Browsed by
Tag: Chicago

Summer of 2015

Summer of 2015

My on-off personal project to sort out the colossal mess of online “stuff” is back in “on” mode. And with it, here’s some digital ephemera from the summer just gone. First up, the Flickr set of 260 pictures.

This was my third entire summer in the USA, this time stretching from early May to early August. Apart from being bookended by a few days in Chicago, pretty much all of this was spent in central, and rural, Iowa. As with previous summers, it was also an opportunity to celebrate my inner American in a place where that’s an okay thing to do.

And it was splendid. As is every long trip in, or around, the USA. Much good food was eaten, many walks undertaken – several hundred miles over the three months, but curiously no politicians were encountered.

Unlike four years ago, when I kept literally tripping over them here (“Oh, hi, erm, you must be Rick Santorum.” Cue long awkward silence.) I managed to not see any this time round. Partially this was due to timing; Rand Paul was in town shortly before I arrived, and Bernie Sanders, then Hillary Clinton, after I left. But partially this was also due to the weather; Mike Huckabee did an event (a “huddle”) in a pizza place about a mile from where I was, but as it was 95F AFTER SUNSET I was ugh no. A very hot walk to see a politician; nope. A very hot walk to have possibly a huddle with a sweaty politician with very dubious views; dear God nope.

So instead, I did the usual rural American things. This means the town 4th of July parade, complete with horses, a large man on a tractor, farmers on tractors, tractors leading tractors (the most rural American thing ever), BIG VEHICLES, old vehicles, bands on trailers, patriotism, progressive flags, more flags, chairs, kids on bikes, and so forth.

The hound remained unmoved.

And also the county fair, and I am drawn to rural American county fair, out of a potent mixture of curiosity, nostalgia and a feeling of belonging. There are school pupil displays and art shows which possibly make some urban liberals a little alarmed. A van sells deep fried confectionary; we tried the oreos, and they were nom. And then there was the pig auction, and the culture and people around it, which made me remember and yearn for the good parts of a life long ago lived past. It’s interesting, being – and quietly being proud of being – a liberal rural redneck at heart. And I’m still not entirely sure why I’m doing tech stuff and in a different world, now.

Oh, and trains. I ache for the sight of American trains and have done since primary school (future anecdote). Here’s waiting for one:

Therefore much of the summer was a quiet and rural summer, and I got on with work, and let events and drama and the like unfold elsewhere as I gradually removed myself from social media and networks and fighty-online-circles and the like. And got on with the simple pleasures of yardwork (mowing the American lawn, picking berries off a magic raspberry bush that forever produced fruit, removing corpses of dead wildlife) which, combined with the walking, led to losing ten pounds in weight. So, yay.

Also, hunting fireflies…

Which leads to the videos embedded into this post. No oscar-winning stuff. Here’s the last few seconds of the July 4th fireworks in smalltown Iowa; I didn’t bother trying to film the rest because, well, I was (mostly) either eating or enjoying the fireworks:

What else? Oh, eating – I’ve probably mentioned that already – so much eating, such as at familiar places, discovering the awesomeness that is the pork tenderloin, eating at a country inn, and the peanut butter milkshake. Oh, and Pizza Ranch (the best ranch)(hell yeah), and Marshalltown for Mexican food – and this was the best Mexican meal I have ever had, cream soda and barfood, produce at the farmers market, local brunch, daily specials, chinese-on-pizza, more brunch, root beer floats made by master baker, a ridiculous sandwich, a near-impulse-purchase of a lot of chicken, more Chinese, and so many more good things.

Also napping, because I am no longer young.

And watching Americans get genuinely excited – but without the nastiness, corruption, prejudice and violence of “supporting” the mens game in some other countries – as their team progressed and won at the association football thing. I could possibly get to like this particular form of the game. Maybe:

But most of all, those walks in rural Iowa. In the daytime, at dusk, under a big sky, past baseball, at sunset, and by mushroom circles, cornfields and buzzing fireflies.

Always, the fireflies.

That was a good summer.

An American trip: October and November 2008

An American trip: October and November 2008

During October and November of 2008, I took a month-long trip around the US of A. The main mode of transport was Amtrak train, and the trip tied in neatly with two conferences I was speaking at – one of which was in Chicago on the day Barack Obama was elected (and one heck of an evening that was). I did a lot of writing on that trip, thinking it was just a few people in the Outer Hebrides and a few friends and colleagues who were reading it – and not realising until recently that others were too, for various reasons. I’m relieved now I didn’t delete the words.

Since demolishing my blog and, essentially, restarting all of my online presence as new as I can, the diaries have gotten messed up, but they should be restored here as a set of 32 postings.

Don’t know which post was the “best”, but a few folk have said the Surviving New Orleans posting is their choice because of the tweeted engagement story in it. Mine is the Texas one, where I seem to have just lost inhibitions and fears and just … wrote.

Oct 18th – Los Angeles and Santa Monica

Oct 20th – Pictures, not words

Oct 21st – Sleepless in Monterey

Oct 23rd – Monterey aquarium

Pier from the sidewalk

Oct 25th – First overnight trip on Amtrak

Oct 25th – Breakfast in Seattle

Oct 26th – An afternoon in the mountains

Oct 26th – New York deli breakfast in Seattle

Oct 27th – Montana at dawn

Oct 28th – Whitefish, Montana

Oct 29th – Sign of the times

Samantha at Tucson station

Oct 29th – Election, American style

Oct 30th – Do bears…?

Oct 30th – Is black the new ginger?

Oct 30th – Election day events in Chicago

Nov 1st – Whitefish to Chicago by Amtrak

Nov 1st – GLLS2008 food

Nov 2nd – American time, British time, Obama time

Nov 4th – Chicago on election day

Walkway

Nov 4th – Outside, it’s America

Nov 5th – “Oh, you look so beautiful, tonight…”

Nov 5th – The morning after

Nov 6th – In America, academics knit

Nov 7th – Goodbye Chicago

Nov 8th – Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Nov 8th – Memphis, and the ride to New Orleans

Nov 10th – New Orleans (1)

He won

Nov 10th – New Orleans (2)

Nov 12th – Surviving New Orleans

Nov 13th – Texas: a thousand miles of bugger-all

Nov 13th – The American Dream

Nov 16th – Trip summary

There’s also a set of pictures on Flickr, some of which are embedded in the postings anyway.

Goodbye Chicago

Goodbye Chicago

Thanks for an unbelievable five days. As night falls and the skyscrapers light up, the calling of passengers for the overnight train following the Mississippi down to Memphis and New Orleans is imminent.

Chicago skyline

Highlights? Too many to remember coherently or put in one posting. The obvious one is 10pm on tuesday when the result of the election was announced, and what seemed like a million people in the park went in search of tea … no, I mean went delirious.

Rather a lot of people

Am still sorting through pictures and videos I took, and the camera is not good at night – but here’s a few videos from the event:

Other things that come to mind:

  • Seeing the crowds for the first time and getting a weird, really tight feeling in my stomach.
  • Counting down the 10 seconds to 10pm when we’d figured out that would be the moment.
  • The huge reaction of Oprah when she appeared.
  • Two black women, I presume sisters, skipping madly down the street shouting “He’s going to the White House, he’s going to the White House”.
  • People wandering down the street offering food from huge containers to anyone who wanted it.
  • The utter multiculturalism of the crowd.
  • Being interviewed by some Fox News outlet (thanks, Amy).
  • The reaction of a Chicago policeman in the park when I asked him where I could purchase a cup of tea.
  • The crowd starting to stampede when one of the big screens was switched from CNN to the park TV.
  • Obama entering the stage on the big screen.
  • One of the crowd next to us saying “Hey, you’re librarians, you know everything or where to find it.”
  • Speaking to lots of different people about anything and everything. But especially Obama.

That’s my train being announced. Gotta go. Goodbye, Chicago, and thank you.

In America, academics knit

In America, academics knit

I’ve presented at two conferences on this trip, and knitting has become an unexpected thing to observe. The #IL2008 closed with a presentation by Liz Lawley. I’ve seen four of her presentations to date and she’s right – they’re always completely different. Plus entertaining, and useful in terms of knowing what leftfield technologies and gadgets are worth investigating.

Anyway, Liz mentioned that she knits … during academic board meetings. She carries on knitting, and staff know when she is going to say something because she puts down her knitting. Ooookaaay, I thought. A little extreme but nothing actually wrong with it. A few weeks later I was at #GLLS2008. While sitting at a 90 degree angle to the speaker, on the bloggers table, I observed this:

Librarians knitting

Yes, someone is … knitting a scarf(!). And, though it doesn’t show very well, the person in front of him is also … knitting. I turned to the person next to me and whispered (probably too loudly as other people heard me)

“That man is knitting!”

Shrugs all round. “Meh.” Scott the knitter (and newfound collaborator on exciting pan-Atlantic games stuff) responded to the Flickr picture with his justification thus:

I know I am a kinesthetic learner…which I’m sure, is why I like the physicality of board games. During conferences, I find that.. – If I sit there, my mind goes wandering into many dark alleys and I lose focus. – If I use a laptop, I go away, working on my own stuff and taking the occasional note. – If I knit, it keep my hands busy. I find that I focus more frequently on the speaker and come away remembering much more of the talk. And, if the talk wasn’t good, then I got something done! – The pottery wheel was just a little too messy.

So there you go. Present at an academic conference, or attend a university meeting, in the US of A and don’t be surprised if you see people knitting.

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight…

Oh, you look so beautiful tonight…

The lyric to a U2 song and, indeed, the backdrop of sparkling Chicago skyscrapers is lovely to look at. And more impressive when between you and it are a million people going deliriously happy because their man won the presidency.

City lights

The Four Librarians Of The Apocalypse, a new group borne out of #glls2008, went down to Grant Park in Chicago along with a million other people. We saw the results come in, at first nervously and then with increasing cheer.

Where's the grass?

TV and radio crews were everywhere. I got interviewed by a radio station and um Fox news of some description.

Interview

At the end, McCain conceded (in a dignified fashion) and Obama arrived. He took to the stage in the next field and it was relayed to a now delerious million or so people onto giant screens:

Newly elected president speaks

As we left to try and work out how to beat a million people to the nearest taxi, the song was played that on the giant speakers around the park. Anyway, despite the lack of adequate tea facilities in Grant Park, Chicago, a most enjoyable evening was had by all (perhaps a more accurate observation: 1 million people were giddy with happiness and excitement). Wednesday is a rest day when it’s time to say goodbye to some good friends; then I’m off on the Amtrak to follow the Mississippi to New Orleans, stopping off at Memphis to visit Graceland and Sun Records on the way.

Outside, it’s America…

Outside, it’s America…

There was this moment, about 10:30am this morning.

I was in our joint presentation; my co-speaker had the brilliant idea of awarding cash prizes to people who could identify the Nintendo games in her part. To speed things up, I started to throw dollar bills at people who came up with the right answers, like some kind of Las Vegas pimp on a night out in a joint on the strip.

Outside the building, long lines of people are waiting to vote, even in states with early voting. In Ohio, the police have got riot gear on already. In Virginia, a crucial swing state, voting machines are breaking down. In Pennsylvania, another key state where there was no early voting, the queues to vote are extending up to a mile.

IMG_0156.JPG

18 miles from here, the police are trying to organise an event where Obama accepts the presidency, and up to half a million people are expected to turn up. Part of me wants desperately to go to it. But another part of me is terrified at the thought.

The news is wall to wall election – there is no other news – it’s election on 80 channels; rumours and anecdotes feed into the less-than-insulated event here in a Chicago hotel. The conference organisers, attendees, librarians, gamers, and gamer-librarians, seem pumped up, nervous. Someone threw up their breakfast this morning, ran off to the restroom. Her colleague turned to the rest of the table and just said “Election”. And it’s pretty clear, from the reaction in the room to the last slide of my half of the presentation…

…which way the political allegiances of the attendees leans.

Chicago seems on edge; locals stopped smiling when the election was mentioned from about a couple of days ago. But that moment; it must have been some kind of hyper-moment, throwing dollar bills at people while being aware of some of the extreme events happening for hundreds, thousands of miles in every direction as over 130 million people cast votes to decide who will be their collective president. Suddenly it felt … yes. Yes, this is America.

Chicago on election day

Chicago on election day

The TV news is awesome this morning; a country appears to be queuing to vote. View from hotel room balcony below. Apologies to other guests a few minutes ago who were opening their curtains; I should probably have put some clothes on first. Your day can only get better (depending on who wins).

Good morning America...

America time, British time, Obama time

America time, British time, Obama time

In Chicago, and the city seems different from when I was here last summer. Not surprising, as in a few days (though we aren’t sure when), one of its own may become president.

Or will lose.

Whatever happens, I get the feeling that Chicago will be very busy. Unfortunately, if he loses, for the wrong reasons. A hasty retreat onto a plane may not be possible as (a) flights are very busy out of the US next week and (b) from mine and another delegates experience, the taxi drivers of Chicago collectively don’t have a clue where this conference hotel is.

I suspect it’ll be difficult getting a taxi on tuesday to downtown anyway. Americans do things earlier than Brits. This is why Amtrak meal times have been driving me slowly mad. Breakfast at 6:30am, Lunch at 11:45pm, Dinner at the time when decent, civilised British people are conducting afternoon tea. Did you guys forget EVERYTHING we taught you before 1776.

It’s the same at academic and library conferences, like this one. Here, everyone went to bed by 11:30 at the latest. Effectively 10:30, as the clocks go back an hour here tonight. So I just went to the redneck bar and drank interesting beer on my own, while the other patrons (definitely NOT delegates at this conference) glared at my choice of political badge. And the clock changing thing makes it even more difficult to calculate when the Brazilian Grand Prix will start, US Central Time, tomorrow. As I have a lot of money on Lewis to win the championship (on the grounds that surely he can’t mess this up two years in a row), I’m keen to see it, even though this means missing the start of the conference.

The loop

Some of the delegates here are having a meeting at 8:30 tomorrow morning. And on Monday, conference breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:30, with the first speaker starting then. I’ve noticed this at lots of conferences. And it’s always easy to spot the US delegates (they’re the one waiting patiently for breakfast to open at 6:30) and British delegates (they’re the ones staggering in at 8:58 asking “Are you still serving?”). The graphic memory of a certain JISC event in 1996 at the University of Warwick, where three of us literally sprinted to get the last remaining croissant at that time is still vivid.

I think I’m the only Brit at this conference, so the breakfast zone is unlikely to be a barren wilderness of empty tables. Talk is already of what will happen on Tuesday and where we’ll go. Unfortunately getting a taxi looks like a rubbish option based on today’s experiences, and we are nowhere near any kind of bus or train route. Or are we? If the result is delayed (possible), or he loses fairly (possible), or the electronic voting machines are rigged so he loses (according to some here, possible), then things will get … interesting. It looks like the Virginia call (polls close at 7pm) will give the first indications.

One way or the other history will be made. We have some information on crowd prevention measures in Chicago which will come into play, but as yet no fixed plan for tuesday. Anyway; my fellow speaker has checked in (hurrah!) so once have emerged from breakfast and a hopefully Lewis-winning morning, I’ll be ready to conference.

GLLS2008 food

GLLS2008 food

Anthony’s Italian Chop House in the Doubletree Hotel. Head right when entering the hotel and keep going. Warning to GLLS2008 delegates – food here good but v high calorie. Currently twittering and eating cannelloni there:

Cannelloni

That’s complimentary olive oil soaked parmesan cheese on the right, which complements the cheese-stuffed cannelloni. Shopping mall across the street in case need to buy elasticated or larger trousers :-( Which is where I’m  going now. Foxes Bar (near to reception) is loud sports bar but looks good place for a beer or so. There later this pm or twitter me.