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Alliance for Community Media Northeast Conference: Other Panels

November 22, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

In addition to facilitating a panel on Makerspaces, I attended several other presentations. I'm new to Community Media, so it was useful to attend.

The first presentation I attended was about getting cable companies to allow PEG stations to use the electronic program guide. This is something I've asked about repeated with respect to Amherst Media, because Comcast has been unwilling to do it here and the program guide only shows "Local 1" or "Educational Programming" -- and TVGuide shows nothing at all. The presenters (one of whom is the current president of the Alliance for Community Media, the national parent organization of ACM-NE) provided a solid background about the resistance of cable companies to allow this and offered many helpful suggestions. As much as 40% of television viewing happens via DVR and, if your content isn't scheduled correctly, people can't easily view your content this way. Cable companies ought to see PEG content as a huge draw for cable television: the viewership is often low, but extremely "sticky" with a very loyal following. But many cable companies resist letting PEG stations schedule their content because it helps them organize and build an audience, which will turn out during the franchising negotiations. Their suggestions were mainly to push hard for access to the program guide, make a persuasive case that it serves their interests to serve their customers well, keep pushing, and document everything.

Martha Fuentes-Bautista

The keynote speech was by Martha Fuentes-Bautista, a faculty member from UMass Amherst who's worked extensively with Amherst Media. Several years ago, she did an indepth study of Amherst Media's relationship to the community, Access360: Building engaged communities in a digital age. In her keynote, she spoke about the community media ecosystem and how to engage with all of the different components and stakeholders.

After lunch, I attended a presentation that I thought was going to be about fundraising and how to seek funding. Instead, it was about a particular campaign that the community foundation of Hartford ran in collaboration with a local PBS station as marketing for their 90th anniversary. It was an interesting story, but was more about marketing and branding than it was about how to look for funding. When people asked how much the campaign had costed, they refused to say, although they agreed the number was possibly more than the entire annual budget of many local public-access stations.

In the last time slot, Jim Lescault and I attended an "ask the lawyers" presentation. People raised a number of interesting questions about franchising, crafting releases for content, the new PEG enterprise fund statute, and other interesting topics. Seeing the kinds of questions people ask was as helpful to me as the answers.

The day wrapped up around 5pm -- just as traffic on the expressways peaks -- so Jim and I went over to a local barbeque place to get a sandwich and then, next door, to the tavern where they were holding the afterparty. We hooked up with a couple of people Jim knew and had a very interesting and wide-ranging conversation. I also got to try a new (to me) IPA: Stony Creek Cranky. Good beer, good friends, and good conversation. A fitting end to a great day.

Alliance for Community Media Northeast Conference: Makerspace Panel

November 21, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Last year, it was Jim Lescault who spoke about Makerspaces at the ACM-NE Annual Meeting. This year, it was my turn: yesterday, I facilitated a panel with speakers from three Makerspaces: Bryan Patton and Devra Sisitsky from MakerspaceCT, Christ Anderson from AS220, and Christine Olson from our own Makers at Amherst Media. It turned out pretty well.

ACM-NE Makerpace Panel

I provided a brief introduction to the philosophical alignment of public-access television and the Maker movement. I drew heavily from the presentation I did for Science for the People, but turned down the Marxist rhetoric and focused more on community-building. At the same time, I wanted to puncture the hypothesis that a lot of people seem to have that "The Maker Movement Is Going To Save Us" and "The Maker Movement Is The New Economy". I felt a little bad when I realized that the team from MakerspaceCT was going to do this exact presentation right after mine. But I left my comments in because I think it's important.

The three presentations about Makerspaces were all very different from one another. Christine provided a very nuts-and-bolts look at our Makerspace, focusing on our sense that building the community was what was important, as opposed to installing some equipment in a room and calling it a "makerspace". It was a great introduction to what we're doing, what's working, who we're trying to partner with, and what our challenges are. I thought it was a fantastic model if another access station wanted to get started trying to build a Maker community. Neither of the others really had anything to do with access centers, but both were interesting for other reasons.

After the presentation, a woman congratulated me on the panel. I admitted that I thought it was a little incoherent because the different presentations were so uncoordinated and from totally different perspectives. She disagreed saying, "No! That's what made it useful: to see it from all these different points of view." I was very pleased and was glad to be a part.

Update: I posted again about the rest of the conference.

Getting Blocked

November 17, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

When Max Gladstone and Theodora Goss both tweeted links about Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker not allowing Syrian refugees, I thought I would retweet both. But I was surprised to discover, when I tried to retweet the second tweet, that Theodora had blocked me.

I can't say that I know Theodora well — I first heard of her through Philip, who I believe was a Clarion classmate. I met her at Reader Con a year ago and introduced myself briefly. And I had followed her on Twitter for a couple of years. Being a teacher of writing, interested in poetry, and sharing a connection through Phil, I thought I could have the temerity to occasionally comment on things she wrote. When she posted a picture of a beautiful sunset in Budapest, I commented that there were beautiful sunsets in many places that people rarely took time to appreciate. When she posted a picture of a teacup with a sakura painting, I offered a haiku about the longing for spring that the picture inspired in me.

Since you don't receive any notification when someone blocks you, I don't know exactly when it happened -- or, indeed, how many times it's happened. But I know of one other instance where I was blocked (in Twitter) and twice when I was unfriended (in Facebook). The two instances in Facebook were due to political differences: people found my left-leaning political positions unsupportable -- in one case telling me I should leave the country if I didn't support their red-state agenda.

The other case in twitter, was due directly to something I said. A trans person retweeted a link by (what was seemingly) a young woman who was mocking her boyfriend for saying she wore too much makeup. I replied to to the tweet, perhaps offensively

This is a pet peeve of mine: I have frequently heard women claim that men require them to wear makeup (or pantyhose or whatever), when it appears to me that women actually police each other regarding clothing and appearance much more than men ever do. And I've always thought that wearing make-up makes you look like a clown. But usually, I have enough sense to keep my opinion to myself.

I should have recognized that there are a lot of reasons why people wear make-up. An elderly male colleague who has psoriasis wears foundation because people otherwise would stare at the livid rash across his face. They still stare because of the makeup but, evidently, he finds that better than the alternative.

Phil suggested that Theodora probably blocks a lot of people who post creepy things to her on Twitter. I can certainly believe that: I've seen some of those. He offered to contact her and ask, but I demurred. I certainly don't want to force myself on anyone. Still, I was surprised and a bit hurt to find myself lumped in with creepy people. The internet is a weird place.

Kongresa Memo

November 16, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Amherst Media Annual Meeting

October 22, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Last night, I opened the Amherst Media annual meeting.

Here are my remarks:

Thank you all for attending the Amherst Media Annual meeting. It's wonderful to see both new and familiar faces.

As you probably know, it's been my first year as president and a tough year for Amherst Media with challenges on every front.

Tonight, however, I want to focus on the positives: With the help of Diana Stiles we launched our first annual fundraising campaign.

At the recent Cable Ascertainment hearings, it was wonderful to hear person after person come forward to testify about the key role that Amherst Media plays in our town by providing access to Public, Educational, and Government news and information.

People depend on Amherst Media to help them understand what's happening in town: with our schools, with town meeting, with many of the important boards and commities. Whether live, on rebroadcast, or streaming, many people stay connected through Amherst Media.

Our members also create an incredible amount of great video content about our community. Going Deeper, Neighbor-to-Neighbor, the Bruce Show, and on and on.

We also help capture interesting events happening in town: Ron Story's talk at the Amherst Historical Society, many talks at NERDSummit, Ron Fortunato's talk to Makers at Amherst Media.

But we're more than our content: we're also a community of people. We have outstanding staff Ari, Kayla, and Nick who work with an army of interns and the public to produce, direct, and film our shows. Our Board of Directors: Josh, Ed, Matt, Mat, Rick, Leo, Lynn, Demetria, Irv, Joe, and Adrienne. Our many members whether producing and creating videos or working in our various youth projects. And finally, our director Jim, who somehow keeps us all working together.

We have a packed agenda for the evening with several questions to bring to the membership and many opportunities for member to get more involved with our organization. But before we move on, I wanted to thank you -- all of you -- for your trust and support in allowing me to serve as president this year.

After my opening remarks, Jim introduce a reel of highlights showing some of this year's productions and introduced Judy Brooks to speak about the Jean Haggerty and Matt Heron Duranti to introduce this year's honoree, Jerry Gates.

Jerry spoke movingly about his experience working to organize a shelter for the homeless in Amherst, his community of helpers, and plans for the future.

Subsequently, we conducted the business of Amherst Media. We adopted some revisions to the bylaws, provided a moment for each of our standing committees to report on their activities, and reviewed the Treasurer's report.

After we adjourned the membership meeting, we conducted a board meeting to select officers for the coming year. There was consensus on the board about all of the officer positions: a single nomination was put forward for each & was seconded, the candidate accepted, nominations closed, and, without objection, declared elected by acclimation. I will serve again as President. Demetria Shabazz will be vice-president. And Ed Severance and Matt Heron-Duranti will reprise their roles as Treasurer and (with the revision of the bylaws) Secretary.

It's been a tough and complicated year for Amherst Media, but I feel like the board is really coming together and I have high hopes that next year will see the organization really move forward.

Open Letter to Stan Rosenberg

October 16, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I'm writing to express my hope that the Senate, which has traditionally been an ally of UMass Amherst and public higher education, will stop blocking the $10.9 million that the University needs to fully fund last year's collective bargaining agreements. The University took a substantial budget cut this year which the Chancellor did not pass through to academic units. But it's disrupted plans for faculty hiring and renovations needed for new faculty.

I've been particularly concerned to see the collective bargaining agreements held up against student fee increases, as if they were the only reason. Increasing labor costs, which as you know are largely just cost-of-living increases, are only one of several drivers of increasing costs at the University.

One crucial driver has been the need to replace our aging buildings, which the University has undertaken in the absence of adequate capital funding. The chronic under-funding of the campus by the state left the University, at one point, with nearly two billion dollars of deferred maintenance. Judicious use of new construction has enabled the campus to decommission old, failing buildings and side-step the bills for their deferred maintenance. But Massachusetts is one of the only states that expects future student's tuition and fees to pay off the academic buildings.

Another driver has been the need to increase student financial aid: federal and state aid used to cover a significant part of the total, but have stayed almost flat and are now just a fraction of the need. UMass is paying more than 70% of the needs-based financial aid -- mostly out of other students' tuition.

I've wanted to tell you about the great sense of common purpose that exists currently on the UMass Amherst campus. We have a great chancellor and I've never seen the faculty so united. (Well, except perhaps, when Jack Wilson tried to foist his 'one university' plan on the campus.) OK. So, I've never seen the campus so united *behind the administration*.

I'm also encouraged by the change of leadership in the system office. I know you've expressed concerns to me in the past about a lack of transparency in the UMass system. But I think this is a moment when a new UMass president has an opportunity to make changes and take things in a new direction. But not while trying to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor.

I hope you can find a way to resolve this problem and remove the cloud hanging over the University. It's a real obstacle to getting on with our work.

Thanks much for your service and continued support of UMass Amherst.

Sad Decline of RSS

October 16, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

It's been depressing to watch the sad decline of RSS. I remember when I first used a feed reader (or "aggregator" as I think they were called early on), I remember thinking that this was a revolutionary technology that would be as disruptive as email or the web. I thought the idea that you could you easily monitor new content in ways you could easily filter and control was really transformative: you wouldn't have to go to different sites just to see whether there was something interesting. You wouldn't have to look through all of the headlines: you could easily subscribe to a feed that matched keywords or was from a particular author at a site.

Feed readers caught on with some people: At first they were something only geeky people would use, but then Google made a really great feed reader and it caught on with a really interesting and influential group of people: a lot of writers and journalists used it, not only to read stuff, but to share links and commentary as well.

I remember showing people feed readers and not having a lot of success: it turns out a lot of people just didn't get it.

Then Google axed their reader. Firefox, which had included a button to subscribe to feeds, removed it from the tool bar. (You can still turn it on). Almost all content management systems still provide RSS feeds, but often not by default. And even when they do, they don't always advertise the feeds or provide links to them, so it's sometimes hard to find feeds even when they're still there.

The most discouraging aspect has been the reversion to trying to use email for what a feed used to be used for: people are creating email newsletters or, my favorite, putting interstitials over their content asking people to subscribe to their email newsletter. RSS had basically replaced those things, but now they're coming back. Of course, I basically don't read articles on sites that try to put interstitials over their content: I don't read that article or ever go back to the site.

After Google Reader died, I cast around and found TinyTinyRSS. It's a pretty solid replacement for Google Reader, although it requires enough technical chops that the average person has a hard time setting it up. I share my instance with three or four other people and it works pretty well for me.

Google's App Specific Passwords in

October 14, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

At some point, the only way to use Google Calendar with Apple's was to set up two-factor authentication and then create an "app-specific password" to use in the application. On my laptop, running Mavericks, this quit working a couple of days ago. Trying to create and enter a new password didn't work either. Eventually, I used this as an excuse to install El Capitan where the Internet Accounts System Preferences now directs you to authenticate directly via Shibboleth to configure a Google Account. But I suspect this means that Mavericks (and previous) systems will find it hard to work with Google anything going forward and will need to be updated to Yosemite (or El Capitan).

Ni verkis tankaojn

October 12, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Dum la pasintaj dek jaroj, mi ofte ofertas programeron ĉe kongresoj por proponi ke ni kune verku poezion. Kiam en In the Land of Invented Languages Arika Okrent parolas pri "Esperanto haiku", ŝi partoprenis mian programeron ĉe la usona Landa Kongreso en 2004. Plej ofte, mi proponas hajkojn, sed almenaŭ unufoje mi faris rengaon. Kaj ĉijare mi proponis tankaon.

Mi ne havis kialon por proponi tankaon krom tio ke mi volis fari ion novan. Kiam antaŭ kelkaj semajnoj mi ektrafis la ideon verki tankaojn, mi esploris kio estas tankao.

Mi jam sciis iomete pri tankao: mi sciis ke ili estas la praa japana poezia formo. La elitoj verkis tankaojn en la kortumo de la japanaj imperiestroj. De tankao, devenis rengao, kaj de rengao devenis hajko. La formo havas silaban nombron 5-7-5-7-7.

Hajko estas tre strikta pri temo (devis temi naturon kaj indiki sezonon ktp, ktp) sed tankao estas pli libera. La unua parto (5-7-5) "kreas la scenejon" — ĝi priskribas ion — kaj la dua parto (7-7) priskribas la emocian — ofte fortan — reagon.

Mi decidis ke mi devas provi verki tankaon por certigi ĉu mi ja povas. Mi cerbumis iun fortan emocion kiun mi povus priskribi kaj ekhavis ideon. Post duonhora laboro mi havis mian unuan tankaon:

Intertempe, mi verkis kelkajn tankaojn por praktiki kaj ĉimatene ofertis la programeron. Ĝi okazis tuj post la matenmanĝo en bela dometo je la fora flanko de Arĝenta Golfo. Ĝi estas iom alta super la lago kaj havas grandajn fenestrojn per kiu eblas vidi la pejzaĝon.

Mi neniam scias kiom da homoj partoprenos. Kutime venas nur manpleno. Ĉimatene, tamen, venis proksimume dudek! Mi stulte forgesis alporti paperon kaj plumojn por tiuj kiuj ne havis, sed aliaj partoprenantoj estis kunportintaj sufiĉe por dividi.

Mi klarigis tion kio estas tankao kaj legis kelkajn el la miaj. Kaj tiam ni ĉiuj simple verkis dum duono da horo. Poste mi legis unu el miaj:

Tiam la aliaj legis siajn tankaojn. Ili estis belegaj! Multaj estis trafaj kaj ĉiuj esprimis grandan plezuron pri siaj tankaoj kaj la sperto.

Mi klarigis ke mi verkas poezion malpli por montri al aliaj homoj ol por la sperto profundiĝi en la momento — kaj en mi mem. Verki poezion donas al mi grandan plezuron kaj mi esperis ke ili sentu same.


October 11, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Mi vojaĝis ĉimatene trans la Berkshiraj Montoj, turnis dekstren, kaj veturis ĝis la Adirondakaj Montoj por pasigi semajnfinon en Esperantujo. Okazas ĉisemajnfine ĉiujare ekde kiam mi translokiĝis al Novanglujo la Aŭtuna Renkontiĝo de Esperanto.

Estis Normando kaj Zdravka Fleury kiuj unue organizis la semajnfinon, kiu komence nomiĝis Internacia Semajnfino Esperantista. Oni elektis la novan nomon por ke la vorto "Esperanto" estu en ĝi.

Mi portis nigran ĉemizon kun blankaj vortoj kiuj diras "Se vi povas legi tion ĉi VI ESTAS EN ESPERANTUJO". Mi faris la ĉemizon per Cafepress kaj mendis du ekzemplerojn: unu por mi kaj unu por Phil. Aliaj povas mendi ĝin, sed ŝajnas ke neniu alia iam faris.

Mi ne iris ĉiujare, sed mi partoprenis la plejmulton. En fruaj jaroj, Lucy venis kun mi. Foje la infanoj. Unufoje eĉ la edzinjon. Sed dum la lastaj jaroj, mi venas sole.

La semajnfino okazas je kriza punkto de la aŭtuna semestro. Mi ĉiam estas ege okupita ekde la fino de la somero ĝis la frua aŭtuno, sed je certa punkto ĉio estas starigita kaj marŝas kaj mi ekhavas momenton denove. Por mi tiu ĉiam estas kriza, ĉar estas la longa listo de problemaj aferoj kiujn mi prokrastis dum mi estis plene okupita kiun mi nun devas alfronti. Mi profitas la eblecon eskapi dum kelkaj tagoj por forlasi ĉion kaj fari ion alian.

Ĉiujare estas plimalpli same: oni renkontas novajn kaj malnovajn amikojn. Oni kunvenas por paroli, aŭskulti, spekti, kaj partopreni je diversaj programeroj. Oni tro multe manĝas en la manĝejo. Oni havas sufiĉan tempon por simple sidi kaj rigardi la foliojn, la lagon, kaj la ĉielon. Kaj post du tagoj, oni forveturas hejmen.

Ĉu indas la vojaĝo? Ĉu indas la tempo? Nu, jes. Nur por la ebleco foriri de la ĉiutaga mondo kaj estis aliie, indas veni. Sed ankaŭ la komunumo de nia eta aro: Ili meritas la vojaĝon kaj tempon. Mi ĝojas ke mi venis.

Testimony for Cable Ascertainment

September 25, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Below is my testimony to the Amherst Select Board during the cable ascertainment hearing.

Madame Selectboard Chair, I come before you as a resident of Amherst, a cable subscriber, and a parent -- but also as the President of the Board of Amherst Media, our local public-access television station.

I moved to Amherst in '98 and I chose to live here at least in part because, unlike a number of the surrounding communities, cable service was available here. And, although internet service was not yet available, Amherst was on the list to receive it soon.

I subscribed to the cable service upon arriving and since then, I've interacted with the provider only a handful of times. Most recently, we were required by Comcast to replace our cable modem and, in order to return the old router, I visited the Comcast office in Amherst where a customer-service representative helped me promptly and efficiently.

Where he was unable to help me, however, was trying to navigate the differences between the various Xfinity packages. It's very unhelpful for the services to be bundled in complex packages and almost all of the public materials about the packages are what I might charitably term "sales brochures". They seem designed to obfuscate whether less expensive options would actually provide what you want.

Those issues speak to my experiences as a Comcast customer. But I would also like take a moment to speak as the President of Amherst Media.

Amherst Media was founded 40 years ago — one of the very first public-access television stations. Public-access was established by Congress to make communications technologies accessible to the public — so that cable television was not just outside entities reaching down into communities, but instead enabled members of the community to leverage these tools to reach their neighbors, to organize, and to take action. Although the legislation has changed several times, it still empowers communities to set up cable channels for Public, Educational, and Government access to serve local needs. Amherst has chosen to implement all three and we have many community members who take advantage of our resources.

In addition, we have an outstanding staff led by a visionary Executive Director who enable community members to leverage our resources most effectively. They help add polish and professionalism so that even amateurs can create projects that have high production values.

My older son was one of a group of high school students who created a television series called "Student News". They started after one of them wrote an article that their school newspaper refused to publish. Amherst Media provided a conduit for the free expression of their ideas. They also did a sketch comedy series and several short movies using Amherst Media equipment. For their work, they were awarded the Jean Haggerty Community Service Award.

My younger son is currently volunteering as one of the many members and interns active at Amherst Media. Many of the students who intern are studying film, journalism, or communications at one of the Five Colleges. Others simply are interested in learning video production for their own projects.

Community groups also take advantage of Amherst Media: the Rotary for their fundraising telethon; the Chamber to build video shorts about local businesses; the Youth Action Coalition to engage young people in digital story-telling projects; And our new Maker community, Makers at Amherst Media, is a town-gown community group that aims to help young people learn how they can use new technology in innovative ways — and to share their experiences. The list goes on and on…

As President, though, I didn't really "feel the love" for Amherst Media until I attended a luncheon for the League of Women Voters. Many people, especially the elderly, participate in town government primarily by watching meetings, either live or recorded, via Amherst Media.

Amherst Media has a long list of improvements that the community has requested. We would love for our programming to visible in the channel guide and available via Video on Demand. We would love to carry live HD broadcasts from more locations in town. I know that our Executive Director will speak to these issues in more detail and is eager for the completion of the next franchise agreement to enable Amherst Media to meet some of these pent-up needs.

Amherst Media is also facing a number of challenges: we are being pushed to vacate our current location and the move will require rebuilding our studios, offices, and technical infrastructure. The network that enables us to broadcast live video is failing and needs to be replaced. Again, the list goes on and on…

I joined the board and agreed to serve as President in large measure to give back for the wonderful experiences my children have had at Amherst Media. I'm proud to represent Amherst Media and look forward to working with Comcast to meet our community's needs.

Universala Kongreso

August 6, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

For several years, I've wanted to attend the Universala Kongreso with Phil. We had both gone individually before: he went to the UK in Berlin in 1999 travelling to Germany with in-laws and I went to Copenhagen in 2011. Our life circumstances had conspired against travelling together: the closest UK-oj were in Cuba, where it was illegal for US citizens to go. In the earlier years, I was a new professor with young children. In later years, Phil was in constrained financial circumstances having retired when his work site closed before his pension started and during the collapse of the Market. But this year was special: the 100th Universala Kongreso and in France, which promised to be both a large and interesting event.

Phil arrived a day early to Amherst so we could leave and travel together to France. We spent a pleasant day with my family and our mom. We departed the next day around 1pm by bus from the UMass campus. The first leg of the bus journey took us to Springfield uneventfully, beyond the bus driver complaining that we were speaking too loudly -- we were at the very front of the bus. We continued uneventfully until we arrived at the South Station in Boston where the bus to the airport was late. For a half hour, we paced nervously and then began to seriously consider when to make alternate arrangements so as to not miss our flight, but eventually the bus arrived, delivered us to the airport, and left us even with enough time to quaff a beer and toast the completion of the first part of our journey.

En Bostona Flughaveno

Our first flight to Reykjavik was pleasant. Icelandair has Boeing 757's that are pretty comfortable as modern airlines go. They didn't have tomato juice, however, which was a disappointment. But they did have interesting lighting. On the roof of the aircraft, blue, green, and yellow lights flickered, growing and dimming in intensity giving the effect of the aurora borealis.

I was surprised when we arrived in Reykjavik that we were not directed through passport control. We checked with the agent but travellers headed to Britain could fly on directly, rather than entering the EU in Iceland. We had a relatively short layover and just got a cup of overpriced coffee while we waited.

The flight to Britain was relatively short (less than 3 hours) but once we arrived, it felt like we had to walk the same distance to reach passport control. And there, we entered a kafkaesque line that went back and forth across a gigantic room 5 or 6 times. We shuffled back and forth seeing the same faces over and over again. Finally, we reached an agent who affected anger that we hadn't filled out the immigration form sufficiently: we had put neither a port of departure nor a local address. In the first case, I wasn't sure what "port of departure" meant: whether Reykjavik or Boston. In the second case, we didn't have a local address because we were leaving the same day. "What? The same day? Why? Why did you come here?" he demanded exasperatedly. We explained we were on route to Lille and wanted to go through the Chunnel. "For the scenery?" he snorted derisively. We nodded our heads vigorously. He looked like he'd never heard of such a hare-brained scheme, but stamped our passports and let us in.

After collecting our bags, we had another 3 hour walk to reach the Heathrow Express -- the train into central London. (It didn't actually take 3 hours, but it felt like it.) We followed the signs and found the train without difficulty and arrived in Paddington station. At that point, we weren't sure how to navigate to the Eurostar station in St. Pancras. But, more importantly, we had been travelling for something like 12 hours and needed beer. Luckily, there was a place called "The Beer House" close at hand. They had a beer on tap that looked pretty good, but the pretty barmaid said there was a problem with the refrigeration of those taps. The other options looked less interesting, but, on her recommendation, I selected a local pale ale and ordered Chicken Tikka Massala. Phil got the same.

Much refreshed, we found an information booth where a nice lady give us directions to find the right platform to take the tube to St. Pancras. We had to walk upstairs, past the taxi stand and then back down a lift to Platform 16. It was confusing -- in fact it began to seem like London was one big train station with different tracks, platforms, entrances, exits, lifts, and stairs going every which way. Purchasing the tickets was similarly tricky to navigate in the machine but, luckily, there was a not a long line of impatient people at the time we needed to travel and we had plenty of time, so it was not a problem to take as long as we needed.

We had several hours available to us at St. Pancras, so the first thing we did was walk through the entire station to see what was there. It was raining heavily outside, so there wasn't much point in trying to explore the surrounding area. The Eurostar documentation had warned us we needed to check in in advance, but it became clear you couldn't check in very much in advance -- they had a nice waiting room, but you could only get in about 45 minutes before your train. Eventually we got a pot (small) of coffee, as we were beginning to run down.

Finally, they let us in, we waited a bit more, and then boarded the train. We were seated near the middle of one of the last carriages in a backward-facing seat with forward facing seats opposing. The train headed out passing through many small tunnels before finally diving down under the Channel. Each time the train went into or out of a tunnel, there was a strong pressure wave that would make your ears pop. It was actually pretty uncomfortable. But the train was fast and smoother and it was interesting to see some of the British countryside and a good bit of the French countryside as the sun set. The train finally rolled into Lille around 10pm.

The last leg of our trip was to navigate in the dark through the streets of Lille with our rolling luggage. We had looked at the map ahead of time and set off looking for landmarks, but couldn't find anything we recognized. Phil had loaded a mapping application to his tablet that didn't require network and I had my actual, physical compass, and between the two tools, we figured out that we'd gotten turned around and had come out the wrong side of the station. With that key piece of knowledge, we got turned around and found our way first to the Kongresejo and then to our hotel. They were expecting us, we checked in, and, after quick showers to wash off the grime, we collapsed into our beds.

Our hotel room at the Hotel Ibis Styles Bellfroi was entirely satisfactory: two twin beds and a tiny bathroom. The only deficiency, from my standpoint, was that the sink was so close to the wall, I could barely squeeze between them to get to the toilet. But it was clean and well maintained with plenty of hot water.

We arose in good order and enjoyed our first breakfast. It included a sufficiently vast array of selections: croissant and chocolate croissant; two kinds of bread; ham and several kinds of cheese (a hard cheese, a stinky cheese, and packets of cream cheese); several types of cereal; and I think there were bagels and some kind of banana-bread or cake or something. For drinks, there was milk and two kinds juice (orange and probably apricot) -- and additionally a rube-goldbergesque machine that had a bin of oranges on top and would feed them in and squeeze them to produce fresh juice. There was also a Melita Cup machine for coffee which Phil found subptimal, but which made an acceptable cafe aŭ lait or cappuchino.

After the long travels, we couldn't quite remember the details of the schedule, so we reported early to the kongresejo to find out what was happening. We found it still closed, but met up with several new and old friends outside and chatted amiably until things got started. We registered without problem, got our badges, and found a table in the Kongresa Kafejo to peruse the kongreslibro and arrange our schedule.

I did not much like the kongresejo, the Lille Grand Palais. It was OK, but had weird architecture inside, with bizarre angles, strange lighting, and everthing antigogglin. The giant room Michaux was used as open space, but also had musical events and had the worst acoustics EVAR. The organizers also did not reserve a large enough venue for the plenary events, so hundreds and hundreds of participants had to watch the events via television from overflow rooms. It might have been understandable if this was simply the largest venue available but literally attached to the Lille Grand Palais is Le Zénith, which has a capacity of 7000.


We spent the morning in the meeting of the "komitato" of UEA. The power structure in UEA is rather strange, to American sensibilities that wants to see division of powers. In my analysis, most of the power is currently held by the Director of the Central Office. There is a president and a board of directors that also have a lot of influence, but it was clear from many of the comments that they, in fact, exercise relatively little control over what the Director wants to do. Below them, is a large body, partly elected and partly appointed by the various national Esperanto organizations, based on the size of their membership, which seems largely powerless. They are requested to take various votes and can speak at the meetings, but largely are held at arm's length.

After the komitat-kunsido, we met up with Yoshito, a twitter friend from Japan, and went for our first lunch in France. We eventually found a little Tunisian restaurant and got, basically, sandwiches. Phil and Yoshito got kefta and I got kabob.

In general the food has been good. In later days, we went also to a Turkish restaurant where we got salads with tandoori chicken on them. We went to a Tex-Mex restaurant that was a bit out of the way — and expensive — because I'm always interested to see what Europeans do with Mexican food. (In Madrid and Copenhagen, my experiences were eye-opening). Here, it was just good Mexican food. Particularly notable was the Salade de la Brasseurs (or Brewer's Salad) which had, on a base of lettuce and greens, potatoes, green beans, plus, for a special treat, chicken livers and gizzards! (You can see for yourself on their menu. It was pretty good.

I got the Brewer's Salad at Tres Brasseurs, a microbrew near the train station -- just a few steps from both our hotel and the kongresejo. Lille is very close to Belgium and beer is a huge thing here. Unfortunately, they don't know what bitter beer is. Kalle and I both got "La palette de dégustation" which lets you try 4 small glasses of their beer. They were all odd and interesting, but none was really hoppy. I tried also Affligem, two beers from Pelforth, and the special beer brewed for the Kongress by lepers, but they were all kind of sickeningly sweet with almost no hoppy flavor. I got someone to help me ask in French "La pression plus amer, si vous plait!" We went to little dive nearby and and I tried out my French. The cute little waitress thought for a minute and then brought two bottles of Anosteké — an artisanal beer. It wasn't bad — it was *almost* bitter.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many friends. I'm kind of amazed how many people I know in Esperantujo — from all over the world. I was particularly pleased to reconnect with Kalle Kniivila and Hirotaka Masaaki. Kalle was there only for a few days, in part, to speak about his recent books "Homoj de Putin" and "Krimeo estas Nia". Kalle is a journalist who specializes in the politics of Russia and Eastern Europe and won substantial prizes for the books in Sweden and Finland. But the same time they were released in Swedish and Finnish, he released them also in Esperanto. After his book presentation and signing, he signed the two copies he'd brought as examples for me. Hirotaka (or Vastalto in Esperantujo) helped me with my Esperanto books by checking my haiku manuscripts. He also wrote a very nice forward for my second book. We had interacted a lot online, but had never met in person. It was wonderful to finally meet him and to spend the day together on the excursion to Bulonjo ĉe Maro. But so many friends! Bergino, Bonulo, Maria, Normando, Bill, Lesek, both Jose Antonios, Istvan, Neil, and so many more. And many I had heard of, or interacted with on-line, but had never met in person. And of course, thousands more esperantists. The final number was nearly 2700 participants from more than 80 countries.

The Universala Kongreso starts on Saturday and runs to the following Saturday, but on Wednesday there are no events in the Kongresejo. There are a bunch of organized excursions, but many people simply use the time to explore the host city. At the other UK I attended, I was invited to travel to Sweden from Denmark to spend the day at Kalle's house with a bunch of other notable esperantists. This time, I signed up for the excursion to the ceremony at Bulonjo ĉe Maro honoring the first Universala Kongreso which happened there 110 years ago. I wrote up an article for Libera Folio about the excursion. It was great, although I would have enjoyed a bit more time to just take in the sights and atmosphere.

On the whole the congress exceeded my expectations, although a few things were disappointing. I was disappointed to find that the Libroservo hadn't brought any copies of my haiku books to sell. This was not really surprising to me although I joked, when Kalle said that his book had already sold out on Tuesday, that my books must have already sold out by Sunday when I first visited the Libroservo. I was also disappointed that only some of the participants were able to come to the key ceremonies (the opening, the closing, etc) in the main auditorium. They had provided tickets to attend these and it was only upon reaching the door that Phil discovered that he had signed up too late and had to watch those events on TV. :-/

When arriving at the Kongresejo one day, I saw a man from Angola (he was wearing a hat that said Angola and confirmed that he was from Angola) just outside the door with a suitcase on the ground with stuff for sale. There were watches with the logo of the Congress for 10 euros and t-shirts and other stuff. As we were arriving Ionel Onet (who runs the libroservo) was berating the fellow, telling him he didn't have the right to do that. He stood his ground and when I came back later, I asked if I could take his picture and spoke to him for a bit. I figure that what happens inside the kongresejo, UEA can control, but what happens outside is not really any of their business. When I tweeted about it, there was a reply from someone who respectfully disagreed with me. So I was pleased when, during the auction, none other than Humphrey Tonkin mentioned how, as a student, he had taken sweaters from Britain to Polland to sell on the black market and how that had paid for his trip. I was pleased to see he was still there throughout the congress.

Angola samideano

The auction too was fun. Humphrey always puts on a good show and tries to shame people who don't buy anything (most people, since there were several hundred people there and less than 100 items to buy.) He manages to make each item seem interesting. The most expensive item was an original letter by Zamenhof to the Arnhold family — an important banker in Germany at the time. It brought 1100 euros. Most of the items are old and unusual books. Of course most books in Esperanto could be considered "unusual" to begin with. Most go for 30-40 euros, but a few, with interesting inscriptions or particular uniquities, go for more -- sometimes hundreds.

There are a lot of beggars in Lille. No more than most large cities, I suppose. I didn't give money to any of them. One fellow walked past me later making an unpleasant noise. They didn't all appear to be of any particular ethnic group. At the same time, migrant refugees in Calais were causing delays of shipping through the Chunnel. When we went on the excursion to Boulogne, trucks were backed up what looked like a couple of miles trying to offload their containers. At one point, it was also delaying the Eurostar trains, although in the end it didn't affect us. We noticed razor wire on the fences around the Chunnel entrance on the French side. Not so, on the British side.

There were several outstanding musical performances. I blogged about two already -- and there were several I didn't see. I was particularly impressed by a band from Latvia composed of parents (playing keyboard and base) with their son playing guitar and violin. He was a real virtuoso and, overall, the performance was outstanding. I was looking forward to seeing Martin and the Talpoj. Unfortunately their performance was marred by technical difficulties -- the sound wasn't mixed properly and so the vocals were impossible to hear -- at least to hear well enough to understand. Phil was quite interested to note that the musicians all reverted instantly to English when trying to communicate with the technical staff. I observed that English was useful, but that Esperanto was more fun.

Originally, Phil and I had planned to travel back to England after the closing ceremony, spend the night in England, and then fly back the next day. I had put off looking for a room for no good reason but when I finally started looking, I couldn't find any suitable rooms and many places seemed to have a "minimum stay" requiring you to pay for at least two nights. I checked four or five places and, although there were obviously dozens or hundreds that might be suitable, eventually I just gave up and we arranged to stay another night in Lille and take the train back the next day. This gave us another afternoon and evening and enabled us to meet up with Bonulo and Bergino one last time before heading home. We had also gotten a note from a local guy in Lille who had studied Esperanto at one time, but had never actually met up with any esperantists before. He realized the congress was happening too late to get time off from work or participante. But he sent a note asking if anyone wanted to meet up with him, so we invited him to have dinner with us. We met at the fountain by the train station and offered to let him choose the restaurant. He pointed us toward "Holy Cow" -- a burger joint at the side of the station. It was just fine, as burger joints go. Afterward, we walked to a bar he knew. He and I got beer while the others got coffee or lemonade. He had learned Esperanto out of a general interest in Conlangs and was interested in talking about Volapük and Ido -- I remember when I had the same kind of outlook about Esperanto: thinking of it as a language project rather than a real, fully-fledged language with a diverse community of speakers. That kind of attitude doesn't generally survive actual contact with the Esperanto community. In any event, we had a nice time and it was great to spend a bit more time with Bonulo and Bergino.

I rather liked the ambiance in Lille. The architecture is beautiful with many interesting buildings. Many of the streets had bike lanes. There was a bike-rental system that looked to be reasonably priced, although I ended up not renting one. We had plenty to explore on foot and, although it would have been interesting to see more by bike, it would have taken away from spending time at the kongresejo.

The non-esperantist people we met were generally very helpful. As we were trying to walk back to Paddington, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking around two sides of the station where there were no entrances. I asked a beefy brit if he could help, "Sure, mate!" he said. And when I asked if he knew how to get into Paddington Station, he said, "Wot? Well, it's right here, innit?" and directed us to continue a bit farther where there was finally an entrance. In France, people were equally helpful, even though we knew little-or-no French. Many people spoke some English -- the attendants at the hotel were particularly fluent. But many people spoke very little English and we were reduced to pointing at things.

I had an interesting realization while we were in Boulogne: I realized that when they played the French national anthem, it was hard to take it seriously. Too many movies have used it as a punchline for a joke. I've realized recently that my brain is full of stuff I uncritically learned as a child from my environment that all needs to be brought out, considered, and rejected, including attitudes about race, gender, and other nationalities. I have to admit, however, that its kind of hard to take the French language seriously too. It sounds too contrived to be real: who in the world would really say things like that!

It's been particularly nice to spend time with Phil. As children, we were very close, but grew apart in middle-school and high-school. We reconnected after college and, when the internet happened, were both early users and kept in touch electronically daily -- or often more frequently. But circumstances have conspired such that we live rather far from one another. Travelling to the UK has been great fun and given us a lot of time to chat and discuss things in depth. We spoke basically only in Esperanto until after the congress was over. After the congress, we continued to speak in Esperanto when other people were around but, little by little, switched back to English.

We knew our travel arrangements were overly complicated, but everything worked as expected: walk to station, train to London, walk to Paddington, Heathrow Express to airport, flight to Iceland, 10 hour layover :-(, flight to Boston, bus to South Station, bus to Springfield, bus to UMass, car-ride home. We arrived home exhausted, but in good order. Still, I think that next time, I'll aim for greater simplicity when travelling.

I'm not sure I will need to attend another Universala Kongreso. I was glad to see all my friends and to experience a really big UK -- and to participate in the touching ceremony at Boulogne sur Mer. But it's such a long and expensive trip. But, Phil and I agreed that if we're both still around, we'd be definitely up for the 200th…

Concert at the Universala Kongreso

July 28, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Tonight, after a pleasant dinner with Kalle Kniivila and family, Phil and I attended a concert at the Universala Kongreso. More than a thousand spectators packed the auditorium: the largest part elderly white Europeans, but many Asians and some Americans and others (from Oceania and the Carribean).

The first act, Getch Gaëtano, was quite good. He was a young white guy who played guitar and had a very solid backup band. They played rock, but with a northern European, sometimes even Celtic beat. When he came on stage he said "Saluton!" but then started speaking French. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as the musical performances are usually in Esperanto.

Getch Gaëtano

After several songs, they performed a song where he read the words in Esperanto — very competently — and received twice the applause. Then played a couple more songs in French (and one with some English, which had the weird line "I really have to touch your balls" — I swear that's what he said. I'm not making that up.) They one more more song in Esperanto then back back for one encore and were done.

The next group was a reggae band led by Zhou-Mack Mafuila from Zaire. He is a stocky black man with long dreadlocks. He came on the stage and called out "Saluton ĉiuj! Ĉu bone?" And the audience went wild: "BONEGE!"

Zhou-Mack Mafuila

He held the audience enthralled for a great, long set of reggae music: some in Esperanto and some in other languages, but interspersed with conversation with the audience in Esperanto. It was striking to me the immediate connection that really sharing language can make to bridge cultures, in a way that nothing else can.

I've often wondered if we could teach kids from the barrio, the inner city, and the suburbs all to speak Esperanto, because they could meet and talk and get to know one another without the barriers of language and accent to divide them.

Airline Trail Redux

July 18, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

In 2011, I rode the Airline Trail and wished I could ride it with Daniel and get dropped off at one end and picked up at another point. Today, Alisa helped me do it.

I put together a picnic lunch and we drove down there — it's a rather long drive. The weather was iffy, but the rain held off as we got on the trail in downtown East Hampton.

When I had ridden before, I'd started outside of town -- there's a nice parking area at Cranberry Pond. But it was fun to start right in town. The first quarter mile is only marginally ride-able. It goes up onto a fill, over a road, and then descends where a viaduct was removed and then goes back up. But then you get on the trail for reals and the riding is good.

The first several miles are generally flat or downhill. This is the part I'd ridden before. I was expecting to ride more slowly to enjoy the scenery, but Daniel seemed to be trying to get the ride over with, so we went pretty fast. We crossed the Rapallo and Lyman viaducts and continued generally downhill until the Blackledge River. For a relatively short period afterward, the trail was very sandy. It was not just loose sand, but was much more difficult and treacherous riding. The trail also began to trend upwards.

There is also a brief section where there's no trail crossing for Rt 2. There are in fact no indicators regarding how to cross the highway. It's not hard to figure out, but more signage -- and maybe some painted signals on the pavement might be nice. In fact, the whole trail could use better signposts and mile markers would be nice too.

As we entered the Grayville Falls Town Park, there's a nice little bridge over Judd Brook, where Daniel took a break for a few minutes as he was getting tired.

Daniel Tired

I exchanged a few text messages with Alisa, who had found the park, and then we pressed on, arriving just a few minutes later.

We had a lovely picnic using our picnic set and, just as we finished our repast, it began to rain. We got a little damp as we packed everything up and got into the car, but it just added a little color to the adventure. Now, I'll have to look further down the trail for more adventure!

Cape Cod Vacation

July 13, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

My inlaws invited Alisa and me to come vacation on the Cape. We stayed at a place called The Soundings in Dennisport along the southern coast. It was very opportune for me, as I've been wanting to ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The trail has three ends with a rotary near the beginning to choose which way to go. The first day, I scouted the area and then set out to find the rail trail.

Cape Cide Bike Trail Rotary

My first effort took me down Belmont to Depot Road and then Bell's Neck Road. This last crosses the rail trail and looked like a quiet back road. It was. But then it became a gravel road and then got very sandy. I almost wiped out several times and resolved to not ride that way again. It was a really pretty spot, though, with ponds on both sides of the road, so we went back by car to park and walk around. But not a good place to bicycle. Having found the trail, I rode west a couple of miles to the beginning of the trail and then back to the condo.

I rode out very early the next morning to ride the Old Colony Rail Trail to Chatham. I rode up Depot Road, past Bell's Neck, to Depot Street and then onto the trail. As I arrived at the trail, I was tickled to find a Box Turtle in the parking area. I took a picture of him and then guarded him from vehicles until I could see which way he was going and then helped him into the vegetation.

Bix Turtle

The early part of the trail goes through Harwich to the rotary and then I headed east toward Chatham. It's a lovely trail between cranberry bogs and through oak and pine scrub forest. The trail goes through a few little towns and detours around the Chatham airport before ending unceremoniously at a road.

Having gotten to the end, I decided to look for breakfast and found that the best place seemed to be Hangar B, which was back at the airport I had passed. I rode back and got a seat outside where I could watch the planes coming and going. I got Red-flannel Hash with two poached eggs which came with sourdough toast and a little dish with strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry preserves. It was glorious -- unquestionably the best breakfast I've ever had. (Although the fact that I was starving probably has something to do with it too. :-)

Red-flannel Hash

After breakfast, I rode back and, in the end, went around 26 miles. It was a great ride. Later in the day, we went to the Cape Cod Brewery, where I got to try 5 samples of beer. I tried the regular IPA and then spent all my other samples (plus two extras from Alisa and Mickie) drinking the Bitter End Imperial IPA. It was really good.

Last of the Bitter End

The next morning, I took Alisa out for breakfast at Hangar B and went exploring the north shore by car. I crashed (in the bed) for an hour after lunch and then got on my bike to try to get to the other end — the longest leg.

I left around 1:15 and made good time. There isn't much wind on the rail trail because of the vegetation, but what there was was with me. But it was hot and having the wind with me made me even hotter. I got to Nickerson State Park and found a place to refill my water bottles, then pressed on. When I got to the end of the trail, I was pretty tired. I hacked the portal at the end of the trail and then turned around.

I had only gotten a few miles back when one of my pedals seized up and began grinding. I sent Alisa a text message asking her to organize a rescue and said I'd find a cross-street that would get me over to Rt. 6 to get picked up. It was complicated, however, by the fact that Alisa had left her car key locked in the car, which made driving the car impossible. In the meantime, however, I had found that there was a bike repair place on the cross street, so while we discussed the key situation, I was able to get my pedals replaced and continue my journey.

I was starting to get bonked when I reached Orleans, but found Hot Chocolate Sparrow, an espresso and ice-cream shop by the trail. I had been disgusted to find that on Cape Cod they don't seem to know what a milk shake is and want to make you buy a "frappe". And although this place had "frappes", they had a parenthetic note to say that this *was* a milk shake — and they had malt! So I was able to get a chocolate malt and press on. I ended up getting back to the condo around 7:15. Total distance, 52.5 miles with a riding time of 4 hours 45 minutes at 11mph.

After the ride, I took a quick shower and Alisa and I went for dinner at the Lost Dog Pub, which we had discovered in our morning explorations. This is our favorite place in St Croix and, although we had known there was a Cape Cod location, we'd never known where it was. I was mildly disappointed to find that they didn't have the Island Hoppin' IPA we can get on island, but they did have the Meatle Mania pizza, so I got one of those and consumed the whole thing.

Today, I've been able to take it easy: a nice soak in the hot tub and a short bike ride down the beach just to loosen up.

Cape Cod Beach

It's been a great vacation. Tomorrow morning, we check out and start heading back home.

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