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June 10th, 2012

09:00 am: The undocumented years
Back in the day, I had a Livejournal blog where I kept in touch with a few dozen friends and acquaintances. I used it to push out updates that I thought people might find interesting, when they had the time to read. I used to post about once a day. Reading back through those posts gives a decent feel for where I was and what I was doing at the time. The signal to noise ratio was decently high. Compare with the triviality of facebook and the raw static of Twitter. Sure, there were plenty of posts about what I had for lunch - but I can also piece together a lot of my life during those years.

Having a standalone blog like this one is different. There's no community - and if there was a community it would be all about me and my posts. People would be checking on me in particular rather than checking in on what "the crew" was doing*. I think that's why I feel no particular urgency to put anything here at all. The crew is gone.

I'm sort of sad that the world has moved on and I'm no longer living a documented life. I'm in a mood to get all retrospective, and I lack the tools.

Or more loosely:

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?

*: Yes, I'm aware of RSS feeds. I offer them. The point stands.

April 13th, 2012

09:36 am: Tools I use
Originally posted here

I work with computers for a living. Here are some of the tools that I use all the time:

Macbook Pro: I've used a Macbook Pro as my primary workstation since they were introduced, and I haven't looked back. I've had one significant hardware issue in all that time, and Apple fixed it for me at no charge. As JWZ says: I don't buy computers based on how fast they are, I buy them based on how easy it is to get things done with them, and Apple is the hands-down winner on this pretty much across the board. OS X is not Linux and it is not Windows. If you really want to run Linux or Windows, I advise you to run the OS you actually want to be using.

That said, OS X appears to be devolving into an OS designed primarily for use on a phone with a sidebar of workstation features. If that slide continues, I'll probably jump back to Linux. And cry, because Linux productivity software still really sucks.

Postbox is a commercial email reader. Given that reading mail is one of the first use cases of the internet I would have expected a good, free solution to be out there. No, Pine does not cut it. Postbox is commercial software, but so worth it. I don't even use 75% of the features (integration with social media, RSS aggregation, etc). All I want out of a mail reader is "many IMAP accounts with really good sorting functionality and not too crashy." Apple's Mail.app used to be a pretty solid piece of code, but I gave up on it as of about 2010.

Chrome: Web browsers are sort of a sore point for me because so many websites are designed to fail. At this point the cardinal sin in a web browser is blocking me or stalling my computer. When I want google, I want it NOW NOW NOW so I can get a fact without hitting a context switch in my brain. Chrome is fast and not very crashy. When it fails to render some particular site, I don't struggle, I just pop open another browser. In order of "likelihood to work," I go: Firefox, Opera, and finally Safari. The obvious exception is when I'm looking at Apple's movie trailer site, which only works in Safari.

Microsoft Office 2011: I do not use productivity software as a political statement. I do not use document editors merely to write things that only I will read (that's what VI is for). In terms of getting by in the workplace of 2012, I cannot sacrifice a couple of minutes fighting with my word processor every time I try to add comments to a document that somebody else wrote.

OmniGraffle: For making pictures. So very much superior to PowerPoint. Then I dump the pictures into PowerPoint.

Google Docs: The above notwithstanding, Google Docs got it exactly right in terms of collaborative editing. I run a small consulting group based on a few google spreadsheets.

Google Reader: Great RSS aggregator. I think Postbox does this too - but all my links are in Google already.

Fax Zero: Sometimes you're dealing with someone whose business process is stuck in 1996 and who needs a FAX sent to them. You cannot argue them out of this fact. In those cases, I print to PDF and send them a FAX.

OneBox: A great little company who provide an "800" number that I can point to whatever actual phone I want, a voice-to-text-to-email service, good conference calling, and so on. If you send a FAX to my onebox number, It shows up as a PDF in my email - as God intended.

Adium: Apple finally broke iChat beyond redemption, so I switched to Adium. I have the feeling that it's broken at some level, but I don't care enough to dig into it. Of course, I also use Skype because everybody else does.

Amazon's Cloud: I finally moved this blog over to Amazon's cloud servers. Next step, turn off the server in the basement and cancel the IP address that I've been paying for.

April 9th, 2012

10:14 am: Of PAX and the Greater Internet
This weekend I spent three days at PAX East. PAX stands for the Penny Arcade Expo. PAX is a convention / exhibition of games and gamers. It's also something of a movable-feast nerd mecca. This year, like last year, it was at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) - the biggest venue in town short of the football arena. If the rumors are true, they sold out the entire space for Friday and Saturday, and had some tickets at the door on Sunday. I heard numbers like "20,000 attendees." I have no idea whether that's at all accurate or if it's inclusive of the exhibitors and staff. In any event, it's large. I started seeing PAX badges on the trolly that I take into town. I decided to walk from South Station to the site because of the mass of gamers waiting for the shuttle bus.

PAX briefly deforms the mass transit user profile of Boston. Is that big? I think it's big.

Games and gamers have gained much broader acceptance in the past decade or so. Computer games in particular used to be the realm of pasty faced basement dwellers. Now, the gaming console is a staple of the main feasting halls where the cool kids dine and dance. Musical / social beat matching games like Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution have added athletic and group participatory aspects to games. Phone based social games like Lexulous and Draw Something mean that adults can and do play parlor games with their parents and siblings before bed - maintaining a social connection sorely lacking since the Great Error of single-family housing in subdivisions of the 50s.

PAX brings all of those people together in a massive convention hall.

I don't want to sound like too much of a shill here, but I'll go for it anyway: I see in PAX a microcosm of a different and better sort of society. The core of it is that PAX people (at PAX - I have no idea how they act at work or in their daily lives) are, by and large, accepting of each other in a way that I do not usually see in broader society. Everyone knows at some level that when you show up at a gamer convention, there will be gamers there. Most of us pasty faced basement dwellers figured out early in life: Everybody is weird. Everybody, without exception, has a freak flag that is flown on occasion. Each of us requires special handling from time to time. Most of us have read Stranger in a Strange Land and felt its uncanny truth. Hell, there are entire subgenres of scam built around the universal feeling of being just a bit different - just a bit outside.

There's also a flavor that I picked up in the Martial Arts. There is a default to humility because in all likelihood, the person you just met is really very good at whatever game they do play. Sure, I'll take you apart at Gears of War - but I don't even know how to work the controls for ... what are you playing again? It looks really cool. Also? Rad costume, bro!

So we had 20,000 people, give or take, all packed into a convention center - and we were all weird together. More important was that the vast majority of us are used to having weird friends. Even the superficially normal people who showed up had to admit that - yeah - they like to play the same games as the geeks.

So what does that mean in practice? The exhibitionist extroverts wear costumes and pose for pictures with each other. Introverts like me quickly tire out and then wind up in a safe little corner watching from a safe distance. There's a dance stage where people who want to play the dancing games do so. People who want to watch, watch - and we applaud even when someone doesn't know what they're doing.

So we've got something like 20,000 people doing what they actually want to be doing, and accepting what other people are doing - for a whole weekend. It feels fundamentally different from my day to day interactions with most people most of the time. We can laugh and say "that's why they have to pay you to be at work," but I fall back on Jane Mcgonigal's comment last year: "The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression." Obviously we cannot play games all day every day - but bringing a gamers attitude to day to day life might help a lot of people a lot of the time.

Sure, there's a corporate flavor to the expo floor. That's where the funds are centered. We're still in an economic model where large amounts of resource are pooled and re-distributed via corporations. In 2012 you don't get to rent the BCEC unless you have the resources of several major corporations at your back.

Don't like Microsoft? Fine. Go ahead and dislike Microsoft. However, they did rent out a thousand or more square feet of the convention floor at full fare to host your party. Yes I know that you paid admission. You think that your measly registration pays for the hall? You thought perhaps that PAX is expensive for you to attend? Let me assure you that there would not be a party there without the corporate sponsors because none of us could afford to throw it.

There are a number of reasons for this culture. The biggest one is the attitude that Mike and Jerry bring to the direction of the thing. Wise and well heeled publications pontificate on how "leadership defines the culture of an organization," but to see it in action is mind-bending. Mike and Jerry stand up on stage for an hour plus, each day of the convention, and take questions from the floor. I've been to the large corporate all-hands, and this is different. Some of the questions are cringe-worthy - but they invariably take them in stride. At the Saturday session, they got asked rather specific details about their sexual preferences and proclivities. Jerry, in particular, laughed it off and then gave rather specific answers. He closed with something along the lines of:

"I think that if we don't talk about this stuff, then people sit around thinking that they may be weird and unacceptable, and they don't know because they cannot talk about it. Perhaps they are weird. Probably not. Probably better to know for a fact whether or not you're weird. The only way to know is to talk about it."

My favorite response was to a questioner who asked them to use their powers to resurrect the TV series Firefly. Again, paraphrasing:

"I think that the idea of technology enabled participatory democracy, where massive numbers of people directly effect the behavior of corporations and governments, I think that's not some sort of sci-fi fictional future. It's today. It's happening over and over again in 2012. You people got together and caused a company to change the content of a game that was already pressed to plastic and distributed to stores! You called the government on its SOPA bullshit! So you're asking me to do something? I say go for it! What are you asking me to do, exactly? You look at the same internet that I do! Make it so!"

Anyway, I wandered the floor, I sat in a corner and watched the exhibitionist extroverts. I caught some music in the JamSpace. I picked up one new game for my phone. I played a couple of console games that I've wanted to check out. I even watched some friends play tabletop role playing with many, many dice. I wound up tired but happy.

PAX was fun. Would attend again.

Originally published here.

April 1st, 2012

12:05 pm: Posting
I used to blog here, but now I maintain my own server over at chris.dwan.org.

I used to be able to crosspost from there to LJ automatically, but that seems to be broken. I assume that's LJ's fault, because Wordpress just keeps getting better and better at the same rate that LJ gets worse and worse.

Anyway, instead of my posts appearing here now I see:

Could not connect to livejournal.com. This post has not been crossposted. (-32300 : transport error - could not open socket)

I don't care enough to debug this again. I assume that LJ is dead. If you want updates on what I'm doing, get an RSS feeder and point it here:


February 16th, 2012

11:41 pm: Aruba, day N
Lost a couple of days somewhere in there. I have a sunburn. Life is hard. Here's what I can recall of the gap:

We left off on Tuesday, post catamaran snorkeling and just pre-nap. tachnolope and I deferred the naps and instead drove to the northeast side of the island. We discovered a martian landscape with incredibly sharp coral baking in the sun, and little tide pools drying into rimes of salt. Once everyone woke up, we put on what passes for formal wear (pants AND shoes at the SAME time) and went over to redmeds friend Vicky's house. Vicky used to work with redmed but has retired. She spends half the year in a house she and her husband built down here. It was Valentine's day, so she had put together a bunch of people to go out for dinner at Madame Janette's. We laughed and ate and laughed and drank and laughed some more. We wound up back home around midnight.

Wednesday was a really good day. In the morning, redmed and I woke up early and went for a walk on the beach with the fancy high rise resorts. We saw a phenomenal rainbow. Once we got home, we decided to take a drive to Arikok national park in search of fancy and unusual birds. That took longer than anticipated, and when we got back it was time for lunch. We made a shopping expedition to the rum factory, the cigar-rolling-shop, and the Aloe plant. Of course, this concluded with the by-now-usual nap. We all trundled into the car around 4:30pm and went back up to a beach on the Northwest side. We spread out blankets, swam for a while, and then sat down to watch the sun set. I had obtained a nice stogie, so I retroactively added an item to the proverbial "life list:" I watched the sun sink slowly into the Caribbean while smoking a Cuban cigar. Once the sun was well and truly set, we came back to the apartment and made dinner. A day well spent.

Today we struck out in the morning for "Baby beach," at the very southern terminus of the island. This beach is basically a 5 or 6 acre wading pool. By around 2pm we were sun scorched and tired and made our way back. Had dinner at Vicky's, and now we're planning our last full day on Aruba.

February 13th, 2012

02:10 pm: Aruba, day 2
Yesterday we went to the California lighthouse at the North end of the island. It's up on a bit of a promontory, and we got gorgeous views of the northern half (or so) of the island. We also got hit up by the first of several people who wanted to take just a moment of our time to offer a presentation on real estate opportunities on the island. She was nice and all, but we demurred.

Instad we settled on Arashi Beach for some old school "sitting on the beach and reading," time. We swam, sat, and eventually paid a man with a machete $3 per coconut to lop the tops off of them. Yes, in fact, I did add rum to my coconut.

The island is idyllic. It has no history of slavery and, at least so far as I've seen in two days, lacks the brutal crushing poverty of either Haiti or Jamaica. Instead, I see people of all ages and body types wandering around an island paradise. Things are expensive because no crops grow here. That's, in part, why it was never used for forced labor by any of the imperial powers in the area.

Once we all started to feel a little tired and fearful of continued exposure to the wrathful sun god / day star, we headed back to the apartment. After a couple hours of laying low, we decided to go downtown and seek dinner. The majority of shops were closed on Sunday evening, but we had a nice dinner at The Paddock, a fun little European style cafe with slow service but great views of the sunset.

This morning I discovered that the sun god had made his mark on my poor, tender flesh. I've got a solid sunburn on my back. However, that just meant keeping a t-shirt on for the snorkeling expedition this morning. We presented ourselves at the crack of 9:30 to board the catamaran "Dolphin." Once we got underway, "the bar" opened up offering various rum laced fruit punches. We spent an enjoyable three hours puttering around shipwrecks and coral reefs. Towards the end of our time, the captain untied the rope swing and the passengers took turns swinging out over the water, whooping, hollering, and making big splashes.

Now it's nap/laptop time back at the apartment during the most brutal of the sunshine. For all the incredible number of photons, the temperature is pleasant. It's perhaps 82F, but not humid and always with a smooth breeze off the ocean.

This afternoon, I'm gunning to explore the south end of the island. I'm told that there's a beach with a derelict oil refinery, like something right out of a Mad Max. I'm eager to check it out.

Here's video (courtesy technolope of a tree gently swaying in the breeze on Arashi beach:

Current Location: Aruba
Current Mood: sunburned
Current Music: Steel drums
Tags: ,

February 12th, 2012

09:40 am: Aruba, day 1
Yesterday was pretty epic, in my book:

We started by catching the 6am trolley, making our way to the airport. Met up with capital_l and technolope and got on a plane to Charlotte, NC and then on a plane to Oranjestad, Aruba. The flights were uneventful, and I've decided that I sort of like the Dutch accent.

Got through Customs and Immigration on "island time," and also picked up a rental car from the most relaxed Hertz franchise I've ever seen. Then the fun began. It's Carnival down here. Last night was the "parade of lights," through downtown Oranjestad. This meant that most roads were barricaded, filled with people and cars, and all roads led to the main parade route. We found ourselves on the main parade route, driving steadily around the town. We laughed, waved to the people setting up chairs by the road, asked people how to get to "Nord," the resort town up the road where we're staying, and generally rolled with it. My only real moment of fear was when this tractor trailer appeared in front of us that was like something out of a combined Rock Star / Max Max dystopian future. It was - for lack of a better word - armored in speaker stacks that were lashed to a spot welded exoskeleton. It was also pointed right at us.

Eventually we slithered out between a poorly set pair of barricades (taking the rental car up on the sidewalk) and made our way to the resort. It's nice, a big time share arrangement with hotel-like maid service. Two suites connected at a living room / kitchenette. This place is optimized for vacation.

We all wanted to see the parade, so we tumbled back out the door and found a cab downtown. Tents selling booze and food, music everywhere, people walking and dancing, families, teenagers and 20-somethings preening for each other, all in the cool lush island air.

Eventually we settled on some bleachers and waited a long time for the parade. Like, a long time. The parade started at around 8pm, which was when we left the resort. We settled on the bleachers around 10pm and finally around 11pm it started cranking past us. We gave up and went home around 1am, with the parade still in full effect in front of us and beginning to show signs of slowing but by no means done.

These people know how to throw a parade.

The mad max trucks pull trailers carrying bands rockin' out. Between the trailers are dancers dressed in huge feathered outfits absolutely covered in lights. redmed comments that somewhere around here there are some "bare-ass" birds from all those costumes. The pitching, heaving surface of the street is a mass of christmas light festooned fantasy bird gods, dancing to music that varied from decent to great. Between the dancers and the trucks were massive, feathered, lit up floats with the most beautiful people dancing up on top of them. Between the floats were mobile bars dedicated to keeping the drinks in the hands of the dancers topped up, and also to advertising various local drinks and restaurants. Sometimes, in between all of that, were trash trucks swapping out full garbage bags for empty ones in the 55 gallon drums that people used for litter.

It was loud, surreal, awesome, and crazy. It went on and on and on.

When we finally secured a cab ride home, technolope declared it the "best cab ride ever." Our cabbie would pause respectfully at the end of lines of cars waiting for red lights before blowing around them in the turn lane, while turning up the soothing pipe and flute music. We thanked the couple who were already in the car for sharing their cab with us and the man smiled and laughed: "Sometimes you don't really get a choice. Great to meet you."

The plan for today involves finding a beach with umbrellas on it and some serious binge sci-fi reading.

Posting here because my basement file-server, which also hosts my blog, is down. It threw a disk failure at about 9pm on the night before we were to come to Aruba. Oh well.

January 15th, 2012

09:06 pm: Prayer banner, redux
Jessica Alqhuist is a student at West Cranston High School in RI. I've written about her before. She's the one who noticed that her school still displayed its "School Prayer" (a relic from the 50's) on a large banner (a relic from the 60's) in the auditorium. Initially, the prayer was a mandatory daily recitation by all the students in place of the Lord's Prayer. From "Heavenly Father," right on through to "AMEN." In the early 60's they stopped the prayer recitation in favor of a moment of silence but never bothered to take down the banner. This year, Jessica asked that it be removed. School officials said "no," so she took it to the school board. After a couple of raucous public hearings where people said horrible things about and to her, the board voted (against its own written policy) to retain the banner. Jessica, with her family's support, approached the ACLU - who helped her to bring a lawsuit to force the issue.

This week, a Federal judge issued a judgement that the banner must come down immediately. The full text of the judge's decision is a clear, lucid, and highly readable summary both of what happened and what the law says about all parts of it. It's a good read, and I highly recommend it.

The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment
mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between
religion and nonreligion. When the government acts with the ostensible and
predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates that central Establishment
Clause value of official religious neutrality, there being no neutrality when the
government’s ostensible object is to take sides.

Or, if that's too long, he says it again later on: The Government must not appear to take sides on issues of religious beliefs.

He notes that public schools are held to a higher standard because kids are impressionable, and wraps up. As I mentioned back in April, this is a simple case.

Between the lines, the judge is pretty clear that Cranston shot itself in the foot with all the bible thumping and yelling that took place at the hearings. "The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular". He's being polite. People at the school board meeting professed their own Christian faith, screamed at Jessica, called her a witch, and told her to go to hell. The school board members themselves felt compelled to make declarations of personal faith prior to casting their votes. If the townspeople had come out and calmly said, "it's a historical artifact, religion has nothing to do with this," it would have been a slightly harder sell. As it is, the town revealed its religious purpose in the banner, and thus were forced to take it down.

Or, as the kids say: P0wned.

I got to meet Jessica back in June, shortly after the kerfuffle started. I'm an occasional contributor to Freethought RI, an atheist radio show. I happened to be in the studio when she stopped by to share her thoughts on the air. She's a well spoken and charming person who seemed honestly surprised that this has become such a big deal.

At the time, I recall that I downplayed the situation to her. I remember encouraging her to not get too hung up on it. Jessica is completely in the right on this one, which is rare in life. When you're absolutely, completely correct, my opinion is that you should go ahead and run with it. In the grand sweep of things the prayer banner is a small matter. Any actual injuries the banner's presence caused her are incredibly slight. There are much larger fish to fry, even in the ongoing squabble between theists and non.

Unfortunately, my analysis missed something. I've lived in the North, in big University towns for a long time. I live in a safe little bubble where even the guy who works the cash register at the gas station probably has a college degree and some mature thoughts on current social affairs. I had forgotten what I learned growing up in the South: There are some incredibly violent knuckle draggers out there. People exist, right here in America, who will actually, literally take you in the woods and beat you to death for crimes like failing to be Christian enough, being gay, dressing the wrong way, loving the wrong person, being the wrong color, and so on.

Jessica lifted a rock and exposed a nest of those sorts of people in Cranston. She's endured some truly vile treatment, in person and online. The comment stream on the Providence Journal articles covering the story are an open sewer of bigotry. One blogger has captured a few dozen of the juiciest pieces of online asshattery. It's nauseating. The police are investigating the online threats that she's been receiving, and so on.

So while I still think that Jessica should wrap this up and turn her considerable talents to more important things - I was wrong to downplay the banner. Perhaps I'm wrong to think of prejudice against non-christians in America as a solved and trivial problem. Turns out that when you go after one of their symbols, theres still a decent slice of that community who get spitting mad. Of course, they're not running campaigns of punitive rape or using child soldiers to raze villages. What we have in Cranston are first world problems, but they are serious problems nonetheless.

The silver lining is that when the world at large looks at the situation, it seems to come down squarely on Jessica's side. Reddit held an "Ask me Anything" for Jessica and it's really smart. Beyond Cranston and Providence, in the broader world, commentators are incredibly supportive. That night in June on the radio show we received a record number of calls from all over the country - every single one of them expressing support.

Unless we can talk openly and honestly about things, we'll never change any minds. It's hard to get the bigots out in the open. They've learned to keep to themselves as the culture matures. You draw a lot of heat and fire when you pull them from their holes. Hopefully at least one of the violent idiots Jessica exposed will look around at some point and see that the world is laughing at them.

Changing minds would be the real victory. The banner itself is small change.

January 1st, 2012

08:24 am: 2011 Retrospective
At the end of each year I make a little summary post listing the first (interesting) line from the first post of each month. What I note this year is that I basically stopped writing as of September, and also that I seem to have spent a lot of time pissed off about various things.


* 2004
* 2005
* 2006
* 2007
* 2008
* 2009
* 2010

January: There is a decent amount of coverage about how the key study linking vaccination to autism was outright fraud.

February: I've begun a bit of a project now that the massive new brew kettle is fully armed and operational.

March: The situation with the state employees pensions in Wisconsin and other states is deplorable.

April: The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Cranston, asking them to take down a banner in the auditorium that shows the “school prayer.”

May: Morning. A crew of painters is walking around outside the house. Two humans (Chris and Jen) and two cats (Maia and Minnow) are watching from inside and preparing for work.

June: Jen and I are taking a trip to Tibet, and I've been asked more than a few times: "Why Tibet?"

July: Just like every year, I'm running for president, god-emperor, and tzar of the world.

August: The four noble truths of buddhism, restated:

September: Didn't post anything in September

October: I write this from the Northbound Acela, returning home to Boston at the end of - I think - my third trip in as many weeks.

November: I recently read Griftopia by Matt Taibbi.

December: Christmas day falls very close to the solstice, and also to the shortest day of the year in North America.

December 25th, 2011

08:03 am: Light in the Darkness
Christmas day falls very close to the solstice, and also to the shortest day of the year in North America. It finally got cold in Boston just this week. We had an extended remix of what we used to call “Indian summer,” and then briefly, “false summer,” before ceasing to mention it at all without a vague grumble about Al Gore. It’s below the freezing point of water, and the tiny birds sit on my frozen birdbath outside, looking vaguely confused. Cold enough that people hurry when they have to be outside, no matter how bright the sun.

It’s dark and cold. We seek the light and warmth. We light strings of little LEDs on our houses, bushes and trees, We set timers so that the cold dark house is a little bit festive when we get home. We bring together what family and friends we can. We eat and light fires and play music together. Some of us drink. We do what we can to drive back the dark, and it creates little islands of beauty.

I cannot help but notice the gaps between the lights. The 5pm darkness splits the world into little islands. There are people in those dark channels. I think of those missing from the table this year. Some are merely very far away, settled with family on other coasts, other countries, other continents. Others are dead and gone. The cemetery ground where they colloquially “sleep” is so very cold and hard this time of year.

I have a pile of cards, letters, pictures from friends and family. I treasure them. Every year there are fewer pictures of my friends, more pictures of their children. I love the children. The change of focus is poignant. I now know why sensible adults do not bother to photograph themselves so much as they did in years past.

The holidays are an emotionally hard time for most of us. No matter how bright the fire, everyone eventually pauses to look out a window at the snow and think of grandparents, parents, and other loved ones passed away. No matter how perfect the family, you cannot triple the number of people in a house without bumping up against old bruises.

Take a moment to call your family and friends today. Be gentle with each other. Give the old grudges and stress a rest – if only for a weekend.

Take some time for yourself to remember the ones for whom you seem to have lost the number – out there in the cold and the dark. Then come back to the fire and have some eggnog.

If nothing else, celebrate the fact that the shortest, darkest day of the year is passed. The days are getting longer. Spring is coming.

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