PDF invoice for $54, billed to my credit card.

On opening the file, I was overjoyed. While the iDictate files were quick-and-dirty, costing (I thought) a penny a word, and yielding about 5,000 words per half hour, the escriptionist file was meticulous, beautifully formatted, and scrupulously accurate. It was also 7000 words long, rendering the per word cost considerably less than 1 penny.

I thought I was done, and had happily established relationships with two differing, but comparable in value, services. iDictate’s speed makes it valuable in deadline-sensitive situations; escriptionist’s attention to detail makes it valuable if you have a week to wait.

Then I got my bill from iDictate. It was for over $200. I logged in and checked my account totals, which were slightly over $100. I fired off a note, requesting that the double billing be removed. I received a note in reply asking whether I hadn’t misunderstood the terms – the one-penny rate applies only to single-person, old-school, verbal composition. To dictation, in fact. The terms clearly state that two people having a conversation on the phone qualify for the two-penny rate.

I’d misunderstood the terms of service. I wrote back, accepting my mistake, and requested that my account be cancelled. Two cents can’t be justified under the rates I currently get, and I certainly don’t want the temptation hanging over my head the next time I’m procrastinating a transcription.

To my irritation, the correspondent wrote back with a cheery “That’s fine,” referring to my willingness to pay twice what I had expected to and what the site’s own publicly accessible billing tools reported regarding my balance. “There is no monthly fee,” he cheerily concluded, in what I took to be deliberate disregard of my instructions.

A few days later, another note arrived, telling me how to access my account while the service changes servers. I wrote back politely requesting that my cancellation request be honored.

So, in short, iDictate’s low base rate, fast turnaround and lack of competition mean that, for now, the service offers what I would charitably term sucky customer service. As someone helping to run a tiny business myself, I can’t say I don’t understand the business posture. But as a customer, I’m pretty pissed off, and won’t be using them again.

On the other hand, I was frustrated beyond comprehension during the setup and upload process associated with escriptionist.com; the three day wait was excruciating. But the material, when it arrived, was deeply satisfying, and very clearly a significantly better consumer value.

At any rate, I now no longer have the favorite excuse of the dawdling writer for turning an interview into an article – transcription is no fun at all, and highly time consuming (for me, four hours to get a half-hour interview is about right). Having access to the option of transcription is a giant psychological weight lifted from my shoulders as a writer.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll even try old-school verbal transcription at iDictate one day – on a new account, of course. If the total time to a first draft is cut by half, it’s clearly a possible route to compress composition time.

But on the whole, I’ll be carefully budgeting my time and fees to incorporate escriptionist into my copy development process. They delivered a better product for a better price.