Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.

They’re tearing down the junior high where I went to school in the early ‘70s.  My senior high school, which I graduated from in 1976, is now a community and (appropriately) senior center.

I don’t miss them.

I learned a great deal about various subjects and myself when I was in school, but if I had to think of something that I miss, in an emotional way, it would be something that I first acquired in 1976 and lost some time in the past two decades.

When I started college, in the fall of 1976, I lived at home with my parents.  My dad was a professor, and it made sense for us to share the ride in each day.  He parked just off campus, a lot behind one of the fraternities that lined University Avenue.  From there, it was a short walk to a café where I hung out sometimes before my first class, or a longer walk to Coffman Memorial Union or the West Bank campus.

But that first fall, I wandered through the wonders of just-off-campus shops in Dinkytown, and one of my first stops was along 14th Avenue, not far from  its intersection with 4th Street (which I have always identified as that 4th Street).  It was Gray’s Campus Drug at 327 14th Ave SE.  I needed folders, paper, pens, stuff to fill my bag.  I found those things—and something else.  A light-blue hooded sweatshirt.

I’d never owned a sweatshirt before, let alone a hoodie.  Just hadn’t been my style.  But this one became my style, and I kept it for years.  I wore it throughout my college career, into grad school, all over Europe (I believe) and it kept me warm at protests, camp-outs, you name it.

By 1986 it was pilled, dirty on the elbows, the cord was frayed, and I honestly don’t remember if the zipper still worked.  But I had already lost it, in the way one loses one’s heart.

T had acquired it.  At some point, I think she got rid of it—likely during one of our moves—but she wore it for years.  And I think that’s the reason that I don’t miss my old schools all that much:  They have to have meaning that you share with another person, and at those school, I just didn’t.

But that blue sweatshirt still comes up in conversation from time to time.  If I ever find a photo of it, I’ll likely post it, and likely not.

Look what they’ve done to my song

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Consumer Retorts: Brother Printers, Zenni Optical Glasses

OK, that’s just a fun title.  I thought this would be a good time (why not?) to write a couple of positive reviews that are long overdue.  I will not post links to the manufacturers, but you can get them from the names.  Neither of these is paid for or any crap like that.  Just a couple of good experiences I’ve had.

1. I tend to be cheap.  Really cheap.  So cheap that for years I used printers I bought at Goodwill.  (This is a short review.)

So, let me cut to the chase:  If you don’t have a printer and you need one, buy a cheap (inexpensive) Brother laser printer or multifunction printer.

By “cheap” I mean in the $100-150 range.  I have two (both DCP-L2540DW printers (one at home and one at the office), both set up for wireless use.  Each cost something like $120.  They just work.  End of review.

2. I wear bifocals.  I’ve worn classes since I was 6 or 7.  I’m 60 now.  Bifocals are expensive.  When we lived in Wisconsin, I had an insurance plan that covered glasses and I got good glasses at an expensive shop.  Best I’d ever had.  But after many years, my eyes changed and I was in a position not to have glasses that were worth crap.  (This is a longer review.)

So, I looked around and there was this place called “$39 Glasses” and I figured what did I have to lose?

Well–first off, the glasses start at $39 and mine were more like $90.  OK, still 1/4 of what I’d pay most places.  Then they took months to arrive.  Then they had to be remade multiple times (including in one case because there was an obvious 1/2″ circular mark in the center of the visual field.  Then, they stopped carrying the frame I had ordered the first time.  Then…  Hours of waiting on the phone.  Weeks of frustration.  I recommend that you avoid $39 glasses like the plague.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ve changed?  I do not recommend them.

So I got an inexpensive pair locally.  They were…”weak.”  I don’t know why this tends to be the case, but almost every time I’ve had glasses made at one of those “mall” places, they come out feeling weak.  I suspect that’s because most people, when they get a new prescription, are getting a stronger prescription, and that’s going to give them headaches, so these places look at the tolerance zone and make their glasses to the low end of said zone.

So I went back to my by-then-10-year-old glasses.  They were starting to fall apart, but hey.

Then, a little over two years ago, I went for an eye exam and the doctor told me that I had cataracts and would, at some point, need surgery.  Didn’t say when that point would be.  So.  I needed new glasses.  I checked.  At a half-decent (and I emphasize the “half” part) optical place, I would need to pay $350, and I didn’t even like the frames they had.  And I might not even get five years’ use out of them because surgery??  No way was I going to do that.

So…I went back to the Internet.

I honestly forget how I found them, but there was this place called Zenni Optical that advertised glasses as cheap as $6.  Once again, the ones I wanted were way more: $35 just for the frame (you can see them on me here)!  Something like $70 baseline with lined lenses.  But I figured WTH, warranty, and got them with all the trimmings.  $95.

I think they took two weeks to arrive and they were perfect.  The best glasses I’d had since the expensive place in Wisconsin that was covered by insurance.

They were so perfect that a month or two later I ended up buying matching sunglasses.  Also $95 with a dark tint.  Nice!

Two months ago, I had another eye exam and still didn’t need surgery, but needed a slight change in my correction in one lens.  This time I went to Zenni and decided to try a different frame.  When it arrived, I didn’t like it as much; it felt fragile (their fault) and sat funny (my fault).

I tried them for a couple of weeks, but ultimately decided the frames weren’t for me.  So I returned them (you get about a month), and then ordered a pair in the frames I’d had before.

And when they arrived they were perfect.  The change was small, and so for driving purposes my “old” sunglasses are still good.  And my old regular glasses are there as a backup.

My daughter, who has a much simpler prescription and very different frame preference than I do, has had three pairs from Zenni, at around $20-25 each time.  All good.

Yes, I know I’ve spent over $300 on glasses over the past two years.  Three pairs.  All Perfect.  As opposed to $370 for one pair that might not be.

I recommend Zenni.  That’s it.


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The Importance of Feeling Special

I’ve been listening to a podcast lately about a kind of guru who calls herself a “spiritual catalyst.”  Her name is Teal Swan.

Here’s what’s interesting to me–Teal Swan grew up in a hippie family in Utah, non-Mormon, and so feeling different.  She had some problems as a young person that led to at least one suicide attempt, and so her parents (wealthy hippies) took her to a Chinese spiritual healer, who took her in as a person with a rare gift–the ability, with some training, to, well, have a look here.

But I really have nothing to say about Teal Swan other than that she was treated, from a comparatively early age as special.

That’s not an uncommon experience.  It happened to me.  I grew up in a nominally Jewish household, but joined the Lutheran church when I was 17 or so, and was baptized at 18.  I was treated as special.  Because I was Jewish, I was treated as a kind of fulfillment of prophecy (find an Evangelical  to explain the Book of Revelation to you if you don’t know what I mean).

I joined the youth choir and was told that I had “perfect pitch.”  I still don’t know if that’s true, but it made me feel special.  Once I made it to college, I felt it was required of me to study Hebrew, and to explain the Old Testament to people.

I surfed that wave of special for years.

My next dose came when, casting about for a college major, I decided to try sociology.  The sociology department at my school had an honors program, and once they looked at my transcript I was proclaimed one of the best and brightest.  Special.  I had the attention of faculty, I was given a paying job as a TA.  Cool.

And then I was accepted into ten of the eleven graduate schools to which I applied.  I was stoked.  I was stroked.

In other words, I had become a special junkie.

That was really quite hard to deal with when I dropped out of grad school.  I got a little bit of the sauce from time to time in other careers, but never another sustained hit.

Withdrawal is a bitch.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen put it best.  He often does.

(Hard to believe that in all these years, I’d never seen that video until today.)

Look, we all want to be special.  We all want to feel special.  We all want to be recognized.  And there is a reality in the sense that each of us is unique, and special for that reason alone.

And to the extent that we establish relationships with other people, we can be special to them–I think that’s what Dash fails to understand in the video above.

But special in the sense of “superior” is problematic.  We are all humans, and it would be a good idea if we behaved that way.

Teal Swan may or may not be a special junky.  But I was.

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The Joy of an Upside-Down Bicycle

A bicycle-related post!!!


A couple of decades ago, I fancied myself a cyclist.  A serious person, for whom bikes were all and all, etc.

So I bought a workstand.  Workstands are wonderful bits of kit that let you clamp a bike (ideally by the seatpost) and turn it to any and all orientations you might need to work on it–whether it’s the gearing, shifters, whatever.

A year or so ago, I noticed that a critical part of my workstand–a bolt that was threaded in different directions at each end–was bent.  The result was that I could no longer effectively lock a bike into the workstand.  I don’t know when it happened–it could have been a decade ago when I moved to Connecticut, for all I know.  I had not used the workstand  very much since then.  Maybe the stand (the based folded up) had fallen from storage at some point.  Who knows?  But without that bolt, it was toast.

I contacted the manufacturer to see if a replacement part was available, but none was.

So this past spring, when my community did its bulk trash pickup, I set the workstand at the curb, and it vanished.

This past Saturday, I was pumping my tires to ride sweep on a 20-mile fundraising ride when I remembered that the front fender was a little loose, and had been rattling.  I immediately thought of clamping my bike into the workstand but–of course–no workstand.  What to do?

I looked around and found a couple of rugs, set them on the floor, then flipped the bike over, the way I used to do when I was a kid and hadn’t heard of Brooks saddles.

I disconnected the dynohub, popped out the front wheel, and fixed the fender handily in a matter of seconds.  The rugs kept the saddle (and handlebars/brake lever tops) from getting damaged, and it was much easier to remount the front wheel this way than it would have been if the bike was in a workstand.

Done and done.

I guess I was a serious rider in those days.  But I wonder what else I could have spent the $100 or so from the workstand on…

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I can’t get no Satisfication (It’s in the Bag)

As I have observed before, I like things just so.  And I am addicted to briefcases, messenger bags, and the like.  And as I’ve (almost certainly) observed beforel, I’m going to quit buying them.


Well, at least I’m going to try.

All of this is introduction to say that I think the bag I bought almost five years ago is still the best.

I don’t know if it’s the best because it’s simple (it doesn’t have “organizer” pockets–I lamented the absence of these back when I first bought it, but now I’m glad it doesn’t have them), because it’s small (it barely holds a 12.5″ laptop, plus folders), because it’s quiet (no clips or toggles to attach the strap, and no Velcro anywhere), or just because I’ve had it so long. Maybe it’s the color (medium brown).

No matter how much I find nicer or fancier bags, I keep going back to this one.  I’ll try the others for a month or so, then it’s back to the Europa.  I like this bag.

And I think it’s taught me a lesson, or at least it will serve as an excuse for a lesson:

Don’t be afraid of change, but don’t seek it out unnecessarily.

Actually, it was my bike that taught me part of this lesson.  Back in 2012 I was riding my favorite bike when I got hit by a car and it died and I didn’t.  The frame was a 1986 (iirc) Trek 560.  I was so in love with that bike that I wanted to reproduce it, new frames like that being difficult to find.  But having a custom frame built proved to be costly, so I ended up with something quite different (details on that are elsewhere, starting here and here).

And you know what?  It’s been fine.  Change isn’t the end of the world.

But at the same time–back to the bag–change isn’t something to be sought out for its own sake.  Familiarity is also fine.  If the reason I still like this bag is because I like this bag, then there’s no reason to try to replace it in order to improve on it.

Decades ago I had a class in formal organizations at the University of Minnesota where I learned the term satisfice.  I think my relationships–to this bag and this bike–mean that I’ve finally learned to satisfice.

At least I hope so.



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A Plethora of Stuff

Child L has been seriously into photography lately, which means, of course, that she’s seriously into cameras.  I can relate.

When I was in college, my parents gave me a Rollei 35 with a lovely lens.  Not a sophisticated camera, it was a tiny, estimate-distance-focus camera.


The summer after I graduated from college, it was stolen from my apartment, along with my trusty typewriter (RIP) that I’d had since high school graduation, and some cassette tapes I had recorded.  The thieves couldn’t untangle the wires that hooked my stereo together, and entirely missed the three very nice guitars in the closet.

So it goes.

Anyway, when the insurance came through I knew that I would be getting an SLR, and that it would be made by Nikon.

This was 1981, and Nikon made at that time–

  1. The Nikon EM, an entry-level (i.e., relatively inexpensive, built with lots of plastic) but very nice automatic exposure SLR;
  2. The Nikon FM, a solidly-built-with metal, all-manual SLR;
  3. The Nikon FE, a similarly solid auto-exposure SLR;
  4. The Nikon F3, which had just come out–a professional camera for journalists.

Nikon made and sold all of these cameras for a few more years, and no others.  I bought an FM and a 50mm f/1.8 lens (which, by the way, with the assistance of 400-speed film pushed to 1600, took the B&W photo currently in this site’s header).

Nikon makes excellent cameras and lenses, no question about it.  And so Child L aspires to own one.  But which one?

Today, Nikon makes the following (mostly digital) SLR cameras:

  1. D3400 — 24mp entry DX consumer
  2. D5600 — 24mp DX mid-level consumerD7500 — 20mp
  3. DX prosumer
  4. D500 — 20mp DX proD610 — 24mp entry FX consumer
  5. D750 — 24mp FX consumer/prosumer
  6. Df — 16mp prosumer retro
  7. D850 — 45mp FX (landscape/studio)
  8. D5 — 20mp FX pro

So–twice as many (and don’t you just love the term “prosumer”?).  They also sell the “previous generation” of each of these cameras, according to my sources, so we could say that Nikon currently sells 16 SLR cameras.

This proliferation of models is not limited to cameras.  Go take a look at the site for Fender guitars, for example, and look at Telecasters.  Back in the day (long, long ago) there were maybe four models of Telecaster guitar, perhaps fewer.  Now there are over a dozen, and each comes in multiple finishes to add into that.

My Mont Blanc fountain pen was one of three or four different models, differentiated by size, when T bought it for me in late 1985.  Go take a look now.  Go on.

I honestly don’t know why this kind of differentiation is taking place.  It may be the case that consumers are now demanding increasingly specific products, or that manufacturing a wide range of products is now more doable, or that products become obsolete more quickly because they are electronically-based (though I would argue that the ability to upgrade internal software should make them more, rather than less, durable.

In any event, we are a long way from being able to have our cars in any color we want, “so long as it is black.”

As for me, I decided a few years back that I would like to have a camera with some greater capabilities than the ones built into my phone, but not much more complicated (or larger) than my lost Rollei 35.  So last year I bought a Fujifilm X10:


There was, by the way, no choice of color…


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