Monthly Archives: April 2014

Following ET in New Mexico from North Dakota


One of the only known Pizza Hut ET commemorative glasses in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River Valley.

Throughout last week I’ve been following the media trail of four friends — Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber — who were mustered into a modern archaeological dig in New Mexico. The goal was to dig up a pile of ET Atari games that were buried after the craptacular game hit the shelves in 1983. When this game hit the shelves, it signaled the beginning of the end for Atari, as Atari lost (according to the Wikipedia page) over a half-billion dollars after buying the rights from Spielberg; over-producing a terrible game; and banking on the idea that customers would rip them from the shelves. They did, to a degree. But the video gamers returned them for a refund as well.

So I kept up with the social media and stories, noting to myself that the archaeology of ET Atari games was more popular than the actual 1983 game. I was also happy to read that Caraher made Rolling Stone. Check it out in the link here. CNN covered the story too. Daniel Politi of also covered the story, as did Dominic Rushe of The Guardian, and NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story here. Eric Mack of Forbes covered Andrew Reinhard here (well, the picture is of Andrew). And The Onion covered it here.

The more local Fargo Forum ran a story on it here, too. And you can get direct, unadulterated coverage of the ET dig from Bill Caraher’s blog here. So while holding down the bunker in North Dakota, and while reading these stories, I would often take sips from the ET glass pictured here. The glass comes from my fiancée’s sister’s Valley City home. I think it was a thrift store find some time ago. I still have to set down and get an official oral history.

Remembering Joel Jonientz

Joel's art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in our front entryway.

Joel’s art, the February 2013 Punk Archaeology un-conference poster, hangs in the front entryway of our apartment.

Yesterday I learned that Joel Jonientz passed away. His great friend, Bill Caraher, has an excellent write up linked to here. Joel and I didn’t know each other beyond the 5 or 6 times we hung out, usually over some conversation and excellent beer. When we did hang out, Joel always asked the first person who tried departing to stay. I think this is one of the infinite reasons it was so terrible to hear of Joel’s passing.

Earlier this month I chatted a bit with Joel, and someone at our table (perhaps it was me) asked, “How do you go about starting a digital press at a university?” Joel responded with two words: “Will power.” And this is true with just about anything. You have to get up every morning knowing that this is what you want to and are going to do, and you will strategize in every way possible — directly or through chess maneuvers — to make it work. The goal is to keep pushing forward. At the table Joel explained this while smiling.

Thank you friend. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

Coffee Update

One of the only 2 known photos by Aaron Barth that have ever been taken before he consumed morning coffee.

The only known photo Aaron Barth has ever been taken before consuming morning coffee.

It’s Friday evening, and the pre-industrial (organic) chicken — prepared modified Greek-style with oregano-lemon-melted-butter-paprika-salt-pepper with slight dashes of crushed rosemary and thyme — is about an hour into roasting in the oven. I have three books to my left, including Michael Mann’s The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge, 2005); Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (Yale, 2007); and Greg Smithers, Science, Sexuality, and Race in the United States and Australia, 1780s-1890s (Routledge, 2009). And I’m close to getting into those. But I’ve been meaning first to talk about coffee for almost a month now.

This last month of March, Molly gifted me a Sowden Softbrew coffee pot. It is outstanding. I first came across it in an Atlantic Monthly article linked here. Before Sowden (or BS, as we call it around the apartment), Molly and I had fixed our morning coffee with a ceramic funnel and paper filter. It worked well for two, but we discovered that when we had small gatherings at our place, we spent more time making individual coffees instead of hanging out and conversing with our guests. So it was fantastic to find the Sowden. In The Atlantic article, Corby Kummer notes that it has “the comforting sturdiness of an English teapot.”

A second photo was discovered.

A second photo was discovered.

Out here west of the Mississippi (or what we call the Great Plains and the American West), however, we notice different things. For example, I noticed that the Sowden produces a cup of coffee you’d expect from a fusion of the French press with the methods of making cowboy coffee. By this I mean the coffee grounds (after you grind them) are allowed to sit in a metal steeping cylinder laser-blasted through with a billion 21st-century microscopic holes. So the grounds just sit in this cylinder and steep, contained, so you don’t need a French coffee plunger. And you don’t need to be as careful pouring from the Sowden as you would pouring a cup of cowboy coffee: again, the grounds are contained. The coffee by the way is extra ordinary.

I’m going to go back to checking up on the Greek-style chicken, now, and I’ll get back to these books in the morning with a cup of coffee prepped in a Sowden that Molly gifted me. Huzzah.

Pre-gaming for FX’s “Fargo” Premiere at The Fargo Theater in Downtown Fargo

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi.

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi by Tricia Fossum.

As the title of this blog entry suggests, since Molly and I live in historic downtown Fargo, we (like many Fargoans) decided to host a pre-game get-together before the 9:00PM (CST) sharp showing of FX’s “Fargo” television series at The Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, a kind of Fargo-Fargo-Fargo post-modernity, or something along those lines. My mind is still reeling about the implications, since every North Dakotan knows that the glorious Coen brothers film Fargo was almost entirely filmed in Minnesota. You betcha. But that is less and less transparent the further one is from Fargo. So I am convinced and know that some kind of global Fargo diaspora has developed, and is only reshaped and pushed in different directions with this television series. It’s kind of like when someone who is born in Chicago with Irish genealogy listens to modern Irish music and says, “I’m Irish.” Actually, it’s not anything like that. Nevermind. On to the Fargo evening, though.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Yesterday evening Molly picked me up after work and we made it back to our apartment in just enough time for two things to happen before company arrived: we decided that I would make this fancy hot dish recipe while Molly would straighten up the dining and living room. It worked dontchaknow. Guests started pouring in our door just after 7:00PM, and there was much back-slapping and guffawing. Since we were celebrating Fargo and midwestern and northern Great Plains culture, there was also large amounts of passive-aggressive acknowledgement, and commands phrased as questions punctuated with a “then” at the end; as in, “Do you want to pass the hot dish then?”

The conversation flowed, as did the hot dish and jello salads last night. So much that I didn’t get a chance to snap any photos of the event. But several friends did. I pulled a few of the photos from the social media this evening. That is why you get a picture of the hot-dish spread, taken by Molly. The other photos are from our highly trained professional photographer friend, Holly Anderson Battocchi (yes, her Italian-American husband Dante lives in Fargo too). At the end of our get-together, one large group left the pre game Fargo-Fargo-Fargo get-together to take in the FX “Fargo” premiere. A smaller group (that’s us) decided to stay behind at our apartment. We rationalized us not attending “Fargo” by saying we don’t need to see “Fargo” because we are and live and create Fargo, everyday. Aw, geez.

Digital Ed Ayers at the University of North Dakota

Bill Caraher (r) introduces a digital Ed Ayers, streamed live from the University of Richmond to give a talk at the University of North Dakota.

Bill Caraher (r) introduces a digital Ed Ayers (l), streamed live from the University of Richmond to give a talk to the University of North Dakota.

Yesterday in the late afternoon I found myself finished up with fieldwork in Grand Forks, so I thought I’d drop in and catch the digital Ed Ayers being beamed in from the University of Richmond to the University of North Dakota. To history nerds, Ayers is a big deal. Bill Caraher mostly if not entirely lined up the talk. Bill received his undergraduate training in Latin and Classics at the University of Richmond, and today Ayers is the president of said U of Richmond. They met on that common ground.

It was great to hear Ayers chat about his foundational website in digital history. At some point in 1993, The Valley of the Shadow went on-line. You can link to it here. And there is even a Wikipedia page to it here. Ayers noted that with digital projects, it is not only important that they be started, but also that they come to completion. So this, as he pointed out, is why we see 1993 and 2007 at the bottom of the web site. Ayers also noted that in the 1980s, historians thought they could revolutionize the discipline through qualitative analysis. Ayers said that qualitative idea “lasted three weeks.” History certainly requires data. But it is in large part about stories and narratives, and about figuring out ways to make the raw data accessible.

Through this, says Ayers, we are now witnessing what he calls generative scholarship. By this, it is meant that scholarship does not come to some sort of final conclusion. Instead, generative scholarship encourages anyone and everyone to engage with the historical data, or texts, and speak up and out about what they see. This, in turn, adds to the dialog, thus keeping it alive.

Life is a series of short and long term stories. This is how we make sense of it all, and also how we make sense of lives lived. This is what I thought about on my drive back from Grand Forks to Fargo.

Molly and Me: Facebook Engagement Update

We live in a world of social media, and when things happen in our personal and professional lives, we post them.  Yesterday, before Molly set off on some business in D.C., she updated what her and I have savored personally for some weeks now: we made our engagement to one-another Facebook public. Yes: a status update, so you know it’s official. I thought the update would garner quite a few likes, and it did: just over 600 in a 36-hour period. We felt blessed and fortunate, and a friend of mine, John Ward, predicted that the actual wedding will be huge. Molly and I are waiting to plan all that out in due course. Here’s to blessing Molly for blessing me, and to our family and friends for reciprocating the same.