Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Merry Christmas

I've never disliked a Christmas, but some seem to be better than others. I feel like it's odd to break something as intangible as a holiday into its components and then make value judgments on them so I won't, (and there are lots of Christmas songs that do that anyways) but safe to say, all those components seem to have come through strong––but not too strong––this year. Christmas for me is also based on a lot of tradition, and for something that gets its presence from the past, I'm not sure if you really have the power to say it's "the best I can remember" without feeling like you're disowning it somehow. But in many ways this does feel like the best I can remember. Of course maybe its history is why I can say that. Maybe all the things I feel are "the best I can remember" are all echoing back to some archetypal celebration in Christian or northern European or early American history––some feeling that people had a long time before I was born. So in that case, I guess it's possible to say "the best I can remember" and have it be true and appropriate at the same time.

At any rate, all I really wanted to say––before I got caught up in my thoughts of whether or not I could say it in a way that didn't kill it––was Merry Christmas, and I'm thankful for how merry it feels, and for the real reason that this glorious Roman Catholic Holiday of Anglo-European extraction that we call Christmas really is merry. God coming to the world as a little human baby in a little town on the eastern edge of the known western world to live among us and die as one of us to bring all of us everywhere the possibility of becoming His children.

Have a Merry Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2012

Falling Stars Over Bethlehem

It's getting to be Christmas time again. And in some ways it's a very happy Christmas. In other ways it isn't at all. It certainly isn't a very happy one for our country, what with the tragedy in Connecticut. I know that has everyone's emotions running high. It certainly had mine. I even spent most of an afternoon writing a blog post about it––only to delete without posting.

I actually do that often. That sometimes seems like a waste of time, effort and even research. Especially when I consider that those are the posts that would probably make this blog more popular. The ones in which I actually say what I think. Sometimes something just feels wrong about them though. Or else I have the suspicion that what I think is liable to amendment in the foreseeable future. Usually though it's because I rarely feel that saying what I think is worth upsetting people that I care for. Which is the [a] reason I almost positively never say what I think in real life.

In the end though I don't think those posts are a waste. They help me process through things. Kind of like writing an angry letter to someone who you're angry at and then tearing it up––something I've never actually done––just FYI. Maybe it will make me see I don't really believe what I'm saying. Or maybe I'll store it away, and say it later, when I'm sure that I do, and am in a position to actually do something about it rather than just spamming the internet with my complaints against the universe.

At any rate, it's getting to be Christmas time again.

Last Friday I went to a live Nativity for the first time I can remember. "Live Nativity" was misleading. Renaissance Fair meets full scale dramatic production meets exotic petting zoo meets ancient Bethlehem would be a more apt way of describing it. It was almost overwhelming. Especially since the reason I was there was because I'd been hired to photograph it. I'd been expecting a few people dressed in robes and a manger scene.

It was also challenging because it was authentic to the point that there was nothing but torch light illuminating the whole thing. Ever since a co-worker asked me to video her wedding several years ago without telling me it was a candle light wedding, I've had a phobia of doing photography/videography in extreme low-light situations. Fortunately I've learned a few things since then––if only from other bad experiences––and I think these actually turned out well for the most part. Even if it was a long night.

That wasn't the first or last long night. The one before I'd gone to the midnight showing of The Hobbit. My thoughts deserve either no comment or an entire post, so I will withhold them. After that a friend came back to my house and we stayed up the rest of the night watching the Geminid meteor shower. Great decision. It was the most spectacular I've ever seen.

Then last night was the annual Christmas party in Corning. I'm not sure how officially it's connected to my church, so I'll refrain from calling it the "Church Christmas Party." But that's more or less what it is. Was a very nice evening. We made way too much food––but that's never a bad thing.

The after-party went until about two in the morning––which was crazy because I had to get up at six to get ready for worship team rehearsal. It was fun though, even if the next day was rough. Everything felt as it should be.

And that's nice, because little else feels as it should be right now. I read an article by Bob Greene on CNN last night before I passed out. It did something I've never heard an editorial do before: It didn't say anything––only asked why. It was titled Has life in American gone insane? I've been asking the same question, only much more locally than "America" recently.

I think it's possible that everyone, myself included, has gone insane.

But if I wrote about any of that, this would just be another post I delete without publishing. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Drenched

A relatively young friend of mine just created a remix of the single Drenched by Wanting. I say "just" because it "just" became available for voting as part of a remix competition on indabamusic.com, but the fact is he's been working on it for a long time. And I say "relatively young" only in terms of actual time alive. I've consistently been blown away by Jonathan's level of motivation and artistic maturity. I once stayed at his house and got up around six to get ready for worship team rehearsal and found him already around and in front of the computer, waveforms pulsing by on the display, working on something like this.

I would say you should listen to it as a favor to me, but the fact is you will really be doing yourself a favor. It's that good.

Here's the link: Wanting - Drenched (Marc Remix)

And just in case you're completely mesmerized after listening, don't forget to vote for it :) 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

This time it was right

As you may have read in my second to last post, I started this blog seven hunting seasons ago to tell tales of adventures in the field and––hopefully––post photos when I bagged a deer.

Unfortunately, that was the first year in four that I didn't get a deer. And in the six years that have followed I have been either unlucky or out of the state during hunting season.

But yesterday the seven-year deer famine ended.

I woke up around 6:30 that morning and spent 45 minutes making my usual circle around my Dad's and Grandpa's land. I saw several groups of small doe, but never for long enough or close enough to take a shot.

By the time afternoon rolled around, I was feeling pretty tired.

No, that's an understatement. I was feeling downright depressed––for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with hunting season. I had no intention of going out again that day, but when four-thirty came, I suddenly had the impulse to gear up and just go out in the field a quarter mile from my house anyways.

I walked out across the drilling pad and was about to cross the opening between the two earth embankments that separate it from the field on the side with the pine forest. Before I made it though, I glanced three doe standing a little over a hundred yards out in the corner of the field. There were some weeds in the way, so when I dropped to one knee, we could barely see each-other, and if they noticed me, they didn't seem to care.

I'm not sure how long I spent looking at them through my scope, but I doubt it was more than a couple minutes. They were all a pretty good size, but I couldn't decide if the one on the far right or left was bigger. At the last minute I switched to the one on the left. It looked a little better, and was also a slightly cleaner shot.

As always, when I finally pulled the trigger, it wasn't a calm, collected decision with a slow, smooth, deliberate pull like they teach you to have in a marksmanship class or basic training in the military. Rather, it was this uncontrollable nervous lurch. Some twitching, angry character in my subconscious who––just before you think you're ready screams: "Fire, damn it!" The same evolutionary left-over who pushes you when you're standing on the edge of the highest dive you've ever taken pondering how badly the water will hurt if you hit it wrong. The one that always leaves you feeling after you've done it saying: "I don't remember really intending to do that then."

This time though, it was right. I saw the deer jump and kick wildly in the air before taking off into the pines with the rest of herd. There was a band of left-over snow along the edge of the woods where the sun never really reaches so I walked all the way down that looking for blood where they inevitably had to cross. I saw nothing, which was disappointing. I decided to walk back on the inside of the woods' edge though. Still no blood anywhere, but all of a sudden I saw the deer, laying just inside the trees with its head pointing toward the field like it had tripped over itself when it went down. It was quite dead.

It weighed significantly more than I do––an impressive fact as long as you don't know what I weigh––so I had to have my brother help me drag it back to my house. I know it's only a doe, and not my first deer, so taking a photo with it is kind of ridiculous. Still, it's what I started this blog all those years ago to do. So here, is the obligatory photo:




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Different Backdrop

I didn't think I would be back in PA for another hunting season. But here I am. First one in a few years.

Things have changed a little bit since 2009. There was the whole natural gas boom/bust. Thanks to that there's now a giant drilling pad in the middle of the 20+ acre windrow field to the west of my house. Unexpectedly, this has actually been a really good thing, because it forces the deer to stay between its 15ft. earth walls and the pine forest––meaning that they get seen by me––not the trespassers who inevitably end up on Saxons Knob, across the road. 

There are also more deer than there were in 2009. There aren't quite as many as when I was a kid, nor are they quite as big. Still, there are many more than there have been in the recent past. My brother and I have already had several fairly good opportunities to shoot, even if they haven't been prizes.

And there's the other thing that's changed. I had hunted with my brother one year before I went to Tennessee, but it's a lot different now. He has more experience, and I feel like we work as much more of a team. Oddly, I think some of this is because of how much we play video games together. It's pretty weird, but it's almost the same––only we aren't getting shot at. 

So between my brother, the expanded deer population, and the new gas pad, I feel a lot more hopeful about this hunting season that I can ever remember feeling in the past.

I also feel like there's probably probably something problematic about using a drilling pad with tanks and a pipeline containing thousands of cubic meters of explosive pressurized natural gas as a backdrop/blind while you're shooting high-velocity rifles. That sounds bad, but somehow it doesn't seem at all scary when I'm actually doing it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seven Years of Misadventure

Today is the seventh anniversary of my blog. The actual date was November 29, but the spiritual anniversary is today, since today is the first day of Pennsylvania hunting season. It was this day seven years ago  that I wrote an email to a good friend detailing a misadventure early that morning in which I came the closest I ever have––consciously at least––to getting shot.

I had had a blogger account for a month or two to comment on other peoples' blogs, but had never thought of a topic to write my own post about. The next day though, I had the idea to adapt that email––which didn't take much work––to be my first blog post.

At the time, my blog was named Bradford County and I supposed that it would be about hunting and other things related to life in a rural area. The name has changed––several times––and my days of posting about hunting disasters and crazy neighbors were short-lived. One topic that has steadily endured though is misadventure.

I've always been enthralled by the idea of adventure. So it isn't that surprising that several years ago, I began to model my life––and by extension this blog––toward seeking adventure. In the end though, I feel like a great deal of what I've found––and an even greater deal of what I've written about––has actually been misadventure.

Whether it was getting shot at while hunting, hopping a train in Italy––to a city I wasn't trying to go to, running around naked in the snow in Latvia, getting stranded at an intersection in Beirut, having my camping plans in Wadi Araba interrupted by Bedouins, writing a newspaper article that made half my college hate me, driving 700 miles without a muffler or getting the very flesh cooked from my body on Nassau and then accidentally taking a girl to eat conch salad from a drug dealer under a bridge, just to recount a few, the last seven years have been full of it.

Even this summer, as I've supposedly been relaxing at my parents house and trying to "figure my life out" I somehow ended up entangled in a police brutality protest, hiking the steepest mountain in the Adirondacks with the worst hangover of my life, getting stuck on the wrong side of the Hudson by an unplanned Navy Parade, and inciting Google to briefly delete this blog––proving that even it is not immune to misadventures.

Of course not everything that I post is about adventures-taken-a-wrong-turn. My entire life hasn't been like that, so it wouldn't really be honest to portray it that way. I have found though, that of all my posts, the ones that strike the strongest chord with the most people (something I wasn't even interested in doing in the beginning) have been those that were somewhat discordant––but not too discordant. Basically adventures with just a bit of the "mis" prefix in them.

I've had many of my readers (that sounds so effing pretentious *makes slightly post-ironic face and says in overly enunciating accent somewhere between Oxford British and North-Eastern-American-metropolitan-liberal aka. NPR host: "My readers...."*) independently make the comment that after reading my blog, they didn't know "whether to laugh or cry." And I guess if I had a goal for how I wanted people to feel after reading, that would be it, because in the end I guess, that's how I feel about the world most of the time.

And besides that, I think if you look at literature in general (*face and accent again* "if you look at literature in general") from The Sun Also Rises to The Hobbit you find that in the end, the greatest adventures are almost always really misadventures.

So it's been seven years full of misadventures. And until one of them kills either this blog or me, I look forward––if a little bit apprehensively––to writing about a lot more of them, and hopefully continuing to connect, possibly (emphasis on possibly) inspire and at least entertain along the way––and I say those last three things with much less apprehension than the first.

Thanks so much for reading!



Monday, November 19, 2012

10 things I ask myself while driving home after midnight

For a somewhat complicated and not entirely logical series of reasons, I have ended up living in rural Pennsylvania, while almost my entire social, political and religious life is in Upstate New York. This rather precarious and inefficient arrangement involves lots of commuting. Thus, it is not an uncommon thing for me to find myself two or three nights/wee-hours-of-morning a week driving  the treacherous, twisting route back from Corning or Horseheads, NY to my house in northern PA.

This evening was one of those nights, and aside from listening to music as usual, I also found my mind mulling over a series of deep questions that has slowly evolved over countless nights of driving. I thought it might be interesting to list them here. Perhaps someone out there has answers.

  1. Why must deer look so much like mailboxes?
  2. If privatization would be good for our country, then why is public radio so infinitely better than pop radio? And for that matter:
  3. considering the fact that I hate pop[ular] anything, why the heck do I believe in democracy?
  4. Why must mailboxes look so much like deer?
  5. If LCD Soundsystem spent years planning to break up just so they could feel nostalgic about it, should I really feel nostalgic listening to them?
  6. Considering that coffee and beer were both really acquired tastes for me, why couldn't I have acquired a taste for Folgers and Bud Light instead of Starbucks/artsy[expensive]-local-coffee-house-of-your-choice and Belgian White Beer/concoction-of-artsy[expensive]-local-brewery-of-your-choice? I would be so much richer. 
  7. If the amount of time I spend driving on these back roads late at night raises my probability of hitting a deer, shouldn't I drive faster?
  8. Why are Metric and Passion Pit not on pop radio? I mean really, I understand why most people don't like most of the music I listen to, but I don't understand how more people can't like those. Maybe a government program is the answer. We could call it: "The Department of Good Music," and the Secretary of Good Music would be a cabinet level position––at least whenever a Democrat is in the White House.  
  9.  Why don't I have any friends where I live?
  10. Why don't I live where I have friends?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

One of those weeks

It has been a frustrating, disappointing and generally demoralizing week.

Everything that I was afraid would happen in my post a few weeks ago happened with the exception of this blog being deleted (Google actually did delete it, but I sent them a complaint in which I laid out the same case I made in the afore-mentioned post for why it was ridiculous that they delete my blog, and the next morning they actually sent me an apology of sorts and un-deleted it).

While I suppose that may mean more to me in the distant future, it's a small reprieve compared to losing the YouTube channel––my only anything-like-consistent source of income––and knowing that all the hundreds of hours of work I did on my other channels over the last couple months was probably pointless.

And then there was the election. That was disappointing.

I just finished applying to work at a hospital––in public relations, that is. I figure as long as medicare is around, healthcare is one industry that will be growing. And medicare won't be going anywhere for the next four years.

I don't care much for hospitals, and I always swore I'd never work in one, but this job listing was literally the first job listing in my field of study that I have seen within 80 miles of my home since I started looking in May. So I figured I'd better apply.


This whole living 20 miles from everywhere with no car and almost no money was kind of relaxing for a few months, but it's starting to wear on me now.

Listen to me complain. I mean really, such first-world problems. Most people out there don't have cars, don't worry about not being able to find jobs "in their field of study" and have political leaders who are far worse than ours in many ways.

Still––relative to my own culture expectations––it's been a pretty sucky week.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The closest I'm going to get to saying something political

So it's election day in the U.S.

I'm not going to go into a long tirade about who should win or who I voted for. I just think it's interesting to reflect on how different this voting experience was from the one four years ago.

I've changed quite a bit, and while the way I voted back then ended up being similar to how I did today, it was with much greater reluctance.

Back then, I think my fundamental guiding principle was that everyone should be basically financially equal. No one (at least almost no one) states that as their platform for election, but if you really think about it, it's a basic under-girder of much of the policy out there. That was my chief value, and I felt it was the government's responsibility to enforce that value.

I think that stemmed from the fact that I'm at least a somewhat empathetic person, and the massive inequalities that are out there in this country––let alone the world––lead empathetic people to look for solutions. Government is a solution.

Over the last four years though, I've slowly realized a number of inconsistencies with looking to government as a solution to inequity. At least for me looking to it, that is.

Ever since I was an adult, I've taken a pretty libertarian view of most issues. I think if people want to do drugs, the government shouldn't stop them. I think if people want to marry someone of the same sex, they should be able to. I think if people want to home-school their kids, they should be allowed to. I think if people don't want to get vaccinations, they shouldn't have to. I think if people want to grow their own food, they should be able to.

I DON'T necessarily agree with all of those things personally, but I don't feel it is in any way within the government's right to keep other people from them.

So what of the question of empathy? Because I see inequality in our society and feel bad about it, does that mean I can legislate MY empathy onto those who don't?

Over the last four years, I've slowly started to believe more and more that I can't.

How can the government force someone who doesn't feel empathy to give a large part of their possessions to endeavors that are basically charitable any more than the government can force a gay man to marry a woman, or an atheist to celebrate Easter? I don't think it can.

So if we look at our world and feel empathy, then I think WE should do something about it––not force other people to do something about it.

I'm not going to say who I voted this morning, but I can tell you that I did vote, and with a lot more confidence than I did four years ago. 




Friday, October 26, 2012

The hard not-as-hard part

Well, yesterday I got my test results from the State Department Foreign Service Officer Test. Turns out I passed.

I was/am pretty happy about it, but at the same time, I'm trying to keep in mind that passing the FSOT is only the first battle in a long campaign to actually become an FSO. So while the test was challenging enough, and I spent a few months studying for it, it's almost like "so much for the easy part."

The next stage is basically the analogue to submitting a resume––only instead of a resume it will be six short papers about my experience. That feels like the part I'll have the least personal control over. Sure I'll be writing the responses, but it's not an objectively graded test I can study for, or an interview that I can practice for. I guess I'm kind of thankful for that actually, but it still feels like I have less control than in the other parts of the process.

So anyways, I know I wrote previously that if I passed the test, it was probably still only a 10% chance that I'd make it past the next two levels and––while passing makes it easier to feel more confident now––that estimation is still probably pretty accurate. So it's still really a slim chance.

At any rate though, yesterday's news makes me at least feel a little better about the whole thing, regardless of what happens from here on in (or out).

And I'm super-thankful for all the people who've been supportive of me doing this, from the person who first suggested I look at the State Dept. in college several years ago, to the person who encouraged me to go ahead and take the test this summer, to my parents who were willing to put up with me not doing much but study this summer, to all the people who said their thoughts and prayers were with me taking the test. Thank you! And your thoughts and prayers will be appreciated as I take the next uncertain step into the selection process.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why my blog may go away soon

If anytime in the near future you come here to my blog and you get some kind of page error or redirect from blogger, it will be because Google terminated my account and deleted my blog.

Yes, that is right. It seems I have managed to kindle the wrath of the capricious head god of the internet, Google, and my YouTube channel, gmail account, and most sadly, blog now teeter on the edge of annihilation.

It's a story that goes back three years.

It was 2009, and while I had had a YouTube channel for a couple years before then and tried many series of videos ranging from travel vlogs across Europe to 3D animation software tutorials, I had never encountered run-away success with anything.

Then one evening in early fall, as I was dealing with a huge infestation of mice in my house, I randomly had the idea to set my camera in front of a mousetrap. Five minutes later, I had the video that would define my online money-making career to date. A slow motion video of a Victor™ mousetrap in action.

It wasn't successful overnight, rather it grew slowly but steadily until late 2011 when there was a significant uptick and views went from around 100 to six or seven hundred a day. By this time it was around 200k views and I was earning a steady couple dollars a day from it in advertising revenue.

Then, a few months ago, late this summer, after spending weeks attempting unsuccessfully to start a tech review website and accompanying YouTube channel, I applied a few of the simple traffic and SEO strategies I had learned to the mousetrap video. Views went through the roof and continued to climb, reaching a steady 5-6k by September.

While the video was hugely popular, it wasn't long enough to be effectively monetized. It was late summer so I set some more mousetraps. I got more videos of mousetraps that were longer, meaning more ads could be displayed on them.

While these videos didn't generate much traffic on their own, I became very successful and routing traffic from my one uber-successful video to these, while keeping great audience attention.

My short-term financial goal for adense was to be earning $120 dollars a month by November. That's when my student loan grace-period ends, and I knew I would need that much at least to make the monthly payments. By the time I uploaded my forth mousetrap video, I was tantalizingly close to that with around $100 a month, and I was extremely thankful that despite being chronically unsuccessful at finding employment since I graduated, I now wouldn't have to worry about my student loans.

That was when the problems started.

While all the ratings on my videos have always been overwhelmingly positive (85%+) there has always been a vocal minority––of the militant animal lover type––who were outraged at the videos. YouTube is full of haters and trolls though, so I was never particularly worried about them, and any malicious comments were always shouted down by the vast majority of my viewers who loved my videos.

As my channel became more successful though, some of these angry people started flagging my videos. As I said, my first mousetrap video had been there for three years and received 200k views, during which time Google earned lots of advertising revenue and never had any issue with it.

Then last month, I got a message that one of my videos had been removed for violation of YouTube's community guidelines. There was no option to appeal, and the video fortunately wasn't one of my major revenue sources. So I took the strike on my account and carried on.

A few weeks later I received an email that another, older video had been deleted for community guidelines violation and being my second strick in six months, my account access had been suspended four two weeks. This one was non-sense on stilts, as the video was of a mouse not-getting caught in a trap, and and it wasn't even harmed in anyway. Obviously haters from my other videos had just been going through my account and flagging all my videos regardless of their content, and some half awake Google content screener in India who thinks rats are sacred had approved the flag. I appealed the flag, and YouTube sided with me, removed the strike from my account and reinstated my administrative access.

After the first incident though, I had started making the transition to videos of live-capture traps, hoping that angry animal rights vigilantes would be less likely to sabotage them. And it was working. The same demographic who had been leaving hateful comments on my account before started saying how they "appreciate[d] my ethics."

I also started reviewing traps and posting Amazon affiliate links to them on external websites linked to my videos. My revenue increased several fold, and by two weeks ago, I was comfortably over $100 a week and had a clear-cut path to increasing that by three to five fold in the next couple months.

After almost a year of having no money, financial stability, and maybe even financial independence were finally on the horizon. Last week I invested in about ten new live-capture traps to test and review, and they should be arriving tomorrow in fact.

But last Saturday, things started to unravel.

Another one of my videos––this time one that had been there even longer––was deleted. I contested it, but my appeal was almost instantly denied. So now I'm locked out of my account for two weeks, barred from appealing for 60 days, and have two community guidelines strikes on my account. Which brings me to why I won't be surprised if I lose this blog in the near future.

If I get a third strike, Google will terminate my account. Not just my YouTube account, my entire Google account, meaning gmail, Google+, and, most sadly, my blog. When I first created my accounts on YouTube and Blogger, they were both independent companies. Then Google bought out YouTube, and a short time later blogger as well. So now, a completely unrelated event on my YouTube channel may be about cause the termination of my blog. (I feel like this holds some kind of geopolitical analogy for protecting the sovereignty of nations, but I won't go into that).

The obvious solution to ensure my Google account doesn't go on the chop-block is to manually remove the remaining video of a lethal mousetrap in action. Unfortunately, I can't even do that for two weeks because my administrative rights are gone––giving some Google employee somewhere a chance to kick me while I'm down if they so desire, and delete my account while I don't even have the option of doing what they want me to do to rectify the situation.

Assuming that doesn't happen (which it may) and my account survives the 12 days left to me regaining access, I will have a very tough choice.

The one video that I feel may be in danger of getting me another strike is also my flagship video. That is, the one that generates the 5-6k views a day that I can then re-route through my other videos. The live trap videos may be producing lots of revenue, but they can't if no-one watches them. So if I delete my flagship video, my revenue will basically go away. Of course I can undelete it in six months when the strikes expire, but just stop and think how much money I will have lost by then:

$100 a week for six months.

That's like $3,000. And that's assuming no increase in revenue growth––and there has been a steady increase for the last four months. If it keeps up at the rate it has, I should be earning more like $300 a month by the beginning to 2013. And that's not counting the loss in momentum from removing the video and the re-publicizing it. There's no guarantee I'd ever even get back to $100 a month and the end of the six-month hibernation.

So I have to ask my self the question: Is guaranteeing the safety of my blog worth a possible $10,000+ loss? Is it even worth a definite loss of $3,000––when that's currently the only thing making my student loan payments?

I think on the stock market they call that the decision between "extreme fear" (doing the obsessively safe thing) and "extreme greed" (doing the extremely risky but profitable thing). Only in world markets I believe they want to strike a balance between those two. I don't seem to have a balance available.

I don't know what I'll decide, and this is really all getting to me a lot more than I should be letting it. But that's all my problem. I just wanted to let you know what was up, in the event that this blog is no longer here next time you look for it.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weather From the West

I know I already did a post devoted to fall-leaf photos, but that was at the beginning of peak, and now it's toward the end, which is also beautiful in its own way. And there honestly isn't a whole lot else going on that's worth blogging about. It's also been a pretty schizophrenic day weather-wise,  making for some interesting light. So here goes:

My sister taking here own photos of the leaves.

A front of rain coming in from the west this afternoon.
The house––approaching front visible behind.

The lamp by my door after the first rain-shower.

Some mustard reflecting the sun in the four-acre field.

My Grandpa Tom about to go hunting. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In the Ruins of a Dying Empire


Sometimes I feel like a scavenger living in the ruins of a dying empire. Kind of like those people in The Book of Eli. 

Last night I felt like that when I reinstalled Adobe Creative Suite––albiet a very old version––on my computer.

I could never actually afford it, so instead I spent the night in the garage turned de facto office below the room I live in, trolling through stacks of paperwork and boxes full of tax returns, receipts and business cards for businesses long since dead to find the install disks buried at the bottom of a towering stack of banker's boxes.

It's like that with a lot of things.

My family has a really nice house and a couple very nice cars (though they no longer work that well). If you come in, there are lots of expensive looking iMac's sitting around on most available surfaces, an office work-station HP, a couple modestly sized but nice flat screen TVs, and some really nice office furniture that has now found a civilian use.

The furniture and the HP should give it away. None of this––not the cars, or the computers, or even the TVs––was really intended to be ours. It was all originally at my Dad's office.

Before 2008, the office in Mansfield was an exciting, bustling place. A third of the people in the church I go to worked there and there was literally a million dollars worth of inventory sitting in the lot in front of it, organized in compulsively perfect lines and washed (that was part of my job) so that the dust from the busy Route 6 that ran by wouldn't damage it. Customers came in on an hourly basis, and during peak which was usually between August and December (the business sold high-end wood and pellet heating systems) there were so many people calling in wanting information that on days we wanted to get anything done, we had to disconnect the phone system and put a closed sign on the door. We all spent the better part of our summers working trade shows around New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio and my Dad would sometimes invite me on business trips to places as far away as Northern Manitoba (some of my best memories with my Dad).

Then Fall of 2008 happened––and nobody would buy anything.

The million dollars of inventory out front turned from a source of excitement to a source of terror, as most of it was financed through GE Money, which faltered, got bailed out by the Feds, and passed on the grace by killing credit and hiking interest rates for all the people who owed it money. My friends from church were one by one laid-off.

The office was eventually vacated to a building up the road from my family's house so that the nicer one in Mansfield could be rented to a company of gas engineers. But a few months ago they left––along with the entire real-estate market––so it sits abandoned on a Route 6 that's busier than ever before, and the one of up the road from our house that the business was relocated to burned to the ground. So all that's left of the business is a website from which you can't actually buy anything, the leather furniture in my family's living room, the computers and banker's boxes on the floor in the garage above which I live, and about half a million dollars of debt.

So last night, as I loaded a suite of expensive-if-dated design software onto my computer to use in my own as-yet-to-be-successful money making endeavors, I was thankful for it. Just like I'm thankful for the ikea office chair I'm sitting on as I write this, the high-end boiler UPS I have my laptop plugged into as a surge-protector, the Sony TV I play Halo on and the iMac's that my younger brother and sisters are doing their school with over at my parent's house.

But more and more often I get the feeling of being a scavenger living in the ruins of a dying empire.

Friday, October 05, 2012

As It Should Be

A tree along a road beside our house.
This morning I had a great dream but got woken up in the middle by somebody driving past my house. I went over to my parents house and ate breakfast as usual.

I was about to go back to my place and start going through yesterday's metrics from YouTube, AdSense and Amazon as I normally do when I had this sudden urge to go for a walk outside instead. So I walked up Old Post Lane to where the Inn––a house we used to live in was before it burned down.

It was beautiful.

The Inn looked out across a valley and you can see just about all of Coryland Pennsylvania from there. The leaves are almost at peak, and I got there just in time to hear––then see––the first flock of geese heading south across the valley. Seems ironic as it's been unseasonably warm the last four days, but I guess they know what's coming, whereas humans like me can trick themselves into thinking it's supposed to be this way.

I didn't take a camera this morning, but yesterday afternoon I did something very similar, and took some photos.

The clouds were making patches of light and
shadow on the ground, and while it made getting the right
exposure a challenge I thought the interplay
between them was pretty striking.

Another one with that going on.

So snapdragons aren't leaves, but I couldn't resist.

Evergreen vs. deciduous. The age old battle. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Misha's Space Bears

A few weeks ago, I watched a somewhat sensationalist but still interesting documentary about tardigrades––the tiny extremophile organisms that live on tree bark and have been proven to survive in space. I was fascinated enough by it that I ended up showing it to my Mom, who subsequently showed it to my sister Misha.

I didn't think much more about tardigrades until last night, when I got home from taking the FSOT in State College (went well I think, but won't know for three weeks now) and found Misha staring into a microscope––where she had apparently been for almost an hour.

That afternoon she had gone out in the yard with her pocket knife, found some moss, prepared a slide, and now, discovered a tardigrade, in our yard!

It was cool enough that I decided to try and take some photos of it, and after some trial and error, was impressed with how well a point and shoot camera was able to capture images from the microscope eyepiece.

It was mostly impressed with Misha though. This was the kind of thing I always dreamed about doing when I was her age but never actually did. It makes me wonder what she'll find next.

Of course I have no idea if she'll stay interested in science. But she certainly seems to be off to a good start!

And if nothing else, we now know that we have tardigrades (tardigrade means "water bear" in Latin) in our yard.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Affiliate Ducks

It's strange. I had like nothing to do for two and a half months, and now I have more to do than I know what to do with.

Well maybe not quite that much, but it seems like a lot relative to how it's been. It's funny how that goes. To a point it seems like my level of stress is the same if I'm doing one thing a week or 30. To a point. There was only one season in my life that I can remember being so busy that I literally had NO time. And all I really remember from that period is wanting to die. So I'd rather not repeat that.

Still, it's good to have something to do again.

This week I got a contract (I'm calling it that even though there isn't technically a 'contract'––most of the 'contractors' that I've known in my life never actually had contracts) to do a promo video for an organization out in the wilderness about an hour west of us. It was all thanks to an old friend/former sort-of-coworker from church who showed them my demo-reel without me even asking him to. So I've spent yesterday and today over there discussing what it should be like with them.

Today I took Misha, my sister, over with me to play with a girl she happens to know there. We ended up waiting for a while, so I showed her around the property, which is really beautiful. It rained a bit though, so we ended up inside with all the stuffed animals.

Also this week, I picked up a job posting (not writing, just posting) articles and reviews on a website for another friend/former sort-of-boss from church who has been building this affiliate marketing empire online. Will probably be only a few hours a week, but hopefully I'll learn some stuff from it that I can apply to my own attempts to make money that way.

And I'm studying for the FSOT.

I've been doing that for like three months now on and off. Haven't really told a ton of people about it, first because I don't know if I'll pass, and even if I do, passing is only about 10% of the battle. It doesn't mean you get to be a Foreign Service Officer, it basically just means you have the right to apply to be a Foreign Service Officer. So that's October 1.

The second reason is I don't want people to start thinking that I'm some sort of professionally unemployed test-taker––after I randomly took the LSAT this spring. The difference is I did that just to see if I could. I've never wanted to be a lawyer. I have, on the other hand, thought working for the State Department would be awesome since at least my first semester at Bryan... which is almost three years ago now. Wow. Has it really been that long?

Friday, September 14, 2012

My Gray Colorful Life

Life just seems to work for some people.

In saying that, I don't mean that my life doesn't work. Obviously I've had a tremendously blessed one compared to the vast majority of people throughout time and space. But there are some discrepancies that make me stop and think sometimes.

I have a few friends and relatives––by no means all of them, but a fair group––who I've always felt see life in a very black and white way, and have lived lives to back their views up.

They're talented in the same areas that  they have interest in, and are able to turn those interests into occupations. They have plans that work. They're attracted to people who are attracted to them, and generally mary their high-school sweethearts and all that. And while I'm not saying they don't struggle, they generally see less of a discrepancy between what they believe about God, life and the world and their own experience of those things.

I'm not jealous of those people (in fact I'm usually very, very happy for them) but when I look from them to my own life, it gives me pause sometimes. 

When I was a little kid, the only thing I was really interested in was science. I loved reading about the world––or rather having my Mom read about it to me because I'm dyslexic and couldn't read till I was about 13. And so I wanted to be a scientist. Preferably an environmental biologist. 

Then I got to high-school, and right about the time I finally learned to read, I discovered I had huge problems with higher math––to the point that I couldn't even pass high-school chemistry. So there went the scientist thing. 

When I went to college (after half a year of indecision and fear) I decided to major in anthropology as the next best thing. It was basically science, it involved research, but it didn't require chemistry, or calculus, or anything other than the remedial algebra class that I had to have hours of tutoring to get through. A couple years into that though and I realized the only practical application for it after school was more school, and then eventually becoming a college professor, which I had no interest in doing. 

At that point, I pretty much said screw-it to whatever I was interested in, transfered schools and changed my major to communications. I guess I'm still trying to figure out if I can actually do anything with that. 

On a different but related front, the only girl I liked all through my teens had no interest in me, and even if she did, we were completely incompatible in many, many ways.

In college, the only girl I ever tried to date pretty much rejected me (okay, it was more complicated than rejected but in the end I would have probably preferred that to what happened). 

I could give more examples, but the reason I'm writing this isn't to complain that I've somehow had a depressing life of failure, but that I feel like it's been a very convoluted life. 

The things I've been successful at have generally been seemingly random things that I wasn't even planning on succeeding at. Sometimes to the point that it seems absurd. "I hiked the Lebanon Mountain Trail and produced an award winning documentary about it.... Wait, I did what?"

Likewise, I've had many people, from English professors to journalists tell me I'm a good writer (something you can easily and unequivocally discount by reading this blog). But I can't remember ever wanting to write... anything really. 

Why is it that things I want to do are almost always things that I can't do, and vice-versa? Why is it not that way for some people? Why is it only black and white for them?

Occasionally I think it's better this way. Sometimes I even like to flatter myself and think that I have a more colorful life. But other times I wonder if it's just more gray. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"And money answers everything...."

So it's been a really, really long time since I posted.

I think part of the reason is after my Beowulf post,  I got so many compliments and responses that the idea of coming up with anything that would top or compare to it seemed exhausting.

Getting traffic and attention isn't ever what I wanted this blog to be about. So sorry about that.

The other, probably bigger reason though, is that for the first time all summer, I have been really, intensely busy working on a big project.

It's actually several projects, but they all fit together into one big scheme or organism.

For the last two years I've been making a little bit of money from Google Adsense for YouTube, and two weeks ago, two things happened that caused me to try and scale my efforts on there to the next level.

The first was traffic on my personal YouTube channel increasing dramatically, to where I was consistently getting over 3k views a day.

The second was meeting a friend, and former boss who has been using Adsense in conjunction with affiliate marketing programs to the point that he's completely replaced his income with it.

So Sunday before last, I registered the domain name, ProsumerReviews.com, and throughout the course of the week designed a website, hosted it on the domain, created a YouTube channel with the same name, and wrote four in-depth product reviews, three of which have now turned into review videos that I've posted on the channel.

It's pretty simple really. The trouble with my old channel was that even though it is quite heavily trafficked, the videos aren't about things that are easily or effectively monetized. So my new channel is about digital video cameras and recording equipment––as is the website that it links to.

If I can just get the level of traffic on the ProsumerReviews channel that I have on my personal channel, then I'll be in serious business. The trick will be getting there. It took me a few years to get my personal channel to where it is, and I haven't yet thought of a good way to leverage that momentum over to the new one.

The cool part about these things is once you get them set up, they will continue to pay you constantly for a long period of time whether you continue to do much work on them or not. And that's financial freedom... something I think we all want.

It's probably a long road to that. Right now my monthly take is only barely enough to cover my student loan payments. Not enough to stop looking for other jobs, or even to fix my car's transmission probably. But that's something at least.

At any rate, all that's what I'm working on––almost constantly––right now.

Friday, August 31, 2012

In a Blue Moon


Tonight is a blue moon.

Two nights ago as I was out running––because I was in a dark mood and that's what I do when I'm in a dark mood; but that's beside the point––I reached the spot where I usually turn around back to the west and noticed that the sun was setting. Looking down at my shoes and the gravel as I ran I saw they were all bathed in this fantastic light that alternated somewhere between orange and crimson and rose. Realizing the only thing more beautiful than the sunset itself must be the hills behind me in that light, I turned back to the east, still running––(I wouldn't particularly recommend or endorse running backwards––by the way). While the landscape was breathtaking, I was even more impressed by the  moon rising as the sun was setting, and thought how big and beautiful it looked. Then I ran seven more miles trying to forget whatever was bothering me, and also forgot about the moon.

I had completely forgotten what I had known the first of this month. That is, that August this year would have two full moons, and didn't think of it again until this evening after supper when my Mom mentioned it. Only an hour later, it appeared.

There was a huge bonfire in our yard for some reason, so to snap some photos away from the light, I walked out into the field just above our garden. I took a number of shots with the f-number tuned way up and the shutter speed slowed down that were sharp and clear, and showed the craters or 'mares' on the surface and everything that a good moon-picture is supposed to show. But I was really unimpressed with them. They'll never be as good as others that you could just google. So instead I chose this one that is as far out of focus and blurry as it could possibly be. If you just look at it fast I think it gives you a better feeling of what it really was like.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beowulf the Wilber

About six months ago I took a course on the history of the English language. While I had trouble keeping a few of my friends awake through it, there were several parts that I thought were genuinely interesting. One of those was the origin of English names. My family on my Dad's side is English, so it prompted me to do some research into the history of Wilber. 

Most English last-names it seems, are either trade names like Miller, Baker, Forester, Cooper etc. or Norman (aka French) Aristocratic names like Stewart, Williams, etc. Wilber, it turns out, is neither of those things. It isn't Norman. William Wilberforce, for instance, was part of the British House of Commons, not the House of Lords, meaning that he wasn't a "Lord," suggesting being of non-Norman descent.

Further research turned up a book, The Wildbores in America, published by John Reid Wilbor in 1869. It is the only attempt I know of to list a complete genealogy of the family, and contains the info for all Wilbers, Wilburs and Wilbors living in the U.S. before 1869. All the variations in spelling, according to the book, derive from the original form, Wildbore.

Wildbore or Wyldbore is an Old English word, thus confirming my belief that it isn't Norman––Old English predates the Norman Conquest of 1066. And it means just what it sounds like: Wild Boar. In fact, according to Roger-Cyndy Wilber––who just happened to be superviser for the NYS Research Library's preservation unit––the 1st edition of The Wildbores in America (which I have unfortunately been unable to find online) contains the Wildbore family crest––"two wild boars on either side of a trefoil."

While I was happy to find out Wilber was Anglo-Saxon, not Norman (I mean really, who likes the Normans?), the meaning of the name brought up a whole new range of questions. As I said before, Wild Boar doesn't really seem likely as a trade name. So if the Wild Boars weren't Norman overlords, but were important enough to have a family crest, and apparently were interesting enough to not be named after some form of menial labor, it begs the question: Who were these people?

The only key I could think of had to be in the place the wild boar––the animal itself that is––held in pre-Norman Anglo-Saxon culture. According to everything I read, the boar was considered to be the most ferocious beast in the forest of Ancient Briton and played an important, if not central role in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon and Norse Mythology. It was also a popular symbol for warriors.

So there. Anglo-Saxon Warriors. If the Wildbore family crest is a shield with boars on it, Wilber is an Anglo-Saxon name, and there were specific Anglo-Saxon clans or even individual warriors who shared the boar insignia on their armor, then it seemed the logical step in finding out the origin of the Wilber Family would be to see if there were any records of who these warriors were.

I searched for documents containing 'Wild-Boar+Saxon+Warrior,' and can you guess what turned up across the board? Beowulf. While there were a few other results, such as a Viking warrior cult of the Svinfylking and an account King Alfred in battle, the earliest, and most pervasive one was the famous Old English Warrior Epic, Beowulf.

In the story, Beowulf's battle helmet is described as "wonderfully formed, beset with swine forms so that it then no blade nor battle-swords to bite were able...." (John Porter's translation, lines 1452-1454).

So Beowulf was my ancestor? Well... probably not. I have to qualify by saying I realize Beowulf was most likely not a real person. Rather the story of unknown authorship was probably based on the archetypes set by multiple people.

I do feel it's at least probable though, that if a number of warriors did exist who were Anglo-Saxon, and used what they in their own language would have called the Wildbore as their symbol, that some of them were the founders of the Wilber family as it exists today. And being descended from ancient pagan Anglo-Saxon warriors is pretty cool––even if it isn't possible to prove they were Beowulf.

credit: abdn.ac.uk
And on the other hand, maybe it won't always be impossible to prove. More and more evidence has been discovered that validates the stories within Beowulf, like the viking burial ships that have been discovered in the UK that scholars previously thought were only a myth. Or this Anglo-Saxon battle helmet. It has a Wildbore on top.









Monday, August 20, 2012

Reeling

A couple days ago I went ahead and did something I'd been thinking about for a long time: Created a demo-reel.

It doesn't seem like it should be that hard. It's mainly just a mashup of two-to-five second clips from films and promo-videos I've already completed, after all. For some reason sorting through my past 14 months of work and making choices about what to include seemed daunting to me. Seemingly arbitrary decisions are always the most exhausting.

Then there was the issue of a soundtrack. I couldn't find any legally usable music I liked for it, so in the end I finally buckled down and turned DJ for an hour and to cook up a little down-beat electronica thing. Was actually surprisingly rather happy with how it turned out.

Then came the painful part: Decided what to included and how to order it. I decided that the first half would––in general––focus on people, and the second half––in general––on places. Because I go through close to ten videos in two minutes it plays a bit choppy, but I decided I would rather have that than risk doing something cheesy with transitions. If you have a minute, feel free to take a look.



Andrew Wilber Demo Reel 1.2 from Andrew Wilber on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Under the Perseids

It's been a long time since my last post. Really quite an unacceptably long time.

It certainly isn't that I haven't done anything––although I haven't been terribly busy either. I think the main challenge was that the things I did kept me away from home, making it less likely that I'd blog. At the same time, those things have been of the kind that are difficult to concisely describe in a blog post.

Last weekend, for instance, was really fun. I spent it with my family at a friend's house where I had a marvelous time running around on hay-bales, sleeping on the grass under the falling stars during a meteor shower––the Perseids I think, and playing music in a drum circle for several thousand NASCAR fans who were stuck in traffic on the road next to their house, which runs right by the Watkins Glen Racetrack.

So it was a great time, but also a sprawling time that I'm far too lazy to write about in a way that would attempt to capture its essence in any compelling sense.

A few days before that, I went to a Mumford & Sons concert in Canandaigue, which was a phenomenal experience as well. We were in cheap seats; or rather non-seats as it was more of a field. But I ended up being glad we were where we were, because we could see the shooting stars falling behind––as it were––the stage. There are lots of shooting stars in August. Of course sometimes they were hard to see through the cloud of cannabis smoke that was hovering over the entire audience, but I'm sure that only made it better for some people. Mumford & Sons were phenomenal––even without pot, which, as one of the few people on the hillside who was not smoking, I can say with honesty.

This afternoon I just returned from Maryland. I was helping a friend who was helping his girlfriend move to New York, and so I spent a day and night in a suburb of Baltimore. It was the first time I can remember being in Maryland for any reason other than driving through it. And usually driving through it at the narrowest point, which takes about 15 minutes.

Packing the van was quite an experience––as the furniture was solid oak and all on the second floor. But I think that experience was matched in intensity by the adventure of getting the van out of the city. I had only limited experience driving in cities. That changed. Driving behind in a car, I think I intentionally cut off about a thousand people on a dozen occasions to let the van merge in front of me.

It was all fun though. After last weekend I felt like I wasn't ready to be home just yet. It may be a little adventure in the sketchier satellites of a major metropolis was all I needed. Spending the night there was fun too. You couldn't see the stars though. Maybe they'd all fallen by then.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Demon-Mouse Saga Part II

Judging by the traffic-share received by my last post about the mouse that had taken up residence in my bedroom and seemed inconceivably able to rob traps with complete impunity, if you read this blog even infrequently, chances are you know what I'm talking about.  If not, here is the link.

While I attempted to "live trap" the wily rodent the night after it successfully jumped free of two springing traps in a row, that failed just as miserably. I placed a piece of chocolate on top of a precariously balanced piece of tissue paper over the mouth of a Mason jar. The mouse somehow managed to get it off without falling in, so there was no live trap.

Last evening, my grandpa, who heard I had a mouse problem, brought up a bag full of rat poison. I wasn't looking forward to using it, not only because I'd rather not have rat poison laying around my room, but also because I've always felt like poisoning the little guys is a bit low (at least compared to an old-fashioned mouse trap). It didn't look like I had many alternatives though.

Then, just a few minutes after my grandpa left, and long before I made up my mind about the poison, I heard a noise in my closet. This was unusual as mice typically wait until the wee hours of the morning to come out and wreak havoc, and it was only early evening. I set out the trap though––and the camera. Only about a minute later, this happened:




It looks like the battle is over. But the war is still coming. It's barely even August, and mice don't usually become a problem here until late September!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

How the government is killing marketing jobs

[Advisory - this post contains vague political references. I usually try to stay away from politics entirely on this blog, but once in a blue moon, I become upset enough about something to break my rule. And this month is a blue moon. No, really, it is. Look it up.]

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I majored in communication studies and always thought of it as a practical field. If not the media side of it, then at least the marketing and business side of it. Anything that sounds that boring has to be practical, right? I also remember a time, close to when I started school, when at least half the adults I knew did something that could be considered marketing or brand related. So a month or so ago, when I decided to temporarily moth-ball my media aspirations and look for marketing careers, I expected to find a much deeper field of openings. To my surprise and consternation, there wasn't. Not only was there surprisingly little online, but when I started asking around, most of my older, more experienced acquaintances who worked in the field had been laid off.

While 95% of my disappointing job search for marketing positions took place on the web and around the country, I did casually talk to a few people locally about opportunities. One of them was a friend who works for a contracting company that updates comercial hardware to new state energy efficiency standards. When I heard they were expanding, I asked him if they do any marketing (hinting that I might be interested). He replied that they "don't do that." Even though they are an independent company, the program they run is initiated by the state, so they get contracts straight from the state organization––which takes care of all of the incentivizing people to want the job done. No marketers needed.

This isn't just the story with my friend's business. So many of the companies I've looked at, whether they're health-care, environment or financial, while not controlled by the government, cater very closely to the ever expanding web of government incentives and mandates. And why shouldn't they? If those incentives and mandates create demand––artificial or not––it's only natural that they would rush to supply that demand. It's what business does. And politicians can thus correctly point to those incentives and mandates creating jobs. Reason for celebration (and re-election), right?

But what is marketing based on? Marketing is based on persuasion. It's the art of using persuasive communication and rhetoric to convince people to willingly use a product or service.

So what happens if people are forced to use a product or service? Marketing becomes irrelevant. That's what happens with tax incentives and industry mandates. The government doesn't say: "Buy this because it will save you money," or "because you'll be sexy" or "because it's right." The government just says: "Buy this or go home." Thus––and correct me if my logic is wrong––the more products and services that are mandated in our country, the less marketing will be needed. And I think we can safely say that products and services in general are becoming more incentivized and mandated by the government; not less.

There is hope though. To my unemployed graphic artist, web-developer, script-writer, social media guru, advertiser and other persuasive communication minded comrades I say this: There is a silver lining to the cloud. Once government involvement in consumer affairs and individual lives has reached its historic climax, you will find your services in great demand. The Party Ministry of Propaganda will be recruiting the brightest and the best with open arms. All you have to do is make sure now that you are in the right party, and naturally by 'right' I don't actually mean 'right,' I mean 'left.'

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Demon-Mouse in my bedroom

Yesterday my pastor preached a sermon on the Kingdoms of Light and Darkness, exegeting Mark 5. In this passage Jesus encounters the man Legion who could not be trapped or bound by any mortal power––and then casts the demons out, whence they went into pigs. After the service, I stayed in New York all day to eat lunch with friends, watch Batman, and attend a bonfire at one of their houses. After an altercation with the Corning Fire Department––the entire Corning fire department––I decided to head back across the state line early and catch up on some things at home. Little did I know that my peaceful night was about to be haunted by an apparently demon possessed mouse. My battle against the forces of evil involved four mouse traps and lasted until two in the morning. While I will refrain from describing the battle for much the same reasons that C. S. Lewis refused to publish a sequel to The Screwtape Letters, one chapter of the cosmic struggle that took place in my closet last night is chronicled below in this series of hidden-camera photographs.






And he walks away, unscathed. Again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Climb Every Mountain

A friend of mine, Alex, is really into climbing mountains––particularly in the Adirondack Range. When I got back from Tennessee this summer he invited me to go with him on his next trip, but because of one thing ore another, it kept getting put off.

This Saturday it looked like it was finally going to happen though, and we made the five or six hour drive north to Adirondack Loj––the intentionally misspelled hiking base a few miles from Lake Placid.

As Lake Placid is one of my parents (and I guess mine too) favorite vacation spots, I had been in the area many times and even hiked one of the easier climbs that branches out from Loj. Never anything super intense though.

Saturday was different, as we had tentative plans two summit two mountains; Algonquin and Iroquois.

The hike up Algonquin was pretty challenging. While I was expecting it to be long and pretty steep, the smooth rock faces that that have just low enough a gradient for you to walk on them without falling backwards were tiring.

We also got off to a late start (about 3:45am instead of 3) and were moving pretty fast to make up for it and have time for both summits.

Safe to say, by the time we got to the top, I was pretty exhausted. The view was beautiful though, and after eating lunch at the top, we decided we could make it to Iroquois too.


Iroquois didn't turn out to be nearly as far as I was afraid it would be. While it had taken us almost three hours to get from Loj to the summit of Algonquin, Iroquois was essentially on the same ridge, and only took about half an hour to reach.

The climb down went––obviously––faster than the assent, and all said and done, we finished the entire climb an hour ahead of schedule, which was nice, considering that we had almost a six hour drive back.

It was a long day, but it was also fun. And the scenery was as breathtaking as usual in the Adirondacks. Just as we finished the final slog up the side of Algonquin and collapsed on the summit, I saw this bird [above]. It was flying like you would see it fly high on a thermal in the air above a parking lot or river or something––only we were on level with it now. I was honestly too out of it right at that moment to appreciate it very much, but the photo looks cool.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Human After All

It's always a weird experience when you spend years liking something and let it become a part of your life without knowing anyone else who knows what it is. And even weirder when you then suddenly end up in a place with a bunch of people who love it as much or more than you do.

With the internet becoming what it is right at the time I was starting to become what I am, I often found myself looking beyond my own peer group for all things art and music related.

Growing up in a small, fiercely paternalistic and culturally xenophobic evangelical community in rural northern Pennsylvania, this was a huge blessing as it allowed me develop a diversity of tastes and likes that would have otherwise probably been limited to Country or CCM.

At the same time, it was a curse, because it caused me to become alienated from whatever tiny shreds of ability to relate to those around me that I may have had before. I would frequently become a fan of something, and spend years being the only fan I knew of it.

One of those things was a band that would become one of my favorites. LCD Soundsystem.

I bought my first couple of their tracks after hearing them on a videogame soundtrack. Later, when I went to Europe the first time for a semester––also my first time away from home––I listened to more of their music, and it seemed to take on a new meaning for me.

And that's how it's always been. Whether it was driving home from a good party early in the morning, feeling lost in a foreign country, or dealing with the death of a friend, their music always seemed to meet me where I was.

And all that time, I didn't know a single other person, at least in real life, who had ever heard of James Murphy or the band LCD Soundsystem.

Their concerts were always 300+ miles away, and if they ever came closer, it was for music festivals that I didn't have time or money to go to (not to mention that kind of thing tends to be awkward by yourself). So LCD Soundsystem came and went without me ever interacting with anyone else about them.

Last night I drove to Ithaca (by myself) to see SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS, which is a documentary about the band's final show and the days preceding and following it. I normally wouldn't have driven that far just to watch a movie, but if you know me, you know documentary film is my favorite kind, and the subject was obviously something I like.

I got there an hour early, and after walking around the Commons––which is interesting even on a Wednesday night––stopping by Starbucks and then Ithaca Ale House, I made my way down the dark alleyway that led to the art theater where it was being shown.

It was crowded inside––so much so that the people who frequented the theater seemed surprised by it. I got in line, and then realized that all of the other people there were in line for the same room as me.

The film was great. Totally worth the drive. But I think the weirder, and more memorable part of the experience for me, was, after six years, finally being in a room with 200 other people who liked LCD Soundsystem. They were out there after all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The RE-Re-re-launch

While I've technically been unemployed since coming back from school beginning of this summer, I've been working on a number of projects for a number of different people and groups. One of these has been Common Grace Inc.––a company my Dad and several others started seven or so years ago to market a local crystal jewelry piece called SOUL®.

While the business is being relaunched, the piece itself has been around for more than ten years. So as part of the launch, we interviewed a number of early customers who have owned it since the beginning, asking what it has come to mean to them over the years.

I filmed the interviews and used the footage as part of a video for the website. It's been done for a few weeks, but is just finally posted now. Take a look if you have a few minutes.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

An honest darkness

I need something to get me excited about life again.

Last night I finished For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. It was amazing. Best book I've read in at least a couple years. In fact, while I can't ever remember getting so wrapped up in a book before that I couldn't put it down, as it were, I couldn't put this one down––at least not for the last eight or nine chapters. It was gripping, poignant––and also extremely and profoundly depressing.

Books that I think are great usually have to speak to me in some way, and this one spoke to all of the despondency, meaninglessness and the darkly ironic sense that only what I think shouldn't happen will happen. Things that I tend to teeter on the edge of most days.

I know I should probably stick to literature––and music too for that matter––that denies those feelings instead of affirming them. But I tend to come away feeling insulted by books that deny them. And so I inevitably gravitate toward the other ones. The ones like Candide last Christmas, A Thousand Splendid Suns a few years ago, or my all time favorite book, Till We Have Faces, one of the very small number of books I've read twice.

I don't like things that are morbidly dark. I can't stand horror books, or horror movies, or death-metal. Glorifying pain isn't any more honest than pretending it doesn't exist. But it's the books that are honestly dark. The ones that don't deny that there is beauty in the world, that there is goodness in people, and in God––but also that the world is full of pain, and darkness, and irony, and maybe, just maybe the balance doesn't quite add up.

Those are the books that get me.

And I've been gotten.

That combined with a few, very very minor let-downs this week, has me feeling down. I wouldn't say I'm quite depressed. Just not very excited about life.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bradford County Brutality OR That awkward moment you realize you're about to be on TV

I've been blogging for seven years now. A couple years back I decided to limit posts to things that I felt would be interesting to people besides myself. I know that's a very subjective criterion, but it was more than I had before. This caused my number of posts to drop dramatically––as there often just weren't that many things I felt would be interesting in my life. Tonight my problem is different though. There are too many interesting things that have happened since my last post. A photo-shoot with Tommy Hilfiger's sister, narrowly escaping getting gang-raped by serial RV'ers in Weedsport NY, Kayaking in Keuka Lake and nearly hijacking the Keuka Maid. All of these could be interesting stories in their own right. So I'm left having to resort to story-telling-triage by picking only the event that I feel is most compelling and best documented. The winner is: attending a protest against police brutality and judicial corruption centering around the arrest and incarceration of Robert Leone.

Robert is a man from Vestal NY who was arrested near Towanda PA in 2010, after not pulling over for a state trooper (the ensuing "car chase" reached the speed of about 45 miles per hour). When Robert finally was run off the road, the by this time five troopers in pursuit commenced to tase him, stomp on him, and do a number of other things that while not visible in the squad-car dashboard video were sufficient to leave him looking like he does in the prison mugshot below––and that was after he had been to the hospital.

There are numerous conspiracy theories and accusations surrounding the case ranging from the police beating him in the hospital to all out corruption within the Bradford County judicial system denying him parol until it was too late to file charges against the state police.

I tend to be fairly skeptical toward things like this, and would assume that at least half of what is said is untrue. In this case though, if even 10% of it is true––and I think at least 10% of it is verifiably true––I think it's worth being upset about. That said, I've always wanted to participate in some kind of a public demonstration. I have a hard time finding groups that I agree with enough to feel okay about it though. So when my friend Frank posted on facebook the night before asking if anyone wanted to come with him, I said I was in. Even though it meant getting up at five in the morning.

We arrived in Towanda a little before seven. There were only about nine people there, but we started anyways, even though it seemed a little awkward.

Slowly more and more people trickled in, and things got more intense.

As one would expect, while about 80% of the protestors were people who followed the case and were outraged about it specifically, the event was a draw for anyone and everyone with some grievance against the Bradford County judicial or criminal justice systems––which is to say there were some interesting characters.

Everything stayed peaceful and orderly though, and by eleven thirty, there were closer to a hundred people. That was when the media showed up in force.

There had been a reporter there from the Towanda Daily Review for most of the morning, but by noon, every TV news station for 80 miles (which is to say, two or three) had a crew there.

When they showed up, things took on an entirely different flavor.
While most people seemed enthused by their appearance––and showed it in their protesting––I was a little unsure about being on local news at any kind of political demonstration. So I swapped my sign out for my DSLR and took photos––something there were a lot of photographers doing at the point, making it easy to blend in. 


While this may have been a less-than-daring thing to do, it did give me a chance to get a lot of shots and footage of the event, so rather than pushing this post any further beyond the length acceptable for a readable blog, I will simply let the rest stand as a sort of photo essay of the experience. I also compiled some of the video I shot into a short, minimally edited video, that you can view here if you're interested.