Why do you haunt me, MTV?

mtothetvWhen I lived in Temperance House (1205 Park St went by many names, even while I was at Grinnell, but that’s what it will always be to me) I had exactly two (2) transcendent experiences involving the television network Music TeleVision. Well, transcendent may not be the word, but these are vivid memories that I haven’t ever found any reference to anywhere on the great internet collaboration. And yet, millions of people (or at the very least, thousands) must have had these very same experiences. Am I crazy? Did they really happen? Does it even matter to me given the experience I lived?

The first (by memory and importance, but not chronology; the internet tells me that this was the early hours of April 26, 2002) seems the most hallucinatory. I was up at 2AM watching music videos. Please don’t judge me; anyone but the most novice knows that MTV only plays blocks of actual music videos from 2AM to 3:30AM. So, I was watching a video in a nonchalant way as usual, and text started scrolling across the screen. It said LISA LOPES IS STILL DEAD. I thought I might be in a zombie movie. I was confused and not but a little terrified. I hope it is 2AM when you are reading this, so that you might have the same inkling of fear. Is my television trying to send me a message? Has it finally achieved the sentience I always held out expectations for? I had no idea. I didn’t move an inch, but inside I was freaking out. Confused and alone, I tried to collect myself. When I finally did, text scrolled again. An announcement that Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes of TLC had died in a car accident in Mexico. I didn’t know who this was, but I was strangely relieved. The TV had not failed me or fooled me. It had been right all along. And yet.

The second was week-long. One specific week; it’s probably the only memory I have of Grinnell that I can place to a specific week on our Gregorian calendar without needing to look something up. September 12-16, 2001. MTV played only music videos 24 hours a day. And not just any videos were these, no. They were violence free. Loving, even. If this had gone on for an infinite period of time, it would have been the greatest television network ever produced by anyone in the past, present, or future. There were no commercials, only a news update at 50 past the hour. There must be other people in the world who agree with me that this happened, right? It feels so ephemeral and yet so real. Sometimes I dream about watching it, and when I wake up I am reminded that all there is is drek on MTV when there could be sublime hopeful bliss. And I am sad.

If anyone has memory of either of these occurrences, please let me know. Also, if you lived with me in Temperance House that year, I miss you. I miss you more than I miss that soothing collection of art and sound.

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5 Year Reunion at Grinnell

This past weekend was the reunion for Grinnell College. A lot of different graduation years were having their reunions, but among them was a combined “5 year” reunion for ’02, ’03, and ’04. Having graduated in ’03, it actually was my 5 year reunion, which I guess is a lucky thing, and I also got the benefit of being around people who are both older and younger, which theoretically should maximize the amount of people someone from the middle year will see. I don’t think it actually did in my case, because I generally made friends with first-years every year, so an ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06 reunion would have been optimal. Nevertheless, good times were had.

I didn’t go straight to Grinnell, Iowa. I first stayed in Chicago for about two days with my friend David. David is an aspiring actor and a pretty good Magic: The Gathering player. We spent the first evening playing Magic: The Gathering in a pretty awesome 27th floor apartment that overlooked the city. I’m not too familiar with it and these guys were all pros so I mostly watched and only played a few games.

The next day we had breakfast at a place called The Chicago Diner, where I had a good vegetarian Rueben sandwich, which is pretty much what I order at all veggie / vegan restaurants. In the afternoon, we headed downtown to get a day pass for the CTA and then decided to try to explore an area of the city called Pilsen. We ended up getting lost and wandering around the decidedly non-walkable “Illinois Medical District,” but eventually we found our way out of it. I made some dumb mistakes with my day pass that meant we had to walk a little farther than we otherwise would have.

Eventually we ended up with a burrito and some tasty baked goods from the Hispanic-leaning Pilsen area.

When I got to Grinnell, I found out that they put me in Norris Hall, which is the temporary housing from the ’70s that isn’t exactly loved on campus. It was alright with me, though, because I lived there my first year, and there was some nostalgia involved. After the fact, someone pointed out to me that Norris has air conditioning as well, which many of the dorms don’t. The first day I was there I made three wrong turns which were a direct result of me heading toward where I thought my room from first year would be. It’s amazing what you recall when you go back to a familiar environment.

The dining hall at Grinnell is all new, in the new Joe Rosenfield Center building (some call it the Joe, or the JRC; the “Jerk”). The new dining hall style involves a lot of little stations you can go to stand in line and pick up various freshly prepared dishes. It’s a good idea, but waiting in the station lines was a little annoying. Also, on the first day they ran out of the vegetarian option before I got in to eat.

The social activities included a Waltz / dance party. I’ve learned to waltz twice in the past, so I was hoping if I got the chance, I would remember how to get it done. I only really worked up the courage to ask one person to try to waltz, and I couldn’t find her, so I guess I got a reprieve. I did end up doing a litle bit of dancing at the later party, but I didn’t stick around for very long.

All weekend I had a little bit of time to think as I wandered from event to event, and my thoughts kept coming around to the social scene at Grinnell and, I presume, many college campuses. It seems to me that debauchery is the norm. Now, I’m not one to knock debauchery; it’s a perfectly valid approach to having a good time. There’s nothing evil or wrong about it, but it’s not the kind of time I prefer.

I feel like the comparison I want to make is between debauchery: drinking, loud music, dancing, hooking up and love: serenity, conversation, intimacy, respect. Both of these are useful and interesting social situations for people to learn to navigate. I prefer, personally, the latter and sometimes I feel as though the former is being emphasized. I don’t know if the emphasis comes from the college or the students or what. When I was in college, I sought out the non-drinkers and the clever wits and the interesting philosophers, and luckily I found a lot of them. The kinds of situations where you find them and the contexts that arise when you do, I felt, were not really available to me from the structured situations at reunion. That’s the kind of thing I was thinking about when I was at a Harris party. I guess I’m kind of a nerd.

On the last day, just before I was leaving, I got a bit of a surprise. A beautiful girl kind of snuck up behind me to say goodbye. When this happens, some sort of weird autopilot kicks in. I don’t even have a chance to think, I just act. The feeling of weird helplessness reminded me of a time back in Grinnell when I was at the Hy-Vee grocery store, and another old friend who I was quite enamored of came around the corner. I gave her a hug and kissed her on the top of her head without even realizing what was happening, and that’s kind of abnormal for me to do. So, I felt the same way here and I just thought it was interesting thing to note that feeling, since it was so intense and rare.

I posted some vignettes on Plans but I want to keep them in perpetuity for memory’s sake, so I’ll post them here too. I’m going to only use first names to keep them Google-proof (except where last names are merited!).

  • David knows how to find his way out of the Illinois Medical District.
  • Paul rocks the mutton chops and somehow keeps things interesting for 10 hours of car travel.
  • Mr. Stone prides himself on stirring up controversy yet again.
  • Mr. Wellons almost ran out of space on his camera and definitely knows his way around the observatory.
  • Esther has psychic powers and a mesmerizing gaze.
  • Piper is pretty chill in Norris Lounge and shows off her awesome power of using my name as an exclamation.
  • Angela apparently uses an open door as an alarm clock on Sunday mornings.
  • Elvis totally rocks out on piano and also on accompanying people to their first bakery run.
  • Sam is king of the water balloons.
  • Natalie’s smile is the only thing I’ve discovered that can make setting up a nerd feedback loop between myself and Mr. Wellons even better.
  • Jonathan and Cassie are the cutest couple ever, but they should be living in Seattle.
  • Shannon sees Grinnellians everywhere!
  • Josh knows everything there is to know about frisbee and alcohol.
  • Choed is a smooth operator.
  • Jennifer set me straight on my Grinnell lore.  Scientists graduate!

Road Trip by the Numbers

I’m home again.  I drove from Silver Spring, MD to Grinnell, IA and back.

Here are the stats:

  • 44.6 gallons of fuel
  • 2011 miles
  • 33 hours
  • $34.50 in tolls

From this, we can calculate a few things:

  • $178.40 for gas @ $4.00/gal ($76 was covered by riders)
  • Average MPH: 61
  • Average MPG: 45

That seems really crazy, maybe I got the numbers slightly wrong.  Either that, or hybrids are totally awesome! Which they are anyway!

Sorry, Guests == More Fun than Blogging

The past few days I haven’t posted because I was having guests and then exhausted (in a good way) from having had guests. My Grinnellian friend Adele and her husband Thomas were visiting for a few days, and I took off work so that we could do a little bit of the tourist thing with me as a (mediocre) guide.

I love visitors, I love Grinnellians, and I had a great time!

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College Reunion

I signed up for my 5 year college reunion, which takes place on the weekend of June 1st.  I’d known about it for some time but wasn’t really planning to go until my life got turned upside down.  I need to take all the chances I can get to be social and get out there to make friends, so now I am signed up!

Looking at the list of people who are going, it seems like all the social and cool people will be there, but I don’t see many that I have known well.  When I was there many of the people I knew weren’t quite as social.  Three or four of the social people I have met recently and been talking to and am interested in hanging out with a little bit, but the rest are unknowns.  I’d like to think I can make some friends cold, just by striking up a conversation, and we shall see.

The drive is a long one.  It’s fourteen hours to Iowa.  I think I will be going to Chicago first to hang out with friends, as I understand a lot of people are doing, and that should break it up, but the drive back may end up being a straight-through kind of thing, which I’ve only ever done once.  It’s times like this that I’m happy I have a hybrid.  GAS PRICES!

Depending on what’s going on, I could take that whole week off from work.  I’m already going to be off four days that week with Memorial Day and then my planned three days, so I may as well go for five.  And maybe the following Monday…

This post has been inflation adjusted: actually 1.7 posts

My Grinnellian friends Ms. Sherwood and Mr. Gitter have been writings some posts about inflation.  As a journalist and an economist, respectively, they have made some good points.  As an internet crazy, I have made some mediocre comments.  But, as it happens, I do have some thoughts on the recent rise in prices we’ve been experiencing in the United States.

The first thing I would like to say is that I don’t support the money monopoly that we have in this country.  The fiat dollar is legally mandated and any other remotely competitive currency is shut down if it even has a chance of taking root.  The real solution to an inflation problem is a free market in money.  If you can decide to store your funds in another private currency, inflation in the dollar would not be a problem.

But this is just one of many ways that our government aggravates painful inflation and prevents the kind of relief that would be available in the free market.

  1. Corn ethanol subsidies create a false market for corn as energy, raising the prices of a) most of our food, b) energy, and c) our taxes.
  2. Sugar subsidies and tariffs also raise the price of food substantially.  Basically the whole farm subsidy system means we pay a whole lot more for food than we should.  See also: milk.
  3. The Federal Reserve has pursued a policy of constant inflation for almost its entire history; in a normal market there are periods of inflation and deflation, but since the money supply is controlled by the Fed, we no longer have these natural periods of deflation. Instead, we have periods of low inflation (the 90’s) and periods of high inflation (now).
  4. My whole theory on 401(k)s and IRAs, which I explain (poorly) on my blog.  It’s actually the most viewed post on here, though.
  5. Running deficits all these years is what has caused the dollar to weaken, meaning higher costs for imports, and we import almost everything these days.

These are just a few of the myriad of ways that the government helps cause inflation.  That’s my take on the issue.

Pushing and Pulling: an introvert’s view of online interaction

I am pretty much an introvert. I don’t easily start up conversations with strangers, and I don’t seek out situations where I am putting myself on the line. I don’t know if I like being an introvert; I think I do. In any case, I don’t have much of a desire to change that part of myself. It may be a coping mechanism that I used to shield people from my blatant honesty, out of politeness.

Anyway, as an introvert I find it somewhat easier to meet people for the first time online, rather than in person. Some systems are designed in such a way to facilitate this for people like me, and some systems are designed in such a way to cause people like me to get stressed out.

The main design decision to make when creating an online social site is whether the site should employ mainly “push” technologies, or “pull” technologies. An example of a “push” technology is sending an e-mail. You have to decide whom you want to receive the message, and then you have to press “send,” committing to your decision. An example of a “pull” technology is this blog. I can make posts here as often or as rarely as I like, and any person can choose to read what I write, or not. I don’t have to decide who I am publishing to, or commit to communication with them.

I find that to be much easier, because I know I’m not “bothering” anyone.

As a teenager, I made extensive use of a technology called Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which is essentially just a system of chat rooms. Anyone could join the rooms and talk, and everyone else could respond, or not pay attention. A “pull” system. There was also the opportunity to send messages to individuals, when you had good reason. But, starting out, all you had to do was type and wait to see if anyone was interested in what you have to say.

Nowadays, I don’t have the time commitment or, honestly, the patience to try to get back into an IRC community. Many of them are insular, the people having known each other for years, and I think the majority are younger kids. I mostly spend my online time instant messaging. As a “push” technology, I feel much less comfortable in this environment. I don’t want to disturb others who might be busy or just don’t feel like talking. So, I get a little more frustrated than I used to when I was young.

Lately I have been using Facebook, which is a site where people can put up information about themselves and make “friends” with anyone else on the site who you know. Mainly it’s for college-aged kids and slightly older. It’s good fun, but again, it’s in many ways a push system. You have to ask people to be your friends, and generally, you message them to communicate directly with them.

I contrast this with Grinnell Plans [my plan], which is an (unofficial) messageboard system for students and alumni of Grinnell College, my alma mater. Plans is somewhat based off the old VAX/unix system of .plan files. On Plans, you basically just have an area where you can write text, and if you write someone else’s username in brackets, it makes a link to their plan. A very pull-based system, and it works very well.

All-in-all, being an introvert means you are basically both a) ultra-polite and b) afraid of rejection. A pull system on social sites means you are polite (you are never interrupting someone with a message) and also blunts the effect of rejection (if someone doesn’t answer, maybe they aren’t rejecting you, they just never saw what you wrote.) I prefer systems where pull is the norm. So, if you are designing your own social networking site (and you should!), please provide at least some mechanism for doing things this way for those of us who want to. Specifically, for me.