Technology Sucks. RIP Squirt 2002-2006.

So, my computer died a week ago. I’m typing this on a borrowed laptop that my friend almost never uses. Bless her. We need to work out the details of this custody thing (alternate weekends or something) but she’s perfectly fine with my using this for as long as I need to until I figure out how to get myself a new computer of my own.

At least I’m not under deadline for anything…like when my logicboard died in the middle of November the first year I had Squirt (the old iBook, in case you didn’t catch that) and I had five papers to write over the next four weeks.

It was the video card that died. To get it fixed would probably work out to about half of just getting a new MacBook and given that the old one was four years old and had seen me through the rough and tumble of university life, it seems better to let it go. Still, not all is lost. Right now, it’s essentially just a large iPod charger. It turns out, I can log in and it’ll update my iPod. But I can’t see anything that I’m doing. And it won’t connect to an external monitor, which is how I know that it’s the video card and not just the screen.

So, at least I know that all my information is on there and retrievable at some point. It also means that I can use it as an external hard drive to back things up on after I get the new one. Not exactly practical but, again, not all is lost.

I named it Squirt when I first got it because it was so much smaller than the clamshell iBook that it was replacing. This morning I woke up with a name for the as yet purchased new one: Virgil. It will be my companion (not exactly my guide, but certainly trusty sidekick) as I’m figuring things out over the next little while. I don’t know that I’m quite traveling through Hell right now, but it’s at least some kind of Purgatory where I need to get my shit together and figure out what is the proper path for me to be on.

Hopefully, I’ll have the new compute sooner rather than later, but I have to figure out how to pay for it. But I have more important things to figure out how to pay for, like new glasses and a new winter coat and new boots and heating oil and…. Yeah. You get the picture.

I could really use a Virgil about now to help point me on the right path though I have to remember, too, that Dante didn’t get help straight away when he was lost. Yes, it came fairly quickly but he had a literary schedule to keep. He couldn’t wander lost for 8 cantos. He had to get down to business.

Part of me has been puzzling recently about the coffee thing and about where, really, I’d be best to do it. I have the advantage here of being a big fish in a little pond. Still, as I’ve said before many a time, this pond is rather small for my liking and I don’t have a need really to be #1. There’s also part of me that feels like the ideals of ‘third wave’ coffee needs to be represented out here on the East Coast. This isn’t me getting cold feet about the possibility of moving, more just a puzzling through my reasons for wanting to move and perhaps my path in coffee, if that is indeed where I’m meant to be. Add to that mix an idea that was pitched to me in outline form last night that would take a lot of work to bring together but that would potentially offer me an amazing experience in helping to set up and run a non-profit coffee endeavour that could focus much more on education than simply producing amazing coffee. Before my computer died, I’d been working on an essay about the vital importance of consumer education and trying to puzzle through how to balance consumer education with the need to make sure that you can get through a line to the door in 5ish minutes.

That essay is trapped on my computer right now, though I may soon start it from scratch since it was a bit of a mess anyway.

So, lots on my mind as of late, as always. Still plugging along, though, which is the important thing.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I’ve just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. When I started reading it a few weeks ago, I decided after only about 30 pages that it should be required reading for everyone in the country. Probably everyone who partakes of an industrialised food chain every day (which would include a lot of people).

The most basic, guiding question that Pollan takes for the book is ‘What should we have for dinner?’ It seems, as he points out, such a simple question. Indeed, eating food is perhaps the most basic thing that we humans have control over in order to continue to live. We don’t have to worry about breathing but we do have to worry about what to put into our bodies in order to allow them to continue to function.

Pollan then tries to figure out what happened to make this such a difficult question to answer and he pins down the omnivore’s dilemma, something that has plagued (or benefited, depending on how you look at it) our species since we became a species. When you can eat virtually anything, deciding what to eat can be a bit of a problem.

Yet, Pollan points out, for millennia, this never really was a problem. We relied on culture, on availability, on local climate to help dictate what we ought to eat and when. You want asparagus in January? Tough. Eat some beans. The modern industrialised food chain has warped availability and trumped locality so that we can, indeed, eat asparagus in January if we so choose. But at what cost? Are those dozen or so spears of asparagus really worth the jet fuel that flew them from South America to your grocery store?

Americans spend less on food than any other nation on the planet. Some might see this as the triumph of the American promise of equality and equal access. But remembering how basic food is to our existence, why, logically, should it be a good thing for food prices to fall continuously? 99¢ for a dozen eggs? What does that tell us about the quality of those eggs? Does the average person even have any idea where eggs come from or how they’re produced anymore?

As I settled in at a bar one night with the book and a pint, I was chatting with the bartender who is always interested to find out what I’m reading (this is the same bar at which I did a lot of reading of the Divine Comedy this past Spring). She sort of recoiled when she saw what I was reading and said that I shouldn’t read it, because it would turn me into a vegetarian. I told her that I was already essentially a vegetarian and she looked puzzled since I’d just ordered a steak quesidilla. Oddly enough, Pollan’s section on vegetarianism and the ethics of eating animals has made me feel okay about when I do choose to eat meat and has given me some philosophical cud to chew (sticking with the food theme) about the topic.

If you click the link at the end of this post, it will take you to Pollan’s website where you can read the introduction and the first chapter of the book. If that doesn’t hook you then perhaps you’re one of those people that Pollan suggests maybe shouldn’t read the book. To quote the introduction,

‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world—and what is to become of it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting. Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world: this book is probably not for them; there are things in it that will ruin their appetite. But in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kind of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.

To know from whence our food came used to be such a benign question as not even to merit thinking about it. Do you know where your morning pop-tart came from? It started as some kind of organic substance somewhere along the line. Or, to take a subject closer to my heart and my everyday, do you know where your morning cup of coffee came from?

As I sit here typing this, my cat is hunting. The cold weather has brought a few mice indoors to join us. Every now and then, she’ll catch sign of one and be occupied for hours. It’s not as if we starve her, but it’s fascinating to see her instincts kick in like this. What happened to our instincts about food? Shouldn’t we want to know where our food came from? The supermarket, though convenient, is not a farm. The vast majority of our food does not come from farms as we conceive them. Neither I nor Pollan quite argue that this is necessarily a good or bad thing. Still, it is a thing. And a thing worth noting at that.

Ultimately, I think that a book like this should remind us all that we’re still animals. Despite our civilisation, we are actively connected to the rest of life on earth and everything we do, everything we eat—even Twinkies—affect the rest of the planet somehow.

Run, don’t walk, to your local library, bookstore, or favourite online book seller and read this book.

You’d be stupid to remain ignorant of where your food comes from.

And, after you’ve read it, if everything begins to taste suspiciously of corn, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Slacking (as usual)…

…well, not really. Yes, I’ve not updated in over a week but I’ve been busy. I seriously thought about writing a post on the train back last weekend but was more content to allow my thoughts to free range through my mind rather than to commit them to either paper or screen.

And I’m not really going to say much about last weekend right now other than hanging out with my cousins was a lot of fun and seeing my mother could have been rather worse than it was. It could have been rather better, too, but I tried. And that has to count for something, right?

I’ve had a lot on my mind this past week about a lot of different things. I don’t really have the time or the energy to delve into them right now but that’s why I haven’t posted: my thoughts are still free ranging. That and the fact that work has been fairly crazy…still. I actually got a day and a half in the office this past week (cut short by someone calling in sick and having to go cover a shift) and am scheduled for three days this week. Office work aside, though, the shop is still clipping along quite briskly. We haven’t seen a slump in the increase in business that we’ve seen since the beginning of last month. Not that any of us are complaining, per se. All things considered, we’re surviving quite well.

I don’t think there’s enough form to any of my thoughts to put them down here right now but we’ll see how this coming week goes. If anything, I’ll try to get a post together about last weekend. You know, to share the pain.

Dream

The scene: the house I grew up in.

The plot: I’m trying to leave, but there’s a hit-man outside trying to kill me. My mother is there, very blasé about the whole thing. Somehow, it makes sense for me to make a run for the car (which is actually my father’s truck) and try to get away. I woke up just as I was trying to make a run for the truck.

It had a very Godfather feel to it.

Anxiety about seeing my mother this weekend? Ya think?