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December 30, 2011

To The Cloud

...and we're back.

I took advantage of the holiday break to do some digital re-organization. I've retired my tired & faithful Gentoo Linux server and pushed everything up to "the cloud"&emdash;a virtual hosted server within Rackspace.

I'm no stranger to the cloud. I'm Product Manager at Digi International for the iDigi Device Cloud allowing ubiquitous access to any device to any application, anywhere. My home thermostat, gas and water meters are connected to my iPhone for monitoring and control via Digi International's Energy Daytrader application--incidentally, Energy Daytrader won Postscapes People's Choice aware for Best Internet of Things Self Tracking Application of 2011.

None of us are strangers to the cloud: so many of us use web-based e-mail applications such as GMail, social networking sites such as LinkedIn, and storage services such as Dropbox. We even use less obvious clouds like Flickr, Netflix and Hulu. In a sense even common infrastructure such as the mobile phone networks from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint can be seen as clouds if one takes the term "cloud" to mean massively scalable, multi-tenant and secure products distributed as a service. I just hate the term cloud, it's opaque and literally nebulous.

Nonetheless the cloud is great. I migrated my Linux box up to Rackspace's cloud storage in hours using Duplicity and then executed a few commands to migrate my databases and get my webserver running. My site is faster, I can easily scale the performance and it's fully backed up. I'm so happy!

Hosting my machine at Rackspace will cost me about $263 per year or $21.90 per month. The electricity alone on my old server cost me about $60 per year or about $5.00 per month. Taking electricity into account, my overall cost of switching to the cloud is around $17 per month which I deem to be a fair price for the additional performance and services I receive.

I've got some big plans for 2012. Watch this space!

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August 2, 2011

The Craft of Water Color

This diary entry summarizes the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts 2011 Summer Course: The Craft of Watercolor which I attended from July 10th - July 24th; it will be mirrored on the Aegean Center's official blog.

Image Source: Library of Congress

As Paros is an island, you've got to take a boat. I didn't immediately realize the significance of this until I was on board the ferry and motoring away from the hazy landmass of Athens. Out in the middle of the Aegean--long, long before the sea appeared to me as brushstroke washes of ultramarine blue and viridian green--I felt as though I was not only traveling but emigrating.

Surely I knew what I had signed up for: I wasn't leaving an impoverished, famine stricken land carrying all my portable property for a chance at a better life on Paros. I was vacationing from New York City to learn how to paint. Yet, there was a palpably different feeling to this trip.

Our incredible professor (and my friend of some years from Minnesota), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, collected us individually from the ferry port as we arrived. We were taken to our quarters, a small set of apartments only 200 paces from the sea. I was shown the café in town were we would receive our free student meals. I was shown where to shop for our own groceries. I was shown where to walk to reach the classroom. I was even taught the particularities of the Greek toilet. These basic instructions heightened my sense of emigration. I wouldn't only be taught how to paint, I would be shown how to live.


During our first classroom session we had received an outline detailing our expected arrival time for each day, the topic to be covered during the day's class, and the start time and subject of the evening lecture. Still, many details were omitted--would we paint indoors or on excursion? If we are going out, Where are we going? What will we be painting? Can we choose what to paint? The intentional vagary bothered some of our fellow students. Answers to these questions were occasionally demanded. I was exhilarated.

Each day unfolded magnificently. Early in the morning we had time to do as we pleased. I would wake early to take a dip in the sea, sketch or paint, and take a walk to town for a fresh baked spanikopita or Greek yogurt with honey. Classroom time was dynamic. Jun-Pierre would instruct on a topic of focus and provide a variety of hands-on exercises. For example, on the class period focusing on color Jun had us create a variety of color wheels using a particular color family and using a variety of wet and dry brush techniques. After creating these wheels he had us wash over them with various colors to understand their effects. We would break from one in the afternoon until four-thirty. We could do whatever we wanted during the break. Many of us chose to eat lunch at our designated cafe, Cafe ???????? (Distrato). Some of us would then swim, shop, or nap. Often for the resumption of class we would take an excursion to someplace on the island such as a superlatively beautiful hillside, monastery, or windmill overlooking sea and rock where we would practice applying the day's classroom instruction. In the evening there was often an optional lecture offered by a professor at the Aegean Center. Night would mean dinner on our own, perhaps a final night swim under moonlight and then sleep. Sleep! The kind of sleep that comes quickly to those who are satisfied, exhausted, and content to be lulled by soft breezes and the sound of the sea.


After our second week of studying, exploring, and tasting something wonderful happened. We were more relaxed, our personalities had settled in to one another. I gathered the distinct sense that it became less about what we expected from the class and more about being able to absorb everything we were being offered. Our work reflected this. Our conversations and deportment reflected this. We had a rhythm and a little livelihood on Paros, no matter how transitory. Rather sadly, following our student show it was time to leave.


We came by boat and we left by boat. New York and the old life was calling. It was time to strip myself of my Greek sandals and my responsibly cultivated tan to once again return to pushing my plow through fields of ones and zeros. And after so much! I had eaten incredible locally grown food. I had mastered zigzagging from shadow to shadow in order to avoid the summer sun. I had learned how to draw, to paint, to see. Now, it was time to return. I may not always have fresh urchin roe, but I'm forever changed. I know because I did not merely visit, I had emigrated--even if it was only temporary.

The ferry approaches on the horizon. Hot people queue haphazardly in bunches, luggage awkwardly in tow. Up until the last moments there are kind words, embraces, and well wishing. It is unlike air travel: the airline security acting as a hermetic seal between your destination and airport-land and all airport-lands connected by flying tubes of recycled air. With air travel you enter on one side of the tube and come out uncomfortably on the other. This produces an illusion that destinations belong to differing neighborhoods within a grand scale world-metropolis. Objects seem closer than they appear. Traveling by boat is different. Up on the deck of the boat you can see the land and your loved ones standing there, all getting smaller and receding slowly into the distance. They recede just as slowly as the thought, wouldn't it be great if I could stay forever?

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December 16, 2010

Food So Bad It's National

Food TV picked up Andrew Zimmern's Tweet of the photo I took of Wonderous Awful Kitchen's plate of slime.


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November 8, 2010

General Mills Sleep Out

I'm going to participate in the General Mills Sleep Out on Friday, November 12th. I will be sleeping in a cardboard box in order to raise money for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area homeless. According to the General Mills Fundraising for Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners website:

Funds raised during the Sleep Out allow IOCP to respond to more than 1,800 emergency housing crises...Every month, IOCP turns away about 20 worthy housing requests because of lack of funds.

If you'd like to donate to this cause please see:

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Tweet from Andrew Zimmern

A little validation feels so good:

andrewzimmern Andrew Zimmern

A pic from my pal @Jordan_Husney’s meal @ Wondrous Awful Kitchen in MPLS. You cant make this crap up.

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March 17, 2010

To Jessie Mae Williams

Recently my job has taken me to Shreveport, Louisiana. The airport is small: a collection of perhaps a dozen terminals connected to a ticketing hall, arrivals area and baggage claim housed under a single airy building glass building with beautifully high ceilings. The first time I arrived I was greeted in the airport bathroom by a squadron of Airforce cadets changing into their formal uniforms; the US National Airforce Command is nearby.

If you don't notice any half-naked wingmen you are likely to notice the colossal American flag hanging on the tall west wall of the baggage claim. The familiar red and white stripes of the flag have been made by a patchwork of hand painted art immediately recognizable as the work of young children.

The flag is immediately adjacent to the Hertz Rent-a-Car kiosk. While I stood in line I took it all in. I attempted to try and devote my attention to each and every one of the panels in turn. Later I had learned that the art was constructed by area elementary school students. They had been asked to paint the answer to a simple question, "what does it mean to be American?"

The minority of patches answer the question directly: "respect for all," "choices," "liberty," and may contain emblematic symbols such as the statue of liberty or an eagle. Others are preachy: "Jesus is Lord," "God Bless America," "ALL RELIGION PREFERENCE RESPECTED" (sic), "down with war." Many give thanks to the armed services: "thanks nat'l guard," "marines thanks," and "come home soon." And still others are plane dada: a truck, a frog, and beautiful rendering of some juicy ripe tomatoes.

Out of the more than 600 patches which comprise the flag, my one true favorite is the girl who took the initiative. The proud. The unique. The individual who wasn't afraid to put her stamp of individuality and stake a claim of ownership of these United States. The girl who wrote her name in big, beautiful red letters: Jessie Mae Williams.

Dear Jessie, you have brilliantly captured what I feel is the true essence of America. To you, Jessie Mae Williams, the spirit of America!

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October 16, 2009

What Dressing Like a Fool Gets You in Melborne

It was pouring rain. I was dressed in a black fedora, silk vest, and a cartoonishly oversized red bow tie. My colleague Michael wanted to walk down the bustling Friday night streets of Melbourne to go and see a display of pyrotechnics outside the Crown Casino. He himself was dressed in a shimmering gold and red paisley vest with a pukey little bow tie. I sighed, wiped my brow and we set off down King Street toward the river.

I should explain: Michael and I were just leaving a burlesque masquerade party we found on the local event calendar. We were able to find a costume shop and rent ridiculous outfits. The party was wonderful. The people were great. We could sit on soft banquettes and watch the performances while enjoying cocktails, plates of food & great performances. The streets were wet and the people were drunk.

Only moments after we left three staggering kids said, "hang on, what have we got?" and I replied curtly, "party up the street."


"Yeeeeeeah," was the reply. "Yeah" is used to a great many effects here in Australia. This was not the friendly, "yeah, it's that way to the ocean" but an uncomfortable "yeeeeeeah try me fag and I'll punch you between the eyes" kind of yeah. I am sure it was the same "yeah" that Russle Crowe used before he used a telephone to rearrange the face of a hotel employee.

We needed a plan if we were going to make it to the Pyrotechnics without getting burned alive. From now on Michael—the only one of us wearing a ring—was getting married. Our cover story would be that we are on our way to his bachelor party.

Closer to the river we met a group of six men with shaved heads on the sidewalk. As we passed, a stream of homosexual epithets were ejaculated from their stupid gobs. "Hey faggot!" one of them angrily spurted. "What the fuck's wrong with you?" spunked another. They slowed their walking, turned around, and tried to force a confrontation.

We kept walking. I think my American accent put them off guard. I used our cover story, "he's getting married, man, we're on his way to his bachelor party!" and we were let by with only a few more angry and fearful remarks. These types of exchanges continued all the way until we reached the casino.

The Aussie men in Melbourne are homophobic to a ridiculous extent. From what we've heard from other North Americans who live here, this deeply rooted anger continues into a general fear of many things other. Indeed while we've been here we've seen South Indians get honked at as they cross the street and we've read the stories of the racially motivated youth gangs that pound at each other from the "brown" and "white" sides of the ethnographic line. It made our walks in bow ties nothing short of terrifying.

For as much as the men hated us, women loved us. We were stopped repeatedly. We were met with expressions of wonder and disbelief.

"What? really? I love your hat!" One girl peeled away from her boyfriend, uneasily weaved her way to us and reached out her hand in a gesture intended to determine if we were real of not. "I loooooove youse guys. Loooooove youse!"

We saw the pyrotechnics. They were beautiful. So was our unintentional social experiment.

Our stupid outfits and a little booze had stripped Melbourne naked. What we saw were anger filled, dangerous little boys—and the women willingly going out with them (pleasant though they were). We wonder what we would find if we repeated this experiment in our own locale: we might be unhappy with what we discover. However, I doubt it.


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October 1, 2009

The Great Weight Loss Competition of '09

Just when people are looking to put on weight and prepare for hibernation in Minnesota, I am looking to get fit and trim. Last weekend my friends Steve and Amy were in town. At their parent's house Steve's father, John, was lamenting his figure. He works in a remote office and he doesn't want to appear like he's been leading too easy of a life at the next all-company get together.


His wife, Nancy, thought he could use a little encouragement and so, seeing as how I could stand to loose at least 15 lbs., goaded us into a little friendly competition. The stakes?

For every pound we don't lose from our personal goal by the morning weigh-in on December 6th we have to pay the other person a prearranged amount:

John wants to loose 10 lbs. and he will pay me $30/lb. for every pound he does not lose.

I want to loose 15 lbs. and I will pay him $20/lb. for every pound I do not lose.

The competition began on September 27th. There are only 90 days between September 27th and December 6th. That's 1 lb. 2⅔ oz. per week or 2⅔ oz. of weight I must lose daily.

For encouragement and tracking tools I turned to Traineo. John and I have both setup profiles. You can track our progress:

So far I've been able to demonstrate fairly consistent progress. I've eaten sensibly. I've made sure to do some physical activity each day. I'm down about 2.5 lbs. in 5 days. I do have some challenges ahead of me, however.

Next week I am headed to Australia for a technical conference. I'll be sitting on a plane for 15 hours each way. I'll be away from exercise equipment. To prepare, I've been doing "burpees." I did 3 sets of 10 on Sunday, my core muscles hurt for three days. It hurt like the dickens to laugh. I've been relatively humorless all week.

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June 7, 2009

Blast From the Past: Nerd Alert

Warning! Excessively excessive amounts of nerdiness ahead!


This photo is circa winter 1996. I was 16 years old. My brother and I were obsessed with Weird Al Yankovic, more so my brother. He single handedly drove my dad into seeking him out and working on a promotion for Sam Goody stores (later bought out by Best Buy).

This photo was taken backstage at a Weird Al show. This show has forever stuck out in my mind as the only show I've been to where the audience spontaneously started clapping on the down beats and it effected the band so negatively that Weird Al stopped the song in order to get the audience clapping on beats 2 & 4.

I honestly cannot tell who is more of an awkward nerd, me or Weird Al. Look at my glasses! Those shoes! That watch! How about the buttoned up top button of my shirt?

Do you think I really needed that regular Coke? I probably should have been drinking a diet. Perhaps even more shocking is that I am working at the same company—Digi—back then that I am now!

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April 19, 2009

Galcos Old World Grocery: Soda Pop Heaven

One of the beauties of visiting my father in Los Angeles is in between visits he discovers an assortment of things he would like to share with me. He knows I love beverages of all kinds. He knows I love kitschy Americana. This time he was very enthusiastic about bringing me to Galco's Old World Grocery (5702 York Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90042) in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles.


Galco's has a significant history. It began as an Italian market in Downtown L.A. nearly a century ago in what was then Little Italy and has now become Chinatown. The store has changed locations a few times before settling in its current location at the corner of York and Avenue 57 in Highland Park, 51 years ago.

Owner John Nese credits PepsiCo for helping transition the store from a traditional grocery into what it is today. PepsiCo wanted to buy a large portion of Galco's shelving space to be stocked exclusively with PepsiCo product. The PepsiCo sales representative told the grocer that if they did not sell PepsiCo the shelving space that other PepsiCo brands, such as FritoLay and Tropicana, would not be as easily available. To Nese it strongly stank of blackmail and sent the PepsiCo salesperson packing. Nese realized from that moment that he owned his shelf space and could do with it what he wanted. He decided to stock his selves with a variety of independent beverage products.


When you first enter Galco's you are confronted by the fact that Galco's looks like a run-down supermarket. What once must have been a super market inoculated with a few bottles of soda pop had gone terribly cancerous: there is now soda pop everywhere. Every shelf, every bit of available floor space. The only exceptions are an open freezer case filled with candy nostalgia and the back sections of the store which are devoted to independent brews of beer and Japanese sake. Don't let the dust deter you: Nese will tell you that soda in glass has a shelf life of two years. Plastic? Two months.


Galco's also makes sandwiches. Even the sandwiches carry a heavy air of nostalgia (sans the dust). My father told me the thing to order was "The Original, double meat." What you get is a hero sandwich stacked with cold cuts and pickles. Nese was quick to come over to our table to inform us that even their bread is different, "its not massed produced in pans but hearth baked; can you tell? The bread isn't chewy like pan baked bread."


The sandwiches are passable. They aren't exactly epicurean delights but they are not terrible either. Once you've been told you can tell that the bread is hearth baked. But cold cuts and pickles are cold cuts and pickles. It's hard to parade them around as an undiscovered cuisine. What we really came for was the soda.

I enjoyed a delicious Fentiman's Curiosity Cola. Curiosity Cola is surprisingly complex with strong notes of kola nut, cloves, and cinnamon. It's a grown up cola and completely delicious. It turned my Galco's meal into a banquet.


If you fall in love with a soda discovery at Galco's they have a shipping area that is ready to accommodate you. I found everybody at Galco's to be more than pleasant and helpful. Everybody was willing to thrown in their suggestions on what to try and recommended their personal favorites. If you ever had a soda pop history question, the owner was more than willing to spin you a tale.

I ended up leaving Galco's with two cases of soda and a collection of candies. I'm so happy the weather in LA has been good for running.

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