A Reseach Excursion to Berkeley

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    A Reseach Excursion to Berkeley

    While I was in San Francisco, Pica contacted me to let me know she and Numenius would be in Berkeley on Saturday and wondered if I would have time to get together. I was glad they took the initiative because it turned out the conference was winding down and I was looking for an excuse to visit Berkeley for the first time. I had a paper to give in the morning, but after that I jumped on the BART with a few others from the conference and met up with Pica and Numenius in front of Games of Berkeley.

    From there we strolled to a café/music store called The Musical Offering just south of the Berkeley campus to find a quiet place to chat. And of course there was much to chat about. It wasn’t long before we were sketching design ideas for a new Ecotone logo on napkins and brainstorming about where the site might go in the future. Once again, it was great to meet the people behind the blog, in person and in place, and our conversation helped infuse energy into the dissertation project in ways that I hadn’t expected.

    Indeed, I didn’t plan to work on my dissertation that day, but I was happy to credit it all as research. After Pica and Numenius headed back to Davis, I walked over to Cody’s bookstore where I found a great little book called Place: A Short Introduction, exactly the overview of critical geography that I was looking for. It gave me hope that might still find ways to nourish my inner geographer without having to start another degree program.

    As the afternoon waned, I met up with Derek and Co. at Becket’s pub for drinks—which I didn’t count as dissertation research.

    Berkeley might not be the countercultural hotbed it once was (there’s a Starbucks cross from the university’s main gate), but I still found myself stimulated by the place and the company and was glad that blogging (and bloggers) once again gave me an excuse to explore.

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    Familar Topographies

    Sometimes a place just fits, like it was custom-designed for a particular moment and state of mind. Yesterday morning this place was the basement of City Lights bookstore in a section entitled “Topo/Graphies” where I found myself during my last few hours in San Francisco, a city where I’ve come to feel at home in the last few days. Sunday morning I got up early to wander around for a while before catching an afternoon flight back to Boston.

    After grabbing a coffee and bagel, I walked up Grant through Chinatown and before long a familiar voice hollered my name from across the street. There stood Lad Tobin, my dissertation chair from BC, waiting for a ride to stay with relatives in another part of the city. Our chance encounter gave the city a familiar feel, and we chatted for a while as if we were standing between Carney Hall and McElroy at BC, as if the tourists jostling past us were students rushing between classes.

    After parting ways with Lad, I made my way to City Lights with the intention of picking up a copy of Lefevre’s Production of Space, but when I couldn’t find a copy in the basement philosophy section, I began browsing other shelves nearby. As I turned around, the first shelf I encountered as called “Topo/graphies” and it didn’t take me long to realize that this shelf was designed just for me. To my amazement, it was full of books on technology and place, a hand-picked reading list for my dissertation that I began to transcribe furiously into my notebook in the few minutes I had before heading back to my hotel. Next time I’m in San Francisco I want to find out who designed this shelf so I can thank him or her in my dissertation acknowledgements page.

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    On Failing to Stay Depressed in San Francisco

    I’ve been in a bit of funk since I got to San Francisco, perhaps because of the time difference, the long flight, or the head cold I’ve been fighting for a few days. Or maybe the conference is forcing me to dwell on how I’m going to finishing my dissertation this year and where I’ll be heading next, topics of reflection that don’t usually inspire my rosiest moods.

    But I think I’m pulling out of it now that I’ve had some good conversations with people at the conference and have had time to walk around the city with friends. On Wednesday I met up with Andy for a stroll through Golden Gate Park and tea at the Japanese Tea Garden. We also drove the top of Twin Peaks for a stunning view of the city at Sunset.

    Last night I met up with my college roommate Ajai in the Mission District for drinks. Sitting outside on the sidewalk in front of the cafe, we caught up on life and reminisced about when I was here a few years ago. Eventually, we continued our conversation on foot as we wandered up Valencia and 16th Street all the way to Castro, taking a detour here and there to check out the ally murals.

    As we walked, I was overcome by that feeling of well-being that I get when exploring great cities. In light of this, Jarratt’s Epionion’s piece on “How to Be Depressed in San Francisco” was particularly enjoyable to read this afternoon. Despite his tongue-and-cheek advice for how to maintain a melacholy disposition, the city hasn’t allowed me to stay depressed for long.

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    Getting Settled in San Francisco

    Last night I arrived in San Francisco after along day of travelling and a hectic week. The CCCC conference began this morning and I was there bright and early for a morning workshop on blogging.

    At noon I met up with Jarrett from Creature of the Shade for my fourth installment in the “conversations with place bloggers” series. I was interested in hearing how he got started blogging and what connections he makes between his writing and his sense of place. As we sat looking out over Market Street and downtown San Franscisco, our conversation ranged beyond the topic of blogging to our ideas of place more generally, to his work, and my dissertation, and along the way he offered some helpful suggestions in ways to approach my research on place blogging. I consider it one of the perks of this particular dissertation that it gives me an excuse to meet up with interesting people in intersting places, and I hope it’s possible to keep it that way.


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    Year-Round Biking: The Cold

    Biking in the cold is all about having just the right layers on—too few and you’ll be hating life for the entire ride, too many and you’ll be a sweaty mess by the time you get to whereever you’re going.

    My basic apparel on the coldest days:

    • A Turtle Fur Fleece balaclava that pulls up over my face and fits under my helmet.
    • Patagonia pullover fleece
    • Columbia shell (with zippers under the arm for ventilation)
    • Gloves
    • Nylon warm-up pants to break the wind

    I vowed at one point that I would never resort to ski goggles on the coldest days (even bike geeks need to have some limits). However, if the rest of my body is covered, I’ve found that the balaclava creates a narrow slit for heat to escape, and this is enough to keep my eyes warm—once I get warmed up. Usually by the time I’ve biked for three or four minutes, I uncover my face to keep from getting too warm.

    On the coldest day I bike this year—5 degrees with a stiff headwind—I made the mistake of wearing a wool sweater in addition to the fleece. By the time I got to BC a pool of sweat had gather just above my belt, creating a dark spot on my shirt—not very professional-looking, even for a grad student. The next time I biked in 4-degree weather I ditched the wool and my core stayed plenty warm.

    My feet, however, were a different story. By the time I reached the Boston College T stop on the back-side of Heartbreak H ill, they were beginning to lose feeling. Or more precisely, I was feeling the pain just before they began to lose feeling. Since my shoes aren’t insulated, they’ve been my weak spots all winter, so even when my core is toasty warm my feet are left out to fend for themselves. Yesterday I finally found some affordable booties to go over my shoes for cold and rainy days when my feet are first cause of misery.

    The last few days have been in the 40s for the first time in a while, and I’m beginning to remember the pleasure of biking a sunny morning while wearing just one layer. However, the cold hasn’t diminished my joy in biking, probably because it’s my one chance to be outdoors during the day and to experience places beyond the vicinity of my computer screen.

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    Year-Round Biking: A Series

    Earlier this year, I decided to ride my bike year round, snow or shine, as a transportation experiment. I was inspired to take this step when I was home over Christmas and witnessed a true Fargoan biking downtown on a day when it was two below with a brisk wind–and he didn’t even have anything on his face. I began to wonder, what would I have to do to bike in all manner of weather? Can biking truly be a year-round form of transportation?

    Well, with nearly 80 inches of snow in the city this year, it’s been a proved to be a good winter to test this out. Over the past months I’ve gleaned some best practices from trying biking nearly every day, so I think I’ll begin a series of post on biking in Boston in the winter.

    For today, I’ll just post this picture I took on Tuesday after we got another six inches of snow and I had just slogged my way through the mush to BC.

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