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   82 person poetry confab
Saturday, April 13 2019
Today was the day of Gretchen's Woodstock reading, so after Satuday morning coffee (she had decaf instead of regular for the first time since getting back from Costa Rica) and walking the dog, she focused on baking brownies and doing other things for that. Meanwhile I did so laboratory-based tinkering. I finally got around to installing an SSD into my old Compaq Evo N410C, a Pentium III laptop that runs maybe half as fast as Raspberry Pi 3. I wouldn't care so much to keep that machine relevant, but I love its thin, expensive design. And I figure I can use it for running esoteric OSes designed for older hardware. For now, though, I've installed Debian Linux. It's good to have a laptop running Linux for all sorts of things.
I've been thinking more and more lately that the Windows operating system is a dead end, and that its actual end is going to come a lot sooner than people think. Windows 10 is a mess combining design ideas (and, presumably, tech) from a variety of Windows generations. And on top of all that, it's got all the infrastructure to be a comprehensive platform for surveillance and advertising. For all its visual differences, it doesn't really have any must-need features that aren't present in Windows 7. There are definitely things wrong with Windows 7, but none of those things have been fixed, and the things that have been added in the process of developing Windows 10 suggest a corporation (Microsoft) that has run out of ideas. This accreted, ponderous mass of technology reminds me of our brains in that it is a combination of reptilian and mammalian parts, some of which exist in an uneasy truce. But the difference is that with Windows 10, there have been no evolutionary forces to smooth out its edges and cut away bloat. Of course, that could change. Long-term, Microsoft has Darwinian competition from other operating systems. And already virtualized and simulated environments in Linux run old Microsoft-targeted software better than Windows 10 does. If the only reason people are sticking with Windows is for compatibility with their old software, there's now almost no reason to stay. For now, I use Windows 7 (at least at home). But my next operating system will probably be some form of Linux.
One newish technology I find promising is CircuitPython, an Adafruit-produced derivative of MicroPython. Like Arduino, it's a language for microcontrollers. But it's an interpreted, not compiled language. This means it runs more slowly and potentially uses more resources. But microcontrollers these days are often powerful 32-bit devices with more RAM than we had on the personal computers of our youth. There's definitely a case to be made for microcontroller code that doesn't need to be compiled and that can handle more complex data objects (particularly strings, but also files) than Arduino. I've dealt with strings in Arduino, and it's doable, but it's not fun, and you have to think about them on a low-level byte-by-byte basis. In CircuitPython, the code lives in a .py file that exists on a small flash volume that mounts on your desktop like a thumb drive when you connect your microcontroller via USB. All you do to change the program is edit the .py file and the functionality immediately changes. I tinkered some with an ItsyBitsy M0 Express, which has the processing power to play .wav files. The immediacy of the changes to its functionality (and the fact that you don't need to use anything but a text-editor to cause them) felt game-changing, much like Javascript did the first time I got it to do something in a web browser. And I say all of that without even being particularly fond of Python. An interpreted Javascript-like microcontroller language would be perfect for me.
Even before 4:00pm, Gretchen headed off to Woodstock. The venue was the Woodstock Community Center, and she had to go early to set things up. Eventually she called to tell me to come before the 5:00 start time to help move a podium. She also told me I could bring the dogs Ramona and Neville (even though the Community Center has a sign specifically saying "No Dogs").
I'd never been to the Woodstock Community Center before. It's a little north of the Colony Café on Rock City Road, just before that starts heading decidedly uphill. There are large flat fields around the Center with various athletic fields, there is also a place to play basketball (and, on this gorgeous Sunday, there were indeed some kids playing). It bears mentioning that it was sunny and 75 degrees, which is close to the unending conditions of Heaven. Inside, the main space of the Community Center was a hall large enough to seat a couple hundred people, though the space had been divided in half and seats had only been placed in the front half. It would be hard to assemble 200 people for poetry anywhere, let alone a place as small as Woodstock. At far end of the space was an elaborately-handpainted stage (though only three earthy colors had been used). Not long after I'd moved the podium, Ramona started getting a little too friendly to the people arriving, so I had to babysit her until she grew tired of getting excited about new people (and even more excited about people she actually knew). The only person Neville was excited to see was Nancy. He started jumping up on her and mouthing her in a way that almost seemed a little psycho.
Eventually Gretchen started reading. I was in the very back sipping my plastic cup of white wine, and from there her voice was lost a little in the big room. It was okay unless there was a distraction. But distractions kept happening. Sometimes it was some guy driving very slowly through the parking lot outside in a big truck with a noisy engine. In one case it was a local literary mavin having a teary meltdown on hearing a sad story unrelated to the poem Gretchen was telling at the time. In another case it was a woman running out in tears upon hearing Gretchen read a poem that reminded of her incarcerated brother. As always, though, Gretchen did an amazing job. She even handled a brief interruption from Ramona, who started moaning at her from the audience. In that high pitch doggy voice we use when giving English words to the thoughts of our dogs, Gretchen said, "Mother, you're being weird!" At the peak of attendance, I counted 82 people in the building, though that included me and Gretchen and a couple other people from the bookstore who were running the event. Some people had driven surprisingly far to attend, including Paul and Ingrid, the couple who used to have that big church on the Rondout and who now live near Great Barrington (where they have another church). Others who live in Woodstock somehow missed it, including Eva and Sandor.
The only glitch in the whole event came during the Q&A when Gretchen called on someone who ended up having more of a comment than a question, speaking in a quiet mumble that nobody but Gretchen could hear. And then it was book signing time, giving me the opportunity to drink plenty more wine. Towards the end, I helped a little with cleaning things up and carrying crap out to the cars. The people who run the Community Center were somewhat impatient to clear us all out so they could prepare the place to do whatever was next on their schedule.

Gretchen and I had dinner with our dogs and Carrie and Michæl at the Garden Café, which was crowded. Despite the beautiful weather, they'd yet to set up their outdoor garden. But they left their doors open, and Neville always likes lying in a doorway. The ladies both got sparkling wines and non-burger dishes, while Michæl and I had nearly the same thing: Beyond Burgers with Southern Tier 2X IPAs, though I got potatoes instead of salad with my burger because, I told our waitress (is was the one with the mild Irish lilt), I wanted to "junk it up." We stayed a little longer after eating than I normally like. Gretchen is very different from me in this regard; she loves to linger after dinner with nothing more than water to drink. Tonight, though, she was sipping on decaf, having handed me the final quarter of her Lambrusco.


Neville and Ramona at the Woodstock Community Center tonight. Photo by our friend Peter.


Gretchen reading to the crowd tonight.


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