Music and slowness

I'm in pain today, and feeling compelled to listen to music. I'm also smoking pipe tobacco and drinking bourbon at 3:30 PM, but that's beside the point. Anything for comfort is what I told myself. But maybe it isn't comfort. Maybe it's distraction. Maybe that wasn't beside the point after all.

Milan Kundera wrote a book called Slowness. It's a thin book and it was some years ago - Kundera is getting slow himself. But the point of the novel was that people increase the speed of their lives to escape pain. For me it's a very concrete analogy: to drive fast, you have to concentrate on the road. That leaves no room in your mind for what's bothering you. The book left me thinking that a lot of modern life must be optimized to minimize mindfulness. (Hi, Jack.)

To return to my earlier train of thought, this is where I admit that for a guy who professes to love music, I don't listen to nearly as much of it as I could. In other times music was my constant companion. I measured tasks - washing the dishes, lovemaking - by how many album sides they they occupied. Not any more; I might be sitting right in front of my computer for hours and not put anything on. It seems too much trouble to pick something, and often too distracting when I do.

Distracting. There's that word again. Here I am, distracting myself, for a change.

The point of this post, besides the comfort I get from writing it, is that music is escape. It's something to concentrate on, it's permission to feel about something without thinking too pointedly about it. I speak only for myself, of course. However slow the music might be, life needs to be slower to be lived.

Now playing: Cruiser, by Red House Painters, from the album Old Ramon.

Christening the house

We had a party at our house last night - our first since we moved here two years ago. Forty internet winos came by to celebrate a year of meetups. It might be appropriate considering that is how we've met most of our friends in Cleveland.
Nothing went wrong at all, really, and our guests were terrific. We had a blast despite being busy with hostly duties. A few people stayed late, and we had help from friends to set up and the next morning to clean up.

I guess I want to say thanks. Thanks for coming, and thanks for making it a good day, and a good year.

Old soul objects

Someone told me recently that I'm an 'old soul' and I laughed a little. I hadn't heard the phrase since college, when everyone claimed to be one; had there been enough souls back in the old days to recycle into all these students?

But what they meant was that I have an affinity for the old tools of civilized life. I'm anachronistic, maybe. These objects, like stationery and tobacco pipes, are signifiers of class, connoisseurship, and refinement. (But why?)

Here are some of the things I surround myself with and take pride in. Many are just old, like my house. Or they're for older people, because the siblings I looked up to were older than I. These are the elements of my personal style.

* My watch, issued to a Marine during the Korean War.

* Bourbon, scotch, and wine: acquired tastes all, they reward connoisseurs.

* Quality minimalist stationery, for when only a written letter will do. I use Crane's, with a fleur-de-lis pattern lining the envelopes.

* A stereo. A real one, with two speakers and not five, pointed directly at a chair.

* Pipe tobacco, for when I really want to poison myself. If you've never done it, you wouldn't believe how complicated pipe smoking is. Those guys in movies always look tranquil, almost immobile - I don't know how they do it. Editing, I guess. Maybe I just like keeping my hands busy while I'm drinking scotch and listening to music.

* Wool coats. Puffy vinyl shells full of fiberglass might keep you warm, but they make you look like Neil Armstrong. Not Lance Armstrong.

* Eyeglasses - not contact lenses. It's not that I'm not vain; oh, I am. I just want to look smart.

* My wok and cast iron frypan. I've had both for 20 years. They are utterly utilitarian manual tools for sustenance. No electronics, no nonstick coatings, no obsolescence.

* Calling cards, for a more personal touch than your business card can give. Mine has this blog's address on the front.

What's the unifying theme here? Is each of these things just a technology that's one step behind current? Are they old because they require effort and upkeep? Does that make them more contemplative? Or am I just being anticonformist? Is it inherently more elegant to tell time by an analog watch rather than a cell phone? Does the fact that it's a watch matter at all - or is the medium the message?

Bailout or bankruptcy?

Should the auto industry be bailed out or allowed to go bankrupt? The industry has argued that bankruptcy will result in the loss of millions of jobs from the OEMs and their suppliers. I call bullshit.

The number of new cars needed per year in America will not change. It is not economical to scale up overseas manufacturing and import all those cars ... especially when U.S. plants can be bought cheaply. Manufacturing workers and parts suppliers here won't lose their jobs. If Japanese and German companies buy the plants, they could retool them for their own (proven profitable) designs or continue to build selected U.S. designs. They would probably do some of each, retooling only the plants that have been building cars they choose to discontinue. The parts suppliers must follow suit either way.

So I say let the big 3 go bankrupt. Let their stock become worthless - anyone who's been betting it would have value deserves to lose. Let their pensions be taken over by the government. Let them renegotiate union contracts - the unions know what the risks are now. Let them stop building old makes without penalty from their dealer networks - Toyota has only three (Toyota, Lexus, Scion) and nobody misses Plymouth. Let them eliminate redundant marketing costs for essentially identical vehicles. Make them fire their management. The new management should be drawn from other industries.

I like cars. Of the dozens of models built by the Big 3, I can think of only one that I wouldn't sell if the keys were handed to me. I'm hoping for a new era in the American auto industry, one that begins by admitting to a vast failure. The average car on the road will be safer, more reliable, and cheaper. I don't know what it will be called, and I don't know where the profits will go, but I know it will be made in America.

Rebellious Facial Hair

How come no group has ever taken up asymmetrical facial hair as a symbol of defiance of authority? From jazz to rock and roll to mods and rockers to grunge and on and on, kids are always trying to distance themselves from their parents' music and style. Here's your chance - there are limitless possibilities. Hey, it's Mo-vember, grow half a moustache. And I don't mean the bottom half. Grow one sideburn, or the left side of a Lincoln. Why not? Because people will think you're mentally ill? (Don't you want them to?)

This is another Niven idea. I never went to the sci-fi conventions, but I hear he kept threatening to show up with half a beard. It'd be disturbing.

Me, I shaved off my beard during my divorce 10 years ago and I never looked back. I've always said, show me a guy with a full beard, and I'll show you a guy who's either over 45 or under 30.

East 55th Street Jeans

The Citizen Cope concert was pretty low-key, but I had a great time with the friends I went with. One of them was wearing jeans with holes, which I thought was novel. They were small neat holes and I joked that they could have been made by bullets.

Instead of having dedicated craftsmen hand-bleach and abrade your denim before sale, we could market a line of clothing finished at the firing range. (I'm just full of recipes for street cred.) We'd have to sell pants with crotch holes as seconds, of course.

Optionally, the buyer could choose to be wearing them at the time the holes are made. Because I am a cruel bastard, I proposed calling this boutique clothing line "East 55th Street Jeans". Many people tolerate and find uses for Cleveland's East 55th street, but nobody loves it. I choose to make fun of it. But then, I am a bad person.

Citizen Cope at the House of Ugly

Monday night I saw Citizen Cope at the House of Blues. You might know his song "Let the Drummer Kick", which was used on So You Think You Can Dance - or maybe that's just me, because Alice replayed the episode endlessly.

It was an 18-and-older show. We stood near the back, and a few paces in front of us was a tall gangly kid of probably 18 with his mom, dancing his heart out through the whole show. Dancing ... unconventionally, the way I did in high school.

Between us and him were two girls. Every once in a while I would see one of them laugh behind his back and pantomime one of his moves. At one point they had a passerby take a picture of them with him. Then the mocking began in earnest. They flailed along behind him, fell down laughing, and carried on, and I got angrier and angrier.

Now, Alice and I indulge in a catty little game where we make up stories about people - along the lines of What Not To Wear - but we keep it to ourselves. Before I met Alice, I was really uptight about not disrespecting people's idiosyncracies (lord knows I was picked on enough), but then I realized that it doesn't hurt anybody if it's private.

Let me make my feelings perfectly clear: publicly mocking people's nonconformisms is the most poisonous form of hipsterism. Hipsters are joyless accountants of cool, and they contribute nothing more to raising the level of culture than a turd does to the level of a punchbowl. Conformists don't allow anyone to have fun, conventionally--whatever that is--or otherwise.

So, ladies: fuck off.

T-Shirts I'd Like to Make

Places like cafepress will let you upload a jpeg and have it printed on a T-shirt. For example, Alice and I have a matched pair. Mine says "My girl is dirtier than your truck" and hers says "dirtier than your truck". (Monster trucks are a midwest thing.) It can be less than $20, which is a small price to pay to market your personal brand. (Sorry.)

Sooner or later I'll get around to photoshopping up these:

* Don't blame me, it was on fire when I got here
* No user-serviceable parts inside
* To be removed only by consumer
* I Invented A Time Machine And All It Did Was Beam Me This Lousy T-Shirt From The Future
* Mostly Harmless
* test page
* It Wasn't Classy
* I live to serve (small text: french fries)
* Grand Theft Motto
* Human Beep Box
* Wine E. Coyote (with silhouette - I keep thinking of the Social Distortion skeleton)

And lastly, one for Alice:

* Take Once Daily to Reduce Swelling

Plans made based on experiences elsewhere...

I'm headed to Albuquerque tomorrow. I've heard the concentration of Ph.D.s there is higher than anywhere else in America. This creates certain problems. I can relate - I know having a Ph.D. sometimes causes problems with my concentration.

As a result, to paraphrase former governor Lew Wallace, plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail in New Mexico. I love this expression. I think it's highly versatile and I'd like to try adapting it to some other circumstances.

- plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail in times of crisis.

- plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail in Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

- plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail in embarrassing ways.

- plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail in bed.

- plans made based on experiences elsewhere regularly fail invisibly.

Even A Stolen Amp Couldn't Make Me Punk

A car drove drove past my friend's house in the country, stopped, then continued on. My friend and his brother went for a walk and found a small Peavey Rage guitar amplifier sitting on the shoulder. He took it home. An hour later a different car drove slowly down the road, then drove back and forth a few more times, and finally left. Clearly, my friend had intercepted a drop-off for a fence.

I paid Mac $60 for that amplifier, so I didn't steal it personally, but I liked to think it gave me some punk cred. Instead, every time I played my cheap Washburn through it, my grandmother's silver tea service tarnished itself in misery.

I tried to sound like David Gilmour because I couldn't imagine myself sounding like Robert Fripp. I made noise for about five minutes every six months until I sold the guitar a decade later. Clearly it wasn't the creative outlet for me. Twenty years on, do I sound anything like Larry Niven?

Recent eMusic Downloads

My monthly eMusic downloads are always a roll of the dice. I use it to take risks. This month's tracks range from old favorites (Bach) to completely unfamiliar (Wye Oak).

Scorn - Gyral. Long ago, probably in my Trance phase, I heard something off this album and wrote down the name. It's a thudding, repetitive after-midnight thing with a lot of off-kilter highlights. Not club music, but more of a creepy soundtrack.

Steve Reich - Drumming. Recommended to me many times, I finally got it. Overlapping rapid polyrhythms dance circles around each other here. It reminds me of the nominal third Ambient album produced by Brian Eno, the Laraaji "Day of Radiance" piece. Though the influence was surely the other way around.

Bach Preludes and Fugues. In my late teens I inherited a boxed set of three vinyl LPs of Bach's preludes and fugues. I love the atmosphere they give. It's music for Halloween, a soundtrack to a bent man pounding away in the night, his white hair flying. Actually, I'm not as thrilled with this download as I was with the original.

Wye Oak - If Children. Every month I check out my "neighbor recommendations", where eMusic compares your downloads to others' and finds artists you might like. The drawback is that it only uses tracks you've purchased; there's no way to tell it what you already own. Maybe that serves to keep it in tune with your current tastes. Anyway, this was one of those. There's a lot of variety here, from quiet acoustic to noisy electric, from accessible to strange. It is pointedly not electronic. Some of the vocals remind me of Cat Power. I'm enjoying it.

The Mystery of Steel

This thrills my inner metallurgist. Over at Dinosaurs & Robots, they've blogged about a limited number of cars built with stainless steel bodies. They've been shiny for 70 years.

People don't think much about steel. Steel kicked off the industrial revolution in the late 1800s by allowing control over the balance between strength (resistance to permanent bending) and toughness (resistance to fracture). And that's plain carbon steel - stainless came later.

By the way, Mr. Jalopy over at D&R is a bit of a kindred spirit for me. He is, basically, ten.

Overheard at work, 2

...a tinny rendition of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Cut off and followed by a voice: "hello?"

It was somebody's ringtone for their ex.

Secret club

When I was in college, a girl I briefly dated said something I've never forgotten. We were having a Deep Conversation and she was trying to convince me of something. She said:

"You're one of us, you know. You don't just go through life, you live it."

I froze like a lynx. Suddenly I felt conspicuous and exposed. I knew exactly what she was referring to: the examined life, self-improvement. Not too many people I'd met then were capable of talking about that, and nobody had ever put it in those terms. My inner life was one of relentless analysis.

It was us and them. The poets and the dead inside. And then the lust rose in me as I held, in my mind, this invitation to join a secret club. I'd been in it for years without knowing any of the other members.

The rest is all a blur. She played with my mind and slept with all my friends. I aged and the borders between us and them blurred. Some people I met could talk a little bit about what they learned from their experiences, and some people were so busy navelgazing that they weren't open to new experiences.

How did I get here? Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Talking Heads song. Did I fall asleep? This is no place for cruise control.

Plans change

A coworker and I were talking about how our work plans get changed by orders from higher up. Then we have to run around and prepare or undo things. We do our best to anticipate and work efficiently, but clearly somewhere above us somebody knows things are going to change and isn't saying. I joked that I wanted to know at what level ignorance gives way to deceit.

I don't mean to disparage my company. It's not that bad, and actually this state of affairs feels pretty normal. At the time, I shrugged and thought to myself that I doubt there's any other way for a corporation to work - many plans have to be kept secret at some level.

But my next thought was, really? Is it impossible to have a transparent organization, where everybody can see plans coming from the same distance? It sounds like a fairy tale--one of the modern ones where nobody gets eaten--but what would that look like? I wonder. I'm not naive, I know strategic plans have to be kept out of the competition's hands. But is this something to work towards? And how?

Runner's high

I was talking with some fellow-exercisers recently and the subject of runner's high came up--those natural endorphins from exercise. Everybody else at the table said they got it. I never do. I don't think I ever have, even in high school when I'd bike 20 miles without sitting down. (Whatever my other faults, I had a pretty good ass back then.) One of the guys I was talking to was puzzled and said, so you just power through your workout?

I guess I do. I exercise at 5:30 AM. Now that I think about it, that's pretty much the low-energy point of my day. I like the sensation of muscle fatigue I get later in the day, but it doesn't feel good while I'm exercising. Another guy I work with loves to eat pizza for lunch because the carbs let him go home after work and lift harder.

What's up with that? Should I be doing something differently to get that high?

Overheard at work

Overheard at work:

"I figured out why I'm so busy. I end every conversation with 'let me know if you need help with that.' From now on, I'm changing my catchphrase to 'I hope that works out for you.'

Do you have snow tires?

I noticed the fluff of snow on the garbage can this morning as I brought the dogs back in from their walk. First I was surprised that it was below freezing. Then I realized that soon it'll be time to put the snow tires on the car.

When I bought this car, it had brand new all-season tires on it. When the snow started sticking to the ground, I noticed they didn't have much grip, but the point was driven home one morning next to a bus at a stoplight. The light turned green and I gave it as much gas as I could without the tires spinning ... and the bus accelerated past me.

I bought a spare set of rims--cheap steel ones from Tire Rack--and had my winter tires mounted on them. The difference is night and day. I do the installation myself: I have a hydraulic jack, a click-type torque wrench, and a 24V cordless impact wrench with lugnut sockets. Oh yeah, and a compressor. Keep your tires inflated to the right pressure, folks.

Taking control of my online identity

I just googled myself for the first time in a long time. The following results came up:

* A profile on for a guy who posts extremely long reviews of Dungeons & Dragons books from Madison, WI
* My resume, circa the year 2000, at a long-neglected Argonne National Lab page
* My LinkedIn page--no, wait, it's Jeff Hershberger of Madison, WI. Aaaaargh
* A Facebook page for some other Jeff Hershberger (I'm not on Facebook)
* Some other junk
* My profile on the Cleveland Weblogger Meetup Group
* A profile for a photographer on, whose home page is listed as (which, thank god, is inactive)
* A profile for Jeff Hershberger of Stevens Point, WI

Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, I always came up first in google searches. Having your name in a .gov page can have that effect. Not any more. It's an unusual name, but I didn't even have it to myself in the scientific literature. There was a rather prolific biologist that always came up when people searched for my articles.

This is harder than it sounded. Think I'll email that guy in Madison.

UPDATE: I just claimed a custom LinkedIn public profile page. So, guy in Madison, if you follow the old link in my email dotsig, it's broken., the self-obviating site

Obviate, n., to render unnecessary. is a social networking site for arranging face-to-face meetings; if it works well enough, people don't need it anymore. They meet new people automatically.

My use of goes back to the first days of this blog. I started a blog because I wanted to write, and then I went looking for other bloggers nearby, you know, geographically. Oddly, Google and were not much help, but when I found one particular blog--I could swear it was Brewed Fresh Daily--there was a link there to the Cleveland Weblogger Meetup Group. I joined. And it snowballed.

Alice and I moved to Cleveland in late 2006 knowing almost no one. Meeting people wasn't easy either. But two groups on made a huge difference. The webloggers meetup is frankly an intellectual riot; I come home jazzed every time. It's become the core of one of my social networks. The wine meetup is well-hosted and enthusiastic, and introduced us to several people who have become friends. And we've become friends with their friends.

That's how it happens. A seed is planted, and it branches out. Roots get put down. Honestly I didn't feel like I had roots here at the end of 2007, but now I do.

Diction and the thesaurus

I am beginning to suspect that using a thesaurus is actually bad for my diction. It seems to prevent me from pulling the right word out of my brain.

As I was typing the previous post about LinkedIn, I was struggling for a word to replace "populations" in the first line. I was thinking of something that probably starts with an "m" and has three or so syllables. Not coming up with it, I went to and searched for "population". From there I went to "community" and then to "association". The "m" word wasn't in any of the lists. I gave up.

But the interesting thing is that the longer I searched, the more I lost that it's-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue feeling. The feeling that I would recognize the "m" word when I saw it. Reading and processing all those synonyms watered down my own impression of what I wanted to convey. I was trying to connect with a meaning that had formed, but not revealed itself, in the back of my mind. The impostor ideas hid it like a zebra in a herd.

It's entirely possible that "demographic" was the word I was searching for. I no longer know.


I think Panlexicon would serve me better. It's a tag-cloud-based analog to a thesaurus. If the underlying database was an actual thesaurus, so much the better. Though in this case it still hasn't given me the right answer ... and it doesn't recognize the word "demographic".


There seem to be three major populations on LinkedIn:
1. High-powered executives
2. HR people, recruiters, and others in the employment industry
3. IT people and related technologists

For the past week or so I've been fleshing out my presence there, and I'm a little surprised at the big holes in the membership:
1. Scientists. I used to work at Argonne National Lab, which employs about 900 Ph.D.'s. And yet the majority of users who turn up under the search term "argonne" are in the IT department. Of the dozens of scientists whose email addresses I still have, only two were on LinkedIn. (And they haven't answered my requests!)
2. Sales. These people are consummate networkers ... why aren't they here?
3. Almost everybody else. Technical professionals, managers, the lot.

It's an odd sort of trimodal demographic.

Election 2008

The national bowel movement has begun. It's more uplifting than I can remember in a long time.

Give us your tired, your poor, your freshly breakfasted. Your veterans, your power-tied, your bullet-headed. Give us your suspicious, your guardedly optimistic, your wide-eyed. Your huddled masses yearning to believe.

No matter who wins, with every free and fair election in America, the terrorists lose.

Out in the open

Well, I took the plunge and de-anonymized this blog.

I blog for pretty simple reasons: it's a creative outlet and it keeps me sharp. Larry Niven wrote that if you can't explain your idea to someone without confusing them, then you haven't thought it through enough. (Does it surprise you that Niven was one of my favorite authors?) Posting here forces me to finish my thoughts, and leaves me with clearer memories down the road. It creates narratives.

Since I started this, anonymity was an unasked question. All else being equal, I wanted to preserve the option of secrecy. If the subject matter was deeply personal, I didn't want it thrown at me in another context.

But all else is not equal. My friends George and Jack, who happen to be published authors on the subject of community building, convinced me by example that there was more to gain by being myself here. The same me I would be in person, with all the accountability and reward that comes with it. I acknowledge that I have a public online presence, and I'm taking control of it.

So: hello, my name is Jeff Hershberger, and I blog. You can get to my LinkedIn page from my Blogger profile (click my name in the "contributors" section in the right hand column).

The power of names

I've been running a little experiment lately. I call people by their names instead of just saying "good morning" or "hey". The results have been interesting.

I used to say that I'm lousy with names. A lot of people say this. A while ago I decided to try to change that because I felt it was a failing. I remarked to some friends that when you call someone by name, a switch flips inside their head. For them, you move from a bin of people for whom they do not exist to a bin of people for whom they do exist. You acknowledge their specific existence. To never use someone's name is subtly, subliminally dehumanizing.

I was surprised at how many people's names I actually did know. I've made special effort for those people that always call me by name (that's you, Jauan). In one case, a slightly nervous fellow relaxed so much when I used his name that we ended up having a couple of extended conversations. I learned a lot.

Maybe it's my imagination, but I think people are looking at me differently. I prefer to believe they are.

Communication Breakdown

Communication breakdown:
60% Non-Verbal
33% Tone of Voice
7% Words

This kind of makes empirical rationalism and objectivity difficult, doesn't it?

There are all kinds of influences on our judgements - even a scientist evaluating the technical merits of a proposed project is influenced by the presenter's appearance. In something like politics, the effect is much more obvious. Actually, in political campaigns, I'd say that words count for almost nothing, unless fault can be found with them.

Objectivity takes constant effort. It requires attention to one's subconscious reactions to anything other than words and observed events. One must consciously push those reactions aside and keep the facts foremost in mind. Only then can nature be predicted and understood.

This can be taken too far, of course. I've trained my whole life to do this and I'm good at it, but at the cost of insensitivity to tone and nonverbal cues. Now I have to train myself to do both, to know which to use when, and to be able to choose between them.

It's all about being a better man.

Penzeys Spices

I've posted a few recipes here already, so I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you about Penzeys Spices, my favorite place to buy, well, spices. They started in Madison, Wisconsin, and expanded to many brick-and-mortar stores in the Midwest as well as a thriving online store. Penzey's stuff is always super fresh and top quality.

Eatingcleveland is currently running a giveaway of a gift box of 8 herbs and herb blends. Hence this post. I buy fresh herbs from Penzeys every year--the green stuff like basil that goes bad quickly. Spices (seeds) last longer but the leaves are better fresh.Yeah, we're Penzeys customers. (There's overflow in a second drawer and a box.)

Halloween 2008


Alice and I spent the night with some rogues named Daniel, Antony, Janice (née Absentina), A-The-Attorney, Stacy, Jessica, and various blurry others.

Daniel the Priest:Alice the French Maid:And that, my friends, is my wife's personal brand. Rock on, Alice.

Daniel and Alice (Bless you my child, for you are sinning):Your humble narrator, Beaker the Muppet:It's hard to tell, but I'm actually wearing a lab coat. And drinking beer out of a beaker. They didn't do that on the Muppets so much.

A-The-Attorney and Alice:Rowr!

It was the best Halloween since college. Woo-hoo!