Changes Made

I’m not much of a New Year’s Resolution kind of guy, since I know that the holiday season and attendant travel actually extends until well after MLK Day in most years for my family, so it’s hard to get serious about making changes on January 1, when I know I’m likely to be on vacation somewhere decadent in the following few weeks. Lent always seems like a better arbitrary season for personal tweaks, as it falls after that extended holiday season, and bridges the spring season, when change is in the air already. Plus that whole 40 days and then it’s done thing is kind of nice, for some sorts of changes.

Autumn, too, finds us in a season of change, and that’s resonating with me right now. At home, Marcia is putting her gardens to bed for the winter, and we’ve recently acquired really awesome fluffy cold-weather bedding, and turned on the furnaces at work and home for the first time, creating that burnt dust smell that I strongly associate with winter’s approach. Golf season will probably wrap up in the next few weeks, and Marcia and I will return to work with our personal trainer in early November.

I’m looking at some health-related personal changes that month, too, since as a gentleman of an increasingly certain age, annoying things like cholesterol and sodium and blood sugar have, by circumstance, become items of deeper concern for me, requiring some modifications to long-held habits, many involving cheese, smoked meats and wine. I’ve also acquired a lot of new recording gear, and look forward to getting a home studio set up this winter to revive some long dormant creative activities as the snow flies and winds howl. Rage against the dying of the light . . . with guitar.

While these mostly quiet, personal, home-related changes are taking place, I’m also going to be making some more public changes in how I connect with the world in a digital format, which is how most of you reading this post have interacted with me over the years. You’ll see these rolling out in the next few days, so I’m leaving a description of them here in this post as a guide marker in case you can’t find me where you used to. Here’s the plan:

1. I’m permanently closing my Facebook account, including the Indie Moines group there. It used to be valuable to me as a promotional tool, but as Facebook has phased out organic placements of posts, I find myself connecting with an increasingly limited audience there, and the cost of time-wasting that occurs when I log in no longer offsets the benefit of doing so. Plus, you know, it’s Facebook. Been there, done that, tired of it.

2. While I don’t think it’s going to live up to the hype that it’s gained as the site that’s going to kill Facebook, I have joined Ello as an alternate social network for now. It’s still in beta, and it still requires an invitation to join, but if you are there, I am user @jericsmith, so feel free to add me to your noise or friends lists, and I’ll reciprocate. If you’d like an invitation, shoot me a note.

3. I’m going to maintain my Twitter account at @indiemoines, though I am re-branding my feed under my own name, rather than having the posts show up as having originated from Indie Moines. Same piffle and tripe, same location, just without the anonymity of the third party designation. It’s me tweeting in the first person now, not Indie Moines tweeting in the third.

4. And speaking of Indie Moines, the biggest change coming is this one: this domain expires this December, and I’m planning to retire the site at that point (though I will renew the domain registration, lest someone else snarf it up for nefarious purposes). Why am I doing this? From 1999 to 2007, my website and my blog were one and the same: J. Eric Smith Dot Com. But when I started blogging for a certain New York digital rag, and then that blew up and I set up Indie Albany in a fit of pique, and then I unexpectedly moved to Iowa and created Indie Moines as a continuation of the Indie Albany narrative, the website associated with my core brand — my name — began to languish in something of a netherworld between my professional and my creative life. This has allowed other J. Eric Smiths out there (there are a lot of us, surprisingly) to encroach on my digital turf, so, as with my Twitter account, I’m ready to reclaim my name and roll all of my online archives (dating back to 1995!) over to J. Eric Smith Dot Com, and to begin posting all new material there. This feels sensible since I rarely write about Des Moines or Iowa as specific topics anymore, instead focusing on things either larger or smaller or more national or more personal in scope, so the inquiries that Indie Moines generates don’t really have a lot of bearing on what I’m doing on the site at this point. So go ahead and click on one of those links above to my name website . . . look familiar? Same things that exist at Indie Moines, just under my own name, with some professional tabs preserved from my work sites for the folks interested in those sorts of things. Shift your bookmarks now if you’d like, as anything that appears here over the next two months will also appear there, and then at some point, this site will vanish. Poof!

There might be some other changes coming, too, but these are the ones that are feeling good and right for me now, as I watch the leaves fall and prepare myself — physically, psychologically, creatively, digitally — for the winter months ahead. Sing it, John Cale, since you know what I mean . . .

The Fame of States

Does your state have a particular claim to fame with which it is closely associated?

For reasons too complicated to explain (like most things in my brain), I posed this question in a writing project recently, and then wondered how to answer it. On a gut instinct whim, I opened Google, and typed a search stream in the form of “Famous [State Name] [space],” then noted the first suggestion made by Google’s auto-fill engine. So, for instance, here’s what the search for Alabama looked like:

famousalabama

Famous Alabama Football Players? Okay, I’ll buy that . . . since the correlation between “Alabama” and “Football Players” does seem to be pretty strong in public perception. But what happens when you run this same test with all of the other states and major territories or affiliated entities in the United States? Do the correlations still ring as strongly? Let’s look and see!

As was the case with alphabetical alpha Alabama, college (and occasionally professional) athletics are among the most common categories of “Famous State” suggestions, as follows (with some notes):

  • Alabama Football Players
  • Colorado Rockies (Could also be the mountains, of course).
  • Idaho Potato Bowl (Interesting that the Bowl Game scores higher than the potatoes it is named after).
  • Kansas City Royals (Go Beloved Royals!).
  • Kentucky Derby Winners (This is the only animal related response in the mix, if people are looking for the horses, not the jockeys).
  • Minnesota Twins (Go Marcia’s Beloved Twinkies!)
  • Nebraska Fans (Wonder why fans over players? Is it because the Cornhuskers are so hated that it’s hard to imagine what famous people might like them? Probably).
  • Ohio State Football Players (Complete with mug shots).
  • Oklahoma Football Players
  • Oregon Runner (The singular is interesting. There’s only one famous Oregon runner?)
  • Texas Rangers (Could be the law enforcement types, too).
  • Utah Jazz Players (Because it’s Utah, we know these are basketball players, and not saxophone players).
  • Washington Redskins (Sad that Washington State’s search fame hinges on an ethnically offensive sports team mascot from the other side of the country).

Some states’ claims to fame are similarly linked to their colleges, though not for their athletic programs, but instead for those who matriculated from their institutions of higher learning:

  • Arizona State Alumni
  • Georgia Tech Alumni
  • Maryland Alumni
  • Michigan Alumni
  • Virginia Tech Alumni

The next most common category of responses are related to food, with some interesting variations between “restaurant(s)” and “food(s)” perhaps indicating where people dine out more, and where people eat in more:

  • Connecticut Pizza
  • Delaware Food
  • Guam Food
  • Illinois Food
  • Louisiana Restaurants
  • Mississippi Restaurants
  • Missouri Food
  • New Jersey Food
  • New York Restaurants
  • North Carolina Foods (interesting that this is the only plural incidence of “food” . . . apparently the Tarheel State does not have one singular signature cuisine item?)
  • Pennsylvania Food
  • South Carolina Food (Complete with organ meat).

Two states improve on the food cluster by prioritizing sudsy libations over eats:

  • Vermont Beer (A little surprising).
  • Wisconsin Beer (Not at all surprising).

Some states are apparently best known (or searched) for their cultural resources:

  • Arkansas Rappers (Really?!? Okay, I’ve got to do some research here and figure out what’s going down in the Little Rock hip hop scene).
  • Maine Artists
  • Massachusetts Artists
  • New Mexico Artists
  • North Dakota Artists (Okay, this one surprises me. Sorry, North Dakota. Just saying).
  • Rhode Island Actors (Because Providence is the Hollywood of Southern New England).
  • Tennessee Authors (I wonder if “Tennessee Williams” skews this one?)

There are a cluster of states whose geography resonates most strongly with Google searchers:

  • Alaska Cities (Are people surprised to learn there are more than one?)
  • California Beaches
  • Florida Beaches
  • Hawaii Beaches
  • Puerto Rico Beach (Is there only one?)
  • South Dakota Landmarks (Plural? Does that infer that there’s something other than Mount Rushmore?)
  • West Virginia Hotel (Just one? Why does that make me think about some weird combo of The Shining and Deliverance?)

A couple of states apparently raise the question “Who the heck actually lives there?”

  • Montana Residents
  • New Hampshire Residents

Sadly enough, there are a few regions in the United States that apparently have nothing famous worth searching for, including our Nation’s Federal District:

  • American Samoa NOTHING
  • District of Columbia NOTHING
  • U.S. Virgin Islands NOTHING
  • Northern Mariana Islands NOTHING

Then there are some weird ones that don’t quite fit into any other category:

  • Indiana Jones Quotes (Harrison Ford’s limited dialog in an action movie series is more searchable than everything else in the Hoosier State? Wow).
  • Nevada Brothels (Well, yeah, sex sells, apparently even more than casinos do).
  • Wyoming Attorney (There’s only one? Apparently that’s enough).

And, then, finally, there’s the state where I’ve made my home for the past three years. I figured that when I searched for “Famous Iowa [blank]” that I might get “Iowa State Football Players” or “Iowa Wrestlers” or “Iowa Corn” or something along those lines. But how wrong I was, since here’s a screen capture of the actual result:

famousiowaMurders? The most searchable thing in Iowa is homicide?!? Well, I guess I might have done my part to help that out when I visited and wrote about the Villisca Axe Murder House, but, still, why is Iowa the only state in the Nation where searchers are most interested in the taking of someone else’s life?

This remains an open question for me. I’d welcome your thoughts on what the answer might be!