Saturday, July 31

Today's word: Infrastructure

I read an article in today's paper about some of the road systems that need to be upgraded or renovated and about areas that are desperate for expanded or new roads. And then I saw an article about bridges needing to be fixed and realized the number of articles I've seen recently in which people have referred to our transportation infrastructure.

And that reminded me of a presentation by Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education. In her presentation, she remarked on the importance of a technology infrastructure and how difficult it will be to accomplish most of the rest to the educational technology plan without the infrastructure.

We all understand, I hope, the importance of an infrastructure as it is a foundation or framework, as it represents necessary resources. In other words, an infrastructure is a non-negotiable. In other words, without an infrastructure or a solid infrastructure or an infrastructure in good and dependable condition, bad things can happen. I find myself thinking about Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

I learned the value of a good public transportation system when I lived and worked in places without one. I've learned the value of a good road rebuilding and maintenance program from living in the northeast and the midwest, experiencing potholes and that jaw-rattling, spine-jarring washboard road damage that inevitably comes with spring.

The Chicagoland area has had a number of road programs delayed because of a strike. The ripple effect of that damage is probably calculable, but not by me. What I know is this: the car repair people are likely to be happiest because they may continue to get business because the roads aren't fixed. In the mean time, those who supply materials for road building and repair aren't quite so happy and neither are the workers idled by the strike unless they really support the strike. And there's a limited period of time for working on roads in the Chicagoland area which means that the roads not fixed and those not built before winter will not be fixed or built until next spring, if we're lucky. And the compounded damage to the bad roads will only make the repairs that much more expensive and the potential danger to the drivers that much worse.

As I think about the strike and what it costs everyone, I think about the social and cultural infrastructure that is influenced, supported, and impacted by a strike or by any other organizational or individual activity (or inactivity). I think about how repairs will be more expensive and how the lack of repairs will make conditions that much worse. Which makes me think about local issues, such as a home for women in danger of closing because of lack of funding, and national issues, such as immigration reform. Which makes me think that the problems with our roads and transportation infrastructure is but a microcosm of the national infrastructure problem we have.

We have, many of us, become so consumed by or focused on a particular problem that we are unable or unwilling to see the affect that problem has elsewhere. I know it can be dangerous to use a biblical reference, but here goes. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 speaks of the importance of the relationships of the parts of the body. The passage is metaphorical, but it works in thinking about a national infrastructure because the 1 Corinthians 12:26 reads, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

I don't think we can consider the cracks and fissures in our transportation system without realizing they can, in large and small ways, contribute to cracks and fissures in our cultural and social infrastructures. And I do think that if something goes well in one system, it can have a positive influence or effect on another.

What's my point? Good question. While I understand people focusing on issues about which they are passionate: immigration reform, gun control, welfare reform, etc., I think it is imperative that people watch out for possible unintended consequences when messing around with infrastructures. What seems like reform or improvement for one infrastructure system may serve to create a crack in another.

Sunday, July 11

After the vacation

So I've returned from vacation. It's Sunday afternoon. I'm in the office. I'd unpacked and done some laundry before I left the house. I'll stop at the grocery store on the way home.

I did manage to keep up with some of the email, but there's always so much going on. Documents that need to be reviewed, presentations to be prepared or reviewed, meetings to be scheduled or rescheduled. The demands of my job are no different from those of anyone else in a similar situation or position. And because I'll be out of the office for business stuff much of next week, I feel compelled to be in the office to catch up. Some may call that "work ethic;" I suspect, as I've noted before, there's a little guilt mixed in there as well. On the other hand, it's quiet and I'm uninterrupted, so I've gotten a lot done and so feel less tension about tomorrow morning.

I can head home soon and perhaps do something a bit relaxing because re-entry from vacation can be a little bit disorienting and, in it's own way, exhausting.

I did finally finish The Private Patient. I was pretty sure I knew "whodunit" and I was right. This one didn't tie up quite as I would have liked, but it's a good vacation novel. I'd started The Hunger Games series before I'd left on vacation and started the 2nd in the series a night or two before I came home from vacation. I stayed up way too late last night to finish it. The books remind me of "The Lottery" with elements of The Giver and some other books with a dash of the influence of the Roman Empire tossed in. Like a whole bunch of adolescent readers, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the 3rd in the series on August 24.

I never did get to that bag of books I'd hauled up with me. Ah well, just so much to read and know and so little time.

Speaking of which, I should say something about the vacation itself. My friend and I went to Tofte, MN which is quite a ways up on Lake Superior. I liked being in Tofte though a bit closer to Grand Marais would have been good.

We arrived on Saturday, July 3. Found a place for a late dinner and managed to get some milk and stuff for breakfast. We had a leisurely Sunday morning and then moseyed up to Grand Marais. It's a nice little touristy town that reminded me a bit of Mackinaw, MI but also Depoe Bay, OR. Maybe it was the fudge shop. ;)

Did some hiking on Monday, about 4.5 miles and had some great views of Lake Superior. I kept expecting to see a fin break the surface, but no such thing happens in the greatest of the Great Lakes. Tuesday was a 20+-mile mountain biking jaunt that included outracing hordes of biting flies which, by the way, are not a bit dissuaded by substantial amounts of Off! DeepWoods. All in all, though, it was a good ride. Wednesday was more hiking, and this time in the Cascade River State Park. We did about 6 miles that day with quite a bit of up and down, but some really nice trails. Thursday was kayaking day. We did about 6 miles mostly open water kayaking in Lake Superior. The folks at Sawtooth Outfitters were absolutely wonderful. Friday was a shorter biking day; we did about 18 miles including a stint on Devil Track Lake Road, which was quite stunning. It was a wonderfully physically exhausting week!

As for food, we found the Cook County Whole Foods Coop and IGA in Grand Marais, so were able to stock up on water as well as just stuff we needed for PB sandwiches and the occasional "at home" meal.

You'll want to avoid Bluefin Bay Grille, at least don't get the fish there. The walleye was undercooked and dreadfully seasoned; the salmon was overcooked. Too late we realized that most others were getting burgers or sandwiches, so that might be safer fare.

You will most definitely want to go to The Angry Trout. Outstanding food. Great service. Delightful ambience. And check out the interior architecture. There are no nails--everything is pegged or fitted with incredible craftsmanship. And the food is really, really good.

The Coho Cafe was nice--good food, reasonable price, good service. But you'll definitely want to go to The Pie Place. The menu looks good, but we went only for pie. Good stuff!

Yep, it was a good trip. A lot we didn't get to see or do, and would definitely be a place to which I'd return.

Tuesday, July 6

On Vacations

I'm on vacation and yet for the past 3 hours I've been working. Yes, I'm something of a workaholic although I've reduced that addiction a bit as I've gotten older. It just seems that with certain rank comes not only privilege, but responsibility so sometimes work just has to be done. Of course, being more connected doesn't help because with connectivity possibilities comes a certain expectation, methinks, from a variety of people. Then there's guilt, but that may be my own personal predilection.

I'd like to blame the Internet, but that's not really fair because I've been working on vacations even when I've not had Internet access. Right now I'm in a location with erratic cell phone service, but I can get to the Internet from a variety of locations, so I'm accessible and have access.

I used to think that schlepping a bagful of articles and books, all related somehow to my work, wasn't really work but a sort of professional development. But that's really kind of work. Just for the record, I've not yet touched that bag of stuff that I really do want to read because I'm trying to finish the P.D. James novel I started (The Private Patient) but after a day of hiking or biking, I'm just a bit too weary to read more than a few pages.

e-entry after vacation is hard enough as it is. I already make sure I have a buffer day between return and work, and not just so I can go to the grocery store and get laundry done. But it's that transition time from a different pace and energy.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I like working or checking in with work while on vacation. Then I've got a fairly clear picture of what's going on while I'm gone, I don't have to worry about brush fires erupting into difficult conflagrations, and I'm not dizzied by the sheer onslaught of emails if I manage to keep them in check.

And so, back to my regularly scheduled vacation.