Friday, January 30, 2015

Tipping the garbage guys

As I was pulling out of my nabe this chilly morning, I found myself behind a municipal truck with a couple of guys in day-glo vests collecting yard waste.  One of the two guys had hopped off and was collecting a bit of scrub, and there was a bit more than he could get in one armload. Maybe I'm just projecting, but his body language to me conveyed fear, because it was rush hour time, and here I was, a guy in a white shirt and a tie (I'm headed to Victor's memorial service later) in a silver Prius -- which conveys its own attitude.  I rolled down my window and said "you're good!" and then, as they pulled away up Ridgecrest, I rolled down my other window and called out to both of the guys "have a great day!"  They were visibly enthused, and waved and smiled and called back to me.

I have often thought about tipping the garbage guys.  We now tip school teachers, newspaper delivery people, baristas, etc.  These people are all worthy of some sort of gratuity, to differing degrees, but the people riding on the outside of those stinky trucks more so than most.  The trick is, how could you do it?  Unlike the newspaper people, they can't leave notes telling us about their lives and how to send money to them.*

Sometimes waste handlers work for outsourced companies like Waste Management or North Carolina's own Waste Industries.  Most of these firms have implemented good processes to use mechanical arms to pick up trash and recycling without a human jumping off the truck.  That's part of another thread about automation and low-paying jobs disappearing.  Forget about them.

Back to the guys riding the trucks in the cold.  How can we tip them?  This is a worthy question.

*Now that I think of it, how do I actually know that the note left in my driveway around the holidays is from the actual newspaper person?  That would be a great scam.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A few words about Cary

So, honestly, I really do my best to stay positive about Cary, to seek out the best stuff there.  I had lunch with Gina at Belle a few months ago, and that was pretty nice.  When I needed to have a coffee with a professor from State, I suggested La Farm rather than a Starbucks he mentioned, because Our State magazine (to which I have recently subscribed -- yes, gentle reader, I am that old) said it had the best bread. It was a little disappointing to realize that La Farm was the place that baked bread we get at Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, but what can you do.  We like the bread, there was just no discovery to be had.

So when, at lunch the other day, I saw that Cary magazine was having its annual best of issue, I thought I'd check it out.  And what did I find.

Best Burger:  Five Guys  CHAIN
Best Fries:  Five Guys  CHAIN

Best Place to get a coctail:  Bonefish Grill  CHAIN
Best Mexican Restaurant:  Los Tres Magueyes  CHAIN (OK, a small one, 8 locations)
Best New Restaurant:  Firebirds Wood Fired Grill  CHAIN
Best Asian Restaurant:  Sushi Thai... come on, that doesn't even make sense
Best Pizzeria:  Mellow Mushroom  CHAIN

And get this:  Best Italian Restaurant:  Daniel's Restaurant and Catering

Here are some highlights:  "Our parmesan dishes (eggplant, veal, and shrimp) are prepared in-house, hand cut, breaded, and fried when ordered so they're nice and crisp.  We top the entrees with our marinara sauce, and a healthy amount of mozzarella cheese."  This is not really worthy of comment.

However I try to find the best of Cary, there is no there there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Time was, this blog was for writing, though it has of late devolved into something more like transcribing.  Though nobody has been irreparably harmed, it is something of a loss.

I checked out and then started rereading Don DeLilllo's White Noise this last Sunday.  The plan was that it was gonna be for a book club, but then I discovered that the club meets the day after I get back from guys' weekend up at the lake, and it may just conflict with Downton Abbey, as well.  I didn't remember liking White Noise  that much.  I read it maybe half my life ago, and I figured that if I didn't like it that much then, odds were I wasn't gonna like it that much now.  So I should tell you I've been pleasantly surprised.  There is much in the book that is just plain silly, yes, I'll grant it that, but DeLillo just plain old writes good.  Like he's been practicing or something.  Which should come as no surprise, as he is in fact an actual writer, who strings together works in a becoming fashion quite frequently.

Maybe not every day, but often enough. Gotta keep practicing.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Playing chess with Graham

I have never had any difficulty letting Graham win running races, or soccer kicking contests, or anything like that.  Recently we have begun playing chess, and somehow this is different.  The urge to dominate and win is somehow more overwhelming, there is an almost moral compulsion to make the next move that will best allow me to win.

This despite the fact that Graham, like lots of kids on the spectrum, has a difficult time with competition and losing (those who have known me for many years might be thinking: so do you, Cleric), so it really falls to me when playing with him to try not to win and to help him learn to just play better.

Yesterday I did a good job with going slow and pointing out to him threats that might emerge two or three moves in the future if he didn't take action to foil my plans beforehand.  Strategic thinking. Still, by hook or by crook, in time I found myself in a very good position, threatening his king in many ways.  Thankfully, he said he was a little tired and thought we should quit the game for the night, which suited my purposes nicely.

Then, I made a fire and he lay down next to me and put his head on my stomach for a little while. Which was quite nice.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The mysterious lingering Googlebot

For some weeks now a majority of the traffic here on the Grouse logged by Statcounter -- one of the two ways I can track visits, the other is the counter native to the blogspot/ platform -- has come from Googlebots, which are the little automated agents Google uses to keep crawl from link to link and thereby index everything going on on the web.  I'm not talking about yesterday's post, either.  The bots are going back and looking at stuff that's years old.

Which strikes me as odd.  Google has to know the stuff has been there for some time.  After all, blogspot is freaking owned by Google.

So what are the bots doing?  Do they like my writing? Do they find it insightful?  I doubt it.  My guess is that Google is throwing some natural language processing at the blogosphere to try to actually understand bloggers so as to one way or the other market the data.  Build bigger and deeper datasets into which they can delve more deeply to sell more stuff.  That's what it's all about, after all.

Cat videos and grip

All too often late at night, when I know I should be blogging or working on taxes or reading one of the many books around me or playing guitar or talking to Mary or just trying to clear my mind, I find myself on Facebook reading what others have posted and perhaps even looking at cat, or goat, or puppy, or other random videos.  It's kind of embarrassing, honestly.

But it shouldn't be.  What's really happening is that my ability to be goal-directed is shutting down. Instead of watching late night TV and looking for a laugh or a nugget of insight there, I'm letting Facebook serve it up, in a manner which is curated by the people I've known throughout my lifetime, as opposed to by programming people at one of the networks.  And cat videos are nice, short, good-natured little narratives, or reflections on Being.

And yes, Facebook is learning who I am and what I click on and is honing its algorithms to serve up to me posts by the people it knows I prioritize, and then it is selling that knowledge to marketers, so they can give me more of what they know I want, etc.  To that extent I am outsourcing the disposition of my attention, and in some sense the formation of my ego and my legacy.

Whatevs. In all things there is and should be a balance between goal-directedness and just letting go. In baseball, if you grip the bat too firmly, it hurts your hands more when you strike the ball and you are less able to make the ball do what you want it to do.  One needs to grip the bat of being in the right way (insert penis joke here).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Starved for narrative

Home from work in the evening, all too often I find myself starved for narrative, and specifically narrative that has beginning, middle, and end, as opposed to the endless middle and constant becoming of the markets, the economy, and the lives of the people I work with.  And so I find myself scurrying about, following links off of Facebook, reading this, that or the other.

On my bedside table, right now, the struggle continues to push forward through Caro's third volume on LBJ. I read half of Rabbit, Run before taking a break.  Just picked up a volume of Nabokov's stories, some of which are blissfully short, but they are written in a way that is so distant from my life now.

And so, the blog suffers.  My focus is diffused into so many shards of attention, on so many interesting and worthwhile topics, yes, but still.

Certainly I get a dose of somewhat discrete stories from watching superhero videos with Graham.  We just finished season 2 of "Ultimate Spiderman," praise the Lord.  I was sick to death of the wisecracking asides of that instance of Spiderman.  Bleck.  Now we have begun a 2001 series based on The Justice League, those old DC comic stalwarts.  It is astonishing how radically the quality of animation has changed since then.

Anyhoo, late now, off to bed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Women with really short hair

I was just at a meeting where there were 3 women with really short hair.  Actually, two of them have been letting their hair start to get a little bit bushy, and I'm just sitting there going:  "no no no, go get that buzzed down again nice and tight."

I love the really short haired look on the ladies. It shows such confidence, no need to hide behind a bunch of follicles.  Almost all women who cut their hair really short look good.  Maybe there's some self-selection about it, I dunno.  I wish I could convince Mary to roll with a very tight look, but I think it will be quite some time before that happens.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLKJ Day Celebrations

Somehow we as a nation haven't figured out how to celebrate this holiday.  There are plenty of civic-minded speeches and gatherings to discuss the progress or lack thereof of people of color and others who aren't doing so well, but celebrate it?  Why aren't we evolving a tradition of potluck suppers and getting together and enjoying one another's company?

For one thing, and I can attest to this for me, Martin Luther King Junior Day has become the final coda to the holidays of December and the New Year's, when our family is invariably traveling.  Then we come home, get back into the rhythm of office and school, and work hard through January to get things in gear for the New Year.

So by the time this one comes around, it's great to just kick back and enjoy life a little, have a truly quiet and peaceful holiday.  I had a coffee set up for this afternoon with a guy, but it got canceled.  And I'm totally cool with that.  Graham and I will play some frisbee, maybe some chess, watch some Spiderman videos.  Mary has gone to Lowe's to get the mailbox that she asked for as her Xmas present.  I am backing up her computer.

Last night mom made us corned beef and cabbage and potatos, kind of impromptu, and it was very nice.  Maybe that will become a tradition.

Meanwhile, I see that in Durham, at a place called 5850 Bistro and Martini Bar on Fayetteville Road, they are having an MLKJ Day throwdown.  It's in an area where the population seems to be mostly African-American, but the gallery of pictures online makes the clientele appear to be pretty evenly mixed white and black.  As anybody who lives in the United States knows, this is pretty rare.  I really should haul my lazy but over there, because it looks like they are doing it right.  But I will probably stay home with the family.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Google maps in Canada

I can so totally get sucked into looking at Google Maps in Canada, trying to find roads and pictures of the remotest parts of this great northern swampland.  What is astonishing is that you can be nosing around a place that is completely in the middle of nowhere, where there are no roads, no towns, nothing, and you'll happen upon a place that is designated a "Preserve Ecologique" or parkland or something.  As if there's some sort of need to invoke law to protect a place that is utterly impossible to get to.  Silly Canadians.

Monday, January 12, 2015


In the Times yesterday it mentioned that Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germany, might snake the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for the best soccer player in the world in 2014.  He would be the first goalie to win in over 20 years.

Immediately my mind went "well, if he's the best goalkeeper of all time, why shouldn't he?"  And where, gentle reader, did I get the idea that he was the best goalie of all time?  Well, they said it on TV during the World Cup, now didn't they?  And once  they had said it, I watched him and thought:  "well dag, he is rather good, sure enough."

Now, I watch a lot of soccer.  Not as much as many people in the world, but I like to.  And I try to be as discerning a judge as possible.  Those of you who read my blog are well aware of how hard I try, how important to my ego it is for me to try to be well-informed and impartial evaluator of just about whatever comes in front of me.  But, honestly, it's hard to evaluate this kind of stuff.  Sure, Neuer has won a lot, but he's been on great teams, has had great defensive teams in front of him.  Sure, he makes great saves, but so do other keepers. I think objectively I can accept that he is exceptionally effective coming out of his box and squelching opportunities proactively. But "best of all time?"  Honestly, what the hell do I know?

But all TV had to do was plant that seed in the back of my mind and I'm half ready to accept it. Therefore, the Ballon d'Or seems only meet and right.

The bigger point is that it's deucedly hard to make these kind of decisions, to decide what is the absolute right thing.  And that the easiest way to do so is to accept expert testimony at face value. For most domains in life, thankfully, we don't have to make an absolute right decision, we just have to make one that's good enough and move on.

Same with the Ballon d'Or.  Messi and Christiano Ronaldo have split it between the two of them for the last 6 or 7 years.  I say give it to Neuer.  Give it to a keeper.  Share the wealth, and keep on going.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rooney's lack of class

So Southampton just beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, and after the game Wayne Rooney was being interviewed.  He was philosophical in saying "that's football," in the sense that in a low-scoring sport it's easy to lose even if you play well, but when asked whether Southampton played better than Man U, he responded "well I've seen them play better."

Now, if he had been Dean Smith, he would have said "yes, they outplayed us," and he would have praised the opposing coach and team.  Of course, basketball and soccer are indeed different sports, with different scoring profiles, and soccer does admit of much more randomness than does basketball in determining outcomes.  Basketball is much more aggregative and cumulative in a given game, whereas soccer is cumulative over the course of a season, but less so in a game. But still, it wouldn't have been so hard for Rooney to have been more gracious in losing.

So why wasn't he?  Is it more important in soccer for players to believe in their superiority even when they lose?  Is it inherent in the role of the coach rather than the player to be the gracious one?

Or has something fundamentally changed in the way we view competition?  Certainly, for UNC, something changed since Smith departed.  And now the university is on the point of paying the price for it.

More Things Kids Say

This morning, as we were getting the Sunday pancakes ready, Graham addressed me as "mom."  He hadn't done that recently, but I totally love it when the kids get us confused.  I feel like it hearkens back to the time when we were basically an undifferentiated parental unit, a bulwark against the world.

From the depths of memory, something reminded me of how Leslie's girl Caroline, when we were visiting them or they were visiting us, must've been 12-13 years ago, was playing with Natalie. Natalie was either trying to snake some of her toys, and Caroline said "Natalie's trying to be grabby." That's cute right there.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The World Made Straight

Went and watched the opening night showing of Dave Burris's premier film The World Made Straight this evening.  The film was not as violent as the trailer would have you believe, and it was much better than the New York Times gave it credit for being.

Yes, there was some silly stuff. The protagonist goes and shacks up with the professor after getting kicked out of his own house after only meeting the guy once, and a couple of days later he's already casting this guy as a father figure.  Similarly, he tries to hop up on his candy-striper new girlfriend on their first date, on which he's taken her out to a creek to watch him fish.  But it's a movie, not a novel, and we have to make allowances for these kinds of accelerations sometime so that the movie can proceed through its narrative within the standard 2-hour expectation.  And movies can also be permitted to work at this archetypal level, where things are just simpler and flow more easily than real life.

Overall, it's a quite a good film.  I'm proud of our boy Durris for getting this done. No mean feat.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The content of anxiety is irrelevant

I have shared here before about how I have on occasion had anxiety dreams.  Back when they were in their worst efflorescence, a few years ago, I saw a cognitive behavioral psychologist for a little while. Can't recall if I shared about her.  Love her.

One of the things she talked about was how the content of anxiety is irrelevant.  If you are prone to anxiety, as I on occasion am, the anxiety finds a vessel.

Case in point:  last night.  After a couple of nights of imperfect sleep, I've gone back to taking a melatonin at bedtime.  It has worked pretty well.  This morning, at some time, my brain got focused on whether melatonin was bad for my kidneys, or nephrotoxic -- though as I half-slept I was thinking the word was "neurotoxic".  I have to monitor nephrotoxicity.  I don't know if I've shared about it, but it's one of the little medical things of which I have to be mindful.

So I lay in bed and thought about it ("perseverated," technically).  Not too badly, and as I did it I was more or less aware of how ridiculous it was.  I didn't lose too much sleep.  But still.

While in Princeton, I had the pleasure of having coffee with one of my most regular readers, who recently had been through a little heart surgery, and was looking and sounding fantastic.  This kind of thing puts it all in perspective.  The trick, of course, is to keep it there.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

95 Express lanes south of DC

I am sure that I have ranted about I-95 between Richmond and DC, particularly around Quantico and Fredericksburg.  Because the 95 system is but a single pipe through there, because there are no alternatives parallel to it, there is all too often butt nasty traffic through there.  I hate it.

But today we were able to take the fresh express lanes south from the 95/495/395 confluence for 15-20 miles, courtesy of our EZ Pass.  In several places, we were cruising at 70 while traffic in the local lanes was crawling.  I felt like a king.

As of now, I don't know how much it cost us to do that.  10 bucks, 12?  I could look it up on the EZ Pass website, and I'm sure I will.  Saving us 30-40 minutes and the heartache associated with dad sitting there in the front seat acting pouty and grumpy made it money well-spent, for sure.

But what if I were a commuter and came through there a lot, daily.  The ducats would add up pretty quick. It would, in fact, be a pretty regressive and exclusionary road, a perk for those willing to pay the premium to book these expenses daily.  And how much did it cost to build this highway for the pretty wealthy?  I'm sure I could look that up too.  It was maybe 20 miles of road that goes north with morning rush hour and south at the end of the day, therefore with complex reversible entrance/exit ramps.  My guess is not less than $10 billion.  Is that the best use of our transit dollars?  Hard to say.

It worked for us today, I can tell you that.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Alan Furst, Blood of Victory

I had been unable to finish the last Alan Furst novel I tried to read.  It was too much seafaring, too boaty -- and those of you who recall my wedding will remember that I was very pleased with its setting at the Larchmont Yacht Club -- with the sole caveat that the lovely view was marred by all those stupid boats (I pray the boaty contingent of Berridges will not take offense).

At any rate, I picked up Furst's Blood of Victory at the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library sale for two bucks a few weeks back, and it has proven to be a good use of money.  This takes us back to dry land, with Furst's typical rag-tag group of Eastern and Western European resistance/intelligence agents toing and froing about Europe, trying to quietly stop the Nazis or their precursors or something.

Once again, our hero shacks up with a lady of shared interest, and they do the nasty in some cold rooms and other makeshift settings. This is one of Furst's great motifs -- the, if not quite transformative, at least salvative quality of staying warm and getting busy in the face of death. Not quite love, but necessary companionship at a time of maximum uncertainty, which grows into something more, almost love, good enough, deep enough for the circumstances. Much better than nothing.