Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Fun Post: Sexist Subaru Ad From 1970

I haven't looked at a Ms. magazine in a while, but I remember a favorite feature called "No Comment" in which the editors would reproduce an ad dripping with misogyny. It was always sort of funny and sort of sad at the same time.

With that in mind, I can only wonder what the editors of Ms. - heck, any reasonably conscious person who imagines women to be actual, you know, human beings - would have thought of this ad. Here's a snip:
"Like a spirited woman who yearns to be tamed... Sleek. Agile. The sculptured lines of the one piece body invite you in... Go to her. Let her cradle you in the softness of her highback reclining bucket seats... Now. Turn her on."
If you think you can stomach some time travel to 1970 when "Women's Lib" was still an oddity in many parts of the country, check this out.

Go to BuzzFeed. It waits for you! Sexist Subaru Ad From 1970

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Animated Neon Signs: Pasadena's Whistle Stop Trains

Here's a video I shot while visiting LA on my Dingbat tour (start at the intro page and then scroll down for links).

The sign can be found on old Route 66, a couple of blocks east from the the Saga Motor Hotel.

Difficulty seeing this video? Point your browser here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

L.A. Dingbats - Part 3

This is my final post of images from my L.A. Dingbat Tour (day one/day two morning).

1436 Hauser Av

1436 Hauser Av (detail)

382 Palos Verdes Blvd

5447 Russell Av

142 Paseo De La Concha

1928 South Sherbourne Dr

1016 Holt Av

3700-3708 Inglewood Blvd

1426 Orange Grove Av

1536 Orange Grove Av

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

L.A. Dingbats - Part 2 - Tiki Apartments

In the morning of my second day visiting L.A. in search of Dingbat architecture (here are some photos from the first day) I headed south to Redondo Beach in search of the Tiki Apartments building (389 Palos Verdes Blvd). While early fog presented some annoying lighting challenges, the trip was entirely worthwhile once I beheld those awesome tikis.

Check back tomorrow for more Dingbats - including one that may be the most representative example of this style in L.A.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Monday, May 25, 2009

L.A. Dingbats - Part 1

These photos are from my May trip to L.A. in search of Dingbat architecture. This afternoon survey (following a seven hour drive south from Scotts Valley) concentrated on the Palms neighborhood northwest of Culver City. A number of advisers told me about neighborhood streets composed almost solely of Dingbats, and their observations proved to be delightfully correct.

3632 Vinton Av

3816 Prospect Av

3820 Overland Av

10418 Culver Blvd

10418 Culver Blvd (detail)

4014-20 La Salle Av

3644 Watseka Av (detail)

3374 Overland Av (Note the name: "Crapi Apartments")

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dead Malls

The emptying out of America's malls offers another sign of our current economic mess. Kris Hudson and Vanessa O'Connell, writing for The Wall Street Journal, note that enclosed malls are a dying sector of consumer activity.
"Some analysts estimate that the number of so-called "dead malls" -- centers debilitated by anemic sales and high vacancy rates -- will swell to more than 100 by the end of this year [up from 40 in 2006]."
The authors add that this weakening, while exacerbated by the economic downturn, has roots in another industry trend: the shift away from enclosed malls toward open air "power centers," outdoor complexes anchored by stand-alone big box stores. Indeed Hudson and O'Connell state that an enclosed mall hasn't been built in the U.S. since 2006.

As traditional malls lose tenants, the results can be profound for their surrounding communities: "In suburbs and small towns, malls often are the only major public spaces and the safest venues for teenagers to shop, hang out and seek part-time work."

Naturally, the eerie emptiness of a once thriving urban space collects writers and photographer to document all that ennui. The WSJ cites as one site where their images and reflections may be found.

Read the article: Recession Turns Malls Into Ghost Towns

Thursday, May 21, 2009

California Stressin'

Another "special election" came and went this week - you might have read about it - and Californians rejected every new attempt to place a bandage on our hemorrhaging economy. In fact, voters approved only one measure, a ban on lawmaker raises when our leaders fail to balance the budget. Given that our state's credit rating approximates junk bond status, it's initially hard to understand why voters chose to reject the other propositions that promised to plug the leak.

Hard, that is, unless you consider that voters are tired of an assembly whose members are so obsessed with their own short-term gains, whose districts are so gerrymandered as to preclude any search for consensus, and whose options are so constricted by Prop 13 and fixed funding-equations as to render any decision about our fiscal priorities a wrenching choice between worse and much-worse.

The state, in short, looks to be screwed.

I remember back in the early 90s when magazine covers similarly presaged the end of the "California Dream." Then the dot-com boom washed ashore (bringing me to teach online communication classes in the middle of Silicon Valley) and everyone began buying mini-mansions. Credit was cheap, wages were rising, and the future looked bright.

I remember a faculty meeting when a respected senior colleague with connections in Sacramento assured us of an era of good times. Fat budgets meant more hiring opportunities, more travel support, and more flexibility to launch curricular experiments. It appeared that I'd moved to the Golden State at a golden moment. What could go wrong?

Now we confront a reckoning the likes of which have not been seen in a generation, maybe a lifetime. Our assembly is more rigidly locked into its death-struggle than ever before, with each side of the aisle drawing opposing lessons from the Tuesday election results. Republicans call for more tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. Democrats demand we hold the line on services that help the poor. And no one seems to trust the governor to wring order from our statehouse shenanigans.

Then today I read Jennifer Steinhauer's New York Times article about the growing movement to convene another constitutional convention, the state's first since 1878-79. Depending on our willingness to demonstrate that revered California quality of innovation, this event could cut the Gordian Knot of our state's woes. Assembly members are too feckless and too entrenched to make the tough decisions. And voters are too swayed by the emotions of the moment to connect their votes to past commitments or future implications. Indeed, as Steinhauer notes:
"[Our current] ballot initiative process - in which legislators or independent groups ask voters to mandate how the state’s money is spent or not spent - has become at times an exercise in fiscal self defeat, with voters moving to earmark money for one special program one year, only to contemplate undoing their own will a few elections later."
A constitutional convention offers a means, by no means a guarantee, for thoughtful discussion of the problems we face. Putting everything on the table, even rethinking California's 70s-era feel-good property tax laws that contributed seeds to today's thicket, might provide a way to start thinking strategically about the connection between income and outgo that has largely vanished from our political discourse.

This would be no one-time vote (less than a fourth of the electorate even showed up this past Tuesday). Rather, a constitutional convention would demand hearings, debates, expert opinion, and popular response: a real conversation about California's future that would take time and sustained effort. And unlike the tinkering that marks our proposition process, we can change things in a big way. As I noted on Tuesday, the day when state voters seemed to throw up their hands in disgust, Things Have Changed. We need a new dialogue about our constitution to reflect this new reality. I think our only solution is a constitutional convention.

Even with the drama of this past year, it'd be a hell of a show.

Read Steinhauer's article: California, Out of Money, Reels as Voters Rebuff Leaders

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

Longtime readers of this blog know of my annual obsession to improve upon each previous year's Halloween porch theme. So far, our porch has been transformed into a pirate dungeon, a corpse wedding, an alien autopsy, a psycho circus, and a mad scientist's laboratory (with a real live Frankenstein). So what's the plan of 2009? I am delighted to announce that the annual Wood Family Halloween Theme this year is Zombie Apocalypse.

We envision transforming the porch into a domestic scene after we've been infected by a worldwide zombie virus. An old black and white television will show video of newscasters reporting the carnage, a radio will play local news ("Zombies spotted in Scotts Valley. Get your guns!"), and newspapers reporting the horror will also be strewn about. Jenny will be a ballerina-zombie (twirling in a bloody tutu) while I will represent another profession (to be determined). Along with the set and actors, visitors will spot an unlucky neighbor who wanted to see if we'd turned into zombies yet. Ooops.

While our default mode will be limited to shuffling about, moaning, and giving candy to children in return for their "braaaains," we'll also do a show every ten minutes or so. In that section, we'll discover that some juicy intestines remain in the corpse on the floor. A minute of ripping through the bloody shirt and chewing on gory latex guts will richly earn our regular PG-13 rating.

And yes, we tack up multiple signs on the stairs leading to our porch to warn parents that younger kids require parental guidance. We aim for a good show that entertains without traumatizing the wee ones. Indeed, when in doubt, we always tone down the act and come downstairs to offer a more gentle presentation for little children.

So that's our Halloween theme for 2009. If you have any ideas to add some flesh to this skeleton of a plan, please post a comment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Things Have Changed

Every once in a while I see reference to The Great Disruption in various media to refer to our current economic woes. The phrase carries more heft than "recession" and yet doesn't seem to cloy as much to Depression-comparison as the phrase "The Great Recession." So as we bounce on the bottom of this trough, hoping that the nation isn't about the dragged still further into a trench, we borrow from the vernacular of 9/11 to make sense of it all: Things Have Changed.

Naturally, Bob Dylan comes to mind when contemplating that phrase. I love his gravely but not too forlorn whistle past the graveyard: "Some things are too hot to touch/The human mind can only stand so much/You can't win with a losing hand." You reach a point while observing our newest mess - skyrocketing unemployment, jittery markets, collapsing house prices - when things that once made sense seem strange, absurd really. People are reviewing Starbucks purchases, expensive nights out, and other various middle class luxuries, mostly fueled by some form of debt, and they're wondering, "what were we thinking?"

In my neighborhood of Skypark, not a ritzy part of Scotts Valley but a nice community with well-maintained houses and a sense of civic pride, I see the change in our fortunes most vividly with the decaying state of our yards. A couple years ago, one could spot a couple of unkempt postage stamp greens. We'd drive past and shake our heads, how out of place they looked. Now perhaps two dozen yards sprout weeds and wavy patches of grass. Jenny wonders if folks simply haven't gotten into the summer mowing regimen. But I read something sadder. A few houses look abandoned; others may be occupied with too many problems to care about neighborhood niceties.

As for Jenny and I, we tore out our lawn and a bunch of unwieldy shrubs, replacing the whole thing with artificial turf. We want to reduce our water usage in a state that seems perpetually in a crisis of drought, and we want to stop kicking up bad air from our lawnmower. Plus with both of us working overtime to keep our own finances afloat, neither has time to waste cutting grass. It's a small symbol, I know, but the old expectation of a well-maintained patch of grass as proof of suburban success looks kind of silly these days. Things have changed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Proud to be a Slug

We'll, it's official. We got back yesterday from Portland (after back-to-back 12 hour drives - departing Saturday; returning Sunday), after picking up our daughter from her first year at college. For the return trip, Jenny and I wore our new UCSC Banana Slug t-shirts, for Vienna has decided to transfer to Santa Cruz. Theoretically it's a "leave of absence," but the transition seems pretty permanent.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me how much I yearned for Vienna would stay at Reed. It's such a cool and quirky place, and I so enjoyed repeated opportunities to tell my "naked kickball team" story. I suppose I saw myself in a small way tackling this school's intellectual challenge right alongside my daughter (vicariously, I must admit).

But that's a silly reason to prefer one school over another, particularly when the person doing the work is convinced that UCSC is more aligned with her priorities and mindset. So the Wood Family is now a proud member of the Banana Slug family.

Vienna still plans to pursue psychology as her primary area of study, though the fun of college is its kaleidoscope of chance discoveries and serendipitous conversations that can transform any life-plan into an also-ran. While I'd be delighted for my daughter to stay on her current trajectory, I know that she can thrive in any choice she makes.

Oh, we did get one thing from Reed, other than Vienna's opportunity to complete that college's renowned first-year humanities program; we got a rat. More specifically, Vienna brought back a lab rat that has become her pet. The creature's name is Pericles (See? That humanities program was good for something), and already our two cats have began to stare hungrily at the rat's enclosure. I hope Pericles survives the summer.

New adventures wait. And while slugs sometimes move in strange ways, they eventually get where they're going.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Fun Post: MyLifeIsAverage

In contrast to FMyLife with its disturbing (and sometimes raunchy) micro-rants, MyLifeIsAverage offers a chuckle-inducing look at everyday life without striving for guffaws or tears. Here are some recent examples:
"Today I had meatloaf for dinner. Tomorrow I will have leftover meatloaf for lunch. MLIA."

"Today, I turned on the radio but a commercial was on. I listened anyways. MLIA."

"Today I was walking and my neighbor drove past me. She didn't wave. MLIA."
In a way, MyLifeIsAverage reminds me of Garfield without Garfield, in that these posts strip away obvious distractors, leaving us with the smaller truths that sometimes tell us something more about how we live.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

She's Right on Time

Today while standing at the bus stop, I listened to Billy Joel's song, "She's right on time" from his 1982 album, The Nylon Curtain. I didn't quite understand its message when I was a teenager, but I sure understand it now. The song is about a control freak who nearly lost his love and has now been given a chance for redemption, presuming he can relax a bit.

Initially the song sets up the protagonist's tendency for excessive planning. It's holiday season, and he's talking to himself, walking himself through preparations for her return. Turn on the Christmas lights, start the choral music, put wood on the fire: "That should make the atmosphere complete."

The chorus establishes the ironic tone of the song: "She's just in time for me/She's right on time/She's right where she should be..." One imagines that his compulsion toward order led to her leaving in the first place.

Thereafter he reflects back on his life. He is perpetually tense, always erring (he calls his mistakes 'sins'). But now he's changed, and "She don't have to take it anymore." He's begun the effort to dislocate himself from his stress-inducers ("I've torn out all my telephones"), anything to get her to return. Perhaps he will lose something by losing his edge, but he no longer cares: "I may be going nowhere/But I don't mind if she's there."

Thinking further about his relationship, he considers the simplicity of his current life alone. He has order; things work pretty much as he arranges. Left to his own devices, "I can always make believe/That there's nothing wrong." An intimate relationship, the "complicated world" as he puts it, can be frustrating. Certainly her less-than organized ways annoyed him ("I had to wait forever"). But she was always there when he needed her, "Greeting me with footsteps in the street." Her cluttered love is worth more than all the solitary organization he can muster.

I depart the song with some trepidation for its protagonist, and for me. Naturally I relate to this character, always seeking order, always seeking control. And I know that Jenny tolerates my excesses out of love. Like Billy Joel's alter-ego, I am trying to value a richer notion of being "right on time" beyond an ability to keep a schedule. After all, our ability to be present for those we love (and not just during a season of giving) is far more important than our ability to manage temporal schedules.

That said, I am drawn to the song's conclusion, Billy Joel's continued reverie of order. Even as she's almost home, even as he's sure that he's learned his lesson, the song ends with his recitation: Turn up the music. Put more wood on the fire. He still yearns to "make the atmosphere complete." I know that compulsion, despite my efforts to curb its influence. Like the song's protagonist, I'm still learning.

Check out the video: The director played this one up for easy yucks, and Billy Joel was never that subtle. But you can at least hear the song.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May Omnitopia Update

Mid-May brings the conclusion of my initial roll-out for City Ubiquitous. It's been quite an adventure. Inspired by local newspaper coverage of the book, several people and organizations offered me the opportunity to share my work in person.

Three SJSU faculty members invited me to present class lectures. Classes ranged from sociology to internet commerce to a group of students working on a project with NASA. Each of these presentations helped me hone my hour-long multimedia show, learning what to emphasize and what to prune. It's always a bit guilt-inducing to imagine that a class lecture is helping me practice for the next lecture, that I'm presenting a draft version of something, but that's been a fairly common aspect of my teaching thus far. I'm always training. As long as folks get a reasonable degree of proficiency and useful material, I figure they won't mind that I'm still figuring some of my own ideas out.

Following those lectures, I presented my show off-campus. Cal State East Bay's Conference on the Future was my first stop. An alumni presentation in Phoenix was my second. And just yesterday I presented the talk to a Mountain View luncheon group who meets monthly to discuss technology and society.

That first talk gave me a chance to get to know colleagues at a nearby campus and, ideally, broaden opportunities for our departments to collaborate. I suppose I was most nervous about the second one, given that I was sharing the stage with our university president. Even though the organizers were pros, I lugged my own LCD projector to Phoenix, just in case. Of course my over-the-top stress related to tech-issues was unnecessary. The third one was the most unique of the bunch, as my audience was eating their Szechuan lunches during most of my remarks. That said, the audience was hardly passive. They peppered me with thoughtful and challenging questions and observations. And when I completed my allotted hour, they encouraged me to stay for an extended Q&A session. I barely made it back to campus on time for my 3 p.m. class, and I didn't mind a bit. The group was swell and the day was a delight.

What's next?

I have been invited to present my talk to another alumni event on October 3rd, entitled "Classes without Quizzes." And, of course, I yearn for opportunities to visit even more distant campuses and give guest lectures. I've received a few nibbles and I look forward to developing these plans in more detail.

Do you know of any opportunities where I can provide a guest lecture on City Ubiquitous? Let me know. I pack light and I'll travel anywhere.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I shot this image on Saturday night after a (mostly) double-feature at San Jose's Capital Drive-In Theater. It's hard to imagine a better place for a post-flick cup of coffee.

Also, can you spot Jenny in the left window?

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Scotts Valley Motel

An old-school motel sign in my town. Naturally the owners don't light this baby up, but at least the sign still stands. I imagine one day they'll tear it down, replacing it with a backlit plastic box.

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Shameless Media Plug: Route 66 News

I'm delighted to report that Ron Warnick of Route 66 News has reviewed City Ubiquitous. His review is a particular kindness, given that his site seldom addresses scholarly books. As one might imagine, Ron notes my tendency toward esoteric writing, but he ultimately writes in support of City Ubiquitous. Here's a snip:
Even though Wood is an enthusiastic user of such omnitopian products as the Internet and the iPod, he advises us to slow down and smell the roses — and, I suppose, the rotting wood of long-neglected tourist cabins. I’m sure he’d concur with roadies who often say, “Life begins at the off-ramp.”
Read his piece: Book review: “City Ubiquitous”

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shameless Media Plug: Spartan Daily

(Photo by Stefan Armijo)

Today's issue of the Spartan Daily, San José State University's campus newspaper, includes a frontpage story on my new book. Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:
You wake up to the sounds of Beyonce on your iPod in the morning, and then plug into your car on the way to campus. You step out of your car and the white buds settle softly into your ears. Then you slip into class and tweet to your friends about your boring class.

Andrew Wood, associate professor of communication studies, has seen this meta existence and said he feels people may be losing their non-virtual connections.
Read the article: Professor searches for a locale - Wood warns readers of virtual isolation and disconnection.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Starbucks State of Mind: 600th Post!

Writing in The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum describes the arrival of Starbucks in Warsaw: "[H]ere in Central Europe, the arrival of Starbucks has been greeted with undiluted enthusiasm -- so much enthusiasm, in fact, that the phenomenon seems to require further explanation."

To Applebaum, Starbucks symbolizes 21-century century success. She adds that Starbucks signifies the kind of go-go capitalism that still resonates in Poland, even while U.S. readers may find such a utopia to have gone flat. Another snip:
"But even if you haven't quite attained that financial latitude, you can pretend to have done so at Starbucks. If you are still a student, or if you are just starting out in the stock market or fashion, you might not yet have the money to buy designer shoes or a new car. You are therefore more likely to indulge in small luxuries, such as overpriced coffee."
She concludes with a clever reminder that, for centuries, central European coffee culture has provided a social and class vacation for folks who otherwise live working class lives. To her, the arrival of Starbucks to Warsaw represents a culture coming full circle.

Read the entire article: A Starbucks State of Mind

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hyperlocal Newspapers Part II

John D. Sutter posted a piece on hyperlocal newspapers on CNN's website. Noting the loss of 25,000 newspaper jobs since 2008, Sutter examines the rise of niche papers that focus solely on neighborhood or even block issues.

Many models of hyperlocal news depend on volunteers who immerse themselves in specific or arcane issues that might otherwise be ignored by journalists. A problem with this model, according to folks quoted in the piece, is the risk of bias and conflict-of-interest that would otherwise be caught by editorial oversight as it is traditionally practiced (or imagined).

Another problem? Funding. Beyond the typical responses of nonprofit sponsorship or advertising support, one idea posed by this piece invites readers to select "what stories are worth funding."

Read the entire piece: Future of online news may be 'hyperlocal'

Read a previous blog-post: Hyperlocal news

Monday, May 4, 2009

Animated Neon Sign: Western Hills Motel

I videoed this Route 66 motel during our recent trip to Monument Valley.

Difficulty seeing this video? Point your browser here:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Animated Neon Sign: Saga Motel

I videoed this Route 66 motel during our recent trip to Monument Valley.

Difficulty seeing this video? Point your browser here: