I’ve Moved On. Join me!

December 7, 2018

Hello.  Since starting this online diary of my thesis research back in 2007 I’ve transitioned from graduate student enthusiast to actual architect and practiced my trade in rural Wisconsin and in Chicago.  Now I’m living in Madison, WI and I’m on a mission to transform the builder-basic ranch back into America’s Dream Home. Find out more about my crusade at my new site Mid Mod Midwest.  

ranch 3_insta




April 3, 2013

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go

to be in Michigan. The right hand of America

waving from maps or the left

pressing into clay a mold to take home

from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan

forty-three years. The state bird

is a chained factory gate. The state flower

is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical

though it is merely cold and deep as truth.

A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”

can sincerely use the word “sincere.”

In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.

When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.

There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life

goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,

which we’re not getting along with

on account of the Towers as I pass.

Then Ohio goes corn corn corn

billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget

how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.

It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.

The Upper Peninsula is a spare state

in case Michigan goes flat. I live now

in Virginia, which has no backup plan

but is named the same as my mother,

I live in my mother again, which is creepy

but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,

suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials

are needed. The state joy is spring.

“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”

is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,

when February hasn’t ended. February

is thirteen months long in Michigan.

We are a people who by February

want to kill the sky for being so gray

and angry at us. “What did we do?”

is the state motto. There’s a day in May

when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics

is everywhere, and daffodils are asked

by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes

with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.

In this way I have given you a primer.

Let us all be from somewhere.

Let us tell each other everything we can.

Bob Hicok


Fairytales for Twenty-Somethings

October 25, 2012

After pulling the sword from the stone but before becoming king, Arthur went on a cross-country road trip / vision quest. He crashed on friends’ couches or, on a few nights, the back seat of his car. He went to Burning Man, stayed in the mountains of Montana for a few weeks, and learned to build a cigar-box guitar from some guy on the street in New Orleans.When he finally arrived home, a wiser man, he thought, “That shit was awesome. I gotta find a way to do that all the time.”

After pulling the sword from the stone but before becoming king, Arthur went on a cross-country road trip / vision quest. He crashed on friends’ couches or, on a few nights, the back seat of his car. He went to Burning Man, stayed in the mountains of Montana for a few weeks, and learned to build a cigar-box guitar from some guy on the street in New Orleans.

When he finally arrived home, a wiser man, he thought, “That shit was awesome. I gotta find a way to do that all the time.”

This is exactly how I feel.

Laugh of the Day

February 4, 2012

Here was my belly laugh of today.  While helping my dear sister edit a follow up letter to her favorite medical school I made use of good old SHIFT-F7 to find a synonym of “thrilled.”  Most of the suggestions were pretty obvious: a “delighted,” “excited,” and “overjoyed.”  But “detective novel”?  That’s an unusual one!  Thoughts?

Literary Mixtapes, 8tracks and Fan Fiction

December 14, 2011

I’ve long been a devotee of Flavorwire’s Literary Mixtapes.  Every so often the clever folks over there “sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters”  and provide their readership with a list and links.  The character write-ups are pithy and thought provoking and the music is always interesting and often enjoyable.  Some of my favorite mixes are:

Lyra Belacqua – “Here’s what we think Lyra would battle Mrs. Coulter, deceive Iofur Raknison, and read the alethiometer to.”

Harry Potter– “Here’s what we think Harry would be moping about, Wronski Feinting, and saving the world to.”

Ender Wiggin – “Here are the songs we think he’d calculate, strategize and defy gravity to.”

Earlier this year I was inspired to a couple of my own.  The seed of that inspiration actually came not from “literature” per se but from a piece of Harry Potter fan fiction, albeit a very literary example of the type.  Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation is the epic tale (as yet incomplete at 300,000 words – some of which I needed to look up) of what happened to Hermione after the war.  Its complicated and dark,  turning over all the rocks in the Potterverse and looking underneath them.

Perspective is nearly everything in fiction.  Harry simply doesn’t pay attention to the complexities of the wizarding world the way Hermione does.  So although wizarding world has authoritarian governments combated by underground resistant movements, rebel forces on the run, pirate radio stations and break ins at highly secure official installations, the seven Harry Potter books feel more like the story of one boy’s heroic brush with fate.    Amends, told from Hermione’s perspective, is more complex and darkly nuanced and much more political.  I spent most of September steeping myself in her combative, question-everything point of view and thoroughly enjoyed it.  One of the results is this trio of playlists based on three of the main characters in the Amends plot line.

Wandless Incencio: Here are the songs I think Hermione would be time turning, writing code and plotting to overthrow the Ministry of Magic to.

Worth Twelve: Here’s what Neville would be pining, planting and pacing the Lancashire moors to.

House Arrest: And these are the tracks Draco would be stunt flying, sulking and re-evaluating his place in the world to.

8tracks doesn’t allow its users to list the songs in each mix (something to do with the legality of making music available for free on the internet – like Pandora there has to be an element of randomness).  But each of the songs on the mix was chosen for a specific reason and, if you care to, you can read the liner notes for Hermione’s playlist, “Wandless Incendio” after the jump.  Warning: it contains some spoiler alerts for the Amends plot line so beware. Read the rest of this entry »

Naughty, please

December 12, 2011

My sister visited for the weekend and we indulged in a holiday baking extravaganza making caramel blondies, eggnog muffins and coal cookies (the undisputed favorite).

These “lumps of coal” are simply delicious.  If you have to be naughty to get them … it’s well worth it.  The only difficulty is that they are so sinfully chocolaty that each one you eat earns you another.  A dangerous cycle.

Kids, DO try this one at home.  Recipe  after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

What to read next.

October 11, 2011

NPR has created a list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.  This as awesome.  Still more excellent is the  funny (and very functional) flow chart of NPR’s selections created by SFSignal.    ENJOY!

You might also want to check out Monkey See’s analysis of the final list with suggestions for how to be a winner including:

1. Write it a long time ago.

3. Be a dude.

4. Be British.

There are plenty of quibbles.  But still its a very comprehensive list – I’ve only read a third of the books on it – and a great jumping off point for a fun reading adventure.

Starting from the top:

On the Fantasy side:

Or for Science Fiction:


“I’ll join you when hell freezes over:” Neville Longbottom

September 9, 2011

I said earlier that I wanted to come back to Neville after having re-read further into the books.  I never made it to the end of the series with my posts last time so I didn’t get to his shining moment at the end of the series.  Now I want to come back and explore how he grows from the toad-less boy in book one to Voldemort-defying BAMF in book seven.

Note: I’ll stick to Neville as characterized in the books for this post although I should note that I’m as pleased as anyone that the movie characterization finally allowed Neville to grow from walking punch line to the Sword-of-Gryffindor-wielding hero we knew him to be.  It hasn’t hurt at all that the actor who plays him, Matthew Lewis, is a great candidate for Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award these days either.

Neville is so great!

Unfailingly kind.  Determined.  Adorably self effacing.  Morally upstanding.  Loyal.  Nerdily enthusiastic.  I could wax poetic on the subject – is my crush showing?  Neville doesn’t always see the value in himself but he is quite capable of making friends who see it for him.  I love the moment at the opening of Order of the Phoenix when he meets Luna:

‘And I don’t know who you are.’
‘I’m nobody,’ said Neville hurriedly.
‘No, you’re not,’ said Ginny sharply.  ‘Neville Longbottom – Luna Lovegood…’

The DA (part the first)

“Nor had he said anything on the subject of Bellatrix and her fellow torturers’ escape; in fact, he barely spoke during D.A. meetings anymore, but worked relentlessly on every new jinx and counter curse Harry taught them, his plump face screwed up in concentration, apparently indifferent to injuries or accidents, working harder than anyone else in the room. He was improving so fast it was unnerving and when Harry taught them the Shield Charm, a means of deflecting minor jinxes so that they rebounded upon the attacker, only Hermione mastered the charm faster than Neville.”

Neville is determined.  He insists that he, Luna and Ginny go with Harry to the Ministry at the end of Order of the Phoenix reminding Harry that its not all about him – they all have lives and loved ones at stake in this war.  He’s also the last man standing with Harry at the end in the department of mysteries and defiant to the last despite a broken nose and wand.

And then … a new wand.

Ok, Wizarding World, WTF!  Its explained ad nauseum in the books that “the wand chooses the wizard” and Harry can’t be the only person who has ever had to work with another person’s wand and found it doesn’t do the trick for him.  Why are these wizarding parents setting their kids up for failure by sending them off to Hogwarts with poorly matched wands?

Its always been clear to me that part of Ron’s difficulty with school comes from spending two years with the wrong wand.  No wonder Neville thinks he’s a squib when he did his first five years of magical education with someone else’s wand.  Poor kid.  I think getting his own wand finally would be instrumental to his re-birth as a confident Gryffindor and leader of men (and women).   Its fine that he keeps his dad’s fugly sweater collection though – that’s quite sweet.

The DA (part the second)

“It helps to stand up to people.  I noticed that when you used to do it.”

There’s relatively little of Neville in the seventh book compared to what we are told he’s been up to but even what little there is shows how much he’s changed.  Its not clear when that happens.  Suddenly he’s (still self effacingly) leading an army of child soldiers and acting as guardian angel of the whole school.  Since no one (or at least not Harry) was paying much attention to him during all that time, it’s unclear when he made the transformation from Round-faced Toad Loser to Understated Underground Resistance Leader.

It was there all along.

But has he really changed?  Sure he’s grown up, stutters less, knows more spells, has a new wand.  But I think he’s largely the same person all along.  Still slightly self-effacing but ultimately ready to get the job done.  JK Rowling in an 2007 interview:

“And he really was The Boy It Could’ve Been, because as you know, as I made clear, he was born hours before Harry, he was born on the 30th of July, Voldemort singled him out as the other possibility. But the great thing about Neville’s story for me, the over-arching story about Neville, is that he proves himself to be a boy who could’ve done it too.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Three cheers for Neville Longbottom. Hip hip, hooray!!!!


July 21, 2011

Aren’t these great?  I found them here but think they originated here.

There wasn’t one for Ginny, which I thought was such a startling oversight that I made one myself.  Thanks for the inspiration pink-martini!  I hope you don’t mind.

Click here for more Harry Potter.

Fan Fun Weekend

July 19, 2011

The last Harry Potter Weekend has come and gone.  I enjoyed it to the max; I went to a midnight release with friends and dressed up as a Ravenclaw in uniform skirt, blue and grey striped tie, wand and robes adapted from my graduation gown.  My sister came over from Madison to see it with me again on Friday after work.  I quite enjoyed … but didn’t entirely love the movie.  I haven’t really processed it yet.

Uncertainty about the movie not withstanding, we celebrated Harry Potterdom to the max by discussing it ad nauseum while watching movies 5 thru 7a, preparing British foods  for dinner (Bubble and Squeak is great) and experimenting with Pumpkin Pasties for desert.  The recipe, as we executed it, was basically pumpkin pie filling cooked in a casserole dish until firm and then scooped into 4″ circles of pie dough, folded and crimped, then baked till brown.  They were delicious, if not very seasonally appropriate.

We also celebrated our favorite character with a mixed drink we’ve christened the “Strong Neville” adapted from the Backyard Bartender’s HP themed coctails.  We slightly upped both the lemon juice and simple syrup in an effort to make it slightly less alcoholic but no less delicious.  The result was, as promised: “a little fussy, quintessentially British, and unexpectedly strong.”  Her recipe:

Neville Longbottom
1.5 oz tea-infused gin
1 oz Pimm’s
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
.75 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass.

Tea-Infused Gin
In an airtight jar, combine 1.5 cups of gin and 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of loose English Breakfast tea leaves. Seal the jar, shake once, and allow to sit at room temperature for two hours. After two hours, open the jar and strain out the gin.

It was, all in all, a lovely weekend of fan fun.

Click here for more on Harry Potter.


Happy 4th of July

July 4, 2011

via the New York Times

No Sense of Decency

March 22, 2011

Today’s New York Times op ed piece by William Cronan, of the UW Madison Geography Department (Go Badgers!), is so on the money that I’m just posting it in its entirety.

NOW that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it’s worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context.

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a “laboratory of democracy.” The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers’ compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.

University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security and were responsible for founding the union that eventually became the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Wisconsin reformers were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection.

But while Americans are aware of this progressive tradition, they probably don’t know that many of the innovations on behalf of working people were at least as much the work of Republicans as of Democrats.

Although Wisconsin has a Democratic reputation these days — it backed the party’s presidential candidates in 2000, 2004 and 2008 — the state was dominated by Republicans for a full century after the Civil War. The Democratic Party was so ineffective that Wisconsin politics were largely conducted as debates between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican Party.

When the Wisconsin Democratic Party finally revived itself in the 1950s, it did so in a context where members of both parties were unusually open to bipartisan policy approaches. Many of the new Democrats had in fact been progressive Republicans just a few years earlier, having left the party in revulsion against the reactionary politics of their own senator, Joseph R. McCarthy, and in sympathy with postwar liberalizing forces like the growing civil rights movement.

The demonizing of government at all levels that has become such a reflexive impulse for conservatives in the early 21st century would have mystified most elected officials in Wisconsin just a few decades ago.

When Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson, a Democrat, sought to extend collective bargaining rights to municipal workers in 1959, he did so in partnership with a Legislature in which one house was controlled by the Republicans. Both sides believed the normalization of labor-management relations would increase efficiency and avoid crippling strikes like those of the Milwaukee garbage collectors during the 1950s. Later, in 1967, when collective bargaining was extended to state workers for the same reasons, the reform was promoted by a Republican governor, Warren P. Knowles, with a Republican Legislature.

The policies that the current governor, Scott Walker, has sought to overturn, in other words, are legacies of his own party.

But Mr. Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights breaks with Wisconsin history in two much deeper ways as well. Among the state’s proudest traditions is a passion for transparent government that often strikes outsiders as extreme. Its open meetings law, open records law and public comment procedures are among the strongest in the nation. Indeed, the basis for the restraining order blocking the collective bargaining law is that Republicans may have violated open meetings rules in passing it. The legislation they have enacted turns out to be radical not just in its content, but in its blunt ends-justify-the-means disregard for openness and transparency.

This in turn points to what is perhaps Mr. Walker’s greatest break from the political traditions of his state. Wisconsinites have long believed that common problems deserve common solutions, and that when something needs fixing, we should roll up our sleeves and work together — no matter what our politics — to achieve the common good.

Mr. Walker’s conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state’s tradition of open government.

Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.

The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin’s citizens have not.

William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 22, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition.

So its going to take longer than I had hoped …

March 11, 2011

… but I don’t think anyone is done fighting this battle yet. Now that the collective bargaining portion of the Budget Repair Bill has passed what remains for its opponents is to take back the WI legislature the old fashioned way … by throwing out the bums. Its not very satisfying to my craving for instant gratification but it won’t take as long as it might. We can start by voting Joanne Kloppenberg onto the Supreme Court. Then we can recall Dan Kapanke and any other republican state senators who caved to party loyalty instead of voting with their constituents. And in 2012 we can take back the whole Assembly. To keep spirits up, here’s another wonderful video by Matt Wisniewski:

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Wisconsin Protests Pt. 4, posted with vodpod


We can protest in La Crosse too.

March 10, 2011

Don’t think this is only happening in Madison right now.  I skipped my first hour of work today to go to a rally outside the county court building and I was not the only one.  Protesters lined the street on both sides for more than a block and energy was still high at 10 AM when I realized I really did need to go to work.

I already have my picture on the La Crosse Tribune website for it.  We really do live in an age of instantaneous media.


March 9, 2011

Image from the twitter feed of milbot.  Taken tonight March 9.

Breaking News: After being unable to pass their destructive bill during the last three weeks WI Republicans have taken the nuclear option.  They separated the fiscal aspects of the Budget Repair Bill from the attack on collective bargaining and held a lightning vote to pass just that measure tonight.

I happened to be already attending a town hall meeting in La Crosse to learn more about Walker’s Budget and so I was able to get the story directly from my Assembly Rep. Jennifer Shilling.  According to her, Republicans convened a Conference Committee at 6:00 PM where the heads of the two legislative bodies met together and introduced a new bill.  After just minutes of discussion they called roll and adjourned and then Senate Republicans walked into their chambers together and voted to pass the bill.  It passed before 6:30 PM.  Only one Senator, Dale Schultz of the Dodgeville area, voted against it.  The Democratic caucus, of course, was still in Illinois.

I had five emails about the bill and protests against in in my inbox by the time I got back from my town hall meeting at 9:00 PM and thousands of protesters have re-occupied the capitol in immediate response.   The silver lining is the crowd in the building – it sure is good to see it full of WI citizens again.

Bless this Union!

March 8, 2011

How much to WI citizens care about this issue?  Well, we come out to protest it in the rain, snow and sleet … and apparently some of us come on our wedding days.  Heather Allen and  David Sensenbrenner came to the capitol to show their support for the protesters before they resumed their previously scheduled activity … getting married.  Read the whole story here at salon.com.

So Say We All.

March 6, 2011

I saw some fantastic signs this weekend at my third consecutive saturday marching around the WI capitol building. Its been great to see all types of Wisconsinites coming together.

As you can see from these snaps, we have fans of both Battlestar Galactica and Harry Potter on our side.  But my favorite experience from this past weekend was meeting a trucker with a hand made sign reading “Walker is an asshole.” He’d just changed it a few minutes before, he told me, because words which begin with vowels should have “a an.”  A teacher marching next to him had pointed that out … and lent him a marker to make the correction.

He was delighted with his lesson.

Of course the Department of Administration (on behalf of Governor Walker) had made a sign of its own.  This is situated outside the only entrance that WI citizens are currently allowed to access their capitol building with.  You can click to see the sign enlarged but here are some selections of newly prohibited items:

  • Animals/snakes (huh?);
  • Crockpots and other cooking appliances;
  • Massage chairs/beds;
  • Mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets;
  • Musical Instruments;
  • Signs or flags on sticks;
  • Tape (masking, painters, duct, scotch, etc.)


Ok, Walker, here’s one more sign for you:

My Rapidly Escalating Obsession

March 4, 2011
Vodpod videos no longer available.
WI “Budget Repair Bill” Protest (Feb 20-24?) Pt. 3, posted with vodpod

In a trajectory similar to actual events on the ground in Madison, my interest in the protest happenings has been rapidly escalating into an obsession.

First I was waking up and checking five online news services every morning.

Soon just reading the morning updates of the La Crosse Tribune, Isthmus, Capitol Times, Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (as well as anything the New York Times, Mother Jones, the Nation etc might have to add) wasn’t enough.  I started checking back during the day to see if there were updates.

My sister sent me texts with pictures from her visits the capitol between classes.

For the last two days I’ve started following the Isthmus’s Live Feed of the situation – a collection of twitter updates from protesters inside and around the Capitol building, journalists covering the story and observers in the Senate and the judicial hearing to determine if the Department of Administration should be allowed to keep the building on lockdown.

One of the updates was a link to this latest visit by Matt Wisniewski (Thanks, Matt!  I was hoping there would be more).

I think I may have finally reached information saturation (short of quitting my job and moving to a new location on the capitol steps). But I’m still craving more news.  Like everyone else, what I really want to know is how will this all end.

A Little Propaganda while I’m at it.

March 2, 2011

Hey, I know this is democrat propaganda but but I just think its beautiful.  Regular Wisconsinites out in the snow last Saturday to make a statement about what they believe and what they want from their governor.

Unfortunately his only response thus far has been to lock down the capitol building to keep out protesters trying to sway him.

In a more amusing update, Democrat Assembly members have taken their desks outside the locked-down capitol building and are holding meetings with their constituents on the sidewalk.  I love it!

The Best State. The Best Signs.

February 27, 2011

Here are just a few of the many rally signs from Madison yesterday: