Party Boy

My son sits in the middle of our messy living room
I found my adorable little dude sitting in his chair just like this, so I told him to freeze so I could snap a photo. I think he looks cooler here than I ever have in my entire life.

Decolonizing Coffee

I’ve enjoyed the gentle, entertaining, informative videos from James Hoffmann about coffee over the past year, but his last couple of videos have been a bit of a departure that have been no less informative and entertaining than the norm. Just today, for example, a video about cultural appropriation, colonization, inclusivity, and some oft-overlooked ways to make coffee better for everybody, and not just white folks in Europe or North America:

Hoffmann doesn’t even show up in this video except as mentioned by Ārām Se’s Raghunath Rajaram to thank him for including the video on this channel. It’s an excellent video about what Westerners often take for granted, the hegemony of US/UK influence on the world of specialty coffee, and how colonization and exclusion need fixing in more than just the farming and production side of the industry.

Last week’s video also kept Hoffmann out of the picture by sharing a production from Gilly Brewing Co. in Stone Mountain, GA about their mostly coffee-based mixed drinks (non-alcoholic, I believe). These drinks are meant to tell stories based on a combination of the writings of James Baldwin and the book of James from the Bible:

It’s been nice to see Hoffmann showcase people in the coffee world that represent non white and/or European populations, and to essentially sideline himself. I don’t think he’s a hero, or anything, but I like seeing somebody use the platform they have to shine a light on folks with no platform or at least a smaller one. White male YouTube channels dominate in so many topics (photography, maker channels, etc.), and I’d like to see similar actions from other creators to redirect attention toward and showcase people that don’t usually get equal representation.

I hope Hoffmann himself shares more videos like this, or at least continues to direct his considerable audience to other specialty coffee folks (or at least YouTubers) outside the dominant white male cohort.

P.S. There are YouTube channels out there in a number of topics run by women, Black folks, non-US/EU people, but you have to actually look for them (most of the time – Marques Brownlee is pretty easy to find because he is a FORCE). Sometimes that can be dispiriting given just how many mediocre white dudes think people want to hear/see their work in video form. Like, seriously, the number of white guys with half-researched tips-and-tricks-based photography channels makes me want to yell. But if you actively look to expand the makeup of the producers you follow, you can find great stuff (e.g. Jess Hobbs).

Social Ambivalence

For whatever its really worth, I consistently score as an extrovert on Meyers-Briggs tests. I’ve taken the short and long forms many times since high school, as recently as my early 30s. It’s pretty common for folks to conflate extroversion with an outgoing personality, and for most of my life I had both. I wasn’t really the life of the party or the center of attention, but I loved meeting new people, introducing myself, and generally being in the thick of of group, talking and listening about whatever.

Of course extroversion doesn’t really denote an outgoing nature; I find, rather, that I’m far less likely to do anything without somebody else to share the experience. As my college years gave way to my 20s, and the friendly, open atmosphere of my friends gave way to the corporate world, the outgoing side of my personality mostly stayed behind at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I’m pretty sure this all started once I was in a professional environment. I didn’t know what vocational consequences I’d face for my eccentricity and, coupled with my almost pathological people-pleaser nature, I intentionally held back my full self in the work place for several years. It’s a bit harder to have relaxed, social interactions in the workplace if you (rightly or wrongly) worry about being too much of a goofball or a nerd. But my particular work environment did little to break me out of this state either. I worked in software, so it was mostly white men of widely varying ages and backgrounds talking about women and/or sports all the time. I didn’t want to talk about other women because I was happy in my marriage, and I while I liked NFL football back then, it wasn’t the dominant topic in my life.

It took years to understand what seems so collectively obvious now: men (talking mainly about cis-het white men here) mostly care about objectifying women, sports, and work. Or at least those seem to be the only things most men are willing to talk about. I’ve observed this with so many casual interactions over the years that my social reservations have become self-reinforcing. Meeting folks at my wife’s high school reunion? Sports and work. Co-workers at work functions (or my wife’s work functions)? Sports. Work. The various women at the event. Even these days where most new guys I meet are dad of my kids’ friends, it’s the same. “You following [insert sports topic]?” Or more frequently “What do you do?” Mercifully, I haven’t had yet been asked what I think about any hot moms on the playground.

Sure, I’ve been fortunate to meet new people over the years, make friends, have a healthy social life. I’ve even been fortunate enough to find some real friendship at my prior and current jobs. But my once youthful ease I had around anybody and everybody has all but disappeared. I wouldn’t consider it replaced by shyness, per se. I’m not anxious about meeting new people. I just tend to pessimistically assume that most new interactions with other men are going to be another round of that 3-square conversational bingo card.

I recognize how it may sound like I’m self-limiting my pool of potential interaction to folks like me—white dudes. For better or for worse, though, as a parent of two young kids in an IT job, most of the time I get to interact with other adults in a spontaneous way is at school functions, the playground or park, or at work events for myself or my wife—all before the pandemic of course. In a mostly heteronormative culture with plenty of toxic masculinity and many good reasons for women not to want to talk to men, most of these social settings tend to divide along gender lines like a middle school dance.

I’m willing to bet many of the folks I meet would really rather talk about something cool they read, or a weird hobby, or how much time they waste participating in some obscure fandom. Maybe they’re bursting to share about music they’re writing, or what bothers them about local politics, or where they hope to visit someday when the kids are older. Unfortunately, years of the wrong kinds of experience and my own bad habits of overthinking and projecting have put up such guardrails that I’ve started avoiding opportunities for these interactions. I occasionally wish I was still outgoing in the same way that I wish I’d kept up with playing the piano; I don’t really believe I can recapture that spark, but I miss the personal comfort and fulfillment that came along for the ride.

Well that’s a lot of gloomy words to match the gray weather outside. At least I’m sure that’s how it comes across; I don’t really dwell on it. I have a generally happy, healthy life and I don’t feel like I’m wanting for much (other than perhaps more sleep every now and then). But this has been on my mind for a while and I’ve been chewing over how to write about it. If writing is thinking, than this is me thinking back on and processing perhaps one of the more significant shifts in my life over the years.

Neural Flatus: Pilcrow

“Paragraphetzel” by Windell Oskay on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I was sitting on the toilet, playing sudoku to escape the kids, when I remembered the word “pilcrow”. Most of us probably recognize it even if we don’t know or remember the name. It’s the typographic symbol for a paragraph and has taken a number of fun forms over the centuries (where it originated as a marking to separate thoughts, before folks visually separated them into modern paragraphs).

Hamburger Help Yourself

Years ago I followed a link from Johnny Hugel to a now-Internet-Archived recipe for super quick and easy mac and cheese. The secret here was using shmancy molecular gastronomy ingredient called sodium citrate, or “sour salt”, which untangles some proteins to prevent the cheese from breaking into an oily mess. The recipe has shown itself to be quick, easy, and delicious. Most of all, the recipe is easily adaptable, particularly if you’re the sort who ate and loved a lot of Hamburger Helper growing up.

For years now, roughly once a month, I make the quick-mac in one pan while browning some meat (usually ground beef, though it’s also worked great with Beyond or Impossible beef substitute) in another. I tend to go for some sort of flavor profile on the meat (Tex/Mex flavors are popular, but the options are only limited by your pantry and spice cabinet) and bring it all together in the end. It’s a favorite with my kids, and I’m craving the leftovers from last night right-the-heck now.

If you try this, just make sure sodium citrate is labeled “food grade”!


My custom pair of sneakers with “Ploafstar” embroidered on the outside!

At seven years old, my daughter is thoughtful enough to come up with an idea for a birthday gift that I truly love. Not just in the “aww, my kid gave me a gift” sort of way, which is still valid and wonderful. I mean in the “wow, I LOVE this, it is something I have always wanted” category. My wife helped take it over the top, but essentially, my daughter wanted to get me a pair of Converse All Stars for my birthday at the beginning of the month. My wife suggested making it a custom pair. I think you probably figured that out from the photo above.

I was super happy with Converse’s configurator tool, and I’m pretty impressed with how accurately the preview during the entire build process represented the real, final product on my feet. They cost a bit more than an “off the rack” pair of Chucks and, for that reason, I’ve never really pulled the trigger on buying a pair. But I have played with the configurator many times in recent years. My daughter’s gift idea was the perfect excuse to finally go for it 😀

Neural Flatus: Agents Provocateurs

Last night, just as I was about to climb in bed, I started saying <<agents provocateurs>> in a horrendous, overly-dramatic French accent. For whatever reason I had it in my head that this phrase referred to spies, but nope. These are people who stir up trouble in order to incriminate or discredit other folks. Where the hell in left field did this one come from?

Cinematic Fun with Big Hair

Self-portrait recreating a poster for the movie Eraserhead

I’ve been growing my hair for the entire pandemic. Rather than keep my normal, short haircut, I’ve even requested a mere light trim and shaping once I resumed monthly visits to the barber shop. My hair has long ago passed my own personal record, and today I decided to have a little fun with it for Halloween.

My wife and I knocked down the sides and back of my hair quite a bit with some clippers and collaborated on attempting to recreate the poster for David Lynch’s Eraserhead. I didn’t quite get it with the lighting (I’m an amateur, and I also suspect a 3rd light source), but I love the result, particularly the way the water spray mist worked out behind me. Both lights caught it perfectly, and it really adds some dimension to the final shot.

Neural Flatus: Body Words

A crop of Carter’s Little Nerve Pills from Boston Public Library. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It’s a twofer this morning. I had “lachrymose” and “sanguine” bumping around my noggin when I woke up earlier desired. But I already know the meaning of these words: lachrymose means tearful, from the Latin word for tear (the same root that gives us “lacrimal gland” or tear-producing glands). Sanguine, on the other hand, feels almost opposite in certain contexts. I tend to think of sanguine in its hopeful usage, but it’s referring to the flush, reddish color of blood (imagine the blood, or “color” draining from a hopeless face), and comes from the Latin for the same.

This got me thinking about other words derived from body parts that have emotional or behavioral meanings beyond their simple descriptive denotations. Take “bilious”, for example, which may refer simply to the digestive fluid produced by the liver. More colloquially, however, a bilious person is considered to be thoroughly unlikeable (see also the similarly used “splenetic” and “dyspeptic”).

The word nerd in me would LOVE to hear any other such body words. Share ’em if ya got ’em.