This wide- and large- screen layout
I was born in summer in the 1950s in Bremerton Washington, and grew up there. Bremerton is less than an hour's ferry ride from Seattle, more than an hour's drive. It's close enough for some culture to rub off yet far enough to not be just a suburb. Bremerton's population was about 35,000 then. Bremerton's major employer was the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, a government facility that made warships.
I spent five years getting a four year BS degree in the mid '70s. The school was fairly close to the city center, so there were lots of new experiences of urban living. The excitement of urban experiences kept crowding out serious studying. I eventually got a degree in General Studies, which meant I took nearly every 100 level course the college offered.
I only lived in a regular college dormitory for two years. I spent two years in a co-operative house and one year living completely off campus. These living arrangements provided lots of opportunities to learn how to cook, shop, and maintain a household.
After graduating from college I moved to Northern California. After a couple months of fruitless job hunting in San Francisco I figured out that San Francisco and "silicon valley" aren't precisely the same place. Jobs were plentiful in the computer companies an hour to the south of the city.
I lived in that area for 12 years. I lived in Palo Alto (twice), Mountain View, Los Altos, Santa Clara, Los Gatos, San Jose, Cupertino, and East Palo Alto.
At first I was always the youngest person in the group. I had flashes of technical brilliance, and as some managers told me many years later also a reputation for being a bit difficult to control. As the years passed I outgrew the mantle of favored young person without ever completely growing into either marketing or management.
The photo is what I looked like back when I started out in Northern California (over four decades ago now). Seeing me now, it's rather hard to even recognize this as being the same person.
In 1989 I moved to the Boston area of New England (i.e. eastern Massachusetts) and married Kaye. Nobody -most of all us- could predict what would happen, other than that it would be an interesting adventure. Initially we lived in Beverly.
After Jennie was born and before Caleb was born we moved further north to Ipswich. Ipswich is a tiny town, around 6000 people decades ago and only a little over double that now, with a social milieu reminiscent of Mayberry RFD. It's about 35 miles from downtown Boston, about as far outside the 128 beltway as the beltway is outside of downtown Boston. Ipswich is a good compromise of cost, commute distance, and decent schools. The commuter rail line from Boston goes right through Ipswich on its way to Newburyport.
For most of a decade I saw myself as middle-aged (40-ish), with a family with a wife and two kids but only one cat and no dogs. Suddenly there were kids that wanted homelife to be organized and regular. All-nighters at the office were frowned on, as were horribly out of date clothes and sleeping in past noon on Saturday. It was time to act like a grownup.
The marriage didn't work out. I've been out of the house since summer 1998, and our legal divorce was final in early 1999. We communicated fairly amicably regarding the kids while they were still based at home, mostly via email. We were certainly not friends though. Our regional cultures (South vs. Left Coast) interests and values are so different that it's hard to puzzle out how we ever got together in the first place. It seems sometimes people get married for reasons that have very little to do with the other person.
I live in an apartment in downtown Ipswich. I don't have a TV, partly in an effort to simplify my life. The location is great. From my apartment I can walk to the car mechanic, the deli, the post office, the library, the bank, the luncheonette, the pub, the coffee bar, and the shrink.
Previously I lived in an apartment in Peabody, but found it overly wearing to commute to see my kids and be involved in their schools. And I lived for a year and a half in a tiny studio apartment in the same building I live in now. I liked the low rent, and coped with the tininess at first, but eventually it got to me so much I moved when there was an opportunity. I couldn't even hide birthday presents very well because there was so little space. And when the kids stayed over night getting up to go to the bathroom at night entailed stepping around sleeping bodies.
I took the opportunity of living by myself to investigate a lot of possible personal interests. Many of these were re-visitations of interests from my college and young adult days, which of course often being rather inappropriate for my current age had to be modified.
I revived my interest in movies (especially foreign, uncommon, old, and arty ones). finding rather obscure art‑house and second‑run theaters that aren't consumed by the "blockbuster"; after all my interest is in movies not hype. Although around here the larger theaters are mostly to be avoided, several of the smaller theaters do offer some unusual movies. Some can't do anything else, as they're too small and independent to get studios' attention for the blockbusters. And some combine less urgency about making money with much broader tastes. But I couldn't initially find enough consistently edgy art‑house and esoteric movie theaters around the North Shore area of Boston.
I read even more widely, and attempt to use the local library consortium to reduce costs (although I've found my more unusual interests and the libraries' collections sometimes don't match up at that well).
I very much enjoy listening to choral music. So I located the various performing groups in my area. Chorus North Shore is a large general community chorus spearheaded by a dynamic -but aging- director. The Newburyport Choral Society is another large general community chorus also spearheaded by a dynamic -but no longer young- director. The Northshoremen Barbershop Chorus of Beverly performs their canonical repertoire irregularly for the local public, often as smaller subgroups. Cantemus is a small auditioned high quality "chamber chorus". Its programs are produced by its director who most recently was an academic of very wide experience and erudition, so its programs are often learning experiences as well as musical experiences. Coro Stella Maris was an even smaller group that specialized in little-known but gorgeous early music; unfortunately I've lost touch with them. My most recent find [fall 2011] is The Candlelight Chorale. They just presented an excellent concert of Haydn and Handel pieces that I'd never heard before. They're peripherally associated with the historic (yet currently very active) Unitarian Church in downtown Newburyport, and use well the outstanding acoustics of that large old building.
And at first I revived my interest in walking and hiking. Since then my physical limitations have gradually reduced my walking from my marathon 12 miler barefoot on the beach down to just a couple hours a week with other retired people organized by a local Bay Circuit Trail committee member, further down to just exploring nearby parks, and finally down to almost nothing.
I saw my kids about once a week while they were growing up. It seemed time passed all too quickly; I remembered vividly changing Jennie's diapers, and I remembered Caleb not being able to work a computer mouse very well because his coordination wasn't that good yet. Now one is a college undergraduate and the other a grad student.
My body is falling apart (much much moreso than is typical for my age); I have trouble sitting and standing, trip and bump into things an awful lot, and can't run or ride a bike let alone ski. And my mind has slowed down significantly. So it's impossible for me to keep up with the "young hot dogs" and I know better than to even try. I've withdrawn from the labor force; by living carefully I can pay the bills, although I can't save anything during what I once expected to be my peak saving years. The model that fits best is to think of me as firmly "retired", ignoring the fact that my chronological age says that shouldn't happen for another decade.
My time is fully occupied. I drive senior citizens to their doctors appointments for the local Council on Aging, some weeks once or more and others none.
For several years I tried to help the local school computer technicians, even going into the school for a couple days each week during most of those years. The state's rule of thumb says they should have three people to support the computers in the middle and high schools, but they actually have only one full time equivalent, so there's plenty to do. They use a curious combination of technologies that are advanced for a high school with other technologies that are many years old. My previous work had been with the same technologies the school was using years later, so my experience was quite useful to them. Inevitably even the technologies used by the school moved on, but I didn't; as a result my previous experience became increasingly irrelevant.
I contributed my time and effort -particularly aiding their computer use- to some local non-profit organizations, particularly the Ipswich Historical Society (now Ipswich Museum) and the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA). At the historical organization I found my relatively web-knowledgeable voice stood apart in the organization of mostly older people. But I wasn't good enough at making routine decisions, doing graphical design, pinching pennies, or working with the wide diversity of both professional and volunteer people with different agendas, to be more helpful than not overall. And I found I wasn't emotionally suited to the rhythms of the ecological organization, which has to measure progress over decades rather than years. I was particularly frustrated by an effort to restore the annual river herring run after I realized that decisions made elsewhere (for example deep-sea fishery rules) and a long long time ago (for example residential water supply systems) seemed to have dramatically larger effects than anything we did or didn't or could do.
I have become interested in producing good statistical charts directed to the general public, for example this display of the value of a dollar over time.
For a while several years ago I was moderately active in very local politics, particularly those directly related to my children's schools. One can actually follow and occasionally particpate in local politics in a very small town like Ipswich. Local concerns of mine related to the funding of public education included our local property tax rate, the demographic characterization of the population of Ipswich, and the purpose and composition of the local Finance Committee. Other local concerns of mine related to the function and performance of our schools included funding of the Ipswich public schools, our state's requirement to pass the MCAS test to graduate from high school, the federal No Child Left Behind program inspired by Massachusetts, and education of gifted and talented students.
I started out expecting the retired phase of my life to be a relatively short winding down, lasting only a few years. Surprisingly, it now feels to me like it's lasted longer than any of the other phases, and may continue for many more years.
Recently my interest in movies has expanded and deepened considerably. This has happened partly as other of my interests have dried up so I have more time, but mostly because some new resources have recently arrived.
I've also dived into breadmaking. Building on an old interest, I've been investigating both "modern" and "artisan" bread loaves, and have even revisited a reprint of the old The Tassajara Bread Book that I remember from my youth.
For many years I did all my bread mixing and kneading by hand. But my body can't handle that any more. So I've been experimenting with cheap, foolproof ways to make bread without hardly any physical effort. Every time I've found I needed a piece of rather specialized equipment, I've kluged or cadged or substituted it so as to meet the need as cheaply as possible.
My digestion's sensitivity (possibly to wheat -and molds too- but possibly not specifically gluten) torpedoed my earlier plan of baking a different loaf of bread almost every day. After several sleepless nights, discussing "gastric reflux" with my physician, stocking lots of antacid liquid and tablets, and experimenting with substituting whole wheat flour, it seemed clear I couldn't bake bread that frequently and eat it all myself. Fortunately I've found that by foregoing alcohol, baking only two or three loaves per week, baking breads with very long very slow rises, skipping bread in other contexts (for example no toast with an omelette), and avoiding the raw peanut butter I find so tasty, my digestion doesn't get too upset.
For not quite a year I tried to provide useful volunteer services to Appleton Farms. The Appleton acreage began as a relatively large farm way back in the 1600's, and now supports a variety of local ecologically conscious farming-related initiatives in pretty much the same location. It's one of the oldest continuously operating farms in this country. The group I was a part of focuses on one of the farm's current particular needs: maintenance projects that exceed the resources of the regular "handyman" yet aren't large enough to contract out. I eventually dropped out because my body currently is so decayed that much of the time I was more of a load than a help.
Although I no longer make any attempt to be active in person in local politics, not even by writing letters to the local newspaper, I still make some of my ideas available impersonally via the web. Of particular interest right now is the issue of preventing flooding in downtown Ipswich.
I also very much enjoy listening to jazz of all types (vocal and instrumental, traditional and modern). One of my favorite hangouts for a few years was the Stone Soup Cafe in Ipswich. It was near me (just a little too far outside downtown for me to walk) and it had live music -mostly jazz- at least two nights a week and often three or four. It had a couple hosted open mic-type evenings, one for younger people and one for jazz. Friday regulars included Bert Seager, Paul Broadnax, Tom Palance, and Mark Earley, and occasional guests included April Hall and Orville Giddings. After an extensive remodeling, Stone Soup Cafe cut way back on the music; then they closed altogether. Although I now have to drive further for music and dinner (Andiamo in Newburyport, Ponte Vecchio in Danvers, Chianti in Beverly), I was able to reconnect with one of my old favorites, the Boudreau Jazz Band. Bert Seager's piano and his various trios and quartets have found a new home at Spice Thai in downtown Ipswich. (The Spice Thai website is not updated often and may present some dates from last year. If the numeric date and the day-of-the-week don't match up, seek more current information.)
Over the past few years I've had problems with not being able to pee easily, a condition medical professionals call BPH or Benign Prostate Hyperplasia. Attempting to deal with these problems led to a significant BPH adventure.
I've backed into using Facebook a little. Initially I set up an account just to eavesdrop on what the students were doing when I was helping to administer the computers at the local public school. Later I repurposed that same account to keep abreast of some reunion activities of my high school graduating class. Finally I began to use the account for real. I don't understand much of what's going on, post very irregularly, and am leery of security issues. One thing I've learned is to look closely at the permissions of all the requests I receive, and if one of the permissions requested is post as you to look for an option to make the posts visible only to myself, and if not found cancel out immediately, no matter who made the request or what benefits I might receive.
Given my background, I can't just treat the computers I own as black box utilities to simply be used. (I suspect it's unusual to have a home network fed by optical fiber and containing three routers, and a single keyboard and video display and mouse that switches between four computers, and those four computers running a mix of both Windows and Linux, and a way to display not only the computers but also Blu-rays and DVDs on the same video monitor, and the Blu-ray player -with its own miniature flexible keyboard- connected to the network.) I continually find I can't resist fiddling with my computers, and flatter myself that some of what I've found will be helpful to other computer users.
One of the constants from the early 1980's, through my family and independent phases, and continuing now in my semi-retired phase is my favorite rocking chair.
Also I've grown old enough that I feel justified in pontificating on some wider issues, often with the theme that something about humankind living on this planet is going horribly wrong. I seriously wonder if our current population level could be sustained without "drawing down our capital" by extracting fossil fuels to turn into food. And shouldn't our goal be to enhance the quality of human life around the globe rather than growing our economy at all costs?
And I've grown very frustrated with a foreign policy that's so wildly out of tune with my values. Even though I was kicking and screaming "no no no", our country went in the other direction. Now the "ugly American" tourist is back, and will be with us for another generation. So many of of our well-intentioned efforts to be the world's policeman backfire that I'm beginning to think it's folly to keep trying.
So I've collected both my thoughts on a wide range of issues and some issues that still puzzle me, and presented them in a little more detail. Among many other things, these thoughts include my priorities for refining our government.