Friday, November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I came across this bit of ephemera today. Pixar has created of website for a fictional box store, Buy n Large, for an upcoming animated movie that looks like it will be a satire of Wal-Mart style consumerism. The website is a cross between the dark vision of people ingesting Can-D in Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and the exuberance of a shopping site like The main advertisement on Buy n Large promotes a happy drug called Xanadou. My favorite item is in the world news section, which reports on technology: "Robot Expresses First Emotion: Thoughtfulness." Toward the bottom of the report, experts suggest that perhaps thoughtfulness isn't the best trait to emerge in a robot's learning behavior. It will get in the way of repetitive tasks.

The image that I still think about from time to time, from Dick's novel (described by Wikipedia): "Can-D [is] an illegal but widely available hallucinogen that allows the user to 'translate' into Perky Pat (if the user is female) or her boyfriend Walt (if male). This allows colonists to experience an idealized version of life on Earth in a collective unconscious hallucination."

On my earth, AO's work has slowed down a little bit, and we had lunch together today. Very nice. I also made it to the library to try to jump start my work. I hate being in the quicksand of a half-written chapter, but my wife is on a holiday high. It all helps.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beautiful machines

I've been working on a new iMac today. My mother is making the big conversion to Apple, and had the computer sent to me so I could set it up with software. It's more beautiful than I imagined. It's such a cliche to get gushy about Apple's products, but it really is something to behold. Elegant, quiet, and, coming from our old G4s, quick. I also found out a great feature in the new Leopard operating system, which allows "screen sharing" via iChat. I've never had the time to figure out how to SSH into a remote machine, and the iChat screen sharing feature makes it all so easy. I can troubleshoot over the phone and actually make the changes myself, on my home computer. I loaded about sixty GBs of music in the machine, which wasn't easy. ITunes at first didn't want to accept a big folder of music, so I had to work at it manually, which took most of the day. Now I'm dreaming of the day when I can switch to Intel.

BB's cache of Pokemon cards is getting smaller and smaller. He's been giving them away, but not receiving any cards in return. I've been trying to go over the concept of "trading," but, really, do I care if he's just giving them away? He's really been able to exploit his mischievous side with the cards. There is a rule in kindergarten that they can't bring in trading cards, along with other paraphernalia - guns, glue, you know. The idea is that he brings them out only on the bus. Of course, as AO pointed out the kids he's been talking about who have seen his cards aren't even on his bus. So, how do they see them? I coaxed it out of him today. He puts them into an outside "net" pocket of his backpack and kids go to his cubby and view the cards that way. I still can't get over it. He's six, and already dealing in contraband! All I could say today was that if he gets caught we'll have to take the cards away. I'm complicit, to be sure. But as the wise parenting advisors say, you have to choose your battles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Add me as your friend? The big deal with social networking sites like myspace and facebook is having friends. But what happens when you refuse to become someone's friend? Apparently, to be polite people add friends who they don't really want to add. Once this reaches a critical mass, people tend to move on to a different service. From friendster to myspace to facebook, all in search of the perfect set of friends. I'd like to see the behavior of kids BB's age on their own networking sites. Unfriending your friends and adding them back again would be the main source of activity.

Over the holiday, we gave BB some Pokemon trading cards to entertain him on the drive. He promptly took them to school yesterday and began trading with some other kids. He even gave away his favorite, Empolean. No one has been able to figure out what you do with the cards other than trade them, but each creature/character has qualities and abilities that fits into a larger game--which began on video. The cards work, I guess, like dungeons and dragons, which you play in a similarly imaginary way.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Six brains

Overheard from BB while hanging out with a big group of family: "I'm so smart I have six brains stacked one on top of the other." Today, he told me he was smarter than me. Wow! All I could do was laugh, at first. Of course, I explained that we're all smart about different things. But the hubris of this six year old. At least he knows what's of value, at least in his relation to me.

At one time over the holiday, there were six dogs running around inside. LB loved chasing the most friendly of them. When we got home last night he was in love with our cats, running after them and grabbing their tails. Every animal has been "kitty" lately, but he started saying "doggy" over the weekend. Now he's calling our cats dogs.

We had incredibly long drives to get there and back, in bad weather. LB stayed mostly calm throughout, which is a first. But his mom had to work hard at it. I'm most surprised about how well BB is traveling. He quietly listened to his headphones and read books for hours and hours.

On the way back, we ate at the buffet of a Flying J truck stop. They had the worst mac 'n cheese I've ever had, but the slice of pork roast was pretty good. While AO was away changing LB's diaper a trucker behind BB and me started to freak out about how bad the food was. I watched the manager begin calling the cops while I heard him on the move behind me. I didn't know whether to get BB up and out of there or sit tight. He actually crashed into me on his way out, hitting me with a big thermos. He looked straight me and all I could do was bend away and hope he'd keep moving. Which he did. Holiday stress, I guess.

Saturday night I discovered White Russians, made with homemade Kahlua. Now I know why the Dude drinks nothing else.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time shifting

Yes, I'm posting ahead, creating cognitive dissonance in all who come. It's cheating in a way, but I love this feature of blogger. I'll be out of range for the holidays, so enjoy yourselves kiddies.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


BB was singing "Row, Row, Row" your boat while LB was nursing. LB suddenly detached and said, "row, row, row." He's just over sixteen months. Other vocabulary

Daddy (for all things good)
Kitty (for all things animal)
Momom (often accompanied by a reclining, I want to nurse move)
More (or mao, mao)
That (while pointing)
What's that?
Awh, awh (like Sesame Street's The Count)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

If all goes well, we should be even further north today, with part of AO's family. It's a long drive, but worth it.

BB has had a hard time in the last few days of school. Last week he had a bad run in with a student teacher, who feels he's just too much of a boy. The day before he'd come home with a plan to strike back at the bullies, so I don't know what to think. More recently, he had it out with two older boys on the bus who wanted his Pokemon card. They said, we're going to kill you with a bow and arrow (their parents, by the way, are bow hunters - way to socialize your kids people!). BB said, I can run faster than an arrow. They said, no you can't. He said, I can fly. So the kids rush off the bus to tell me that BB "lied" about being able to fly. BB's answer to me, I was only joking, dad. It seems like as good a response as any to a six year old telling him to die. I should have said to those other kids, telling someone that they will die is just as dishonest. No wonder BB is into magic and special powers right now. We send him off into an amoral world of petty thieves and thugs whose only redeeming feature is that they are too small to do any real damage.

BB tends to be stubborn and easily provoked, so I see a long road ahead. But he's actually been pretty calm and engaged at home lately. He loves drawing and carefully copied the details of a dollar bill the other night. He has become such good company I always try to talk him into going with me on errands.

We have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The erosion of full time tenure-track lines is even more extensive than I realized. According to the New York Times:

"Three decades ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private."

Although tenure may be flawed in some ways, unexploited, full time professors have more time for students, for preparing courses, and for grading. If you're grading actual written papers, the more students you have the less time you have to give feedback. There is a class system built into the situation. If you're at a highly rated or expensive school, as a student you will have quality, full time teachers. It's students at lower tier schools, which have come to rely on adjuncts more and more, that suffer the most from the situation. (The statistic above may not even count all the graduate students also teaching courses part time.) The average adjunct receives about $1500 to $2000 per course. At four courses per semester that's $16,000 per year. Do you want your child's education valued at $16,000 a year?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Bonus music today. Richard Thompson's tragic love song, Beeswing. This is one of those songs I've played over and over.

They welcomed sex

One myth about our early Thanksgiving celebrants is that they hated sex. According to the History News Network:

"They welcomed sex as a God-given responsibility. When one member of the First Church of Boston refused to have conjugal relations with his wife two years running, he was expelled. Cotton Mather, the celebrated Puritan minister, condemned a married couple who had abstained from sex in order to achieve a higher spirituality. They were the victims, he wrote, of a 'blind zeal.'"

I'm glad my zeal isn't blind.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Roach robots

Is this scary or just a little hyperbole to keep funding intact? What does it mean that in almost half of the cases robot roaches followed the real roaches? If freed from human control, are there now robot roaches out there randomly trying to reproduce? Can they reproduce? Programmed with swarm intelligence, I suppose anything is possible.

From William Saletan's Salon column:

"Engineers are integrating robots into animal societies. Latest example: Four robotic roaches persuaded 12 real roaches to congregate in an unnaturally dangerous place. Key trick: coating the robots with roach sex hormones. Objectives: 1) Study how animal groups make decisions. 2) See whether robots can fit in well enough to participate in those decisions. 3) Make robots better at learning and adapting. Other examples: robotic spiders, snakes, dogs, and monkeys.

"Scientists' official reassurance: "We are not interested in people." Fine print: "The scientists plan to extend their research to higher animals," starting with a robotic chicken designed to commandeer chicks. Warning: The roach robots were freed from ongoing human control, and in 4 out of 10 cases, they followed the decisions of the real roaches, instead of the other way around."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The real you

BB is jumping around on the furniture. I say, "stop." "Don't stand on the table." He says, "But I'm Pi Ka" (a Pokemon creature), "squeak, squeak." "Stop!" I say. "But I'm Pi Ka," he responds. My blood is rising, and I struggle for words. "I'm talking to the one in your body," I say, thinking at the same time how weird this sounds, "the real you. BB. I want BB to stop regardless of who you're pretending to be."

There, I think I made myself clear. But there is a moment of cognitive dissonance. And oddly, I end up speaking to him in the third person. I suppose he will learn to pity his poor, fractured identities as I now pity my own.

Then again: It reminds me of Rei Terada's suggestion that we would not have emotion if we had stable subjectivities. I have pity because my identity is fractured. Hooray for my inner Pi Ka!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music Saturday

The Bellrays - Maniac Blues.
I have one MP3 of The Bellrays, and they seemed like a run-of-the-mill R&B soul band, with a chicken scratch beat, wa wa guitar, and Tina Turner-vocals. A good mix in my opinion. But this video just rocks. Like the Stooges with soul.

Update: Love The Bellrays splash page: Blues is the Teacher, Punk is the Preacher.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The writers' strike makes me hate TV even more than I already do. The mainstream networks and producers figure that reality shows and reruns are fine for their viewers, so they're apparently willing to let it drag on for months. What's ironic, then, is that I'm probably feeling it worse than your mainstream viewer. My primary TV habit is The Daily Show on Comedy Central. I miss it when it goes on hiatus for a week or two, and now with the prospect of it being gone for this election cycle all the joy is gone from my TV viewing. We pay for cable and DVR, in part, for The Daily Show, so why even have cable at this point? I'm clearly in the minority here. The networks seem to think that their audience won't notice the strike. Writers (the real creativity behind both the bad and the good) should go the way of some musicians and simply start bypassing the networks. Maybe YouTube should start producing.

The funny thing is that The Daily Show is one segment of entertainment most affected right now by the strike (they depend on daily, up-to-the-minute jokes, so to speak), and also the segment with the most to gain from the WGA's desire for a percentage of new media income: The Daily Show may be the one cable show watched by more viewers on the web than on TeeVee.

What would be funny if things like professional sports suddenly went dark from the strike, as though that huge segment of the cable spectrum devoted to sports were all scripted as well.

Friday robot blogging

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quantum gods

I've applied to a number of religious universities, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist. Some are still associated with their religion (nuns in the house!), others not. I do like their commitment to a liberal arts education and they seem more hospitable to a subject like English than the corporate personality of the contemporary public university, but what will I do when actually confronted with religious discourse? I've already had to tell students that the bible is not a legitimate research source for studying contemporary media. Are students at mainstream religious universities more or less savvy about this sort of thing? I do know one thing. I worship the quantum gods, who may or may not exist.

If this seems too odd for words, read up on the web meme of Lolcats.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spacemen 3

I made a new play list of old Spacemen 3 songs this past weekend. Finally, I've found the real inspiration for the psychedelia of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Mostly I poached from an old bootleg put out by Father Yod's label, Forged Prescription. Another reissue is entitled Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To. It's pretty straight ahead, basic stuff, without the wall of sound of something like Bardo Pond (who have covered Spacemen 3), but they do use the same sort of background drone. All in all, it's garage rock, but slowed down and distorted. I've never really thought about collecting music before - like having something more than MP3s - but I've come to love this punk psychedelia (shoegaze?) genre so much I may have to start scouring ebay.

I'd like to feed my head, so to speak. Instead, I bicycled ten miles this morning, on a stationary bike at the YMCA. And I'll meet later to talk with my dissertation director about how afraid I am that I won't finish the dissertation in time.

Sigh . . . at least I'll always have music. From Walkin' with Jesus:

Well, here it comes
Here comes the sound
The sound of confusion
The sound of love

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back to work today

I haven't looked at my current chapter in weeks, and while I have a good start it's still mostly a mashup of stuff. I just need to get a few good pages written, and things will start moving along - I'm sure.

We had to run for the bus this morning because BB was trying to choose the right coat. It's going to be in the sixties today, but BB needs something with a hood in order to play the Emperor in the playground Stars Wars reenactments. I'm not sure what this augurs for his future, but they've got a complicated, multiday game going involving Stars Wars narratives. Yesterday, Princess Leia (played by a little girl named Wendy) was captured on the deathstar. We've seen enough photos of the ugly emperor to know he's a corrupt, creepy old man, so I don't know how this fits with BB's own self-image. If this trend continues, he'll want to be Voldemort when he gets to Harry Potter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

To be small and stay small

The title of this post comes from Robert Walser, who I read about recently in the New Yorker. A rising modernist star, Walser's fortunes fell as he continued to write about humble, courteous nobodies. One of his novels is entitled The Assistant; he also wrote a short story called The Job Application.

My research is about just this sort of forbearance. I thought again about the piece on Walser while I was reading a bit about Modest Mouse yesterday. The origin of the band's name really struck me. Apparently, it comes from a short story by Virginia Woolf. The full quote, according to Wikipedia, is "and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people." Even if this is apocryphal, it makes sense. Brock's comment that I quoted yesterday is full of class rage and I find it fascinating that the band could have pulled their name from Woolf, whose comments regarding the petit bourgeois and the working classes are notorious. It seems that MM comes from the same impoverished Pacific Northwest as Nirvana, but they are clearly a bit more reflective about their origins.

Like Walser, Modest Mouse seems to temper their rage with "modesty" and humor, while maintaining a clear sense regarding most people's low horizons and frustrated ambitions. It makes me think that even celebrities usually appear on the small screen. From MM's Missed the Boat:

Tiny curtains open and we heard the tiny clap of little hands
A tiny man would tell a little joke and get a tiny laugh from all the folks

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Modest Mouse

I've been listening to Modest Mouse for the last couple of years. Since I recorded their songs off internet radio, I never really knew much about them. They sound kind of like a blend of Pavement and old Pixies, but they also take liberties with their music that continues to surprise me, moving from sweet sentiment to rage in a matter of seconds. They've been compared to Radiohead, but I like MM better because they have less self-regard. I guess I'd say that they bend the post-punk sound in ways that make sense to me. I found this interview today, and Isaac Brock, the band's leader, makes even more sense. I've often felt the same way.

From Filter Mag about selling their music for ads:
“Hipsters all have trust funds,” Brock says with a grin. “These are the people who can afford to have all these principles and ethics when it comes to doing music. From the time I came out of the fucking gate, I had to figure out how to help my family. And you're gonna fucking tell me about punk rock principles and shit? I had two jobs washing dishes by the time I was in seventh grade, plus a night job. Sometimes I worked for two days straight, wouldn't go to school and shit. So what the fuck about punk rock are you gonna teach me? Yeah, well, tell that one to me when you're washing dishes, fuckface. Where are your ethics and principles there? If you have an option and you've got skills and motivation to do shit, then fucking do it. If you don't want to become a fucking corporate butthole and things, well fine. Do the shit your way."

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'm back in the bosom of my family. I got earlier flights coming back, which worked out great on this weekend before the big holiday travel season. It's been a while since I flew on a good day, and all just went swimmingly. I even got upgraded to business class on the last leg. Too bad we were only in the air about 30 minutes.

The conference was cozy and intimate, which meant a small audience but good discussions during Q&A. There was a fabulous and exciting keynote address, with some direct impact on my own work. I roomed with and hung out with an old friend. We had some old country ethnic food that he was familiar with and checked out the local sights. Surprisingly, I saw quite a few former graduate school colleagues. I'm the only one in the group that coalesced randomly at the reception still on the job market. But we've settled down in similar ways (children, houses, etc.). I just hope I don't end up in the city where I just spent the past couple of days. Where we're at, ironically enough, has become the gold standard.

LB just said Dahhddi over and over. BB showed me his new Vader winter hat. I'm home.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday robot blogging

Do not adjust your browser. I HAVE posted this early. Wish me well. Paper presentation today.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'll be back

I'm off to a conference for two nights. I feel bad that AO is left with the kids, but it will be nice to spend a little time on my own. PARRRTTTAAAY!

Just kidding. It's all part of the job and academics can be a serious bunch. Besides, I'm going to a grey, post-industrial city, where nothing much happens. The airport and the hotel will be indistinguishable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Getting colder

Suddenly we have temperatures in the twenties in the morning and a cold wind blowing through. The leaves are falling continually, more than 3 or 4 a second from some trees. Winter is almost upon us. Brrrr.

The kids leave the house wrapped up in hats and gloves. Now, I remember I meant to get a new winter coat. BB needs boots and snow pants. And so it goes.

Yesterday, BB discovered Ewoks in his travels through the images and narrative of Star Wars. He thinks they are SO cute! Now he knows what LB will be for Halloween next year. It reminds me of what he said to one of our neighbors on Halloween night. All the kids begin running down the street with anticipation and BB turns to a neighbor and asks, what do you think you'll be next year? We're like, dude, enjoy the moment you're in.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Boys will be boys

Some recent highlights:

BB nailing LB straight in the head with a full-size football. The usual excuse, I didn't mean to. Yeah right, it's always the ball's fault.

Watching BB be enthralled with the kitsch they set up in mall corridors, like scrolling-screen race cars (what are these things?) and clay dragons and sports themed yard furniture.

Seeing LB attached to BB at the hip, running, eating, drinking, brushing teeth, throwing balls, and sleeping exactly like his big brother. If BB is playing with anything LB says, Mah (meaning more, or, I want that).

Hearing BB yell, you're a baby, over and over at LB. Good, I'm glad we have that established.

LB is starting vaguely to ask, what's that. BB answers him (that's a horse, etc.) and every time LB says, oh, like yeah, I understand perfectly. If it seems particularly interesting to him, LB says, wow.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Halloween is for having kids

Here is a long dooce post on why Halloween is so good with kids. We would have to agree. And I think given the shut up nature of suburban life, it throws into relief how exciting it is to have your kids (and yourselves) take over the streets. Many forces, including our own city, gently encourage people to trick or treat at the mall or on fraternity row. It's even become something of a culture war: Halloween is supposedly anti-Christian and even liberal. Hurrah for our neighborhood for letting the kids run wild for a night!

If 6 was 9

Raucous jazz (Charlie Hunter) version of If Six Was Nine. If you have the time and inclination, about 4:00 minutes in watch a seriously electrified saxophone channel Jimi Hendrix's guitar. Also, check out Hunter's eight-string guitar.

Some common superstitions about the number six are:
*It is unlucky to purposively turn the number six upside down in jest as it means your projects will not be completed.
*If you find a rose with six petals it means you will be lucky in love.
*A talisman with the number 6 worn on it means you will be protected against hurricanes and tornados.
*If you dream about the number 6 you will soon have sex.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

DJ Shadow

Known as a "digger," his samples are obscure and amazing. Watch him in the documentary Scratch (2002), combing the basement of a record shop in Sacramento, CA (my birthplace).

BB photo

Saturday, November 3, 2007


A little departure today from my usual family guy self to my inner geek. I put a 500 GB drive in the basement computer this morning, an MDD G4 that now has three separate drives. Over the last few days I upgraded our machines to Leopard, OS 10.5. The upgrade has a new backup feature called Time Machine, which automates the process. I've been using Chronosync to do daily backups of my work and weekly backups of our photos and music, but when I found out I could use Time Machine over AFP shares I decided to give it a try. The new operating system is supposed to make wireless networking even more stable, although our network has been running pretty smoothly since we switched out a Buffalo router for an Airport. In any case, doing hourly backups over the network should test its stability. By the way, the 500 GB drive cost just over $100 from Newegg. A remarkable price for that much space.

For those in the know, I'm not sure if I find Cover Flow any better than column view. I may have to change my nested habits, but given how iPhoto and iTunes organize folders and files I'm not sure we'll see the end of nested folders any time soon. One of these days, I suppose, with mechanisms like Spotlight and Cover Flow, one won't need anything more than one big folder for everything.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday robot blogging

Special Edition: cute cat robots

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Trick or treating with a group of neighbor kids last night was awesome. Essentially we ended up with all the kids who use our bus stop. The first grader from around the corner was especially glad to have BB along. We also talked with another one of our neighbors who works in IT exclusively on Macs. Being a bit of a mac fanboy myself, it was great to chat with someone who lives and breathes his fandom. Best of all, he was dressed as the new OS X, Leopard, complete with a tail. Awesome!

Most popular treat: little Darth Vader masks filled with candy.
Best costume: AO's retro Halloween dress. She looks like an indie girl at a Dinosaur Jr. show.
Best moment: watching LB do a running waddle down a dark street in his Yoda costume.
Weirdest: hanging out with real native-born types who grew up in this neighborhood.
Most gratifying: when a Brazilian friend turned to us with a big smile and said, this is what I like best about American culture. It must seem like Carnivale, but for kids.
Most surprising: when LB spontaneously said Bubbles after mom blew some into the air. Let me repeat, he pointed into the air and said, bubbllh, over and over. Most awesome.