Monday, December 31, 2007
For tonight all the best to you and yours.
Happy New Year.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Kite powered cargo ships are more steam-punk than you!
Sadly, the kite doesn't provide all of the ship's power, just a energy saving boost to the existing diesels... but still, this is pretty cool.
Coming soon to an ocean near you... the wind-powered supertanker :)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
This article on Slate (the microsoft-owned news magazine site) discusses the failings of Yahoo's Answers service. Yahoo Answers allows users to post a question to the site, which is then answered by other users. The idea is that this will allow a user to get answers to questions that aren't easily parsed by a search engine. The site hopes to tap its users' collective intelligence (that oft alluded to, "wisdom of crowds") by generating large numbers of answers and then allowing users to select the best answer by voting.
Practically, the site works. It has attracted some 120 million users and if you pose it a question you receive an answer (many answers) fairly promptly. Users vote on answers. The technology works.
The Slate article argues that the community enabled by the technology doesn't work as well. As an example, they provide this odd - and both factually and ethically incorrect - list of answers to the question "What beliefs and customs did Native Americans hold in common."
I'm skeptical about Yahoo Answers, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. But I'm MORE skeptical about this example. The question is terrible! It misleads readers from outside the U.S. for whom "Native American" doesn't necessarily carry the same meaning as it does for U.S. residents. In the U.S. we take "Native American" to mean "A descendant of one of the groups of people living in the Americas before the European conquest" but the use of this phrase is fairly recent, and not globally consistent. In Canada, for example, the term used is "First Nations person." A reading of the answers - including the answer voted to be the best, "Apple Pie," and a variety of other answers that criticized "Native Americans" for being fat, rude, and watching too much TV - suggests quite strongly to me that many global readers took "Native American" to mean "Native born citizen of the United States." Slate points out that Yahoo answers draws its users from "all over the world" but doesn't seem aware that worldwide differences in understanding could be affecting the site. If you take "Native American" to mean "Native born U.S. citizen," the answer that "Apple Pie" is a "belief or custom held in common by Native Americans" actually makes a fair amount of sense. It isn't a great answer, (the best answer to this essentialist question would be "nothing") but it isn't as laughably bad and nonsensical as Slate makes it seem.
The question is also misspelled, and invites the worst sorts of bigotry, mythologizing, and prejudice. Plenty of that is evident in the list of responses. The fact that the relatively benign "Apple Pie" beat out the more hateful (and sentimental) stuff actually says something good about the folks on Yahoo answers.
Still, I'm skeptical about the quality of content this system can provide. Yahoo has basically implemented an information plebiscite, drawing on users to select the "correct" answer from a list. This process is fast - which is clearly what Yahoo wants, it wants a human powered search engine - but has little else to recommend it. User bigotry and ignorance might easily win the day.
Wikipedia, which Slate compares positively to Yahoo Answers, is a different beast. The difference is not, however, best explained by Slate's assertion that "Wikipedia users work harder." The difference is best explained by the fact that, in contrast with Yahoo Answer's plebiscite, Wikipedia has implemented democracy (maybe even anarchy) where users deliberate, debate, discuss, and collaborate to produce content - rather than just voting it "up or down."
I'd love to play with the Yahoo site and see what I could find, but my diss is on Wikipedia! I need to work on that now! Yikes!
Monday, December 10, 2007
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I've noticed several of these posts could be loosely organized as "Information about features of Cyberspace I find interesting." Or perhaps a series titled "Andy teaches you N00bs about teh Internets."
Today's Lesson: IRC
IRC, or internet relay chat, is one of the great grand-daddy internet applications. Its the chat utility most favored by hard-core geeks and nerds, who often spend VERY significant amounts of time chatting with people they have never met IRL (In Real Life) there. Many chat rooms on IRC are open to all, and can be a useful resource for projects that need a publicly available space for synchronous that isn't bound to a particular proprietary piece of software or website. This includes the Wikipedia project, as well as some less wholesome projects, including pirate software groups that use IRC to distribute the location of (often hijacked) FTP servers offering software for download. IRC is a fairly wild, uncensored piece of the internet that hasn't been "tamed" by recent mainstream commercial interest in the 'net like the web has.
Of course, homeland security is probably monitoring everything that goes one there, they aren't dumb.
Anyway, IRC's uncensored culture can be both liberating and fun, and abusive and cruel. Several websites I've recently discovered via Stumbleupon post excerpts of transcripts of IRC chats containing jokes, funny typos, and various comical goings on from IRC. I think they do a pretty good job of capturing both the fun and more abusive side of the culture there. (WARNING - PAGE CONTAINS SOME FAIRLY UNPLEASANT TEXTUAL CONTENT)
Here are some excerpts for y'all. (note for readers: IRC conventions put the name of the user "speaking" in angle brackets, like this <+username>
<+thumb>do you know of any major organizations that are similar the CDC?
<+thumb>center for disease control
<+lucent>i said WHO
<+thumb>what? i'm asking you
<+lucent>World Health Organization
(Another, demonstrating the jargon of young nerdlings)
(And another, demonstrating how speech and action are conflated in the space of IRC, and one clever user's application of this fact.)
<+mOrphz> damn it :/
<@Lego> damn it :/
<+mOrphz> stop that
<@Lego> stop that
<+mOrphz> Lego smells
<@Lego> Lego smells
quit: (Lego) (~leet@apex|Lego.user.gamesnet) (Quit)
(NOTE: I've had to add the "+" sign to usernames to keep blogger from thinking they are html tags and deleting them. Stupid blogger.)
Saturday, December 08, 2007
But yesterday I received an email from another friend on the subject of the WGA strike, and I decided I needed to write up my thoughts.
Let me begin by saying that, as a solution to a short-term problem, I support the Writers' strike. The profits being realized by distribution companies for online content, or the potential future profits on that content ought to be shared with the writers that helped to create that content.
In the long term, however, I'm conflicted. The Writers' demand makes sense in a world where the production of culture is professionalized. I'm just not sure such a world can ever be a just world.
My reasoning is simple: professional culture (this includes the music, publishing, and film/TV industries, as well as the educational industry that I myself work in) = exploitation. Everyone who gets to make a living writing, singing, teaching, researching, etc. is - in our current economy - fed and clothed with the surplus labor of others.
During the summer of my 17th year, I spent two weeks on the floor of a plastic factory in Elbridge, New York. I meant to spend the whole summer working there, save up for a vacation, but I just couldn't hack it. After two weeks I chickened out and quit. The factory was a windowless corrugated aluminum box. It reeked of molten plastic - a thick, strangely sweet stink. My tasks included counting and boxing parts, and removing parts from molds. The presses moved so fast you couldn't think while you worked on them, any half-formed thought was destroyed by the need to watch for the next part, perform your tiny task at the right moment. Time seemed to stand still. I worked second shift. I would get home at 11pm wired, unable to sleep. I would finally pass out around 2 or 3 am, wake up again at 11 or noon. Just in time to get ready, and drive myself in to report to work at 2:15. I spent two weeks only seeing the sun for an hour and a half a day. I couldn't do it. I had the luxury of being able to quit. So I did.
Some do not have that luxury. Some must stay. Those who stay, both there and in other places around the world, make all the things that take care of me. Their being trapped in a place like the one I fled frees me to spend my days writing, researching and teaching. Morally, I am indebted to them.
The only way I can think of to repay that debt is to work on scholarship and pedagogy that tries to imagine a world without these class stratifications, tries to imagine a world where some are not fated to toil while others are fated to sing.
Thus, when I read Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, write of how he hoped his work could lead towards a vision of a "post-scarcity world, where nobody will have to work very hard to make a living." I thought it was an interesting idea to investigate.
Stallman's language is naive, and he underestimates the difficult task he has imagined, but I think the goal remains a worthy one. Free Software Foundation was one of the earliest organizations to work on the GNU/Linux operating system. The GNU/Linux operating system was one of the first prominent and successful Free Software Projects. Free Software was one of the earliest examples of what is now being called, "user created content."
Do you see what I'm getting at here?
In my opinion the technologies that enable "user created content," wikipedia, youtube and the like. Can be developed in one of two ways, depending on the social, political, and economic choices we make as a culture.
In one scenario, they can be developed in such a way as to use users as the ultimate low-payed labor. To exploit them as free labor while the profits and control decisions remain in the hands of distributors. This scenario sees capital use the idea of user creation as an ideological tool. A mere cover for its continuing exploitation. The post-scarcity society would be assumed, rather than created.
In the other, user created content could be used as part of a larger movement to explode our society's contemporary caste system and open up the possibility of creativity to everyone. The larger, more democratic field of meaning making could help transform ideology and open up the social imagination to begin working out ways we could have a world in which "everyone's life could be a work of art." This scenario sees social movements and activists get on board with user-created content projects, pushing their boundaries and motivating users to become politically and socially active in helping to redefine the meaning of intellectual property and extending the reach of these projects beyond the elites they currently serve.
This entry is a mess of thoughts in the process of being worked out. I hope I've made at least some sense.
In short, I support the Writers' in the sense that I don't think that the distributors should be allowed to hog the profits they are making on distributing their intellectual property online. However, in the end I don't believe a system of cultural production based on profit and property can ever be just. We need to start imagining a new one. User-created content models could be a place to start, if we get involved and keep them from being used as an ideological cover for continued profiteering.
So, that's me. What do other folks think?
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Many of the sites, such as wookiepedia, are fan sites, essentially replicating the wikipedia project of compiling encyclopedic knowledge, only for some fictional universe (wookiepedia, as the name suggests, is devoted to the star wars universe) rather than the actual universe.
This is pretty interesting in and of itself. A bit like falling into one of Borge's mythical libraries and finding all those guidebooks and maps to places that never were.
But what really has sucked me in these last few days is Uncyclopedia. Billing itself as "the content free encyclopedia" (a play on Wikipedia's subtitle "The Free Encyclopedia") Uncyclopedia is a gallery of the absurd, offering up things like blatantly false Biographies and lists of such useless and silly ideas as the "List of weapons that shoot other weapons which don't exist but should." The site even uses its own structure to poke fun at wikipedia and revel in the absurd by organizing articles into ridiculous categories such as: things George Bush most certainly cares about and things god hates according to Fred Phelps.
The coolest thing about this site is the way it seems to directly invert wikipedia's goal. Where wikipedia seeks to create and organize meaningful, useful information uncyclopedia spins a frantic bricolage of meaningless, useless nonsense. It is rather like the Dada movement with web access.
At least, at its best. Much of uncyclopedia's "content" (anti-content??) falls short of the mark of being truly absurd and is merely silly and sophomoric, often misogynist, racist, and homophobic.
However, I think this entry manages to get it right, to break the bounds of hegemonic meaning and its endless quest for "useful forces" and "productive bodies", to float out as far from power/knowledge as you could reasonably hope to get.
Nothing, of course, is really free or innocent. But man. That gets close.
If you are in favor of helping build the democratic majority in congress and undermining some of the lousy stuff the Republican party is doing to our country, please help get out the vote for Robin. She has a shot at picking up a seat that the conventional wisdom says should be a safe bet for the Republicans. Her campaign is getting national attention and support. This one is for real.
Even if you are outside the district or state, you can still volunteer to be a part of the virtual phonebank and get out the vote.
Click here for information on virtual phonebanking.
If I'm reaching anyone on Ohio 5, please get out and vote in the special election next Tuesday, December 11. Turnout will be small in this special election and every vote will really count.
Monday, December 03, 2007
At the climax of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Case, the protagonist, is in a bit of a pickle. An amoral computer intelligence answering to the callsign “wintermute” has blackmailed him into doing its bidding by inserting time-release capsules of a crippling toxin into his bloodstream. Capsules only wintermute can disarm. Over the course of the book, Case has jumped through an increasingly unlikely series of hoops, all with the goal of appeasing the AI and saving his nervous system from the poison. He has helped engineer a riot, stolen a digital recording of his dead mentor's personality, ascended into earth orbit, and helped break into the elite Tessier-Ashpools family's private section of a resort space station. Now one final challenge remains. He must convince the bored, decadent heiress of the Tessier-Ashpools – a sociopathic clone called 3Jane – to speak the secret password that will free wintermute from electromagnetic bondage and thus fulfill Case's obligation. Case finally exhorts her, “Give us the fucking code [...] if you don't what'll change? What'll ever fucking change for you? You'll wind up like the old man. You'll tear it all down and start building again! You'll build the walls back, tighter and tighter .... I got no idea at all what'll happen if Wintermute wins, but it'll change something!” She relents. The word is spoken. Wintermute is emancipated. Something changes.
Exactly what that something is is difficult to judge, even after Gibson's pair of sequels attempt to explain it. It doesn't much matter for the purposes of this dissertation. What matters is 3Jane's decision, to set free an unknown, possibly dangerous (we know, for example, that one part of Wintermute's escape plan involved the murder of a child) technological entity in return for the vague promise that it will “change something.” Her choice is in many ways emblematic of my own feelings about the information technologies I study. I know these technologies are not innocent. As Donna Haraway and others have pointed out, they were originally conceived in the heart of cold war weapons labs as part of that era's terrifying dance with nuclear annihilation. Yet still, faced with the dismal prospects of status-quo industrial capitalism, the allure of advanced electronic technology might change something is undeniable. So we set the machines free, and wait to see what happens. This dissertation will be an attempt to chart some small piece of what has happened. An attempt to begin to understand what is changing, and where those changes might be leading us.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
and do a search, google will spit out a list of online cameras made by a certain manufacturer. Click on the links and you can see their output. Some of the cameras are clearly meant to be public. Some aren't so clear. Anyway, I find clicking through the list discovering little windows on the world to be a fun little past-time. Here are some fun cameras I found today:
Somebody put their cube farm on the web!
A bar in Munich.
The front desk of an office on Long Island.
A place called "Friends Bar" - according to its IP address, it's in the Canary Islands.
Anyway, I'm trying to find fun webcams for a project, so I thought I would share how to find them with you and see what you find! Comment me if you find any fun ones!
Friday, November 16, 2007
In September I visited my grandmother. I didn't know it then, but that visit proved to be the last time I would see her alive. She knew she didn't have long. She was at peace with that. She had been in pain for a long time, and her mobility was limited. She believed she would be reunited after her death with her departed husband, and she desired that dearly.
Still, she said to me, "there just isn't enough time."
Life is with us for just this brief moment. We will all wish for more time. None of us will get it.
Let's make the best of it.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Across the street from me, there is a light industrial zone. The factory that casts those giant concrete tubular things I like to post pictures of on my flickr page. A row of storage spaces for rent. What smells to be a plastic factory of some kind.
Stuck in the middle of the parking lot/loading zone for all this, is a small beat-up white building that looks to be a one story house. Tonight, as I was having some tea on my steps, I noticed a light on. Is somebody home?
I snapped a picture just to show what it looks like. It seemed lonely, but also somehow romantic. That little building is nowhere I would want to live, but it is somewhere I would love to have lived in the past. What a story!
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Today, Salon.com published a series of excerpts from Red, an upcoming collection of short prose by teenage girls. I really like it. These girls have written some powerful, insightful, and original stuff. I don't know how much stock to put in the editor's assertion that social networking sites and other internet-facilitated communications are creating "a generation of writers." I'd like to believe it though, and certainly these examples suggest that for whatever reason, there are some talented young writers out there. Check it out.
I think if the editor's assertion is true, and we are looking at a whole generation learning to write online, the ramifications for those of us who are educators in the humanities will be very significant. A groundswell of unruly expression alarms some of us, I think, but we should see it as an opportunity. A potential mass movement of students interested in self-expression. The problem for us will be how to offer these students tools they need and want to use, challenge them to grow and explore, and avoid trying too hard to mold them into a "proper" format - without falling into the fallacy that they already have everything they might need to express themselves and any input on our part is somehow oppression.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Make the other category: "Things That Are a Pain in My Ass."
Here is what would currently be in the space where the two intersect
-Digital Culture researchers who can't figure out how to link properly
-The fact that the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) can't get their "digital library" to talk to my university's library search engine properly and consistently (when other journals can)
-The wide variety of documents on "Free Culture" and "Open Source Software" that are locked behind paywalls of various types (why yes, I will pay 80 dollars to read about how informations should be free...)
On the other hand, completely outside those two categories would be the many digital culture researchers who post up their work in weird hidden places in the internet where you can download them for free, and/or happily e-mail work to fellow researchers on request. Woot!
Monday, October 22, 2007
Every so often I cruise by the ol' fafblog, hoping that some new update may announce the re-birth of the blog, or direct me to some new work by the author. I always find the same old page.
Here's what, I think, says something about the power of internet culture - at least for me. I worry about Chris Mastrangelo. I worry that I can't find any evidence of a new artistic project attached to him. I worry that he may have passed away. I worry even more that the dismal prediction he made in the last Fluble may have come true, and he may be stuck in an office cube farm somewhere, slowly dying.
So, here's all the best to Fluble and Fafnir and Giblets and Clown. I hope some fraction of them still lives.
I, for one, miss them.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I read about this just a few hours after I had been teaching my "cyberculture" class and discussing the transition of the Silicon Valley area from being dominated by the aerospace industry to electronics industry and using that as a parallel for corresponding shift in American Popular culture from space travel as an emblem of the future - the future of the rocketship, if you will - to cyberspace as an emblem of the future - the future of the matrix. I wished I had read about Hanger One before my class, so I could have used it as an example.
Hanger One, you see, was a part of a yet older, and less remembered future. The future of the airship. Hanger One was, believe it or not, the hanger for America's flying aircraft carrier: the USS Macon.
For those who didn't already know, during the 1930s the United States built and briefly operated two huge airships, Macon and her sister ship Akron, each outfitted to carry five small biplane fighters. Both, sadly, were lost in bad weather. This ended the flying aircraft carrier project.
I am, as you've probably guessed by now, a sort of airship enthusiast. For me, the lost future of the airship is interesting and romantic, I think because it is in some ways a more human future than the one we live in now. The Akron and the Macon were intended to scout for enemy vessels using human eyes and brains and pilots. Their technology augmented the body, but still relied on human control and skill. Instead of the flying aircraft carrier, the technology that would become the eyes of the fleet in World War II was radar. Radar, married to the electronic digital computer, has evolved over the last 60 years to give us the "future" warship that is the Navy's present - the AEGIS destroyer. Instead of the swashbuckling crews of the Akron and Macon, launching their tiny fighters with their hair in the wind, we got the plugged in crews of the AEGIS ships, who monitor an automated combat system in a darkened room. The major choice the crew makes is to turn the system on, after that most functions are automatic, guided missiles fight guided missiles at speeds too fast for a human being to make a meaningful decision.
I am often a cyber-enthusiast. I am, after all, right now plugged in to a massive automated system, which will deliver my words to far away friends without further intervention on my part. Remembering the airship past, however, puts me in a more cyber-pessimistic mood. Internet socializing is not unlike the AEGIS ship, digital expressions flying around at light speed while bodies and their senses stay at home. Perhaps a packet with my words in it will be, in an unlikely circumstance, routed through one of the antenna arrays on the mast of the Empire State Building (originally, the mast was to be an airship mooring point) but I will not be there to see it, to feel it, to taste the wind.
The danger, I think, comes when we try to build a new world in our computers, as John Parry Barlow and others sometimes seem to advocate, and thus forget material circumstances in a rush of postmodern digital exuberance. If we keep material circumstances in mind however, we might build a new world with our computers and that might open some interesting possibilities.
The Akron and the Macon were brought down by weather, after all. With weather radar and GPS to guide them, the new generation of airships being worked on by Zeppelin and others
might just have a fighting chance...
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Actually, they have been pretty do-able so far, I put one question behind me today. Four more to go!
In the meantime - web-ephemera for all you boys and girls
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
They need cropping and contrast adjustment, but they are there for folks to see, if they are so inclined.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Anyway, if you are interested, I'd really appreciate your participation. Try it out! Tell me what you think. There are other projects like this out there, but I'm still curious as to what we might get if we work on this one together.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Polish rappers appropriating Indian beats and instruments, and presenting their music in a video that gives a wildly exoticized (re)presentation of South Asian people. The youtube comments, at least the ones in English, gush about the creativity and originality of the music. I wonder what the ones in Polish say. I also wonder what extent the English praise is boosted by the doubly exotic position of the music from the point of view of an English-speaking audience.
Just short thoughts and sharing.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Well? What do you think?
It wasn't the space shuttle or the space station.
Not a military spy satellite or plane.
Not a commercial satellite.
Not the concord.
Not Spaceship One.
This picture was taken by SABLE-3 (the Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment 3) a nikon coolpix digital camera lashed to a weather balloon by a bunch of Canadian amateur radio hobbyists. They reached an altitude of 120,000 feet, and took that picture - showing the curvature of the earth, the thin blue haze of the atmosphere, and the cold black of space - with over-the-counter and DIY built equipment, and what must have been a relatively modest budget. Certainly no more than many other middle-class folks plow into boats and sporting gear.
I think that's pretty cool.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, August 26, 2007
An idea Gibson probably gleaned from watching early computer operators playing with command line interfaces on old time-share mainframes. The operator traces a thin green string of characters in an arcane language, maybe something like "ls -al|grep config," unreadable to those who have not been trained in the art, across a black screen, and in response to his utterance, his magic spell, the machine-demon jumps to life, does the bidding of its master. A magic language for postmodernity. Words made electrons made actions. A semiotic conundrum.
And nothing new. After all, in the beginning there was the Word...
Command lines are buried now, lost behind the flash of modern graphical operating systems. Windows, especially, has only the faintest traces of old DOS - its command line ancestor - left. My little MacBook, with its spiffy OSX, actually has a bit more command line there if one should want it, and it even responds to incantions in UNIX, the same ancient magical tongue (more or less) that the mainframe operators of yore summoned their creatures with. But I rarely invoke this feature. The graphical age does all I need it to. Sometimes I play with the command line, just for fun. Just for the feeling (an illusion, in my case) of having "bare metal" mastery over my machine.
But the age of Google has brought about a new form of the Digital True Name. The search string. Take for example, my search this evening for a long lost old friend. I tried to google his real name, but to no avail. Then several pseudonyms I knew him to write fiction under. Still, no dice. Finally, I entered the name of an old cable access television show he and another friend had produced, long ago.
And there he was, or at least, some aspect of him, conjured into being by my utterance of his name. One of his names. The right one. He had, as I suspected he would, succumbed to the temptation of dropping his old cable access show onto YouTube. He had also uploaded some more recent work.
So, despite the years and miles between us, despite our long ago falling out, despite my terrible suspicion that sending any message to him would just reveal there was nothing for us to say to each other anymore, I was able tonight to see the current face and hear the current voice of my old friend. Just by guessing the right name to call him by.
McLuhan said that communications technology would both "extend" our nervous systems and expose us to "auto-amputation" of senses and other capacities not carried by the media we relied on for this extension. I am reminded by this by my episode with my old friend tonight, and even more so by my experience lately with some more recent friends, who have just moved some distance away and thus retreated into the electronic ghost-hood that characterizes long-distance friendships in our electronic age.
I'm grateful for the "magic" technology that allows us to remain, at least in some tenuous way, linked to each other, but at the same time frustrated by the high-speed, instrumental, capitalist system that seems to insist that we must all remain in constant motion, always shedding our friends, never having the chance to build lasting communities, if we wish to "succeed."
What to do about it, though, is a question I can't find a search string to answer.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
With Keillor, however, my worry was clearly misplaced. His latest column for Salon.com
knocks it clear out of the park, a welcome change from his last few at bats, which had been a little lackluster IMHO.
The best part, his handy inversion of the usual logic of illegal immigration. I'd been looking for as tidy a way to do this for awhile now. He writes:
"[Karl Rove's] last big assignment was to get the immigration bill passed. It failed in large part because Congress is tired of Mr. Rove and his boy-genius high-handedness. Instead, Homeland Security announced a new crackdown on illegal immigrants, which aroused protests from farmers who said that 70 percent of farmworkers today are illegal -- a stunning fact, if true: Most of the people who pick our beans and tomatoes are men and women forced to sneak across the border, and why? Because they're a security threat? No. So that we can get them cheap, that's why."
Exactly. The usual rhetoric sneers at undocumented immigrants for wanting to "jump to the front of the line" of folks waiting to get into the United States. No one ever seems to ask why there is such a long and complicated line in the first place.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Traveled almost 9,000 miles by road.
Visited the following states:
Crossed or visited the following water bodies:
San Antonio River
Long Island Sound
Reconnected with some old friends.
And, last but not least, I've started dating a remarkable young woman.
Now I just need to do all the work I was going to do during my "quiet summer."
Friday, July 13, 2007
I've had a great time these last two weeks. The last few days have been amazing. I can't post much now, I've gotta crash out here at the Gallup Super 8 (on historic route 66!) so we can start back for home eeeearly in the morning. I'll post more pics and other stuff soon, probably the week after next. I have some things to attend to this next week :) Good things.
Here's one picture from our time in Arizona to tide you over.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Saturday, July 07, 2007
The climate here is also a treat, after San Antonio's muggy oppression. The air here is dry, and feels comfortable well into the 90s. At night, things cool off dramatically, and there is a breeze off the valley. It's quite wonderful.
The drive out here was fun. East Texas was neat, but still looked somewhat familiar. The trees and foliage weren't the same, but there were plenty of trees and foliage. Once you cross the hills west of San Antonio and head into West Texas, however, things become more arid and the flora becomes the sort of scrubby desert plant life you expect from the stereotypical "west." We also saw our share of mountains and canyons. That drive is fairly well documented on the flickr page.
Yesterday we took a side roadtrip and went up to Roswell, New Mexico - site of the supposed 1947 alien saucer crash. They were having a convention to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the crash, and there were lots of brightly costumed folks about. We also stopped in White Sands to see the national monument and missile base there, and in Alamagordo so I could buy a T-shirt with the name of the first Atom Bomb test site on it. I posted a few pictures of that trip on Flickr, but I'm running out of bandwidth on my flickr account!
Today is Carlsbad Caverns and El Paso, Texas. El Paso is of interest because it is closely connected with its counterpart city immediately across the border, Juarez, Mexico - so it becomes a site to investigate US/Mexican relations and Chicana border culture. Carlsbad is mostly of interest because it is home to a species of massive, man-eating bats. I am unafraid, however, because I am extremely brave.
Friday, July 06, 2007
-Hanging out with Chicano artist Joe Lopez, checking out his studio and his work and hearing his stories about growing up here and becoming an artist. Then heading out with him and a friend to a local restaurant where they served about the greatest chicken-fried steak ever.
-The constant presence of flights of egrets, which always seem to arrange themselves in these staggered V formations, like a checkmark, in the sky especially at dusk.
-Watching a rock band composed of 3 anglo air-force master sergeants, in full dress uniform no less, play "867-5309" to a crowd of folks from the west-side Barrio here before the fireworks on the fourth of July.
Fun stuff. More as soon as I have connectivity again.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Most of the photos in that set show the students checking out Say Si!, an after-school community art program here. It was a really interesting program and the man introducing the students to it, a former student of one of our faculty, was really great and friendly and informative. I also took some shots of an interesting looking factory that I think was producing sugar for the pioneer sugar company.
After that, we brought the guys to the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, where we talked about resisting war and oppression with some of the folks there. Esperanza is a center for the queer community here, and that was a bit of a challenge for some of our kids who come from rural communities, but it was a great experience and really broadened their horizons.
After that we went by the San Antonio Riverwalk, which was crap, but I did see the worst lounge act ever at this silly "Irish Pub" there. Mike L., if you are reading this, he was like some bizarro world version of you playing the piano.
Monday, July 02, 2007
I took a lot of pictures from the car, but uploading files here at the San Antonio KOA rather taxes the limited wireless internet connection I have access to. Also, many of them are crap, as pictures taken from a moving vehicle so often are. Here is one kinda decent shot of the mighty Mississippi, as we crossed it near Cairo, Illinois.
Otherwise it has been an uneventful trip thus far. We covered parts of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas during our drive, which took up 20 of the last 48 hours. The interstate never changes. The strip-mall that effectively extends from Austin to San Antonio could easily have been mistaken for a strip mall anywhere else. I do find it kind of cool that the radio stations have gone from the "w" prefix to the "k" prefix, thus indicating we are officially in "the west." But mostly that just shows that I am a nerd.
Today is our first day checking stuff out in San Antonio. More updates to follow.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I suppose the appropriation of reggae and the use of a faux-Carribean Black dialect "de" for "the" makes this part of America's long history of minstrelsy. Muppet-face, shall we call it? But, on the plus side, Ernie has the whole neighborhood in the bathtub with him! Pretty transgressive sexuality that.
I mean think about it. This was a mid 80s early 90s sketch if I remember correctly. Certainly part of the Sesame Street line up of my generation's youth. What was the fad of our college years?
Yeah, you guessed it, foam-dance parties... coincidence, I think not!
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
"In my generation, we were asked by the Smith vocational office how many words we could type a minute, a question that was never asked of then all-male students at Harvard or Princeton. Female-only typing was rationalized by supposedly greater female verbal skills, attention to detail, smaller fingers, goodness knows what, but the public imagination just didn’t include male typists, certainly not Ivy League-educated ones.
Now computers have come along, and "typing" is "keyboarding." Suddenly, voila! --- men can type! Gives you faith in men’s ability to change, doesn’t it?"
---Gloria Steinem at Smith College:
I especially like her use of the term "public imagination" here. Shows how the way a group of people's shared means for imagining the world has a real impact on how that world happens.
Monday, June 11, 2007
In any event, the upside is this, I am reminded again that anyone who needs more than a meal, a book, a sycamore tree and a decent sunset to feel happy is just stark nuts. Which is important to remember, as it suggests the world is currently being run by people who are absolutely batshit insane.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
If you don't read it already, and you have any interest in comics, video games, or the interwebz, read Penny-Arcade.
Frankly, I'm not sure anyone with any of those interests doesn't already read Penny Arcade. I mean, with material like this, how could you not?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
But now, I am sitting with my front door open, watching the first big thunderstorm of the year sweep into my little ohio town to the (very appropriate) accompaniment of Tom Wait's Rain Dogs, and my prior post seems rather childish, and not terribly useful. I have removed it.
A man has died. He wasn't a very nice man. We all die someday.
For now, there are thunderstorms.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
SPOILER ALLERGY WARNING - REMAINDER OF THIS MESSAGE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OR HAVE BEEN PROCESSED ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES MESSAGES CONTAINING SPOILERS OR TREE NUTS
Annyway. I thought Judi Dench was just terrific. She really brought her character to life and made you see her the way she sees herself, later in the movie, when it becomes clear that the rest of the world thinks of her as a silly old crone, this comes as a genuine surprise (though obvious once you think of it). I suppose the way her character threatens to resurrect a certain stereotype of the predatory lesbian is very problematic, though at the same time I think the movie shows her character with enough complexity to disrupt the simple stereotype. I also found the way the film took her "impossible desire," if you will, seriously to be brave and interesting. I must confess, I was rather cheering for her because A) Judi Dench on Cate Blanchett action seemed really hot in an odd sort of way and B)because I had some sympathy for her desire for the unattainable, and her frustration at being trapped in a body that made it difficult for others to understand her desire and take it seriously.
And then, I suppose, there is the issue of class. This movie reminded me quite a bit of Fowles' The Collector in its portrayal of a sort of nightmare of the predatory lower class monster, morlock-like, stalking the upperclass, though I think Notes on a Scandal does a better job of indicting the upper-middle class for its own decadence and snobbery. Again, I think the complexity for Dench's character and the sympathy she evokes does a lot to defuse the stereotype. Issues of exploitation proper are absent, though perhaps outside the scope of the picture...
But, yeah, all in all, I really liked it.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
-the Ozone Layer
-the Carbon Cycle
- [FILL IN ADDITIONAL WORLD CRISES AS NEEDED]
Hey, we also poisoned women's breast milk with persistent organic toxins, but that's not broken you know, babies can still drink it, it might just... you know... cause cancer or destroy their endocrine system later in life. But it also might not! Anyway, all this stuff is our bad. We feel just terrible. Really, geez, what boneheads right?
Anyway, we made a whole bunch of pictures of cats with silly captions and we hope that makes it up to you. I mean, at least we didn't fuck up the tectonic plates!
I mean, you know... yet...
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
So I'm working on this paper on radical democracy and contemporary American politics. At about the same time I've transitioned over to using a google portal homepage pretty extensively. Thus abandoning my resistance to using such tools as they are closed-source, server side applications that entice users to abandon distributed, democratic internet practices for ultimately controlled, corporate spaces and tools (blogger, sadly, is another of these tools). What should I be doing, to be consistent between rhetoric and practice? Using my own webspace to participate in open source tool-building and internet-enabled participatory culture... but no, watch my theory and practice diverge. Ack.
And you know what really hooked me? Its pathetic. Google lets you theme your homepage with a little cartoon picture that changes to reflect your local time and weather. My choice this cute little froggy and ladybug seen pictured above toasting marshmellows by the fire. Of course, you have to reveal your zip code to your friends at google for the picture to synchronize correctly. This is the price google paid me to surrender information to the grand network subject formation process: a cartoon of a cute little froggy and a ladybug.
Aren't I a badass motherfucker of a revolutionary?
The saddest part of all? My emotional reaction to cartoon froggy and ladybug is one of adoration and tenderness. I love big brother. Why, I have always loved big brother...
Signing off from the electronic high frontier of hypocrisy,
Thursday, April 19, 2007
1 medium banana
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
add banana, sugar, peanut-butter and soy milk to blender. Blend until smooth. Add strawberries. Blend in pulses to break up the berries, then blend until smooth. Super good. mmmmmmmm....
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Vonnegut is most likely the ultimate source of my instinct - still somewhat operational after all the theory tried to train it out of me - that any complex system of belief is rationalization, that is bullshit, and that the truth is likely to be brutally simple. Most importantly, he taught me that we're all dying - whatever baroque fantasies we have constructed to convince ourselves otherwise notwithstanding - and that that probably ought to compel us to try to be kind to one another.
I'll miss you, Mr. Rosewater.
Friday, March 23, 2007
And this is how I feel about liberal modernity these days. We know its failings and its horrors. We know about alienation and exploitation and imperialism and all the rest. But in the face of the rise of the terror of the anti-modern extremist right, a threat only liberal modernity seems prepared to face...
What do we do about the horror before us now?
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Also a "wife fucks bad guy right in front of husband and loves it because women is whores and can't be trusted" scene. Eeeeesh.
On a more positive, but nevertheless sorta weird, note the young Sally Struthers was kinda hot....
I guess I should explain what that is, exactly. Its a clip from an upcoming showtime series to be based on the NPR program "This American Life". It tells the story of how toy TV cameras caught on as a fad at an elementary school, finally culminating in students standing by as one of their fellows is beaten up, dutifully "documenting" the fight with their fake TV cameras. Playing the part of the "disinterested journalist" even though all they had were props.
So the representation becomes the performance becomes the reality becomes the representation.
World without end
Monday, March 19, 2007
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Thursday, February 15, 2007
I happened to hear the song on WBER, my favorite radio station ever in all of history. It's a little community college station out of Rochester, New York that you used to be able to tune in where I grew up if you tilted the antenna just so. When I went off to college in Binghamton, New York I moved out of range of my beloved BER. My friend and sometime roomate (ever hear about those nightmare college roomies, yeah, that was um, me actually) Scott hailed from Rochester and shared my love of the station and missed it just as I did. We used to plot weird schemes to loft high-gain antennas on surplus weather balloons and pick it up that way as a way to pass the time in freshman physics. The balloons never got off the ground, but now I can pick up WBER's high-bandwidth stream on my wireless laptop as long as I have internet connectivity. Brave new world. The sound is slightly better than it used to be on the tilted just so FM receiver back home.
In other news, this cover renders "Thunder Road" eminently a cappella singable, much to the chagrin of my neighbors. :)
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
This is the windward side of my building.
And this is the leeward side. Some may recognize my gold Taurus in the middle there. I got the wrong parking spot, I guess.
I found this outside my door. After I cleared the snow out of the door jamb.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007
I picked it up and re-read it, of course, finding something else to read just like I always do when I should be doing my reading for courses or teaching.
Reading it again was surreal on two levels. First, the book itself is written in a faux-journalist style. The authors write from the point of view of themselves on a road trip through a post-nuclear-war America in what would be their future (the book was written in 1983, the characters within it write from the point of view of 1992, discussing the events leading up to and resulting from a nuclear war in 1988) and includes various chapters made up in the format of interviews of people living in post war America, as well as government documents describing such elements of the war's aftermath as nuclear fall-out patterns. As a whole, I found the style fairly convincing, the whole thing really does read like some kind of document dropped, a la Borges, into our reality from some alternate historical time-line. A monograph of a time that never was - but, with the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our heads for half a century, was still very real in our collective unconscious. It certainly was in mine.
It was that personal connection that made re-reading the book doubly strange. Nuclear war hung heavy in my mind as a young man, both as a terror and a hope. My utter repulsion at the notion of having to grow up, get a job, become a productive member of society doing as I was told was such that the bomb seemed a tantalizing alternative - that the boring world I was doomed to grow up and into might be washed away in a sudden flash of nuclear fire, replaced by a existence at once simpler and more romantic. A world where derelict buildings and vehicles could be claimed at will, where (my naive young self imagined) a sort of techno-pastoralism would reign - high tech ruins and happy farmers.
Even then, I knew this was unrealistic, but the image was still a powerful one. It is not, I realize upon my re-reading of Warday, the image Warday gives of post-war existence (which it painstakingly renders the hardships of) but the images of Warday shaped my vision of postwar existence. It contains a scene set in a partially bombed New York (in the novel, the set of bombs meant for New York misses and strikes Queens and Brooklyn) that I realized I had lifted for the first short story I had ever written (which imagined three friends living a post-apocalyptic pastoral existence setting out to see the ruins of New York). That story would morph into a story I would tell to an ex-girlfriend in the middle of the night when she would turn to me, half asleep and ask me to tell her a story (as one gets asked when one identifies oneself as a fiction writer). The night-time story (about friends living a pastoral existence raising vegetables in the ruins of a wasted New York) would be included in, ironically enough, the last story I ever wrote.
Like the image of ruined New York many other things in the novel, I realized, were landmarks in my memory. Great prominent image features, always at least dimly visible in my mind.
Visible, but transformed since I first knew them. The book was, for me, an artifact from another lost country, that of my own childhood. Strange and a little sad to stumble upon.
I was wistful about that for a day or so, the loss of childhood, of certain ideas about the world and myself, of the girl I used to tell that story to. But then something else happened. Something very mundane, really. I was out late at night, returning a video, all bundeled up against the cold, with my high-tech ipod playing the new Shins album in my ear, and the snow was powdery and sparkling and bright...
and it just struck me: It's a good thing the bombs never fell.
I have a job I take some satisfaction in, I have my little apartment, my recipes, my friends, my library, all privileges to be sure, but
It's a good thing the bombs never fell.
Now let's just hope we get past this peak oil thing without burning the place down.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Changing the Batteries in My Digital Camera:
He notices the little icon flash up on the Canons rear LCD, a red pixellated thing that was apparently meant to suggest a battery in some abstract sense. Probably designed by committee, he thinks, focus-grouped to ensure maximum communicative potential across the 7 or 8 linguistic families Canon planned on marketing this little hunk of plastic to. He walks to the kitchen, pops the tiny battery cover cap open to reveal the twin silver nickel-hydride rechargeable batteries nestled next to the blue plastic of the camera's gigabyte memory card. Chuckles to himself as he remembers the day, almost fifteen years ago now, when he had scraped together $200 of Christmas money and weekly allowance to buy four megabytes of system RAM for his old 80486 PC - a putty colored aluminum box the size and weight of a microwave oven - remembers walking into the ozone smelling electronics store in the strip mall by the China Wok restaurant, walking out with the two green memory modules studded with black rectangular chips as big as a thumbnail, gold plated contacts shining in the winter sun. What, he wonders, would the boy who had just payed $50 a megabyte for giant sticks of system RAM would say if he could somehow let him know that in the near future (how near was it though, really, those fifteen years were his whole life, after all) you could pick up a neatly bubble-packaged bit of blue plastic containing a gigabyte of as-yet undeveloped memory technology for 40 bucks? Probably something along the lines of, you've gotta be shitting me, mister.
Which, he realizes as the long silver batteries land with a muted metal thunk on the countertop, is an appropriate thing to think now - given that he's just blown his last set of rechargeables with a video assignment due in just a few hours. Somewhere in his mess of a junk drawer he knows he has a last pair of alkalines stashed away for an emergency of just this nature. A few seconds rifling through the various small tools and pack-rat hoarded detrius: four small screwdrivers; a washer he found on the railroad tracks, warped and bent by the passing train; a neon-yellow super-high-bounce ball of the sort he used to buy from coin-op prize machines because a certain someone had this geeky, adorable fascination with them; and he's found the batteries - classic copper on black colors shining like the herald of some chivalrous centipede. Slotting them into the Canon, he knows he has only a few minutes of video capture before they give out - its designers had traded energy economy for parts economy, drove down the price point of their hardware while sticking the buyer with the price of consumables, caveat emptor he supposed. Still, it was better than nothing in a pinch.