Worst July Ever.

I’m really liking this song right now.  Honeymoon Suite.  ‘What I know’

 

In the time before the darkness
In the days long and filled with light
A thousand nights it takes to call out
To find once again a friend of mine.
In time i might think things over
In light of what i see right now
And it can never be the same
Never be the same
Never be the same again

Oh i don’t know what i know

Give the chance when you are open
Breathe in the air of hope
So many things i missed…
But then i turned around
Down there it’s hard to cope

A Landmark Weekend

So, a few weekends ago I attended a three day seminar run by The Landmark Foundation. The Seminar’s cost was covered by my employer and going was voluntary. Back in late January or early February our boss invited some representatives from the Landmark Foundation to our office for an introduction to the program. Here is what I got out of it

1. The language being spoken was very customized and used in a confusing manner.
2. It had something to do with the power of just taking action as opposed to waiting, thinking, or procrastinating.
3. This presentation was also a hard sell.

No sooner had the presentation finished than we found the application forms and credit card authorizations being passed out to each of us to sign. To be clear, going was voluntary and costs would be reimbursed. Still, it felt like a hard sell…it was very directive. ‘Now please fill out the sign-up form, OK, now please we’ll need a credit card, etc’

The introduction had piqued my interest though. There did seem to be something there among the convoluted language and questioning that was going on during it. Also, my boss really believes in it and he’s earned my respect of his opinion. So I read through the legal stuff and signed it.

About that legal stuff. I didn’t think much of it when I signed, as I wasn’t planning on blogging about it, but there is a provision in the contract for reporting on the event. As such, I will not be identifying anyone who attended or reproducing any material used there. I will also not be discussing what their methodogy actually is. This post is about my experience, thoughts, and opinions on the Landmark Program. Had I thought about writing about the experience back in February, I may have challenged the conditions or asked for a waiver. On one hand some of them seem a bit silly and heavy handed, on the other hand many of these conditions do act to protect the privacy of others who attend. Seeing people break down or sharing traumatic experiences was common over the weekend and the group we made up was a true champion of diversity. All races, creeds, ages, backgrounds, political leanings and economic class were well represented. Many of the conditions served to protect their identity and privacy.

Anyway, this was around February and the dates I had chosen to go were at the end of March. Lots of time before I have to go, so I did what I always do in these situations, research it and then mostly forget about it.

The research was interesting. Do a quick Google search on ‘Landmark Foundation review’ and on the first page you’ll see words such as ‘cult, scam, breakdown’ scattered among some of the links. This did not look like a good way to start off. Still I chose 7 – 10 links and started reading. Reviews were mixed. Some claimed it was a cult, or scam, while others praised it profusely. In the end though, after cutting though all the bias and rhetoric and trying to just grab onto the facts, my general impression was this was not a cult, or some kind of brainwashing program. But I also really was no closer to knowing just what it was.

The course is pretty intense from a time standpoint. It was in Chicago and the schedule was

Day 1 – 9:00am – 10:00PM
Day 2 – 9:00am – 10:00pm
Day 3 – 9:00am – 10:00pm
Day 4 – OFF
Day 5 – 7pm – 10pm

You get two 30 minute breaks and one 90 minute dinner break on each of the first three days, which also happen to be the guts of the course. The last day is really just a graduation/recruitment event, even if it did include a bit of existentialism 101 as part of the ‘course’.

So what is the Landmark Forum? Well, the best way I can describe it would be: It’s part applied philosophy, part peer pressure/ support group, and part business plan. It’s not a scam and it’s not any type of brainwashing. Real good can be done by participating and following their program. Where my opinion will differ from theirs is, they try and make you believe their way is the only way to a happy fulfilled life. It’s not.

That’s the biggest issue I have with the Landmark Forum. They teach a perspective which can be very insightful and helpful to some people. But the course also seems fashioned to suggest that without this method your life will will somehow be lacking. It’s never said directly, but the way the concepts and definitions are laid out, by the end of day one they’ve already defined that emotions, logic, analysis, caution are all bad things which prevent you from ever bettering your life.

The thing is, it’s true. Emotions, viewpoints we hold, how we choose to remember or perceive things, can be devastating to our ability to grow. They also can have profound impacts on our happiness and sense of fulfillment. The key word here is that they *can* be these things. The problem I had was over the course of the program they are almost exclusively portrayed in the negative.

This may seem like a damning piece of criticism. It’s not. It simply reflects the struggle I am having in reconciling the experience in an ethical sense. Part of me doesn’t like how the program is packaged.

  • The language and phrasings seem purposefully difficult and confusing. This makes it difficult to ‘teach’ or convey to other people their method. They want to be the ones doing the teaching (and getting new customers).
  • The program is designed to make you feel like you need the program, otherwise you won’t be as happy or fulfilled as your could be.
  • Recruitment is a big part of the course/program. It’s built into the method. Part of the method is group support, you get that by getting more people into the group.

Having said that, I have to stress the method itself is sound. I have no doubt whatsoever that it can change lives for the better. Part of their program also stresses community outreach, non-profit, volunteering, etc. That is admirable. They also have programs for children and teens. If I had children I would not hesitate to enroll them in the Landmark course. It really does offer something to most people.

My struggle with my Landmark Weekend lies solely in reconciling the good of the course with my perception of it’s business plan. Perhaps I’m more cynical than I want to admit, but in the end Landmark feels to me like a great open source program that someone put a wrapper around so they could sell it.

Summary: I’m for it. I think if you’re interested, you should try it. I have no issues with the method. I just don’t like how some of it is packaged.

– Craig

Landmark Foundation Review

I promised a few folks a review on the Landmark Forum seminar I attended last weekend. I had hoped to have had it posted by Sunday night, but life got in the way. I should have the review up by the end of this week.

-Craig

Observations From a Backyard Patio

So about a year ago I took the plunge and bought a home. Not a ‘hobbity’ home, though I must admit it does have a bit of a Bag-endian charm to it. No, it was it ‘quirky’ home, which fits me well. It has a sunken living room with a wood-burning fireplace, three bedrooms, one bath, a small dining room, and nice kitchen. The basement is partially finished and the finished portion was large enough to hold an 8-foot pool table (a requirement). It came with all appliances, central air, and it’s in a nice quiet neighborhood. The back yard, which is smaller than the front, wraps around the house in an ‘L’ shape, and was heavily landscaped with perennials by the former owners.

One feature I didn’t pay that much attention to when considering whether to buy it or not was the patio directly off the back of the house. It’s quite large, about 10′ X 40′ and about two-thirds of that is covered. Earlier this year I went out and bought a couple of quality all-weather speakers and mounted them to the support beams holding up the patio roof. I rigged a laptop up to the receiver in the living room and can control iTunes and WinAmp on it from my iPhone. So as of late, I’ve found myself sitting outside on the patio, listening to music and just watching and thinking.

What’s surprised me is sheer detail and breadth of information one can discern and realize with just with casual observation. An example: Early on this spring, I realized the robins hopping and stopping about my yard were not in fact random visitors, but residents. It soon became clear to me they were the same two robins, a male and female. It also became clear that they considered me, and not them, the interloper on this property. Thankfully, they have proven to be easy going and gracious, and have not yet confronted me directly about my ‘trespassing’.

Another observation is that this neighborhood is home to a rather largish pack of feral tween-ish girls. Their shrieks and laughter can be heard echoing throughout the alleys and byways of the neighborhood during the gloaming hours. I’ve made occasional sights of their pack, which numbers about 12, but they’re quite skittish and run off laughing once they know they’ve been spotted. I think back to my childhood and how my parents would have us hunt for ‘Snipe’ to get us out of the house. I can’t help but imagine though, that they hunt for something more real…perhaps feral tweenish boys with Bieber-ish traits.

Something else I’ve come to realize is just how amazing nature is. My backyard came stocked with perennials and over the course of several weekends watering, weeding, cutting, and trying to maintain them, you notice things. Like how the flowers on a shrub by my garage are the perfect size for a bumblebee to fit into, and as they crawl in how it causes the stamens to bend inward ever so sightly and brush their backs with pollen. Yes, you read about this in high-school biology and see it on the Discovery Channel, but there is something intrinsically wonderful about seeing it just occur.

But really it’s the constant minutia of life that goes on about us every second of every day that we just never see or notice. Bumblebees flying constantly from flower to flower, and how they look like little striped, fuzzy, VW buses in flight; the cycle of the plants, from small shoots, to flower, to seed. Seeing 12 birds sitting on the phone cable, all waiting for me to finish writing this article and go inside so they can fly down to the bird feeder and eat without such uncouth and undesired company so nearby. Well, they’ve been patient, and I’m getting hungry, I think I’ll go in and let them eat in peace…even if one final observation I’ve made is that in reality, birds are really just little feathered pigs. I swear they must eat twice their body weight in birdseed.

The Raven – Revisted

So I woke up one morning to the sound of tapping…Well, I’ll let Edgar Allen Glaser tell the rest…

Upon this Friday morning dreary, waking up red-eyed and bleary
The nocturne song of gentle dreaming, now to be no more
There came to me the sound of tapping, as of something gently rapping
Upon some fixture it was scratching, beyond my bathroom door.
Tis but the wind, I muttered as I walked on to the door
Only this, and nothing more.

Just a wind of cold December, coming early this November
This surely is the reasoned answer to the sound beyond the door.
Cats that cat-like, had been napping, now awoken by the rapping
Creeping low they made their way across the bedroom floor.
Advancing then no further once they came upon the door
There they sat for evermore.

Both pawing me for my consent, the door I pushed and in they went
Upon the skylight in my haven, stood black the bird of lore.
And on the rooftop rain-proof wrapping, perched the raven fiercely tapping
Tapping that the wrapping should be water-proof no more.
I heaved a cat that it should see and shouted, Carnivore!
Quoth the raven, nevermore

Deep within came rising thunder, I’ll be damned I let you plunder
Home or haven, cave or castle, I let loose the dogs of war!
Should I hear but once more rapping, there will be a final tapping
Tapping head of yonder raven upon the cold hard floor.
So rap or tap again I say, please do so I implore!
Away the bird did soar.

Horoscopes – Aquarius Week of July 25, 2010

Note: This post should actually be read *after* the one that follows it.

my.horoscope.com
Actively express your thoughts today, Aquarius. You’ll find that a great deal of information needs to be exchanged. You have the power to deliver a strong, thoughtful message to others, so don’t give up this opportunity to exercise your acute mind. You may also find people to be rather argumentative, but don’t let this keep you from expressing your true thoughts on the matter at hand.

Interpretation
Huh? What is this crap? How is this foretelling anything!? This is just bumpkin advice bundled with a bit of ego stroking. Hey, pop-quiz. Who out there feels they are able to deliver a strong thoughtful message to others once in awhile? Just raise your hand…I’ll count. Hmm, looks like damn near everyone to me. Well except for you, the girl with Tourettes shouting in the corner. You’re excused.

I love the last couple lines as well. People might get argumentative if you express your true thoughts. No. Way. I’m disappointed my.horoscope.com. Very disappointed.

astrology.com
It’s important that you treat yourself right today — even if that makes someone else feel left out! Your energy is a little tapped right now, so it’s harder than usual to help others when they need it

interpretation
Damn straight. It’s about time I start I doing the ‘me first’ stinking thinking instead of all those non-Aquarian friends I’ve been helping these last two weeks. Between their selfish nature and the constant distractions at work they cause, I could use a little me time. Calgon, take me away!

Congrats astrology.com, you win this week.

www.dailyhoroscopes.com
Oh oh. This site doesn’t seem to load tonight. I wonder if Christine has run out of fortune cookie fortunes? Hmm. Most likely it’s just a technical issue with the site or provider. Well I guess I’ll just do my own fortune for Christine…in haiku.

Fortune didn’t read,
You should buy a U.P.S
Servers have no sign.

PS: For the non-computer folk out there, a UPS is an ‘Uninterruptable Power Supply’ It’s one of those big boxy things with heavy lead batteries we hook up to our servers. If power is lost (due to a storm, etc), the servers automatically start to run off the UPS until the power comes back on or we think of some other solution.

Weekly Horoscopes for Aquarius

A few weeks ago I had a talk with someone who was a firm believer in the accuracy of Horoscopes. He was quite convinced they really worked and that my skepical attitude towards them was due to a ‘closed mind’. So I decided to start reading a few Horoscopes each week offer my opinion on them. After a couple weeks I kind of enjoyed writing about them to friends via email, so I decided to do it as a weekly blog post.

This first entry details the first two weeks:

Aquarius (my.horoscope.com)
You might find that others are adopting a bit of a “me first” attitude that doesn’t quite sit right with you, Aquarius. You may need to knock on their door, wake them up, and say, “Hey, what about everybody else?” Try not to whine as you deliver this message. A desperate-sounding attitude will get you nowhere. Be friendly and jovial in your approach and the world will be at your feet.

Interpretation: Wow. Not only do I need less pretentious friends, I have to take the role of a insipidly gleeful and benevolent counselor to set them straight. It’s also clear that as an Aquarius I have the god-given right to judge my non-aquarian friends and decide whether their attitude is sufficiently proper to avoid my “gentle” corrections. Should I do this successfully, I shall rule the world (along with, I imagine, all the other Aquarii that successfully chastise their self-serving friends). I like this horoscope greatly.

Aquarius (Astrology.com)
My browser crashed while trying to view my horoscope at astrology.com.

Interpretation: This is a bad bad bad sign. I’m calling in from work and locking myself in my apartment today.

Aquarius (www.dailyhoroscope.com)
You do your job and others do their job–progress. This afternoon you may be asked to exchange ideas and problem-solve with some of your co-workers. This is a time of great mental activity and heightened communication with others. Intellectualism and the exchange of ideas have a special appeal to you. You are full of wit and sharp insights. This could be a time for real breakthroughs in the idea department. You are in top form when it comes to mental activity. You may have opportunities today to be with young people, perhaps guiding young people. There is a chance to understand those around you and to have a special time with someone you love. There are good feelings and a sense of harmony.

Interpretation: CHARLATAN ALERT! This is pure drivel. The first half of this so-called omen is nothing more than a description of what anyone with a job does on a day to day basis. In fact the first sentence would make an excellent title for a children’s book about work. As far as the middle part, well I am always full of wit and sharp insights…so one point for the astrologer. But then it goes off talking about having opportunities with young people and that they’ll be good feelings and harmony. I think the author of this horoscopes ordered several hundred Chinese fortune cookies, ate the cookies then put all the fortunes in a hat. Each day she draws four or five from the hat and strings them together for her mystical ‘prognostication’. Stay away from this author (some tart named Christine).

Week 2

Horoscope (Horoscope.com)
Today you’re likely to be in just the right place at the right time to meet the right person. You’re overdue for a lucky break and probably not expecting it. You may start the day in a restless and frustrated state of mind, Aquarius, but whatever happens will catapult you out of it. Be prepared – this transition may involve vast changes in your life, in the long run if not immediately

Interpretation:
Hmmm, this starts out great. I like the fact that the 680 million Aquarii in the world are going to all meet the right person today. But the right person for what? It doesn’t really say. Shit, I’m all for meeting the right person for love or personal fortune, but what if it turns out my ‘right person’ today is the right person for a colonic? I’m not sure I want to meet that person….ever. I agree with the second sentence. All us Aquarius’s have been getting screwed lately, about time we get a lucky break. That last sentence though is a bit disappointing…this astrologer must like to hedge his/her bets. ‘in the long run if not immediately’…doesn’t leave much to chance does it?

Horoscope (Astrology.com)
Your friends need you now more than ever — though they may not know how to ask for help. Reach out and see what you can do for those in need, and rack up some positive karma for later

Interpretation
Hey! My browser didn’t crash while trying to read my Horoscope this week! Guess I can unboard my windows and come outside now.
Geez, what is up with the friends all us Aquarii make? Last week we needed to chastise them for their ‘me first’ attitudes and this week they need us for something they can’t even conceptualize into a request for assistance. I also have issue with the last part of this. ‘Racking up’ positive karma for later is a myth. You can’t get positive karma if you do something expecting to be ‘rewarded’ for it later. That’s just stealth selfishness. Besides it’s not like karma comes from a vending machine and you can just put it in your pantry. Karma has its own agenda and you get it when it decides you get it.

Horoscope (Dailyhoroscope.com)
A friend in the workplace may often seek your advice. You are able to cut through the red tape and get at what is beneath and behind a problem. This may be a good time to help this person to learn his or her own problem-solving techniques and to become more confident. You are a good teacher and this process should be a lot easier than constantly being distracted from your own work. You are all heart . . . you will be pleased to see others become independent. Children, animals and all creative work get top billing this afternoon and you may find yourself sitting with family or a friend?s child. Have a goodie bag ready that is age appropriate with some surprise for each child tucked inside and you will have a happy time with the visit.

Interpretation:
Oh oh, the charlatan Christine is pulling her fortune cookie fortunes out of the hat again. What is this rambling, disjointed ‘fortune’ really trying to tell me? Let’s see:

Someone at work may often (or by definition, may not often) seek my advice today. If this person does ask me for advice, I should teach him how to handle their own problems themselves (this person is starting to sound a lot like one these ‘friends’ all us Aquarii seem to have).

The next two sentences seem to contradict themselves. I’m all heart and want to see this person independent, but apparently I’m also annoyed by them constantly distracting me from my work. So am I doing this out of the good of my heart or am I doing this because they are bugging the crap out of me? Apparently I’m annoyed enough to be happy to help them to get them to stop annoying me.

Then she pulls a new fortune from the hat and we do a complete non sequitur into something about children and animals and how I may (and once again by definition, may not) be sitting with a friend and his/her progeny. Since she doesn’t tell me what the age of this child will be, I need to carry around about 6 or 7 different ‘goodie bags’ each aimed at a different age group so I’ll be sure to have one that’s age appropriate.

Got to hell Christine. You snake oil scam artist.

PS: Christine also needs an editor as she’s mistyped “friend’s” in the second to last sentence as “friend?s”.

Homebrew Beer Tasting at The Bomb Shelter

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Every Wednesday night, The Bomb Shelter hosts Milwaukee’s premier beer tasting club, The Sud’s Club. The Sud’s Club has been meeting every Wednesday night at The Bomb Shelter since the bar’s inception just over a year ago. The club tends to focus on a specific genre or family of beer each week and offers one full beer during the tasting and then samples of 7 or more beers throughout the night. The club costs $5 to join, which get’s you a serialized membership card along with a tasting card you can use to track and comment on the beers you’ve tasted, and then $5 for any week you go to a tasting.

The Club has a rich diversity in it’s membership, ranging from complete beer tasting novices to brewmasters from several of Milwaukee areas microbreweries, so new comers should not feel at all intimidated and beer aficionado’s will find plenty of others with comparable experience to compare notes with. The club has been quite successful with over 350 members, and more who sign up each week.

The club has been successful.  These are the tracking cards current members use to document the beers they taste.  They return the cards to the bar after the tasting and get the same card back each time they come to a tasting

The club has been successful. These are the tracking cards current members use to document the beers they taste. They return the cards to the bar after the tasting and get the same card back each time they come to a tasting

On weeks where the club does not focus on a genre of beer (Stouts, Porters, Ales, Belgian Style, etc) it will generally focus on a particular Brewery…usually a micro hosted by The Owner, Brewmaster or Representative of said Brewery. Some past meetings I have attended have included Left Hand Brewery in Colorado, Summit Brewery in St Paul, Sprecher Brewery from Milwaukee, and Goose Island Brewery in Chicago.

These meetings tend to be my favorites as there are always interesting stories to learn such how the owner started the brewery or how the brewmaster stumbled upon their current best selling beer’s recipe. During Left Hand’s visit I found out about the Indian heritage the Brewery acknowledges by the different Indian blanket pattern found on the label of each of it’s beers. I had tried and became a regular drinker of several Left Hand beers before finding this out and had never noticed the blanket pattern on their bottles.

In all instances though, the club primarily serves as a means to educate all levels of beer drinkers. When I first started going to the club I couldn’t tell you what the difference between a pilsner and ale was, or what characteristics might separate a porter from a stout. I also did not understand what ‘hoppy-ness’ meant or how different types of yeast might give citrus or floral highlights to beers that originally I would have attributed to fruits being added during the brewing process.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect the club has done for me is that it has vastly expanded the types of beer I enjoy. Before attending the club I was pretty much a straight Irish stout man. Now though, I can enjoy a good hefeweizen, Red, or Porter, and have recently developed a keen enjoyment of ‘hoppier’ beers such as India Pale Ales. I’m even beginning to be able to identify the speficic type of hops that may be put in a particular beer…something I thought I would never be able to do when I first attended the club (many beers all tasted the same to me back then).

This Wednesday the club featured home brews. Including several from first time home brewers who were inspired to try brewing their own beer from attending The Suds Club. Also on the roster that night was the brewing of The Bomb Shelter’s second home brewed beer – An American Pale Ale that would include home grown hops from one of the Sud’s Club members. Last Fall the Bomb Shelter and Sud’s Club brewed a Porter which was labeled ‘Bomb Shelter Plutonium Porter’ and was handed out to members in early 2009.

The featured beer for the night was from Marc Buttera, owner of Oso Brewery and was Labeled, ‘Rusty Red’. Though this beer is technically not a ‘homebrew’ as Oso is a microbrewery, the brewery itself came about as a result of Marc being a home brewer for over 13 years.

The next beer came from Wally and was a true home brew called ‘Starlight Ale’

Matt and Jenn followed with their first home brewed beer, ‘Toothless Clown’. They then continued for their friend Eric (who could not make it) who had brewed two beers: ‘eSee Honey’ and ‘Off the Clock Bock’. Both of these beers were quite good by my opinion especially for a first attempt.

Finally Mike offered some non-beer home brew in the form of a home brewed Saki and a home brewed Honey Meade.

Eric's 'eSee Honey'

Eric's 'eSee Honey'

Matt and Jenn explain brewing their first beer, 'Toothless Clown'

Matt and Jenn explain brewing their first beer, 'Toothless Clown'

Matt Explains Eric's two beers, 'eSee Honey' and 'Off the Clock Bock'

Matt Explains Eric's two beers, 'eSee Honey' and 'Off the Clock Bock'

Mike talks about his home brew, 'Starlight Ale'

Mike talks about his home brew, 'Starlight Ale'

Eric's 'Off the Clock Bock'

Eric's 'Off the Clock Bock'

Let the brewing begin!!

Let the brewing begin!!

Closeup of the home-grown 'Milwaukee Hops' used in the Bomb Shelters Pale Ale.

Closeup of the home-grown 'Milwaukee Hops' used in the Bomb Shelters Pale Ale.

Mark talks about Oso Brewery and his best seller, 'Rusty Red'

Mark talks about Oso Brewery and his best seller, 'Rusty Red'

Hand Feeding Hummingbirds

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by hummingbirds. My parents have several feeders at their trailer up north so I’m used to seeing them hovering around throughout the summer days I’m up there. I have noticed that for such little birds, they really don’t show much fear of people. In fact, if you’re still they really don’t seem to be aware you’re even there and will often feed at a feeder just a few feet away. I’ve never thought of actually trying to feed them by hand though. I may have to try it this summer. Here is some video shot by a guy who has had success at it.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird Eating From My Hand (Part One) from Russ Thompson on Vimeo.

Credit to: LIN CSI where I found this video.

Cult Leader Proclaims That On January 6th, 2009 Nothing Much Will Happen.

Kansas – The Great Ja’sul, leader of the Xenite’s Flock Religious Cult proclaimed last week that their God Xeni spoke to him while he was in the midst of an American Idol-induced trance and assured him that on January 6th, 2009 nothing much would happen.

“I can say with the utmost confidence that the world on that date will be a boring, banal experience, and that nothing of major importance will go down.”, stated Ja’sul.

Ja’sul, 23, who’s real name is John Hinkler, made this proclamation from his parents basement where he currently resides. ‘I was watching a rerun of American Idol as commanded by Xenie when I entered a trance like state shortly after heaing Chris’s rendition of Queen’s ‘Innuendo’. While in this state of blissful detachment, Xenie came to me and revealed the vision’, Ja’sul continued.

Ruh’kyra, 21, one of the cult’s 3 active members did not take the prophecy’s news with delight. ‘Hell no, I’m not happy. I’m sick of watching this stupid show. My life is boring enough without John, sorry…I mean Ja’sul, telling me it’s not going to get much better anytime soon.”