This past Monday night, at sundown, Pesach (Passover) began, and I found myself at a Seder table, as I do most every year, despite any real intention on my part, seemingly by the will of God. I go months and months without thinking of Judaism, and I very likely would miss Pesach entirely if I didn’t see the boxes of matzah, jars of horseradish, and bottles of Manischewitz wine in their annual display in the supermarket.

Being Jewish is a very complicated thing for me.

I was started out on the wrong foot by well-meaning parents who, while they personally practiced very little Judaism (sporadic, at best, attendance at Synagogue, an annual Passover Seder, and the lighting of Chanukah and Yartzeit candles), insisted that I attend Hebrew School so that I could have a Bar Mitzvah when I turned 13, partly because they didn’t want me to miss out, and partly because it’s what all the other Jews they know did.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that this do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do religious education failed miserably. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is meant to welcome young Jews into the Jewish community, and yet my parents literally said to me, “Just do your Bar Mitzvah and then you’re an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, and it will be entirely up to you whether or not you participate in Judaism ever again.” I know. Inspiring.

Thirteen years later, I was 26 and living in Los Angeles, having taken my parents’ offer seriously, defecting thoroughly from Judaism when I had the chance. Those were a challenging 13 years, years that are challenging for most people in their teens and twenties, a time of worldly and self-exploration, a time when the future of responsibilities and purpose loom as terrifying deadlines, and I, like many, drifted through those years uncertain of my place in the world.

One night, scanning the titles in a video store, something compelled me to rent, of all movies, Fiddler On The Roof, which I had not seen since I was a little kid. And as I watched the sprawling, melodic, and bittersweet epic, there were the Jews of Anatevka, and I remembered that they were my people, that I was connected to an ancient tradition, a heritage of both beauty and horror.

For the next few years, I immersed myself in Judaism. I began attending Synagogue weekly, I joined Torah study classes, I participated in all of the major holidays and observances as well as many of the minor ones, I relearned how to read and recite Hebrew, and I regularly was called on to recite the blessings before and after the Torah readings during Shabbat services.

When I moved to Bellingham in 1993, I became active in a small Jewish congregation here, even serving as Vice President for about a year, but then two things happened that changed everything.

First, I married a non-Jew and was chastised by the local Rabbi. Second, I became more and more disgusted by the death and destruction being wrought by both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and by the rise of a disturbing strain of fundamentalist Christianity here in the U.S. The Biblical and Koranic traditions seemed to have failed to prove their worth as models for human values and behavior.

I was adrift once again, dabbling from time to time in Buddhism, periodically attending the Unitarian Universalist church, and yet once a year I invariably receive an invitation to attend a Passover Seder that I hadn’t planned on.

And, it never fails that for that one night, seated around that familiar table, a scene of odd food and rituals, hearing the story of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egyptian slavery for, it always seems, the millionth time, something in me connects and feels a strange mix of comfort and sorrow. And the funny thing is, as secular a Jew as I am, when I’m present at a watered down Seder, void of almost all Hebrew, a service stripped down to bare bones, I feel a twinge of loss, a feeling that, hell, if we’re going to do this Passover thing we might as well do it right.

Mostly, it’s an occasion to reminisce with fellow Jews. And, because humor is so deeply ingrained in Jewish culture, it’s also an occasion to laugh one’s ass off.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s really what the reclining with pillows is really for.

Video Fridays: Bellingham courts Google

In February, Google rolled out its Fiber for Communities initiative. And no, this is not a partnership with Whole Foods, aimed at promoting the health benefits of digestive fiber.

Says the Google:

    We plan to test ultra-high speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Our networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We’ll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

    From now until March 26th, we’re asking interested municipalities to provide us with information about their communities through a Request for information (RFI), which we’ll use to determine where to build our network.

Well, it seems that our fair City of Bellingham is pulling out all the stops to try and lure Google to the City of Subdued Excitement.

First, they dedicated a page on the city website to the effort, then they built a VERY snazzy Web 2.0-ish bring-it-to-Bellingham site, and now they’ve released the video below, which also happens to be incredibly well-done.

I think that, from an economic development standpoint, it would be a very good thing for Bellingham to be chosen by Google as a pilot community. I’m on the fence as to whether or not Bellingham would be better served by funneling this type of creative energy and resource into sustainability efforts.

Perhaps it’s an interdependency thing. If Bellingham can attract more companies to locate here with a 1GB per second fiber infrastructure carrot and stick, maybe Bellingham can, through increased tax revenues, better afford to implement more sustainable practices.

We’ll see.

When Wednesday became Sun Day in Bellingham

A friend of mine who lives in famously sunny San Diego sent me a link to an MSNBC item this morning, an item that our local Bellingham Herald didn’t even publish:

Bellingham school cancels classes for ‘sun day’

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A forecast of warm clear weather prompted Bellingham Christian School to cancel classes today for a “sun day.”

Principal Bob Sampson says sun day celebrates spring, promotes positive school culture and is “just for fun.”

Because the school lost no days to snow over the winter, the principal says it can afford to take a spring day off.

When I moved to Bellingham in 1993, I knew what I was getting into in terms of the weather.

From Wikipedia:

Although the rainy season can last as long as eight months or more, it is usually about six months long, leaving Bellingham with a picturesque late spring and mild, pleasant summer. Although Bellingham receives an average annual rainfall of 34.84 inches (885 mm), many long weeks of short and cloudy days are commonplace in winter.

“Sunbreak” is a word I never heard before I moved to Bellingham. I hear it on radio weather forecasts all the time, and yet a Google search provides no evidence that it is an official meteorological term. Search strings like “weather+terms+sunbreak” or “meteorology+sunbreak” yield absolutely nothing.

I did find a post by a fellow blogger in similarly rainy Portland, Oregon who mentions this colloquialism, and Googling “sunbreak+definition” finally brought me to this:

From Urban Dictionary:

Sunbreak – When the sun appears in a cloudy sky for a little while, then gets covered again.

Commonly used in Seattle, WA.

Person 1: Sure is cloudy this morning.

Person 2: Look outside, there’s a sun break, how beautiful.

I’d been living in Bellingham a few weeks, when, on one rainy day, I parked my car in a lot and, out of habit, ran towards the building I was heading into. I wore no rain gear. A man standing in front of the building, wearing a rain jacket with his hood up, unprotected by any shelter whatsoever asked with a sarcastic tone, “Don’t you just get wetter that way?”

I hate to admit it, but I spent a considerable amount of time pondering the answer to that obviously (in hindsight) rhetorical question, and I concluded that even if it was true, even if, because the rain is not only coming down onto a running person but the person is running into the raindrops that they would otherwise miss, the obvious answer is that, yes, you do get wetter if you are not wearing a rain jacket with a hood in its upright and secured position.

Another anecdote: The first time I visited notoriously wet Western Washington, before I drove up to Bellingham, I spent a few days in Seattle. On one of those days it rained, I was in the University of Washington bookstore, I innocently asked someone who worked there if it’s true that it rains like that as much as people say, and the reply I got was, “If you live in California, I’ll say it rains like this everyday.”

But that’s another story altogether.

Stuff We Need: Fiat 500…it’s electric!

As is the nature of Yin and Yang, less than two weeks after I launched a new series here at Fish & Bicycles, a look at Stuff We Don’t Need (SWDN), I’ve remembered that there is some stuff that we do need, and in some cases we need it pretty badly.

And so, in order to balance out any negative energy created by SWDN posts, today I’m launching a corresponding Stuff We Need (SWN) series, with the inaugural post inspired by the latest good news from Detroit. (Yes, good news from Detroit!)

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fiat 500 EV:

Via Engadget via Autoblog:

…the all-electric Fiat 500 EV — which saw a limited run of 100 in Europe and made a cameo at this year’s Detroit Auto Show — will actually be produced and sold in the US starting in 2012. Since the automaker’s not talking specs, it’s hard to say how it’ll compare to a Volt or a Leaf, but history tells us the original electric Fiat 500 got up to 120 miles on a charge.

I’ll take good news like that any day!


Video Fridays: R.I.P., Alex Chilton

I learned yesterday of the passing, at age 59, of Alex Chilton (The Box Tops, Big Star, extensive solo career), so I couldn’t think of a better subject for today’s Video Fridays installment.

That he died so relatively young seems simultaneously sad, fitting, and even ironic.

Sad: Well, he was young, especially when you consider how many old rockers from the 60s and 70s continue to record and perform.

Fitting: Well, he was a Rock & Roller, so many have died young, better to burn out than fade away and all that.

Ironic: And yet, despite having died young, Chilton accomplished a hell of a lot in his 59 years. He had a #1 hit single, The Letter (see below), at the age of 16, was a member of two important bands in Rock & Roll history, and was was a prototypical indie musician. In fact, Chilton had become a kind of legend in the indie music scene, where his music was named as highly influential by many groups, and where he regularly collaborated with younger artists.

Another irony: While I love the Box Tops’ version of The Letter, I’ve always loved the Joe Cocker version from Mad Dogs & Englishmen better. However, recently a band I’m in has decided to play The Letter, and my preference for the Cocker version was out-voted 3 to 1.

So, here it is, and I’ve gotta say that this video seriously cracks me up. I’ve always found lip sync TV appearances from this era painful, but Alex and the gang, particularly the keyboard player, decide to not take it seriously and they just seem to have fun.

Stuff We Don’t Need: Cardboard record player

Last week I introduced a new series I’ll be running here at Fish & Bicycles, a little thing I’ve titled Stuff We Don’t Need (aka SWDN). And in that introductory post, I described items that could be featured in this series like this:

…a thing can be simultaneously utterly pointless and funny at the same time.

Since this is such a new idea, it’s not surprising that I’ve come to find so soon that I need to revise that description. While any given SWDN item might be something we don’t need, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is utterly pointless. It could be that, despite how little we need it, it might actually be kind of cool that someone came up with the idea, which is rather different than something that is so stupid that it’s funny. For instance, last week’s Rock-Paper-Scissors Glove is, in my opinion, most definitely utterly pointless and funny, but this week’s installment?

Via Gizmodo:

Audio engineering company GGRP Sound sent a 45rpm record in a corrugated cardboard sleeve that doubles as a record player. You can put it together in one single step. Once in position, you can play and scratch using a pencil.

No, we don’t need it, but it’s just about the coolest thing I’ve seen lately.

When your time is up

If it were not for the fact that my sister lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina, I might not have clicked on the link to this story:

Woodstock jogger killed in Hilton Head beach emergency landing

Robert Gary Jones was a pharmaceutical salesman on a business trip, looking forward to getting home to celebrate his daughter’s third birthday. He was enjoying a moment to himself on this resort island, jogging on the beach and listening to his iPod.

Officials say the Woodstock, Ga., man neither saw nor heard what struck him from behind Monday evening: A single-engine plane making an emergency landing.

But now that I have, now that I have read about this most freakish of freak accidents, I find myself utterly preoccupied by a whirlwind of thoughts that it stirred up.

First off, I’ve been on a beach on a business trip. There but for the grace…, and all that. Our jobs eat up enough of our lives, keeping us away from our families way too long, and sometimes they keep us away permanently.

For some reason, this story reminds me of a time, it must be 20 or so years ago, I was on a beach in Santa Monica, California with a friend of mine, we were out in the ocean swimming, and suddenly we heard and even felt a powerful whoosh directly over our heads, the whoosh of three large pelicans doing a fly-by within inches of our scalps, and we watched them zoom away in a perfect V formation, like Blue Angels, thinking they could have really hurt us badly if they wanted to.

Naturally, because I’m an iPod owner, an iPod owner who also happens to be a jogger, the fact that this particular jogger was using an iPod leapt out at me.

Would he have been able to hear the plane in time to dive out of its path if it had not been for the iPod?

It’s not clear:

The Lancair IV-P aircraft, which can be built from a kit, had lost its propeller and was “basically gliding” as it hit and instantly killed Jones, said Ed Allen, the coroner for Beaufort County on the South Carolina coast.

“There’s no noise,” said aviation expert Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the National Transportation Safety Board. “So the jogger, with his ear buds in, and the plane without an engine, you’re basically a stealth aircraft. Who would expect to look up?”

And what about the fact that this jogger’s last name was “Jones” (emphasis added)?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

–Bob Dylan, from Ballad of a Thin Man

Meanwhile, can you imagine being the pilot of the plane? You narrowly escape your own death, but you accidentally kill someone in the process?!

“I’ve got a lot of issues going on right now,” Smith (the pilot) said. “I’ve got a plane that’s all torn up. And I’ve got a young man that I killed.”

I think we can all forgive him his having mentioned his torn up plane first.


Laptop Blues

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my beloved PowerBook fell from a height of five feet onto a very hard tile floor. As it turns out, it did not survive the fall, and I have not replaced it yet.

This loss, while painful,…

  • partly explains the infrequency of my posting here
  • serves as chance for me to wrestle with the level of attachment I have to a material object such as a computer
  • provides me with an opportunity to evaluate my relationship to the internet

Adherents to the notion that the universe sometimes sends us messages might say that this purposefully happened at a time when funds are not immediately available to buy a new laptop. And while I like to think that my lifestyle is a healthy one, including ample time participating in outdoor activities such as hiking/backpacking, cycling, skiing, and most recently jogging, and that I’m not in danger of being addicted to technology and the internet, I won’t lie…

…I’m experiencing significant withdrawal.

As I think about this, I come up with an interesting assortment of ideas, and it’s rather difficult differentiating between reasonable assertions and rationalizations.

Here’s a few, in no particular order:

  • Using the term “withdrawal” is a dramatic overstatement, introducing the suggestion of addiction before any real analysis has been conducted.
  • If my use of a laptop were limited to senseless chatter via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., especially considering that I have an iPod Touch with which I can easily do all of those things, then my having a hard time without a laptop should raise some questions about whether or not I have a healthy relationship with the internet. However, since this blog, and my previous blog, which I wrote for five years, are Exhibit A, definitive proof that my relationship to the internet isn’t just about frivolous nonsense, and, rather, represents an essential creative outlet for me, it’s only fitting that I would experience adverse side effects when this creative outlet is severely restricted.
  • I am on a computer at work for the majority of my 40+ hours per week at my job, and one of the ways I used my laptop was to prevent going stir crazy in my office. Up until now, I could take my laptop and go to any number of wi-fi hotspots on campus and enjoy being around other people as I did my work. For that reason alone I didn’t feel like I was suffering from spending so much time on a computer, because I was able to stay connected to the outside world in real terms rather than just virtual terms.

And so I continue to shop online for a replacement, regardless of not having the money now, in hopes of figuring out some kind of solution, and knowing that the more time I research and shop the better decision I’ll make and the better laptop I’ll end up with. The most difficult part of that process is being at a starting point where I for sure won’t be able to afford my preferred option, a new Apple MacBook. I’m not a Windows hater by any means, heck I’m on an PC 40+ hours per week at work, but I just love the Apple experience so much.

As of now, I’m actually leaning towards a netbook, specifically the ASUS 1201N, and I’ll admit to being partly drawn by some of the stylistic similarities it shares with the aluminum MacBook Pro. And yet, the 1201N gets overwhelmingly positive reviews by consumers and journalists alike, and it’s half the price of the MacBook Pro.

Looks aside, it’s an apples (pun intended) and oranges comparison, so you won’t find me saying that the 1201N is a better deal. But it just might be the kind of device that I can enjoy, not just because I save a load of money, but because it is a pretty darned good machine in it’s own right.

Video Fridays: The Shins

Here’s my new favorite song. I LOVE the beautiful simplicity of this performance.

Drums. Guitar. Vocals.

A great song can stand to be stripped down like this.

I keep daydreaming about teaming up with a drummer, and this video reminds me why. You can always add other players some time in the future if the foundation is good like this. But you could take a guitar-drums duo and play out in small venues and sound great as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Shins, with Gone for Good.


Stuff We Don’t Need: Solitaire Rock-Paper-Scissors

Back in December, I wrote a post declaring my appreciation for graphic and industrial design, stating that they represent one of capitalism’s few redeeming values.

I still stand by my comments in that post, but as I browse my favorite websites featuring design, particularly prototype or new product designs, I come across many items that elicit the reaction, “Who the HELL needs something like that?”

Listen, I try to be open-minded and non-judgmental, but some things just seem to cross some kind of line, where any honorable creative elements seem overshadowed by frivolity, superfluousness, banality, or triviality.

And so, I’ve decided to start a new series here at Fish & Bicycles titled Stuff We Don’t Need (aka SWDN), because a thing can be simultaneously utterly pointless and funny at the same time.

For the inaugural SWDN post, I bring you the Rock-Paper-Scissors Glove:

Per the inventor, Steve Hoefer (via Gizmodo):

This is a glove that plays a very competitive game of Rock Paper Scissors against the wearer. It learns how they wearer plays and plays to their weaknesses…

It remembers how you play so that if you always open with Rock it will tend to open with Paper. And if you tend throw a Paper after a Rock it will counter it with Scissors. The glove’s current record for best-of-five matches against me is 71 wins and 62 losses.

Well, ok. I don’t need one. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Regardless, you know you want to check out the video of the glove in action!