Between the World and Me – an Important Book

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is an important book.

An epistolary non-fiction book, Coates writes to his son about what it was to grow up as a black person in West Baltimore, MD and beyond.

As a white person of certain privilege (white, male, not poor) it hit hard. It comes in the middle of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protest movement, and the constant stream of news that is “…if he/she wasn’t black…” news.

Coates is way smarter than me; he is also resentful of me (white, Ivy League), but balanced.

This book is – to totally trivialize it – the book equivalent of 12 Years a Slave. A slap in the face of what being black in America is. A reality check.

The movie focused on pre-Civil War norms; this book focuses on the post Civil Rights America, and how that has … improved, but not at all fixed the life of the average black American.


All books

Yes, ater reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, I wrote my mini-review of the book — see sidebar, or see all Top [more than] 10 Lists (everyone loves lists!).

But this book – to me – resonated more than the simple review reflected.

It’s an important book.


Because Coates outlines, in painful – but not hyperbolic – detail what it is like to grow up black.

Specifically, West Baltimore, MD, in the 70s and 80s (Coates was born in 1975). A decade after The March on Washington.

It’s not pretty, especially since we are – today – 150 years beyond the Civil War; 50 years beyond the march on Washington.

Black individuals – Freddie Grey, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland – that were pulled over/choked/shot because, it seems, they were black.

They were judged, not by the content of their character, but the color of their skin.

The Trump campaign/presidency has, basically, allowed racists to speak up. It’s done this by the candidate/president regularly using xenophobic, misogynist and – at best – borderline racist comments. If the president can say this, so can we, right?

I’m not saying Trump caused the uptick in, well, basically hateful language (and some actions, such as mosque bombings), but he created an environment in which is was OK to say things we wouldn’t have said out loud before. And this shows how far we have not come.

Maybe this unmasking, this “laying the cards on the table” is a good thing, as we’re not pretending to just all get along anymore, but it’s – to me – damn frightening to see/hear/read.

I’m reading a new book of essays by Teju Cole – I read a review of him about a year or so ago. Bought the book; reading same.

Book: Known and Strange Things; essay “Black Body”

The news of the day (old news, but raw as a fresh wound) is that black American life is disposable from the point of view of policing, sentencing, economic policy, and countless forms of disregard. There is a vivid performance of innocence, but there’s no actual innocence left. The moral ledger remains so far in the negative that we can’t even get started on the question of reparations.

Can agree to disagree, but what Cole spells out is what Coates spells out, to a different degree – but both agree that to be black in America is an extra burden that you would NOT have if you were not black.

Again, 150 years after the Civil War, I agree.

And while that makes me mad (oh, enlightened white dude!), it still keeps “[verb] while blacks” individuals in the US at risk, and I really don’t know what to do about that.

Stephen Hawking – RIP

brief History

Among his other (more significant) actions, his book A Brief History of Time was the successor to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Science for the masses. He died yesterday (3/14/2018), sad, but he received his ALS diagnosis in his twenties (received a grim “a handful of years to live” talk, but lived 50 years beyond that).

I liked the math in his famous book (that math that I could follow); this was a complaint of many readers of the book (“too much math!”).

With his compromised (physical) condition, he still figgered out so much about the cosmos – specifically, the nature of black holes.

Einstein vs. Newton vs. Hawking??

No good answer, but that they are all put together…..says something.

New primary computer – Windows 10


Tiles – big and small

Well, it’s been almost a year since I ordered a new “main Windows box” – the primary computer I use at home for photo processing and such (I use my Linux server for backups and other CRON-type tasks).

I knew it was going to take some time to set up, because I use this main Windows box very differently than most people use their computer.

Most folks just have Microsoft Office installed on their new computer, and just use a thumb drive to move the items in the Documents directory to the new computer. Maybe add an anti-virus product (if not already in place), maybe install iTunes and they are good to go.

My box is a little different:

  • I partition my hard drive to make things a little easier to organize – web backups, backups from other sources, image “drives.”
  • I install an FTP server (Filezilla) for local uses. Have to install, set up users, make sure ports are configured correctly for uploads and downloads (and only for local access).
  • One partition has a directory that is backups of the more vital info I have on my Linux server (which does a lot of heavy lifting). For example, I have a directory of scripts that I run as CRON jobs at various intervals. Don’t want to risk losing those (the scripts) if a hard drive fails or whatever, so each night I tar/gzip that directory up and FTP to the Windows machine. I keep a rolling backup of items like this; different backups are kept longer than other (between a week’s and a month’s worth of backups).
  • I also do some Windoze=>Linux backups via CRON/batch files. Test this, fix this, verify this. Yeah, it takes time.
  • While I process my photos on the box – not that unusual – I do use Picasa (sadly abandoned by Google in 2016), Photoshop & Lightroom. And I have about 35G of photos on the box. So it’s a little different. Also, “processing photos” is kind of a lost art – people are now just snapping with their phones and uploading to Instagram/Facebook/whatever’s hot today…
  • Moving Picasa was especially challenging: Had to find a good install (clean, no adware/malware etc.) for a program not supported since 2016, move files AND maintain metadata properly. I had done this once before (years ago), and while it worked out (then and now), it was still a painful procedure.
  • I also needed to install (and configure) some decidedly, for the average user, non-standard programs: Putty, a FTP client (again, Filezilla, but the client), Thunderbird (for non-cloud email accounts) and so on.
  • And since I have a LAN in my office, have to find (pain in the ass) and update the host file.

So it did take a lot of time and work to get the box – Dell Precision, 64G RAM, 2TB hard drive with separate 256G SSD for the OS (fast boots!) – “switched over” from the old one (also a Dell Precision).

One note – this is my first Win10 box I’ve ever used (much less set up).

My thoughts on Win10:

  • It’s Windows – so, ultimately relatable to users of earlier versions, with many of the same flaws and strengths of older versions.
  • That said, it’s the best version of Windows I’ve used (and I go back to Windows 3.11).
  • There are some new irritations in this latest version of Windows: Having to set up a MS account to start the set-up; the way the common stuff is “hidden” and you have to use Cortana to find stuff (more on Cortana below); the fact that you have to Google like crazy to find out how to shut off the MS account login on reboot.
  • Cortana – the computer-wide (and beyond) search – works very well. I don’t have that much stuff on this box yet, so it’s hard to say how the indexing holds up – but, first impressions are a thumbs-up.
  • Tiles – brilliant. Busts open a different way to view “start menu” and/or pinned tabs. Yes!
  • Live tiles: This was the only reason I was sad that the MS phone died (well, that and reduces competition, never good for consumers) – the different interface was intriguing – and made sense (“live tiles” show up-to-the moment info – weather, who called etc.). I liked it on the MS phone (the couple of times I handled one), and I like it on Windows 10.
  • Drivers were a hugh problem, especially for my Canon flatbed scanner (purchased and used on Win7 box). It got so bad that I thought, what the hell, buy a new scanner…but I could not find a scanner that was for Win10, only Win8/Win8.1. WTF? I’m sure they’d have worked with Win10, but, again, WTF? As always, Google (and Canon’s site) saved me. Install this, then this, then this, then nuke second “this” and so on. Works now, but needed the secret handshake/decoder ring. And I’m a dork – imagine the non-dorks. (NOTE: I did an Amazon search just now for “flatbed scanner Windows 10” and all results did [that I viewed] NOT have Win10 as a supported [or mentioned] OS. Window 8.x and Mac 10.x but no explicit Windows 10 support – an OS released 7/2015. Weird.)
  • Bottom line: for the vast majority of users, Windows 10 is Windows with a very small learning curve. Don’t upgrade on a weak RAM machine (Win10 is beefier than earlier versions), but – beyond that: Embrace the change. Best Windows yet.

Update 3/9/2018: The new Dell box that I have has “whatever*shrug*” one weirdness: The optical drive is like one that one sees on laptops – the half-tray. Seriously, I paid for a (powerful) desktop, and I gots this weenie drive. Yes, the “burned disk” is going away, but still….

All the President’s Men

All The President's Men

We re-watched All the President’s Men this weekend. In just under a year of Trump (investigations, allegations, charges and guilty pleas), this seemed a good choice.

I haven’t watched this movie in decades – came out in 1976, so I probably watched it first on VHS (DVDs first came out around 2000 or so).

The movie – all 139 minutes – holds up. It’s a lot of doing the boring work of journalism – calling, confirming, squeezing people to get some facts…yeah, sounds boring.

It is.

But the movie presents it all in a way that makes the mundane – in this case – seem compelling.

It succeeds.

The book is (obviously?) better, but if you’ve read the book (All The President’s Men) or not, the movie still captures the essence of the book, which is, simply – we found something bad in government, reported same.

And – to a certain extent – changed history.

Yay! – Guys, we suck

Today (well, recently) was not a good day to be a guy, as so many – well – just WRONG stories keep coming out.

All (most) men are probably decent(?), but today’s headlines (not from some fringe sites) suggests that — overall — there are some men that are icky.

Obviously (?) ALL of these accusations are untrue – because “women”


Ken Burns’ Vietnam


Finished watching the 10 part, 18 hour The Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns.

Almost wish it lasted longer.

Again – 18 hours over 10 episodes. Yet it was well done, even when (most) episodes included interviews with the same dozen or so main interviewees – must have been a hell of an editing session!

I’ve watched a few of Burns’ documentaries; this is – by far – the best (and I loved The National Parks: America’s Best Idea) of his efforts.

Impressions of the Vietnam doc- short list after watching (but not long-er digesting) the doc in no particular order:

  • Live footage – from US, North and South Vietnam
  • Interviews with North and South Vietnam soldiers (as well as US soldiers/officials)
  • France – trying to get rubber (Indochine) failed to subdue, let’s say, Vietnam. US repeated basically all of France’s errors in same country (and echoes Russian failure in Afghanistan, followed by US’s 16+ years in same country)
  • How our leaders lied to us, and basically to NOT BE the first president to lose a war…’cause it’ll hurt re-election. Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon…
  • Combined with Watergate, the Vietnam War totally reduced American’s trust in government. This – to me – is an ongoing issue.
  • A lot of good people – both sides of the war – died for no good reason.
  • The Vietnam Memorial was debated in last episode – push-back by some vets; legitimately embraced. (NOTE: I’ve done the Vietnam Memorial — powerful and sublime)

A splash of color

Fire hydrants

For reason which I can’t explain – and the specifics of which I am unaware (yes, I’m a fount of knowledge) – it appears that our town, Mt. Prospect, IL is having some sort of decorate a fire hydrant contest.

I first noticed some non-standard colored hydrants a while ago, and – as I started to pay more attention – I began to see more of the same.

And some efforts are pretty good.

The two hydrants pictured (click pic for larger image) are my current favorites, both are a mix of color and whimsy. Nicely done.

Just did some digging – the hydrant contest is part of the village’s 100th anniversary celebration. OK, that makes sense.

Sam Shepard – RIP

Sam Shepard died today at 73.

He was more of a playwright than anything to me, and I’m not a theater guy that much.

THAT said, he was great in the Grisham movie The Pelican Brief and other acting roles. He was extremely versatile, to say the least. Playwright, director, actor.

But I loved his writing. This is from “True West” – so well written:

So they take off after each other straight into an endless black prairie. The sun is just comin’ down and they can feel the night on their backs. What they don’t know is that each one of ’em is afraid, see. And then keep ridin’ like that straight into the night. Not knowing. And the one who’s chasin’ doesn’t know where the other one is taking him. And the one who’s being chased doesn’t know where he’s going.

Update 8/6/2017: My Buddy. A remembrance of Shepard by Patti Smith published in The New Yorker. Reminiscent of the prologue to Smith’s Just Friends, her memoir about Smith’s long-time relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Our weekend – Art fair and Hindu temple

Geneva, IL Art Fair 2017
Geneva, IL Art Fair 2017

Barerel+Rye, Geneva, IL

Patten House Restaurant
Patten House Restaurant, Geneva, IL

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Bartlett, IL

Over the weekend, Romy and I headed down to Geneva, IL for its annual art fair. We usually go on Saturday, but due to the threat of rain, we went on Sunday.

It was a nice day – clear skies (until we got home, when it poured) – but very muggy. It seems like it’s always hot and muggy for this fair, but it’s always at the end of July, so what did you expect?

It’s usually a good show – five blocks of a north/south street shut down with booths on either side if the street. Lots to look at.

We ended the pass of the one side, and with the sun and humidity, it was time for a beer. So, of course, I pulled out my smartphone and looked for a tavern (what did we do before smartphones? I guess we had to, you know, “plan” stuff..). Worked out perfectly – the Barrel + Rye was right behind the tent we were standing next to.

The bar was OK – I had a good beer on tap, and the food I saw served looked solid (bar food: burgers, fries and such, but a little inventive). However, the real draw of the place – if you’re into this (I’m not) – is their extensive drink list, specializing in shots of all manner of bourbon, rye and scotch. Rows and rows of choices.

Refreshed, we hit the second half of the fair.

It was a pretty good show – we didn’t get anything, but that’s not the point. For us, it’s to get out and see something different. Geneva did not disappoint.

For lunch, we passed on the Mexican restaurant we’ve gone to – and enjoyed – the last couple of years, Sergio’s Cantina (recommended), instead trying a place I spotted online, The Patten House. This is a historical house that was renovated into a restaurant – a Cajun restaurant – a few years back.

Turned out to be a good choice – both of us said we’d go back there again. A little on the pricey side, but good food and a nice atmosphere. (But I still think that it’s weird that they only have a Facebook page, with no web site/menu listing. They’ve been around for a few years now. Whatever…)

In an odd stroke of luck, on the way home we stopped at a place I has spotted on Google Maps that looked interesting: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a very ornate Hindu temple. Didn’t even know it existed.

Pretty extraordinary – the expansive grounds, the visitor center (Haveli), and the oh-so-intricately carved temple, the Mandir – both inside and out. I wish I knew a little more – as in basically anything – about Hindu relision and culture. Probably would have gotten more out of the visit.

The location has its rules – which is fine – but it costs nothing to enter, everyone is very polite, and the temple is really remarkable. Intricate carvings galore, and dropped into a wooded area in Bartlett, IL. Who’d have thunk?? I’ll be adding some shots to the gallery as I get to it.

Happy Bday iPhone!

iPhone 1Yes, the iPhone is now 10 years old.

Like a lotta things, it seems to be way older and – at the same time – “it’s really a decade old??”

Like/hate the iPhone – and all other smartphones since 2007 – this was a game changer.

Will – in the next decade – smartphones seem like novelties, like flip phones and MP3 players?


But what replaces the smartphone??

Ah, that is the $100 billion question..