Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 2: What Will I Take With Me?

In Part1a, Part1b, and Part 1c, I figured out where I'm going to live next.

Alamogordo, New Mexico.

I don't have a job there yet. And I don't have a place to live yet, though my current plan is to rent an apartment.

But I've got a pretty good idea what I'm going to take with me. I've got a pretty good idea because I don't have much to take. It will all fit into my 1995 Toyota.  

I'm so glad I kept my camping gear because I'm going to need it.

These are my worldly goods with which I'll set up housekeeping:

  • My car
  • Two camp chairs with cup holders (yay! I already have furniture!)
  • Two sleeping bags
  • Blankets
  • Some pots/pans from my camp box
  • Flatware from camp box
  • A few plates and cups from camp box
  • Pillow
  • Coolers
  • Two plastic storage things with drawers
  • Shelf stereo
  • Clothes
  • Clothesline and  clothespins
  • Aluminum foil
  • Lantern
  • Tent
  • Two plastic storage bins
  • Two bath towels
  • A few dishtowels and dish cloths
  • Rubbermaid rectangular folding table, approx. 2'x4' (more furniture!)
  • Laptop and other electronics 
  • Some framed pictures, if there's space in the car

I used to have a stove top espresso maker, but I don't know what happened to it. I'll scrounge for one of those before I go.

Well. I guess that's it.

Anything else I'll need I'll have to pick up in Alamogordo. But whatever the item might be, it'll have to fit my  design aesthetic: Rootless Minimalist. 

Rootless Relocation, Part 1c: Where?

Tres Piedras, New Mexico. Old Pink Schoolhouse Gallery.

In Part 1a, I considered where in the world I'll live next. I narrowed the options down to New Mexico or Mexico..
In Part 1b, I looked at the pros and cons of the two, and decided on New Mexico.

But now --> Where in New Mexico will I live?

What are my decision drivers? 

  • Access to family
  • Access to other parts of New Mexico for exploration
  • Climate
  • Demographics - I want ethnic, cultural, language, and age diversity
  • Interesting geography
  • Income opportunities
  • Recreation opportunities
  • Cost of living, especially housing
  • City size
  • "Romance" factor - for example, do I want the Tony Hillerman New Mexico (Navajo and Hopi territory) or do I want Red Sky at Morning New Mexico (Sangre de Cristo Mountains area)? Or the borderlands factor, close to Mexico?

And do I want to choose my new base first and then look for work? Or look for work and let that determine where I'll settle in New Mexico?

Originally, I thought to look for work from Missouri and let the job hunt lead me to my new rootless base. But I changed direction and decided to look for my most desired base and then look for work. 

Where do I not want to live? 

I don't want to live in:
  • Albuquerque - larger than what I want
  • The bedroom communities surrounding Albuquerque - I don't like looking at the smog that ABQ produces
  • Santa Fe - hate that congested, Anytown USA, main drag going into town, and just not a fan of the overall vibe  
  • Deming - based on research, seemed a little depressed
  • Las Cruces - a sea of beige and bland bounded by highway
  • Mountain communities that attract snow in winter, such as Cloudcroft and Ruidoso 
  • Carlsbad - too far from most of New Mexico
  • Portales or Clovis - might as well live in Oklahoma if I'm going to live in these cities

Silver City, New Mexico

On the fence about: 
  • Silver City - great climate, nice town, but like Carlsbad, a little too remote from the rest of NM, and perhaps too gentrified for my taste
  • Taos - I've been here twice and there are things I like about it, but I'm not in love; also, too much snow 
  • Farmington - Tony Hillerman country, which is attractive, but I just can't get a feel for the geography or the vibe. It'd be cold in the winter. I was cold all last winter in Rustavi. No. Thank. You.

Taos, New Mexico

  • Gallup - Out West, cowboy, cattle drive, rodeo, seductive tumbleweed-desolation vibe
  • Grants - Ditto
  • Truth or Consequences - Hot springs along the Rio Grande, a gritty attitude I find compelling, mild winters, good central location in NM
  • Las Vegas - the Sangre de Cristo Mountains factor, one-day drive from mid-Missouri, good city size, university in town, hot springs nearby
  • Alamogordo - In desert area, but really close to mountain communities, mild winters, good town size, university in town, military base nearby that supports economy, close to Mexico
  • Roswell - Nice size at 48,000 population, university in town, somewhat mild winters

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Some resources to help me rule communities in or out:

The forums are a place to ask questions about places of interest. There's a rich archive to search previous questions and answers about a locale. itself offers demographic, employment, crime, climate data about locales in the U.S.
There's also good info from the U.S. Census here, from whence you can drill down to small communities.

Craigslist gives researchers a ballpark idea of housing costs and job possibilities.

Meetup gives you an idea of social groups that are active in a potential new base. If there aren't any meetup groups, that's good information, too.

If I had never been to New Mexico before, I'd take a reconnaissance trip out there to personally eyeball the various possibilities. But I have been there - not to all of the cities on my in/out list - but a number of them, so I'm relying on my past visits and the online resources to make my decision.

My process of elimination

I know I don't want to deal with snow, so although I looked at my fence-sitting possibilities such as Farmington, considered Taos in a lukewarm way, and took quite a close look at Las Vegas because of its Sangre de Cristo Mountain proximity, I wasn't excited about any of them. In fact, I wasn't too enthusiastic about living anywhere in NM north of Interstate 40, which I perceive as the snow line.

Silver City may have the closest to the ideal climate in New Mexico with mild winters and summers. But as important as climate is to me, Silver City's remoteness, small size, and gentrified vibe ruled it out for me. Actually, my experience visiting Silver City a couple of years ago suggest to me that there's a lot of social goings-on and recreation activities despite its small size. But the job situation there, based on my research, is rather grim.

Eliminated: Taos, Farmington, and Silver City.

Gallup and Grants have some pull for me, primarily because of the Hillerman Effect. There's also a perception of being Out West in those two towns. Rodeos. Cowboys. Cattle drives. An edgy tumbleweed-desolation kind of vibe that is seductive.

But they're right on the snow belt (I-40 in my mind. And I just can't get enough information on them to tempt me to take a risk. Especially the surrounding scenery. How the town centers look. 

About 18 hours' drive from mid-Missouri, this isn't any longer drive time than competitors in southern NM, so I can't use access to family as an eliminating factor for Gallup or Grants. I also can't say they're too remote from other locations in NM I want to explore than more southern NM competitors. Being smack on Interstate 40, they're on a fast track to most places in NM.

At the end of the day, Gallup and Grants just sort of fell off the possibles list because, I don't know, their voices were too quiet. I'll definitely go visit them, though.

Eliminated: Gallup and Grants

The eliminations left in the running: 
  • Truth or Consequences
  • Alamogordo
  • Las Vegas
  • Roswell

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Both Las Vegas and Roswell are weak candidates for different reasons, but they have these attributes going for them:

Access to family. Las Vegas is within one, long day's drive from mid-Missouri at around 15 hours. Roswell is pushing 16 hours.
"Romance" factor. Las Vegas is near Red Sky at Morning territory, being close to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It's Taos Lite and Santa Fe Ultra Lite, without the pretension you come across sometimes in the latter two communities. It has a nice plaza, and the art and jewelry scene. Hot springs nearby.
City size. Roswell has a population of about 48,000. A decent size; similar to my home town.


I just couldn't get too excited about Roswell. My research only pulled up negative comments about the city or, just as damning, not many comments at all. Like Gallup and Grants, I'll go visit Roswell, but I'm not going to live there.

Las Vegas felt like a place I "should" go to. Cold, snowy winters maybe. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains notwithstanding, not in love.

It all boils down to:

Truth or Consequences or Alamogordo.

Truth or Consequences (TC) has a bit of an attitude that I like. The people there seem to have been around the block a few times, lived perhaps a little too hard at times, but now doing OK. Central location that makes it really convenient to explore other parts of NM. Close to larger cities such as Albuquerque, Las Cruces and El Paso, TX. If I want to see what the hell is going on down in the borderlands, I can do that, too. 

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Love that it's right on the Rio Grande. Hot springs. Close to some recreation areas. The Spaceport is close, which is kind of cool.

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

But the population is less than 7000 and the median age is 52.

Very hot summers.

Alamogordo also has hot summers, but it's within half an hour of mountain communities such as Ruidoso and Cloudcroft, with cooler air. It's right next to the immense Lincoln Forest. Close to White Sands Monument. Close to Las Cruces and El Paso.  About an hour closer than TC to mid-Missouri. A population of more than 30,000, with a median age of 37.

But it's more than three hours from Albuquerque and it's not as convenient to lots of NM destinations as TC is.   

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Alamogordo is more diverse than TC in regard to ethnicity, language, and age. The nearby Holloman Air Force Base presumably maintains some stability in the Alamogordo economy.

And I like Alamogordo. Though not edgy like TC, it is pleasant. I like its zoo and the small, picturesque villages nearby such as La Luz and Tularosa.

Not a linear process

As I looked at my options in New Mexico, I went back and forth on various cities. I went back and forth on how much I weighed my decision drivers, such as climate, diversity, community size, etc.

I looked at housing costs on craigslist. Read all of the threads on city-data about the possible relocation locales in New Mexico. Checked distances on google maps between this and that and the other.

I reviewed what I wanted to get out of New Mexico. Interculturally, there is so much that New Mexico has going on. I'm feeling drawn to look firsthand at the historic goings-on with how the U.S. is dealing with people crossing the border illegally from Mexico. In addition to climate preferences, this informs my decision to stick to southern New Mexico for my base.

I had to weigh a great central location for good access to most of NM (Truth or Consequences) against my desire for a larger community and proximity to mountains (Alamogordo). Demographically, Alamogordo also beat out TC for its diversity.  
Alamogordo. My future new home ... for awhile.

Pecan orchard, near Alamogordo, New Mexico

White Sands Monument, near Alamogordo, New Mexico

Next up: Rootless relocation, Part 2: What Will I Take With Me?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 1b: Where?

Tlaxcala, Mexico.

In Part 1a: Where? I narrowed down my relocation choices to:
  • New Mexico
  • Mexico

Both met my primary criteria

  • Reasonable access to family/friends; 
  • Proximity to mountains; 
  • Locations with mild(er) climate; 
  • Cultural and language diversity; 
  • Low cost of living; and 
  • Income opportunities

All things are relatively equal in regard to mountains, climate, diversity, and low cost of living.

Income opportunities

In Mexico, based on my research, mostly via Dave's ESL Cafe Forums, I'd likely earn enough to be self-sufficient, but not enough to put money aside for the future. But Mexico's relatively low cost of living is a powerful draw. And doesn't international living trump domestic living for the rootless glam value?

I'd probably have to relocate to a city larger than I'd prefer in order to maximize my earning potential as an EFL teacher. I have no interest in Mexico City as a base (20 million in the Mexico City metro area). But the other usual EFL targets such as Puebla, Monterrey, Queretaro, Oaxaca have more than a million in population. (Even Tijuana, that much-maligned "town," has more than a million residents).

All of the above would be offset, however, by living in a different country where I could improve my Spanish and enjoy lots of exploring.

In New Mexico, the cost of living is higher, but I have a much better chance of earning money for both subsistence and savings, plus the potential of work with benefits such as health insurance.  Also, as an American citizen, I don't have to worry about getting a work visa. And in addition to ESL work, I have a range of other income-producing avenues open to me that would likely not exist in Mexico.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, near Socorro, NM

Access to family

For the next year or two, I need to have reasonable access to/for family.

Mexico. Airfare between St. Louis and Mexico City isn't bad - often there are nice sales. Even so, it's going to be a minimum, with a really good sale, of $300 per person round trip. Ditto for places like Cancun. Problem: I don't want to live in either of those places, so my Mexican base needs to be within 2 or three hours of Mexico City or Cancun. Mexico has a wonderful bus system - comfortable long-distance buses at very affordable prices. 
New Mexico. Driving between central or eastern Missouri and New Mexico is a minimum of 13 hours, most likely 18-20 hours, depending on the New Mexico location. Up to 15 hours is doable in one day, albeit a long day. More than 15 hours driving in a day is suffering, so it's realistically a two-day trip. For me doing the trip, not terrible, but for family to come visit me, it might be prohibitive. Flying possible into Albuquerque or El Paso, TX. Can find fares to Albuquerque for about $300 round trip. El Paso, TX, is about $100 higher.

So both Mexico and New Mexico offer fair accessibility, with New Mexico edging out Mexico because driving is possible, although it will take a minimum of one day and more likely require an overnight stop. For family to visit me, there's a psychological advantage to New Mexico because it's domestic travel rather than international - no language issues, no passport required, and none of the fear factor that taints Mexican travel these days.

Then there's the chemistry thing

A few months ago, my chemistry was saying, go to Mexico. But now, the chemistry is leading me to New Mexico.

When all things are relatively equal, you can't argue with chemistry.

New Mexico it is.

But where in New Mexico? 

Tune in for Rootless Relocation: Part 1c: Where?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 1a: Where?

One spring day

One afternoon this past spring, sitting on a marshrutka traveling from Rustavi to Tbilisi, I thought:  

To Tbilisi from Rustavi via marshrutka

If I want, I can spend one year in a different place in the world for the rest of my life.

Really slow travel. 

Between Lalibela and Addis. Ethiopia

So where will I go?

You'd think the first question would be, where do I want to go?

But it's not. Here are some questions that come before:

What do I want?

Climate, geography, culture, vibe, demographics, recreation, access to local, regional, international transportation, access to family/friends, challenge ...

What do I need? 

Income opportunities, cost of living, standard of living, access to health care, access to internet, level of perceived safety ... 

Are there deal breakers?

Too hot/too cold, too big/too small, too homogenous, no nightlife, community's politics, human rights, crime rates, language, too remote/not remote enough ....

What destinations are on my general list of places to explore in the future?

For example, here are places that are on my current list. Some of I've been to before and others are new to me:
  • New Mexico
  • Mexico 
  • Colombia
  • Guatemala
  • Ecuador
  • Ethiopia
  • Yemen
  • Syria
  • Iran
  • Libya
  • Rwanda

For me, at this time, the primary drivers telling me where to live next are:

Access to family. I feel the need to be within fairly easy access to/for family for the next one or two years. I define "fairly easy" to mean within a day or two's drive or a flight less than eight hours. The flight also needs to be reasonably economical.

Climate. Not too hot and not too cold.

Geography. I want to be close to mountains.

Cultural and language diversity. I want to be able to continue with EFL and also to enjoy intercultural experiences.

Money. The cost of living must be relatively low and there must be income opportunities.

The need for family access rules out all but:
  • New Mexico
  • Mexico

I could make a weak argument for Guatemala, if I were interested in living in Guatemala City, but I'm not. I'd want to live near Lake Atitlan, which knocks it out of the accessibility category, both in terms of flight costs and multiple-transport transfers. Quito, Ecuador, a beautiful city and perfect climate, wouldn't be too terrible for flight time, but the cost would be prohibitive.

So between New Mexico and Mexico, which? 

See Rootless Relocation, Part 1b: Where?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rootless Lit: Call of the Wild

Credit: American Literature

Just finished re-reading Jack London's Call of the Wild on my Kindle. I downloaded 37 (!) works of Mr. London's. Free, you know.

Jack London: What I thought I knew

  • Call of the Wild
  • White Fang
  • To Start a Fire
  • Alcoholic
  • Yukon
  • Gold rush
  • Wanderer

Jack London: What I didn't know

Prolific writer. Until I sought out White Fang and Call of the Wild for download to my Kindle, I didn't realize what a prodigious writer Mr. London was. More than 20 novels, more than 20 collections of short stories, a number of plays. A list here.   

Racism. I also had no idea of the grotesqueness of his racism (as evidenced in his novel, Adventure).

Maybe not alcoholic. There is some debate on this score.

Here's a comprehensive chronology of Mr. London's life.

Call of the Wild

Synopsis: Pampered dog in California sold into canine slavery during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897, taken up north to Yukon during gold rush times. Innocence, betrayal, brutality, indifference, acceptance, ignorance, greed, suffering, salvation, love, grief, transformation.

(Note: For packing list aficionados, here's a pack list of the typical "Stampeder" in the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush. Thanks to Adventure Learning Foundation, which strives to offer a "global classroom experience" through the prism of virtual, history-based expeditions.)

I first read Call of the Wild when I was in junior high school. The story of Buck, a St. Bernard-Scotch shepherd mix, gripped me as tightly yesterday as it did when I was a child.

It begins:

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. 

Mr. London's writing style is economical, often accomplishing two goals with one word. For example, with just a few words, he can deliver a full-color visual and set a tone.

"Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness..." In only three words ( groping, Arctic, darkness), the reader gets a physical picture of men reaching for something in a cold and dark place; a sense of the men's mental state - seeking out, fear, hardship - and a concise definition of the story's stage.

His writing is uncomplicated. "These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs ...." I like this redundancy - want dogs/dogs wanted - clearly, these men would get what they wanted, and there was no doubt what was in store for the dogs. 

To tell a good story, Mr. London did indulge in some anthropomorphism of Buck and other dogs in the book, but with the exception of the "did not read the newspapers" bit at the beginning, he didn't go overboard. To a great extent, the reader never forgets Buck is a dog, driven mostly by instincts,  moderated by experiences. This seems to conform with Mr. London's naturalistic world view. Mr. London espoused social Darwinism (and had an interest in eugenics) and Mr. London stays true to his philosophy in how he depicts both humans and animals in Call of the Wild.

Which, sadly, brings me to Mr. London's racism. I recently read his book, Adventure, for the first time. From the very first paragraph, I was appalled at language such as this:

He was a very sick white man. He rode pick-a-back on a woolly-headed, black-skinned savage .... the man-horse ...

Several pages later:

Stretched on the platform, side by side and crowded close, lay a score of blacks. That they were low in the order of human life was apparent at a glance. They were man-eaters. Their faces were asymmetrical, bestial; their bodies were ugly and ape-like.

And then:

With the automatic swiftness of a wild animal the black gathered himself to spring. The anger of a wild animal was in his eyes; but he saw the white man's hand dropping to the pistol in his belt. The spring was never made.


Seelee was more intelligent than the average of his kind, but his intelligence only emphasized the lowness of that kind. His eyes, close together and small, advertised cruelty and craftiness. ... His broken-fanged teeth ... As he talked or listened, he made grimaces like a monkey. .. 

Even though Mr. London is restrained in his anthropomorphism of Buck, the dog, in Call of the Wild, he does imbue him with certain  human attributes such as dignity, strong work ethic, love, sacrifice, and rage. 

Mr. London does the opposite in his book, Adventure, in his treatment of the Solomon Island slaves. He dehumanizes them. With few exceptions, Mr. London does not even award them names, whereas in the Call of the Wild, we learn a lot about Buck and a little about his canine colleagues, all of whom have names and distinct personalities. 

So while I loved Call of the Wild, I couldn't help contrasting Mr. London's respect for the intrinsic worth of the dogs versus the contempt he displayed for the Solomon Island men in Adventure. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hobos: "House-less Not Homeless"

Train, road, and silo in Kansas

Britt, Iowa hosts the Hobo Convention every summer. The town has been doing this for 112 years. The most recent was earlier this month.

According to Britt's Hobo Convention web page:

Ask a veteran hobo at a convention jungle what a hobo is and you'll receive a definite answer. 

The hobo is a migratory worker, some with a special skill or trade, others ready to work at any task, but always willing to work to make his way.

The tramp, they'll tell you, is a traveling non-worker, moving from town to town, but never willing to work for the handouts that he begs for. 

A bum is the lowest class, too lazy to roam around and never works.

Awhile back, I introduced two of my great-uncles, Philip and Toby, who were part-time hobos during the Great Depression, riding the rails in search of work.

Train going through New Haven, Missouri

Matt Stopera over at Buzzfeed, wrote this article recently, based on his experience at the 2012 Hobo Convention: 61 Things I Learned at the National Hobo Convention.

Holly Dorhn's dad started riding the rails as a hobby in 2003.  She tells the story here.

"Northbank Fred" offers a rich stockpile of articles about current hobos or offshoots here.

I wonder if Glenn Campbell considers himself a hobo. He does call himself "homeless by choice."

Robert Heinlein wrote Day After Tomorrow, which featured hobos and the hobo jungles. It was about a small group of scientists tasked with taking the U.S. back from "Pan-Asian" invaders (read: Chinese) invaders. One of the characters, Jeff, a well-educated guy who lived the hobo life before the Chinese took over, used the hobo network for his revolutionary activities.

As for me, I'm not a hobo. I am rootless. I'm neither house-less nor homeless, but I don't have my house or my home.

Friday, August 24, 2012

About That Intoxicating Chocolate Ice Cream in Istanbul

Twice I experienced a decadent chocolate-chocolate ice cream bar in Istanbul.

It surpassed any other ice cream I tried there. Fabuloso.

Istanbul, Turkey. Magnum ice cream bar.

Back in Missouri, I was talking to one of my brothers the other day, and the subject of ice cream came up. I described the Istanbul ice cream bar to him, naming the brand. He exclaimed, "They had the same brand in Malta! We couldn't believe how delicious it was!" (That was about 15 years ago when he'd been in Malta.)

So you know where else you can get this chocolate-chocolate fabulous ice cream bar?

Walmart. Right here in Misssouri.

Three bucks for a box of three.

What am I to learn from this? Other than to reinforce my earlier thesis: Istanbul - Kind of like Cincinnati.

Email Accounts Maintenance: Revisited

In January 2011, I confessed to having 11 email accounts. Too many?

Yes, maybe. After acknowledging this to myself, I was able to unload one.

So how am I doing today?


Ah, yes. Eleven. Wait, no, 12.

But two are on the way to becoming inactive.

Stop judging me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Mexico Enchanting Me

Tres Piedras, New Mexico. Pink Schoolhouse Gallery.

When I was in high school, I read a book that made me laugh out loud many times. It's about a kid who moves from Alabama to this foreign, inter-cultural community in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico circa 1945.

The book was Red Sky at Morning.

Taos, New Mexico. Holy Trinity Park.

Author Richard Bradford's characters were vividly drawn, as was the geographical stage of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on which all of the events played out. The images of a fantastical New Mexico that Mr. Bradford planted in my mind took root.

It wasn't until many years later that I first set foot in New Mexico. Since then, in 1999, I've visited New Mexico two or three times more.

Montezuma, New Mexico. Scarecrows.
In some locations, I relished the sensation of having been there before, because they so strongly evoked Red Sky at Morning:

  • At the Chama Visitor Center, talking to a volunteer who explained that although she and her parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were New Mexico natives, English wasn't her first language.
  • In a wooded lot in Taos, the Holy Trinity Park, decorated with that New Mexican outsider art that fuses Roman Catholic iconography, naturalism, magic, and perhaps a dash of schizophrenia.
  • In Tres Piedras, the Old Pink Schoolhouse Gallery (sadly gone now), a cacophony of bright color and media in the middle of nowhere
  • Desperate hope, visible through cruciform prayer offerings left at the Santuario de Chimayo.
  • The mountain-hugger road between Las Vegas and Tucumcari.

Desperate prayers left at Santuario de Chimayo, New Mexico.

New Mexico is American, but it's also a foreign land. There are layers of language, ethnicity, traditions, religion, art, climate, geography, and light that I haven't found anywhere else in the U.S., and I feel drawn to it.

And it's got the Spaceport, you know.

Road from Las Vegas to Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Rootless Undead

Real unreal life imitates art

Back in the 70s, Frederick Pohl wrote a terrific sci-fi series called the Heechee Saga.

As the saga unfolded, there were "meat" people and virtual people. If you were super-rich like Robin Broadhead, you could execute a brain dump into a computer application and live on in a sort of Second Life universe. (See how real unreal life imitates art?) Virtual Robin could communicate with meat people, including his wife, and with never-real, virtual personas such as his computer-generated psycho-analyst Sigmund.

I'm confident that some day, a monied few of us will become immortal in a virtual way, in that we can "live" an undead life out in the ether with other undead, perhaps continuing relationships with our surviving family and friends.

(Gosh, we think same-sex marriage is complicated. When we have the power to become undead, will there be constitutional amendments to clarify that marriage is between one living-in-the-flesh man and one living-in-the-flesh woman? Need to redefine the meaning of [end of] life? Allow voting privileges to the undead? Allow them to donate to political candidates? Retire the phrase "pull the plug"? .... I digress.)

Our undead selves in the cloud

In old-timey cartoons, when someone dies, we see them lounging on white fluffy clouds.

Google Docs (which has morphed into Google Drive). Dropbox. Amazon.  Skydrive. SugarSync.

Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Tumblr, email accounts ... .... 

Repositories of the data of our meat lives assumed into the cloudly heavens.

What happens to our undead, fluffy cloud selves?

And who 'owns' our undead, fluffly cloud selves?

Dave, over at The Longest Way Home, offered detailed instructions for handling undead email and other accounts in his article, What Happens to Your Online Digital Assets? in September 2011.   

Kindle library

Read the answers to Kyle Gerrard's question: Where Do E-Books Go When You Do? in his New York Times article.

"Planned departure" 

"Planned departure" is the name of a company: "Be in charge of your online and digital assets after your death and decide what should be deleted or transferred to someone you love and trust."

I imagine it won't be long before online/digital 'asset' providers will enable a beneficiary or "instructions upon death" feature, but in the meantime, here are some other products or services

Legacy Locker, the "safe and secure way to pass your online accounts to your friends and loved ones."

Lifehacker (or in this case, Deathhacker) writes about another company, Entrustet, here.

... ah, but Secure Safe recently bought both Entrustet and LifeEnsured for what it calls "data inheritance."

I haven't fully explored these services, but I intend to do so soon.

When the Rapture Comes: Guarding Digital Assets

This article, 10 Things IT Groups Need to Know About the Rapture, always makes me laugh.

Credit: CDC

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Era Ends in Ethiopia

The hard and soft that is Ethiopia. Nazret, Ethiopia.

On August 21, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, died. He'd been the guy in charge for more than 20 years.

When I visited Ethiopia for two months in 2011, I heard many comparisons between Meles Zenawi and the Derg (which was the oppressive regime preceding Meles Zenawi's 1995-2012 tenure):

From my March 7, 2011, post: My experience thus far in Ethiopia is that men of a certain age (e.g. those who were at least late teens at that time...) tend to believe that living conditions were better under the Derg than under Meles Zenawi. Men who are in their 20s and 30s tend to like Meles Zenawi. 

Even a man whose brother was killed during the Red Terror believed living conditions to be better under the Derg than under Meles Zenawi. (This sentiment is similar to what older Georgians say about things being better under Soviet rule than under the current administration of Mikheil Saakhashvili.) On the other hand, the younger men admire Zenawi, seeing hope with new roads (built by the Chinese), government works projects (such as cobblestone road building in the cities, financially supported by other countries), and the promise (though without the reality) of jobs after graduation from university.
Some of what I know about the Meles Zenawi era is what I've personally observed. So while our world leaders sing posthumous praises of Zenawi (and he has done some good things), I remember these facts: 
  • Too many girls standing on the streets of Addis Ababa after dark, waiting for customers. 
  • A former academic colleague, Taye Woldesmiate, imprisoned in Ethiopia for six years, convicted of treason.
  • Another gentleman of my acquaintance, a husband and father of four children, imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than 10 years, similar charges. 
  • Farm fields that used to grow food, now given over to grow tchat (qat), the narcotic cash crop

Meles Zenawi. Photo credit: The Telegraph

Ethiopia is rich in its illustrious and unique history, natural beauty, enduring traditions, Ethiopians' tolerance of each other's religions, languages, regional traditions; its humor, music ... so many attributes. I hope the transition between the Zenawi regime and the future is a fruitful one.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rootlessness and Health Care, Part 3: Lab Work

Part 1 talks about rootlessness and access to affordable health care in general.
Part 2 talks about prescription drug prices.

Here in Part 3, the topic is access to affordable lab work. "Lab work" encompasses testing samples of any of your bodily fluids or solids: blood, urine, feces, sputum, etc. 

Patient assistance programs (sliding scale fees)

From Aurora Almendral in her article, How to Get Health Care While Uninsured (in The Billfold), I learned about Qwest Diagnostics' sliding scale program for lab work done at their facilities. Which, by the way, are distributed throughout the U.S. (and, I believe, the U.K., Mexico, and Brazil.)

It's possible other labs provide similar programs.

Shop around for labs

It's a conflict of interest for a physician to require (or imply requirement) that you get labwork done by a particular operation. This is because sometimes physicians or the organizations with which they're affiliated own a lab, so they may derive a financial benefit if you go to their preferred lab.

Call up labs and ask what they charge for the tests you've got an order for.

If the amount is scary, ask the labs if they've got a patient assistance program. Better yet, go online and look first, because the front-line staffer on the other end of the phone may not know if his/her company has such a program.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rootlessness and Health Care, Part 2: Drug Prices

In Part 1, I talked about health insurance and some ideas on where to get affordable health care.

Today, I got a fresh reminder of the importance of checking prices for prescription drugs.

Last week, I had need of an antibiotic. The generic version of same was filled at Walgreen's (my usual place) for $12.66.

Today I refilled the prescription at Walmart. Same generic version of the drug. Same dosage. Same quantity. Four bucks.


I did learn about six months ago that sometimes a prescription drug and an over-the-counter (OTC) drug might be identical in composition and dosage, but you may pay significantly more for the drug if you buy it as the prescription rather than the OTC.

Take omeprazole, for example. You can buy OTC Prilosec (which is a brand name for omeprazole), 20 mg. for far less than if you fill a prescription for the exact same thing, assuming you don't have insurance coverage for meds. Crazy, eh?

Note: Verify with the pharmacist that the OTC version is the same as the prescription. By the same, I mean that it's not only the same drug, but that it "deploys" in your body the same way as the prescription. 

Kiowa County Hospital post-tornado in Greensburg, Kansas. October 2007.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kansas City 2010 Trip Report: Day 4, Nelson-Atkins Museum

In January 2010, my mother and I took the train to Kansas City, Missouri. This is part 3 (and final part) of our trip report, which includes comments from our original trip-report recipients.  

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Bloch Building


On Wednesday, we visited the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum.  I preferred this to the Chicago Institute of Art Museum; Carol liked the Nelson-Atkins, but prefers the Chicago museum. 

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Bloch Building

We both loved the interior design of the Nelson-Atkins'  Bloch Building, with its clean lines and shadows and light play. 

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum, Rozelle Courtyard

We lunched at the Rozelle Court which, although it is fully interior, creates the effect of a Roman courtyard complete with central fountain and surrounding arches on two levels. Skylights are above. Carol had a club sandwich and a cup of chili; Mzuri had a trout cake salad. We shared a slice of key lime pie.


We agreed the museum's store is excellent. Here, too, I believe it surpasses the Chicago art museum's store. Although smaller, it has many truly creative, beautiful, interesting and affordable things. As I write this, I do believe there was not a t-shirt for sale. If I were a tea drinker, I would have snapped up an exquisitely simple tea set for two. Very clean lines, off-white color, spare curves. Carol bought a reasonably-priced art book devoted to Vermeer.

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum

This week, we're enjoying Augusta Winery's vignoles, a spicy white wine.

In the evening, some relatives joined us. We all threw together wine, beer, and carryout BBQ to make a merry get-together. There were a few sparks that flew around the topics of Facebook and the merits of Republicans, but other than that, it was convivial.

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum

Carol participated in this gathering from a prone position on the bed, eyes closed, with a quietly thoughtful expression on her face.

6 AM Winding down..our bags are packed....we're le-a-a-v-in.  Last nights guests were a treat but I was beat - they accepted my apologies and I took to my bed and for a long time listened to the cacophony of four voices.  There was a short period when I thought I would need to rise up and separate a few.  Don't know the subject only the elevated voices - feminine, I believe which is always off-putting for the peacemaker.  That was a half a sandwich by the way.


Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum

Glad you enjoyed the Nelson-Atkins.  I read an article in the Post Dispatch about the museum and had been looking forward to seeing it.  Pleasantly surprised you preferred it to the Chicago Institute of Art.  I was especially interested in seeing the Native American exhibits. 

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum

The native american exhibit is smallish, but of the greatest quality.

Am now home; looking forward to a nap later this afternoon.

a nap sounds wonderful.  if i were off i don't know if i would nap but i sure would be relaxing!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kansas City 2010 Trip Report: Day 3

In January 2010, my mother and I took the train to Kansas City, Missouri. This is part 2 of our trip report, which includes comments from our original trip-report recipients. 

Kansas City, City Market

Tuesday, we visited Steamboat Arabia, which is within the City Market.

In brief: Steamboat sank in Missouri River in mid-century 1800s. All contents still within, tho all humans escaped. River course changed. Boat encased in muck and mud til 1990, when museum owners dug it out. Contents preserved and on display. Sort of a snapshot in time of everyday items - many totally new at the time, as they'd been intended for mercantile stores along the river route.

I'm not all that interested in all of the minutia arrayed in the museum, although there is power in the sheer quantities of like items, e.g. boots, nails, buttons, coats, tools, etc. The thing that I like is that the individuals who unearthed all of this are still a daily part of the museum, and they introduce themselves to visitors. Also, the docent is very knowledgeable about the dig and the museum contents. I was especially interested in talking at some length with one of the textile preservationists.

There was a bit of an incident when Carol was talking to one of the museum owners, one of the men who led the whole adventurous gamble of the dig. The boat was in a field owned by a local judge (a mile south of Parkville). Carol asked about legal threats to the ownership of the boat's contents, to which the museum owner replied there were none. Carol noted that it was likely a good thing the landowner was a judge and not  "an ignorant ..... " at which time my hand suddenly, without any warning to me, shot out and struck her thigh. Carol and the gentleman looked startled, and Carol asked, "what, were you worried what I was going to say next?" I allowed as how, yes, I was. Carol asked what I thought she was going to say, and I said I didn't know, but whatever it was, it probably wasn't going to be good.

Carol might have been really angry except that only moments before, the museum owner had exclaimed that she couldn't possibly be old enough to be my mother. So Carol was like a lion who'd just eaten, willing to let small prey live.

Kansas City, City Market

I liked the City Market. There seems to have been some effort by the powers-that-be to ensure some interesting diversity there. The restaurants include: Italian, middle eastern, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and American. We lunched at the middle eastern place; Carol had a chicken gyros and I had a lamb/beef one. She had a great salad with feta, olives, etc. and I had hummus with my gyros.

I picked up fresh dates at the middle eastern market, ginger at the Vietnamese market, and berbere spice at the Ethiopian restaurant. Carol picked up a used book at Auntie Em's, an antique store.

When the gentleman said I didn't look old enough to be Mzuri's mother I was wearing the red coat.  [See Chicago trip reports for red coat reference.]

Mzuri punched my leg; it startled me and I knew she was cautioning me to watch my rhetoric which puzzled me, but am getting used to my children expecting some untoward remark made by me.  Beekeeper [Carol's 4th son] even asked me to refrain from sighs at his son's recent concert.  Anyway Mzuri explained later that she thought I was going to say "ignorant farmer" instead of what I did say which was ignorant person.  By the way, the group responsible for digging up the boat were a father and his two sons all in the family air conditioning business.  The City Market was unique - as Mzuri said many cultures and native food choices present.
My passport card was Discover.  Today, the Art Museum.


I love these reports. They are great escapes. Thanks for sharing them. ....
I especially enjoy the two different reports.  I love Mom's clarifications.  It's the difference in the two perspectives that I find the must humorous and interesting.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kansas City 2010 Trip Report, Days 1 and 2

In January 2010, my mother and I took the train to Kansas City, Missouri. This is part 1 of our trip report, which includes comments from our original trip-report recipients. 

Kansas City, WWI Museum, in the trenches.


Our train arrived at Kansas City's Union Station on Sunday afternoon. There'd been bit of a snafu about the tickets, but we straightened all of this out when we arrived.

While at the Union Station, we had lunch at the Harvey HouseDiner, where I was accosted by a Monte Cristo sandwich (who knew?). Carol had an always-reliable reuben. As to "who knew"? Carol evidently knew, but as she'd also been assaulted by one in the past, I think she felt secretly gleeful to witness another's demise. After I'd placed my order and the server had left, she did ask coyly, "Have you ever had a Monte Cristo?" Look it up. Shows the importance of clear writing; specifically, where the word "fried" sits in the description.

We're staying at Residence Inn Downtown/Union Hill. Very pleasant, like a studio apartment. Free shuttle service within five-mile radius. Free breakfast. Free light dinner Mondays through Wednesdays. 

Kansas City, WWI Museum, in the trenches.

Yesterday, Monday, we went to the Liberty Memorial/WWI Museum. Very impressive museum. The trenches were especially vivid due to the visual design and the audios of soldiers' descriptions of their experiences in the trenches. There was a great movie that bridged the European and American sections. The movie displayed on a corridor-length wall that overlooked a battlefield diorama below. Exceptionally well-done.  One enters the museum proper by walking on a glass bridge that overlooks a "field" of 9000 poppies.

Kansas City, WWI Museum. Glass walkway over field of poppies.

Carol's father, WWI soldier
[Note: The WWI Museum has particular interest for Carol, as her father fought in that war. He didn't like to talk about his experience there, but he made it clear the war was horrific.]


We enjoyed a quite respectable lunch at the Over There Cafe at the museum.

In late afternoon, a former colleague of mine came by for a visit. Carol joined in for awhile, and then Donna and I went to The Brick , funkyish little bar for its Monday-night Rural Grit Happy Hour. Rural Grit is a sort-of open mic deal. Music is roots, americana, bluesy/jazzy, folksy whatever kind of stuff. Some was great, some was ok, some interesting, and some godawful. Cool vibe there, though.

Weather dreary, but as with Chicago, there is a vast difference between vacationing in KC in dismal weather versus the Lake of the Ozarks. Vast. 

[Note: A week-long stay at Lake of the Ozarks the previous year, during the winter, was deadly. Dead. Ly. Nothing to do except visit the outlet mall. In Chicago there's plenty to do regardless of weather.]

Accurately reported by Mzuri.  While the experience has been enjoyable, engrossing and educational I feel as if we have  been here for about a week which makes the trip very economical.  The weather, even tho gray and foggy, is mild and we walk from our second floor "suite" in the fourth building to the reception room where breakfast buffet is set up and a roaring fire and newspaper cheers us up as we enjoy the vittles.  Kansas City, Missouri, seems newer than St. Louis which, of course, is true...smaller also.  After touring the Steamboat Arabia today, we plan to find a tour bus or city bus and see more of the city.  The Residence Inn provides us with shuttle service within a five-mile perimeter which makes it only a cell phone call away at any time up to 9 PM.  By the way, the National WW1 Museum was wonderful - one of a kind as far as scope is concerned.


LOL.  I have heard the Monte Cristo sandwich story before.  And I believe Mom ordered it twice.  The second time to give it another chance.  I think she was enticed by the picture of the sandwich on the wall of the restaurant (in the Ameristar complex).  Humorous to hear, not so to have been the recipient of the sandwich.
I can picture her internally enjoying the whole deal with you, from order, to presentation, to finally the first bite!  What a hoot!  She can be so sly.
Sounds like you are experience some promising "must-sees" for a future trip for me!

So very happy to receive your "report". I was having withdrawal symptoms.
Happy travels girls!

Enjoying the travelogue.  I am uncertain about references to Lake Ozark and Chicago.  I know Chicago had a snowstorm while you were there. Sounded cold and oppressive, but survivable apart from the bus drivers.  How do the three compare?  Was Lake Ozark the worst or best under these circumstances?  Anyway, enjoying immensely.  Carry on people.