Thursday, July 27, 2006
"Tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking...
...sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show..."

Well, Times readers aren't helping their cause any with this one:

The "most e-mailed" article at present is Communal Yoga Mats: Beware of Germs.

Anyway, back to my (vegetarian) sushi. Did I mention I like snowmobiling and football?

(The quote, of course, is from The Club for Growth's anti-Howard Dean ad from a few years back.)
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
We get letters
Occasionally I get e-mails for this blog (there's an address on the left side over there). This morning I found this in the Official Doctor Awesome Inbox:
To: Doctor Awesome
Date: Jul 25, 2006 9:18 AM
Subject: Found Innova Disc

I found a red Innova disc in the woods off the 18th hole in Round Lake which said if found to contact Steve aka "Doctor Awesome". If you are he and want the disc back you may email me at If you are not I apologize for adding to your inbox.
My response:
From: Doctor Awesome
Date: Jul 25, 2006 10:28 AM
Subject: Re: Found Innova Disc

For it to end up in Chicago, wow. Perhaps I can throw better than I thought.

As much as I'd love a free disc golf disc, I doubt the one is question is mine as I live in San Francisco and my name is not Steve.

Thanks, though.

Doctor Awesome

Saturday, July 22, 2006
Midwest Turmoil
Blogging has been sparse lately. My apologies.

I am not at all a fan of the current events in the Middle East. That being said, I stumbled upon this old Onion story I remember from long ago:

Midwest Peace Talks Shattered By Illinois Toll-Booth Bombing

"Lake Geneva Convention." Awesome.

There's always bit of interstate rivalry in the Midwest, a lot of it fueled by football rivalries collegiate and professional. I still despise the FIBs recklessly speeding north on I-39 to defile our pristine northern lakes with their obnoxious jet skis every summer weekend.

Anyway, I was reading about Minnesotan lakes today (yeah, I do things like that) and remembered, as a kid, being told that, even though Minnesota's license plates have the boastful caption "Land of 10,000 Lakes," Wisconsin actually has more lakes.

Nowadays, I'm armed with a laptop and a search engine. Result:

Minnesota: 11,842 lakes
Wisconsin: 15,081 lakes

Gophers suck.

Update: (Minnesotan) Justin, in his deconstructionist, relativist, there-is-no-knowable-truth manner, pointed out that Minnesota's number refers only to lakes larger than ten acres, so it's an unfair comparison.

Really, you cannot begin to qualatively assert whether or not one state has more or fewer lakes than another—our contemporary understanding of what is a "lake" versus, say, a "pond" is caught up in a social construct of a lake's identity—that is, when considering a body of water and its potential properties (depth, area, or volume, for example), there is no universally apparent metric that can be used to determine, at exactly what point, that the "lakeness" of the water in question is such as to undeniably bestow "lake status" upon it. We can not hope to objectively reach a consensus as to what configurations of these variables do and do not constitute lakes. Using the strictest of standards, neither state has any lakes, while if we choose a point far too low on the continuum, we're charged with tallying up every insignificant puddle.

With that, I argue that the number of lakes in either state is, then, inherently unknowable.


While I begin the process of removing my tongue from my cheek, I will say that it's probably a wash and I shouldn't dare be boastful, as I very likely could be wrong. I saw a blog post on the topic while searching along:

Bill asks: Does Wisconsin or Minnesota have more lakes?

As Cindy writes,
My official answer is that both states have a WHOLE BUNCH OF LAKES.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Door-to-door, finally.
I finally rode my bike to work today, from my front door to the Googleplex along The Bay Way. 42 miles or so. With, like, no training. One flat.

I'm a rather dawdle-along kind of biker. The guys I rode with were not.

Saturday, July 08, 2006
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
Or, alternatively, Where the Wind Hits Heavy on the Borderline.

Prepare yourself, reader, for a odd series of connections and associations. This is how my mind works. I've got two things in front of me: a laptop and a long plane ride.

To begin:

My car use is down significantly, but when I do use it, I use it for longer drives. A few weeks ago, I put a copy of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks in the CD changer. When listening to music, I'm latently considering new songs to cover for open mics. Simple Twist of Fate's sparse instrumentation made it a candidate. Camden, rather, preferred You're Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go.

I kept both in mind and, later, found the chords for each. The two songs are, actually, quite similar musically—both are played in an open-D tuning either capoed or tuned up to an E, so, for both, I've been playing around with chord shapes in an open tuning. They've both worked out well—I intend to play one or the other at my next open mic. I even bought a harmonica rack and a new D harmonica (identical to the C harmonica I got for a present last Christmas) in the hopes of being able to provide a harp fill over one of the verses.

But here's the important tangent: While perusing the chord site for Dylan, I clicked on Girl From the North Country, a song I've played around with before. I'm more fond of the version off of Freewheelin' Bob Dylan than the sloppy, rehashed and forced duet with Cash on first track of Nashville Skyline—besides, I like the E-minor fingerpicking more than the G-major two-and-four chops.

While my roommates were out, I was vegging out in the living room, playing the song over and over, contemplating the lyrics. The "North Country" in the song is a region of Northern Minnesota, bordering Canada, north of the Iron Range where Dylan is from—he spent his early years in Hibbing. There's a great article, Highway 61, Visited, by a New York Times reporter that makes a pilgramage to the area after reading a passage from Dylan's Chronicles. During a night of Guinness downing between Dylan and Bono, Dylan pegs Alexandria, Minnesota as the birthplace of America, where Vikings settled in the 1300's.

Thinking about the North Country made me recall my childhood. I spent time during my summers at Camp Chippewa, a boys' camp considerably further west, on Cass Lake, near Bemidji. One of the hallmarks of the camp was the canoe trips the older boys took to into Canada. My longest trip was taken in the Quetico, the wilderness area just on the other side of the Canadian border from Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Alex visited me in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I had been mulling taking a week to spend back in the Midwest, maybe Minocqua, possibly even making it a working vacation (again, the joys of SSH tunneling). I mentioned this to Alex to see if he'd have any time to come along. He said that he'd be starting his rotation for medical school in early July, but would be free until then. The long July 4th weekend was rapidly approaching and I noticed that many of my friends had already made plans to skip town.

So I took three days off and extended my four-day weekend into a weeklong trip. Alex booked a permit for the Boundary Waters and I booked a ticket to Minneapolis.

Our trip was from Monday to Friday. I was completely cut off from modernity. We paddled out and back, portaging and paddling. It was meditative, soul-cleansing, and exhausting. Other than the GPS (which Alex brought in case of emergency and we didn't use), my most technologically advanced item was my flashlight. We spent a good portion of our time following the U.S.-Canada border.

The drive also gave us a chance to stop by the Wellstone Memorial and Historic Site, a small memorial near where U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's plane went down in 2002. I had met Wellstone when he stumped in Madison during the 2000 elections, and I wanted to stop to pay my respects. The memorial was three miles from the highway, in the Iron Range. At the entrance, a poem was engraved on a smooth table of rock, at the base of which lay flowers and American flags, and on top lay an assortment of buttons, ones concerning labor and peace and one that, touchingly, read "ITMFA."

I smiled. I wore my own IMTFA button in the Pride Parade (see the photo)—it was a gift from Trisha, who had ordered and gotten it from the man himself.

The Iron Range is so named for the mining operations there. It, as well of much of rural Minnesota, is known for its leftist politics—atypical of rural America. On a highway overpass, I saw, scrawled out with spray paint, in big red letters, "Jobs Not Bombs." Much of it is the legacy of the German and Norwegian socialists (or damn-near socialists) that first settled the area. The state Democratic party is still known as the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor_Party after a merger with the Farmer-Labor party in 1944.

As a whole, the trip was a nice escape. Life in California (or contemporary America, for that matter) can be overstimulating, frenetic and frenzied. Visiting Minnesota allowed me to take a step back, unplug, and revisit a previous chapter of my life.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Back on the grid
I'm back in Minneapolis. We just drove the van back from way up north (we started and ended the canoe trip at Moose Lake, east of Ely). I've been away from civilization (like, any civilization) for a while. It was nice. I celebrated the 4th of July by drinking whiskey from a plastic bottle on an uninhabited island just across the border in Ontario.

I'd like to never touch e-mail again. I'd also like to stomp on my cell phone.

More as I get reacclimated to this laptop thing. I've got a flight back to SFO tomorrow and I'll probably get a chance to write a nice big essay about something clich├ęd like the pointlessness of modern conveniencess and accumulations. Stay tuned for that.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Expanding on Mermaid Avenue
From Chronicles: Volume 1 by Bob Dylan:
On one of my visits, Woody had told me about some boxes of songs and poems that he had written that had never been set to melodies—that they were stored in the basement of his house in Coney Island and that I was welcome to them. He told me that if he wanted any of them to go see Margie, his wife, explain what I was there for. (page 99)
Dylan takes the Brooklyn line out to Coney Island, walks through a swamp to Woody Guthrie's house on Mermaid Avenue and knocks on the door:
A babysitter opened it slightly, said that Margie, Woody's wife, wasn't there…I stayed just long enough to warm up, said a quick good-bye and left with my boots still waterlogged, trudged back across the swamp to the subway platform.

Forty years later, these lyrics would fall into the hands of Billy Bragg and the group Wilco and they would put melodies to them, bring them to full life and record them. It was all done under the direction of Woody's daughter Nora. These performers probably weren't even born when I had mad the trip out to Brooklyn. (page 100)
I read this passage while thirty-some-thousand feet over the Rockies last December, with my iPod (yes, I'm a tool) playing—wait for it—Wilco.

I had known about the album's backstory before, but I'd never heard Dylan's story. It'd odd to think that history is so dependent on tiny bits of circumstance. I filed Mermaid Avenue away in my mental to-listen-to queue.

I finally got around to it this week. It's charming. There are some absolute gems—One by One is a moving ballad I remember from last year's Kicking Television. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key is sparse and a pleasure, as is She Came Along to Me (the "protofeminist love song"—it still makes me smile when I hear the line "And maybe we'll have all the fascists out of the way by then"—the word "fascist" seems like such an anachronism). It's weird to see song credits like Guthrie/Tweedy. Jeff Tweedy was born ten days before Guthrie passed away.

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