Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Holiday Newsletter

Click the image to read our holiday newsletter, or simply download it here! 

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. See you in 2011...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inception Tiny Town

Yes, I'm actually on blog-hiatus, but I couldn't resist sharing this Coca-Cola mashup of a Christmas tiny town and my favorite movie of 2010, Inception.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Academic Market Update

The Economist looks at today's glut of doctoral students as a sign of decay in higher education. Some especially pertinent quotations:

"Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings… The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes."

"Since [1970] America’s annual output of PhDs has doubled, to 64,000."

"The production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book [Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids - and What We Can Do About It], Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships."

"In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of [enrollment]. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%."

"PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree."

"Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs."

"The organisations that pay for research have realised that many PhDs find it tough to transfer their skills into the job market. Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience."

Learn More: The Economist: The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time

Read More: Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have summarized some of their newest book's findings for The Chronicle of Higher Education in Are Colleges Worth the Price of Admission?

Read More: Robin Wilson offers sobering numbers of the shrinking tenure system in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education. Here's the key number: "Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The [U.S. Education Department report, Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009], is expected to show that that proportion fell below 30 percent in 2009. [ed. note: the percentage held at 30 percent exactly] If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors."

Read More: Last Call at All-You-Can-Eat Academy

Friday, December 17, 2010

Andy Looks Back on 2010

As I finished up a final day of grading and exams, I think this is a swell time to wrap up my blogging for 2010. Time permitting, I will try to upload our family holiday letter before Christmas, but otherwise I plan to spend the next couple weeks trying to recover from a busy, exciting, sometimes overwhelming year.

Some highlights:

• Responding to absurdity

• Writing about suicide

• Speaking on convergence

• Cruising along CA-395

• Celebrating our 22nd

• Dispatching from desolation

• Remembering Rota

• Gawking in Europe

• Sweltering in Asia

• Returning to teaching

• Plunging to earth

• Carving an alien

• Living in Cityville

I plan to return to Woodland Shoppers Paradise soon after New Year's Day. Until then, I hope you and yours enjoy all the delights of the season!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fun with GDocs Presentations

These days I'm playing around a new presentation app (Prezi - thanks to Justin Lloyd for his recommendation) so I am especially delighted to see this creative use of a seemingly boring tool.

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Doing Domains

Yesterday I took at stab at answering a colleague's seemingly innocuous question: what is a domain?

This topic arose as we were discussing potential ways to organize our graduate courses. As you might imagine, the topic is both banal and fraught. Initially one would imagine that, really, there's not much at stake in the name and write-up of a college course. But when faculty members get involved, every jot and tittle risk becoming a Big Deal.

Part of the problem, as I see it, lies in the political terminology of paradigms. Defining one approach (rhetoric, critical studies, whatever) as a paradigm creates a power relationship with other approaches that may be called (mere) methods or traditions. One is centralized; the other risks being marginalized. In response, I proposed that we seek a less loaded term. My vote: domains.

A domain is a top-level taxonomic order of related ideas, approaches, methods, paradigms, communities, schools of thought, and traditions; an organizing category that is widely recognizable to an educated (but not necessarily a specialized) audience.

To illustrate, Carl Woese proposed three domains of life: archaea, bacteria, and eukarya. One may need to be a biologist to understand (or simply pronounce) "archaea." Yet anyone knows that a staph infection is different than a starfish; these things interact with each other, but each belongs in a different domain.

Domains are regularly broken into sub-domains, but adding a new domain is rare.

Indeed, while any attempt to define a domain is inherently persuasive its terrain should be viewed as settled by even the most partisan observer. Put another way, one does not create a domain; one recognizes its existence. Put still another way, one might recognize a domain of a particular universe by asking whether it could serve as a section (composed of several chapters) to an introductory textbook.

Anyway, I started my response in this manner before exploring how we might organize the "universe" of Communication Studies into domains: the kinds of decisions we'd make as educators rather than as partisans. It's a reasonable enough idea, I think. Still, I expect that domains will fare no better than paradigms.

It's hard to name without pain.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Andy Gets Pummeled

I thought I'd share a video produced by an outfit called Pummelvision. Once you authorize them to peak at a photo collection (Facebook, Flickr, or Tumbler) these folks produce an experience that's akin to watching your life flash before your eyes (at least according to Adam Dachis, writing for Lifehacker).

Since I have relatively few images in Facebook, my video was short. Moreover, the audio lops off awkwardly at the end. Still, the overall effect is... pretty cool.

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ten happy things

Christmas lights are glowing - with no bad bulbs

Finals Week is coming - no more late nights

Students are thriving - some folks have discovered new talents

Winter rain is falling - slow traffic but cool splashy sounds

Five cats are playing playing - not too much fur flying

Fireplace is roaring - it's fake but it's lovely

Cityville is growing - need more neighbors though

Clothes are fitting - even with excess holiday eating

Movies are queuing - I love Roku and Hulu

Road is calling - no destination yet

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living in Cityville

OK, I admit it: I got suckered into playing Cityville, lured into the snare by a friend's Facebook invite. I suppose Jenny would label the past three days a "lost weekend." True, I helped string Christmas lights, organized our family's holiday newsletter, responded to student queries about a looming assignment, and left the house to see a movie. I lived my life. But most of my attention was drawn to Cityville.

Ostensibly I took the Cityville plunge to research how Zynga is leveraging social networking techniques to produce an experience that keeps users clicking. After all, this is the company behind Farmville, Mob Wars, and similar time-sucks. Zynga knows what it's doing. At the same time, miniature cities have always appealed to me (cue obligatory Logan's Run reference). While I couldn't care less about managing a cartoon farm, I'd love to run my own tiny town. I had to give Cityville a try.

If you've ever lost a night to SimCity you have a pretty good idea of how Cityville works. Borrowing liberally from Sid Meier's blockbuster urban simulation game, Zynga allows players to produce their own villages by laying out streets, erecting houses, starting businesses, and launching civic projects. There are no taxes in Cityville (no plumbing either, thankfully). Frustrated citizens won't riot in the streets if you fail to build a post office. And I've yet to see a building toppled by a natural disaster. But this game still produces a SimCity-like high, starting with the pleasure of the God's eye view.

Acting as an urban deity, you design your city, watch its tiny inhabitants wander about (sometimes they wave up at you), and survey the growth of your creation from tiny burg to bulging metropolis. Better yet, you can be a merciful god by helping others. Indeed, sociability is fundamental to the Cityville experience. Want to plunk down a few houses and start a business or two? All you need is a computer and a halfway decent internet connection. Wanna complete quests and expand your borders? You're going to need "neighbors."

Neighbors, you see, can help you secure vital resources like energy, supplies, and currency. Energy allows a player to perform an action (build a house, pick a crop, collect some rent, or reap profits from a business). Supplies, typically from harvested crops, allow businesses to keep serving customers and thereafter produce profits. Currency follows when businesses make money or when residents pay rent. [It's not incidental that Cityville has been called a mashup of SimCity and Monopoly.]

Energy is the prime mover of this game; it's necessary to do just about anything. The good news: it accumulates by itself, one unit every five minutes. That's the sweet spot, an increment that is endurable - at first. The bad news is that the pace of replenishment feels absolutely glacial after a while. That's where neighbors become essential. They can share their energy with you, generally at no cost to themselves. And that's just the beginning of their utility.

Neighbors can also share supplies, collect rent, and increase growth by allowing you to plant franchise businesses in their cities. That's right: Cityville is an omnitopian expanse in which every locale becomes a doorway to a shared perception of community. With neighbors, you can staff buildings without being forced to pay employees' salaries. Salaries? You betcha. Unless you've got neighbors willing to help, you must use in-game currency to pay wages. Once that money runs out, you're forced to buy bucks with real money. Neighbors equal growth.

Returning to my city, I smile. One neighbor (a pal in Texas) has revived a crop that I'd neglected to water. Another neighbor (in Florida) has visited my houses and collected rent. Adding to the sense of community, I observe a tiny picture of a neighbor hovering over my city. The icon hops from place to place, a dancing deity come to sprinkle gifts from heaven. Perhaps the Cityville universe is polytheistic. So while I planned to limit my stay for a couple minutes, I'm now happy to return the favor. I'll need my neighbors to staff a hospital later. Just five minutes more. Click, click, click.

Minutes turn into hours, especially when waiting for that ultimate kick, the gambling high: a rainbow-reward of clinking coins. Ahhhh, the sound of money popping from a slot machine. Then there is the burst of colorful icons forming "collections" that I can trade for still more energy, more supplies, more currency. Best of all, I get an extra boost when I scoop my prizes quickly. More coins, more clinking, more energy, more experience points, more life. Oh, and I can't forget the cheers of happy residents that greet every wise decision I make. I love that sound. My Cityville advisor tells me that I might even be elected mayor!

That's the fun of Cityville: its clever concoction of giddy anticipation, the hope that imminent reward waits beyond the next click. Learning from Las Vegas, Zynga creators have crafted a game that requires little strategy and virtually no effort. You can keep it running in the background, like the buzz of a receiver turned low. Dip in and out whenever you choose (plant strawberries and you don't even have to worry about withering crops). If you feel like swooping into your friends' towns, you get a quick charge of easy altruism. You did some good, and you can expect some good in return. Return, or not. It's your choice. Only, you want to return. That's the point.

Keep playing, the game teaches, and you will build that library, which will allow that population increase, which will allow that tall building, which will justify that territory expansion, which will yield that bigger crop, which will enable that big harvest, which will earn that next level, which will reap that burst of coins, which will… It never ends (at least not yet).

Just remember, the longer you play, the more neighbors you need. The more neighbors you have, the longer you must play - if only to keep watering your friends' crops. The cycle is virtuous when you're having fun with friends. Yet there's something vicious at work too. At its worst, Cityville becomes something less like a game and more like a virus, an addiction. I'm reminded of E.B. White's evaluation of the General Motors Futurama exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair: "There is a strong, sweet poison which infects the blood."

My daughter is immune to this poison but my wife graciously founded a city to help me complete a police station [There is no crime in Cityville - yet]. She announced that her urban planning career would be short lived, but she was back in town today, clicking for friends and family. Jenny kindly sent tourists by the busload to my thriving Level 19 town a few hours ago. I'm glad she did, because I'm just about to reach the next level! Just 118 experience points until I become a Level 20. So close.

Sure, I could wait for my own energy supplies to replenish themselves, but it's so much easier when neighbors chip in. Now I'm so close to opening the school for which my citizens have been clamoring. I'm so close to turning the sad icon (a sign of their impatience) into a happy face. I'm so close to leveling up! My citizens will be happy. I will be happy.

Then I can quit. Really.

(Screencaps are for purposes of academic comment and criticism. No ownership is implied.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Fun Post: Twittersburg Address

This graphic aired on Comedy Central's Daily Show on December 2, 2010.

Dark Hearts: Blade Runner video homage

Check this out: an homage to Blade Runner set in Hong Kong-ified London. And as an added bonus, its creator used some of my animated neon footage of Shanghai and Route 66 to produce this video. [Oh, and if you're a fan of NBC's Community - especially the Abed character - you have to see this!]

The video, while pretty cool in its own right, does a fine job of demonstrating the power of social media. This dude, Riz MC, came across some of my stuff on YouTube and asked if he could use it. I blew him off for a while - being overly busy - until I saw a sample of what he had in mind. I'm so glad I took the time to check him out. This guy's the real deal [wiki].

Looking back on our correspondence and the results, I find myself smiling at the idea of helping a stranger, a fellow I never met, through social media. We collaborated (me in a small, small way) on a music video, and yet I'd never recognize this guy if we met IRL! (Well, maybe I would now...)

Difficulty seeing "Dark Hearts"? Point your browser here:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Social Media Addiction: Are You At Risk?

This YourTango video is 15 types of awesome: a satire of social media addiction done as a cheesy 70s-style after school special: "Did I just laugh out loud? Dan, I just laughed out loud!" Just watch out for the downer ending: "Ohhh, Daddy like Boing Boing!"

See how many app-refs you recognize!

Update: Here's another YourTango production: Online Dating in the 1950s

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kodak Picture Spot

Jenny follows the rules
Thinking ahead to next summer's European adventure, a grand tour we've been planning for years, I anticipate the kinds of photos we'll take. Yes, there will be towers, both Eiffel and Leaning (helpfully held up by our own hands, thanks to the trickery of forced perspective). You bet there will be Roman ruins and English pubs. Oh, and castles in Scotland? We'll see one or two.

Part of the fun for any trip is taking pictures. Part of the obligation, too. Susan Sontag once compared the ritual of tourist photography to the Puritan Work Ethic, in which leisure becomes an extension of labor. We "shoot" to capture, to fix, to consume, of course. Sometimes we shoot to mock, to violate, to hurt, too. But mostly we take pictures to make sure that we've "gotten it right." It's our duty to get that shot of Chartres, that frame of the Parthenon, that composition of Stonehenge. Photography is proof of life. One needn't trip into psychoanalysis to understand that, for me, snapping the shutter is an obsession (nearly so, at least).

So I look forward to a journey arranged so that we can look back on the trip. I know it's silly and skewed to think that way. As much as possible I'll try to be present in this place I've yearned to visit since the late eighties, when we lived in Europe but hardly saw any of it. I'll try to look through my own eyes more than through the camera lens. There are conversations to be had and paths to be explored. There's a continent of experience that cannot be sussed out through even the most clever Photoshop simulacra. I want to see it all - for real.

And what if the camera were to break, or get lost or stolen? Wouldn't Europe still be worth visiting?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Airport Writer-in-Residence

Alain de Botton stole a dream job of mine; he got a gig at Heathrow Airport as a Writer-in-Residence. Even better (or worse) he transformed a week of omnitopian adventure into a book called, reasonably enough, A Week at the Airport. Here's a description (gleaned from a CNN story on his project):
"I had a big desk in the middle of departures, with a screen showing what I was typing and most people didn't bat an eyelid as they walked past. Others quickly assumed that it was very normal that there should be a guy writing a book by the check-in desks and came to tell me how I could improve my book and what anecdotes I would be a complete fool for not including. Then there was also a minority of people who just saw me as a useful conduit to information about the location of the restrooms."
Here's another pithy reply to a questioner's implication that airport research must be boring:
"I was delighted not to be going anywhere and therefore, to be free to actually observe where I was. Part of the problem of airports is that we only go to them when we are off somewhere else, and therefore don't see them as a legitimate destination."
Yep, I've added A Week at the Airport to my wish list.

Read the CNN interview: Memoirs of an airport 'writer in residence'

Monday, November 29, 2010

Draft Policy on Mobile Devices

Lately I've been thinking about how and why students use electronic gadgets in class. A fair amount of research and anecdotal evidence shows that students are using mobile phones (and other devices) far more than most faculty recognize. Quoting Wilkes University research:
"95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day and 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time. Almost half of all respondents indicated that it is easy to text in class without their instructor being aware. In fact, students frequently commented on the survey that their professors would be 'shocked' if they knew how much texting went on in class."
I certainly remember taking a community college refresher course last year and observing that roughly one third of my fellow students seemed more interested in updating their Facebook pages than in focusing on the topic at hand.

My initial response to the notion of students fiddling with their machines in my classroom is to propose a draconian rule: no mobile devices, ever. I didn't use them in my college classes, I figure; students don't need them today. Upon reflection, though, that approach strikes me as being shortsighted.

So now I've developed a more nuanced response, one that affirms my basic respect for the autonomy of adults while trying to maintain a minimal standard of decorum and practicality.

My plan is to share a revised version of this note with my students this spring [here's the current draft]. It's over-written, I admit it, and it's crafted in a more legalistic tone than I'd prefer. But my written policy is merely a supporting document for a conversation I intend to conduct with my students.

Few students (if any) will actually read these words. I just want to have something written down. At a minimum, a message like this signals that I've considered the issue carefully. Better yet, this note might help us avoid frustration later on.

Here's a draft.

Any thoughts? Concerns? Recommendations? Please post a comment.

Also, fellow faculty members, do you have a mobile device policy that you'd like to share? I'd love to see it.

Mobile Devices in Class

You may use mobile devices (phones, laptops, etc.) in my class so long as you follow basic social and ethical guidelines.

To explain those guidelines, let me first explain why I created a mobile device policy at all. Like it or not, virtually all students bring electronic gadgets to class. And why not? You want to stay connected to friends and family, and sometimes important news just can't wait until the end of class. Moreover, these devices aren't toys; they're tools.

Today's mobile devices enable you to check notes, update your calendar, or perhaps get a second opinion on assertions I may offer. Additionally, mobile devices play an essential role in our university's emergency notification network. It therefore seems silly to mandate that you cannot access your phones, laptops, and other electronic tools in class.

That being said, there are three obvious exceptions to this policy, related to testing, privacy, and distraction. In these cases I must adopt a hard line.

1. You may not use any mobile device while any student is taking a quiz or test in the classroom. Restricting the use of mobile devices in a testing environment is a matter of integrity, both practical and perceptual. And I would be well within my rights to interpret any such usage (without my express permission) as a sign of cheating.

2. You may not use any mobile device to record sound or images in class without my consent. Why? Well, for starters, even though you are attending a public university, my classroom is not located in the "public domain." No one in this class has authorized you to record their images or voices. Doing so without gaining permission thus constitutes an invasion of privacy - and potentially a form of theft.

Let me explain: My lectures and other classroom activities are my intellectual property. And while I recognize that student fees help pay for the costs of this room (and for my services) I do not wave my right to create and distribute classroom content as I see fit. That's why you must ask my permission (ideally in written form) to photograph a slide, record a lecture, or distribute my likeness in any way.

3. You may not use any mobile device in a manner that distracts other people. If your use of a mobile device disturbs other folks (especially with ringtones or loud buzzing) - or if attention paid to your device means that you cannot participate meaningfully in our conversations - you may be required to leave the class.

That regrettable action may seem harsh. But ultimately it's a matter of respect. You deserve my full attention in the classroom; I ask for a reasonable portion of the same. If you want to send a quick text or perform a brief web search, feel free. Just be discrete. If you need a gentle reminder about this policy, I'll provide one. Thereafter my approach must become much more strict.

After all, our classroom is a community. What we do and say here matters. There's an anxious, busy world beyond our walls, I know. But that world can wait, at least for the brief time we share together. And when it can't, you can always quietly step outside. I merely ask you to remember that this class - indeed, your choice to seek a degree - is ultimately your choice. And with that choice comes certain responsibilities. One of them: contributing to a respectful learning environment.

Otherwise, there's really no point in coming to college at all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Off for Thanksgiving

I'm taking a few days off to enjoy Thanksgiving at home. I'll be back in the blogger's seat on Monday. Until then, I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 Travels

Reviewing the past year Jenny and I found ourselves struggling to remember all the trips we took in 2010. I figured it might be good idea to collect 'em all onto one page.

• Joshua Tree (Dec '09): "Despite the seemingly vertiginous height, we worked together to identify safe footholds and climbing routes before reaching our own humble summit."

• Carl B. Mattson funeral (March): "Over the weekend, we traveled to Florida to commemorate the passing of Jenny's uncle."

• Weekend in Tucson (March): "We'd flown and driven a long way to see them up close. And then there they were. Gnarled, weird, awesome."

• Denver and northern Colorado (April): "With all the hassles and stresses of the past few months, it was a real treat to find some big sky and open highway far from everyday life."

• CA-395 (May): "My recent drive down the eastern spine of California's Sierra Mountains was easily the best solo roadtrip I've ever taken, the culmination of a long-held desire to experience that strange transformation from the state's northern frozen plains to its southern depths that burn under the sun."

• Florida (May): "Our trip served no real purpose; it was just about time that we return to our favorite Sunshine State haunts."

• San Francisco Bay Area (June): "With still a bit of wanderlust between us, we crossed the Golden Gate in search of a nice spot to take a picture."

• Carmel and Point Lobos (June) "There's just so much to see in this part of California, with each turn yielding another path through a breezy meadow and down a stone trail to the end of the world."

• Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna (July): "I traveled to Europe this summer to attend the Salzburg Global Seminar's International Study Program, and I met some amazing people and had some great times."

• Shanghai, Hangzhou, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket (August): "We drew smiles and some awed looks, along with a few nods of encouragement, especially when we opened our folding chairs and joined the congregation."

• Florida (September): "My first trip to South Beach, back in '91, hooked me, and every time we return I have to see the gorgeous marquees of those hotels by the sea."

• Texas (September): "Pounding heat and imminent rain quickened our pace, but I had to stop when I saw the Oil City Brass Works."

• Skydiving over Hollister (October): "The air pounded against my chest and I yelled for the thrill of it all. I knew we were falling at a rate of about 120 miles per hour, but I felt no fear. Nothing but exhilaration. My mouth grew stale with the storm rattling my tongue; I didn't care. We plunged and I shouted 'Hell yeah!'"

• NCA in San Francisco (November): "The San Francisco Zoo is nearby, and romantically inclined writers say you can hear the lions from the motel. I never heard any animals, but I'm sure I caught the throaty call of a Golden Gate foghorn."

2011 looks even better. I'm planning to return to China in May/June and fly back to Europe in July. Best of all, Jenny and I are planning our European Grand Tour for August. Oh yes, there will be pictures.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Outer Sunset Deco (San Francisco)

I thought I'd share some swell deco and streamline inspired houses seen during my recent trip to San Francisco. These are from the southwestern portion of the city - the Outer Sunset neighborhood - which rose in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.

1735 47th Avenue
A district overview provided by the San Francisco Chronicle describes how a post-quake real estate boom, helped along by the extended reach of street cars, inspired developers to pave over sand dunes and build a middle class suburb.

1723 46th Avenue
The Chronicle adds that the neighborhood is especially known for its diversity: "From block to block, it's difficult to predict whether you'll come upon a hofbrau, a Thai noodle house, an Irish bar, a Vietnamese restaurant or a Chinese dry cleaner, adding to these neighborhoods' attraction for visitors."

2263 47th Avenue
As I have time, I hope to learn more about San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood. My first step includes plans to investigate the Western Neighborhoods Project, an amazing resource filled with images, stories, and artifacts.

2131 46th Avenue
(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ocean Park Motel

I'm resurfacing from the 2010 meeting of the National Communication Association where I stayed at a perfect motor lodge. Normally for these conferences I stick with the convention hotel, which is typically an expensive and crowded tower of pricy restaurants, crystal chandeliers, miserable air, and noisy elevators (while being, at least, convenient). This time I opted for a distant lodging option. I was in San Francisco and had always wanted to visit the Ocean Park Motel. This time I did, and I'm glad.

The Ocean Park is San Francisco's oldest motel, yet is impeccably maintained. A marvel of Nautical Moderne style, built between 1936 and '37, this place is an ocean liner of steel balustrades, 90 degree curves and, of course, portholes. The owners are proud of the Ocean Park and appreciate visitors who dig the property. In fact, I got an upgrade after I whistled at the beauty of the place (but I think my fortune was due to the low season and subsequent surfeit of available rooms).

The Ocean park is located in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district, which presents an aging collection of row homes that march up and down the avenues near the ocean. [I spent a couple hours photographing some of my favorite streamlined-style examples). The San Francisco Zoo is nearby, and romantically inclined writers say you can hear the lions from the motel. I never heard any animals, but I'm sure I caught the throaty call of a Golden Gate foghorn. Best of all, the Muni's L-Taraval line extends from just across the street to the heart of the city.

NCA was a crush of furtive name badge-glances, obligatory meetings, loud parties, impromptu chats, and quiet conversations. I always return from these conferences with enthusiasm for my writing and hopes to collaborate with like-minded scholars. Yet the experience is always a drain on my finances and energy. That's why I'm so glad I stayed at the Ocean Park. It was a little more than a 45 minute trip away (by train and then by foot from station to hotel). A hassle of distance, I suppose. But that afternoon when I had some time to practice remarks I would later give, alone in my sunny room and far from the crowd, I enjoyed more peace than I've felt in months.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NCA Adventures Commencing

I'm headed offline for a few days in preparation for the National Communication Association's annual conference in San Francisco (yeah, "up the road"). I'll miss Jenny while I'm away, but I'll also enjoy the chance to catch up with pals from my grad and undergraduate years. I should resurface next week by Wednesday or Thursday.

Disney Fail

So... Much... Fail.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

30 Airports in 30 Days

Detroit Metro Airport (2006)
David Terry, an SJSU colleague, shared this link with me a couple days ago about a fellow named Chadwick Matlin, a guy who responded to the trauma of getting fired and dumped in an particularly odd way. In the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and William Least Heat-Moon, Chadwick (really, sometimes life kicks you in the ass just when you're getting started) began a solitary journey of self-discovery. Only, this guy didn't hike into the woods or search for blue highways. No, he decided to visit 30 airports in 30 days. Since I've slept in a few airports myself, this topic got my attention.

Mercifully, Chadwick doesn't seek much in the way of transcendant wisdom from the experience [not at first]. But he does offer some pithy observations about airport life, initially about a group of nomads who have turned this sort of craziness - using JetBlue's "All You Can Jet" promotional opportunity - into a lifestyle. For a while the piece glosses along the well worn grooves inhabited by airportologists (apparently that's a word): The food is bad. Airports are disorienting. That sort of thing. But Chadwick offers especially thoughtful commentary when we departs the U.S. terminal bubble with a quick stop at the Dominican Republic.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be an ongoing series. You might want to check back sometime…

Here's the link (with thanks to David): A Masochist With Too Much Time on His Hands

Monday, November 8, 2010


Lately I've been doing some preliminary research on gamification - the convergence of video game and social networking experiences that's entering domains not traditionally associated with gameplay. In her MSNBC piece, FarmVille invades the real world, Helen A.S. Popkin writes that Tim Chang coined the term, which has largely supplanted Gabe Zichermann's notion of "funware."

One of the most prevalent examples of gamification is Foursquare, a social-networking application that allows users to "check in" to physical places and earn badges [Learn more]. People who check in to places most frequently can become "mayors" of those environments. The twist is that companies like Starbucks are using Foursquare to make their businesses more "sticky" (by offering discounts to mayors, for example). They know that more frequent visits can yield increased revenue.

Another example of gamification is LinkedIn's use of a progress bar. Once more, we see a non-traditional use of the principle: getting users of a business-networking site to stay longer and do more, transforming the drowsy act of inputing information or writing a recommendation into a sort of game. The trick is the use of (frequently) graphical feedback to produce a positive stimulus upon the brain in a manner similar to that found in video games.

Gamification represents an expanding domain of opportunity, appearing in health, educational, and personal finance fields - even in applications designed to inspire people to reduce their energy consumption [Learn More]. Chris O'Brien's writes in the San Jose Mercury News that "gamification has become one of the hottest buzz words in Silicon Valley" [Learn more].

The historically short shelf-life of buzzwords aside, I'm especially intrigued by potential uses for Gamification in pedagogy. This is not to say that game theory hasn't long been integrated into teaching - rather that emerging applications have more potential for success. Students raised on video games are likely to respond to experiences whose pleasures are similar to those with which they are familiar. Going on "quests," gathering tokens, and showing off their prowess with badges may seem silly to veteran educators, but it's serious business to Millennials.

Many faculty complain that today's students are unwilling or unable to work for their learning. At the same time we kvetch about students' willingness to devote hours upon hours to games. What if there's a way to harness that enthusiasm? In the perfectly titled article, Video games keep tricking us into doing things we loathe, Leigh Alexander writes, "we gamers demonstrate a fascinating willingness to apply ourselves tirelessly to any number of tedious tasks." In an article called Gamifying homework, Jason B. Jones adds, "people will do anything for a virtual badge."

I'm not sure if I like the direction this conversation is going. But I certainly want to know more. And I'm not alone. In fact a number of folks are embarking on ambitious research projects to make sense of this phenomenon. Jones describes Old Dominion University's Richard Landers's plan to seek National Science Foundation funding for a multi-campus interdisciplinary open-source gamification platform. I visited Professor Landers's call for participants and was impressed with his preliminary results. Here's a quote:
"We took advantage of many principles of casual gaming (sometimes called the [gamification] movement) to create a reward system for completing these quizzes. Several levels of “mastery” were created, with increasingly difficult bars to reach in order to achieve them. But when a student achieved a new rank (which they could never lose), a badge would appear next to their name in class discussion areas to provide a social reward for doing well. For example, if the aforementioned student completed the social psychology quiz enough times to reach Mastery Level 3, a little blue ribbon would appear next to their name when they chatted in that classroom. This system was ridiculously well-received. Across those 400 students, 113 (28%!) willingly chose to take optional multiple choice quizzes that would never have an effect on their grades." (emphasis in original)
Gotta follow up on this stuff...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween 2004

While searching through our growing collection of digital memories I came across a few pix from that first year when we transformed the porch into a creepy Halloween experience for the kids. In 2004 Jenny and Vienna took the lead on a project that would become a family tradition. They found a plastic skeleton, planted some gothic looking candle holders (with lit candles, of course) and hung chains and a dreary looking wall made from painted construction paper. After dressing up the skeleton with a bandana and sticking a fake cutlass through its guts they labeled their creation Pirate Dungeon.

I was happy for them to run the show, leaving me to help hand out candy to the kids. It was a simple but memorable night. Oh, I sometimes moan, if only we'd stuck to that model: dig through the garage, round up whatever's lying around, and spend a couple hours throwing it together. Halloween since 2004 has become a much more complex event in the Wood family household, with video, music, costuming, and design that takes weeks to develop. Just breaking down the set of this weekend's Alien Autopsy took an hour - and we've still got to pack up all the gear (a full-sized skeleton, a gory alien corpse, a stainless steel UFO, and a hundred other tiny details) and somehow stuff it all back in the garage. Just think: all that work was inspired by Jenny and Vienna's lark of a Halloween six years ago.

One last memory: Vienna's 2004 costume. For some reason our daughter was obsessed with Al Pacino back then - especially with his Tony Montana Scarface character. I mean, literally, this kid had a foot-tall Scarface action figure! Maybe we should have counseled against her fascination with such a blood-soaked antihero, but we knew that these things generally pass. Anyway, we could hardly be surprised when Vienna announced that she was dressing up as "Mrs. Tony Montana" for Halloween, complete with a version of her hero dressed up on skates as a prop. She looks back on that choice with horror now, but what can I say? Halloween brings out the best in our family!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What Happened to Downtime?

Pithy, useful, and direct, Scott Balsky's "What Happened to Downtime?" is recommended reading. Here's a quote:
"Why do we give up our sacred space so easily? Because space is scary. During these temporary voids of distraction, our minds return to the uncertainty and fears that plague all of us. To escape this chasm of self-doubt and unanswered questions, you tune into all of the activity and data for reassurance... Knowing that we cannot rely on spaces that force us to unplug to survive much longer, we must be proactive in creating these spaces for ourselves. "
Read the whole piece: What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Goodbye to Shanghai

Waiting to enter Expo 2010
China pulled off the biggest world's expo in history, and now - after a six-month run - it's over. An estimated 73 million people attended the fair, beating the record set by Osaka back in 1970. How'd the PRC get those numbers in an age when international expositions have been supplanted (to some folks, at least) by the World Wide Web? One way was to get 192 nations and 50 international organizations [wiki] to produce a global confluence of architecture, commerce, and entertainment that couldn't be reproduced online. The other way, just as importantly, was to force Chinese people to attend.

Writing for the New York Times, David Barboza describes how Tao Renran, an employee of a state-run garment factory, was invited to visit the expo - and given a little extra incentive to show up: "[O]therwise... they would cut our wages" [Something tells me that Ms. Tao can expect a visit from her company's Chief Ideology Officer any day now]. Barboza adds that many Chinese visitors were similarly encouraged to fulfill their patriotic duty and ensure that Expo 2010 would be a world-beater. Only 5.8 percent of attendees were foreigners, but this Fair can certainly be called a success - if only through raw numbers of folks passing through turnstiles.

One sign of the expo's popularity: those lengthy queues to enter national and corporate pavilions. Eight hours was the commonly cited wait for especially popular pavilions like China and Saudi Arabia. Barboza reports, "Some desperate visitors tried to con their way into the special access line of pavilions by pretending to be confined to a wheelchair. And there were reports that elderly women were standing near the entrance gates offering to rent themselves out as Expo escorts for $25 a day — a sure way to pass through the special access line." Now those pavilions are being dismantled as China enters the world's fair pantheon.

Expo 2010's ubiquitous mascot, Haibao
Only five years until the next expo. Location? Milan.

Read David Barboza's article: Shanghai Expo Sets Record With 73 Million Visitors

Another view: James T. Areddy's Wall Street Journal article: What Makes a Crowd? In Shanghai, 73 Million

See more: Check out my Expo 2010 video and read my Trip Summary!

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween 2010 - Video!

Following up on yesterday's review of our 2010 Halloween Alien Autopsy, here's a video of the show!

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

This year's Halloween show marked a return to a classic: Alien Autopsy, which we first mounted in 2006. That show, an extraterrestrial-themed haunted porch, was our first effort to create a real multimedia experience for the kids, using video, music, set-design, and props to evoke that well-known trope of a Roswell-style dissection of a crash-landed alien. Sure, we'd experimented with music and characterization before, but that show represented our first big attempt at theater. And while we've tried to increase the complexity of our themes since then, there's never been a show like our first Alien Autopsy. In 2010 I asked my family to join me in producing an ambitious remake.

Who said Andy doesn't have a heart?
For this new version, we'd start by creating a semi-lifesized UFO - something we didn't attempt back then. The idea was that a flying saucer had crashed landed into our Area 51 lab (what a coincidence!) depositing three alien specimens. To erect the spacecraft we bought four sheets of stainless steel, along with thin wood beams and two metal vents to serve as engines. After cutting the steel into trapezoidal shapes, I nailed each piece onto a wooden frame (with Jenny's patient help, of course). Since we were both regularly exhausted from our daily duties, we could muster the energy to build only one frame per night. Once we finished I connected the frames with loops of metal wire and topped the saucer with a round metal gadget I found at a local hardware store. I finished the saucer with eerie green rope lights.

Our "saucer": just after being first built in the living room
We only constructed half a saucer, actually, which allowed access to the craft's innards (that's where I bound the wooden frames and wired the lights to the edges). We'd need something to hide that other side. My family solved that dilemma by collecting and cutting cardboard boxes into a large facsimile of a wall. That's where our UFO would appear to have crashed into the lab. Jenny and Vienna fashioned a tall rectangular facade (bracing it with poles and brooms) applied gray spray-paint, and affixed pieces of tape to create a brick-effect. Afterward they cut away a section of the wall and painted jagged pieces of styrofoam to produce rubble. Mounting the thing around the UFO was a bit scary; I could hardly believe that it'd stand. But Jenny made smart use of our porch-swing chains to keep everything upright.

We couldn't find a thin black tie for our "Man in Black," so we improvised.
The rest of the show was pretty much a matter of rebuilding old props. We used a store-bought costume for the alien - though I spent hours making a gory chest cavity - watching Dawn of the Dead for inspiration. For intestines I stuffed pieces of green Play-Doh into fingers I cut from latex gloves, twisting them into gut-like shapes. Jenny made up some jello and green goo to augment the chest with organic-looking viscous material. And like we did back in '06, Jenny and I bought a plate of baby back ribs at Bruno's BBQ, boiled the bones at home, and attached the bones to the alien's chest cavity for a bit of extra-gross realism.

This survivor didn't last long after the crash.
To contribute some narrative material to our show, we dressed a life-sized skeleton I'd used in previous years in a Men in Black suit I cobbled together at the local Salvation Army store. After dressing our agent, we ripping a hole in the shirt and singed the edges to reveal the guy's ribs. Later we'd think of a gross story to explain the effect. To liven the walls, we tacked up posters and diagrams that seemed suitable for an Area 51 Laboratory ("Restricted Area," "Use of Deadly Force is Authorized," that sort of thing). Naturally I added an "I want to believe" poster. [Incidentally, I've recently created an "I wanted to believe" poster - just in case we do this show again one day.]

Behind the Scenes: The LCD needed to be
covered so that our strobe lights would work.
To make it appear that our "lab" window faced outside and not into our house, I downloaded a clip from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers and isolated a four-second snippet of a UFO. After editing the piece into a looping video, I used my LCD Projector to cast the scene onto a white sheet we'd nailed over the window. The resulting image - a flying saucer hovering back and forth - was surprisingly realistic at night (though only then would I notice that our window showed a daytime scene).

Area 51 signs
For background music we looped four selections: "Prelude and Outer Space" from Bernard Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still score, "Alien Spaceship" from Mannheim Steamroller, "Amityville Horror" from Robert Walsh, and a version of The X-Files theme produced by The Stradibrothers Orchestra. Affixing green-colored gels over the lights, illuminating alien figures in the upper windows with strobe lights, and costuming ourselves with lab coats and medical instruments, Jenny and I built an Alien Autopsy porch to inspire a thousand nightmares (and yes, we posted signs warning parents that this presentation was rated PG: "Pretty Gory"). Finally it was 6 p.m., time to start the show.

Andy points at the flying saucers hovering outside our window
The night turned out wonderfully. Hundreds of kids climbed the steps to see our presentation, many transfixed at our weird alien. In my sort-of-X-Files persona, "Fox Moldy," I'd attach jumper cables to the alien's heart, and get a volunteer to flip the charger switch. As the heart would start beating I'd remove the organ to "oohs" and "aahs." Then I'd notice something else in the chest cavity. Drawing the kids nearer, I'd slowly, slowly pull a "symbiotic creature" (actually, a plastic beetle) from underneath the alien's intestines. Sometimes I'd pretend to get bitten by the creature and sometimes I'd toss the creature toward the kids. One older fellow - about 17 - lept back so far that he knocked a sign off the wall.

Jenny takes a break with our baby alien
Jenny (Agent "Dana Scary") bolstered our presentation by describing how the flying saucer crashed through our lab. A "Man in Black" had been assigned to protect us, she explained, but the agent got his skin burned off by another alien's ray gun. Sometimes she'd invite the kids to look out our window, revealing the saucer had been hovering outside all day. She'd also point out a nearby drum covered with biohazard symbols. Inside: alien ooze ("See the hand coming out of the top? That's the alien mutating into form!"). Best of all, "Agent Scary" carried a furry alien baby, which we are trying to raise as a human. Sometimes she'd invite the children to pet him. The kids loved it.

The crashed saucer made quite a mess!
The crowds were huge, mostly kids but also plenty of camera-snapping parents. We had a blast, running through seven bags of candy. A little after nine we turned off the lights and wrapped up another happy Halloween. Just in the past couple days Jenny and I had spent dozens of hours on this show; we were exhausted. But we didn't mind spending one last hour to strike the set and clean the ooze off our props. We had a wonderful evening - and I'm already wondering: what kind of show might we try next time?

Update: Check out the video!

Previous Years

• 2009: Zombie Apocalypse [Pix and Story] [Video]

• 2008: Dr. Freightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors [Pix] [Video]

• 2007: Psycho Circus [Pix] [Video]

• 2006: Alien Autopsy I [Pix]

• 2005: Just Buried [Pix]

• 2004: Pirate Dungeon [Pix]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Fun Post: Happy Halloween!

Getting ready for this weekend's Halloween festivities...

Today and tomorrow are dedicated to final preparations for our ambitious Alien Autopsy II "porch show" [I hope to have pix and video up early next week]. In the meantime, here's a link to a perfectly named website that features bizarre, creepy, and just plain wrong Halloween attire: WTF Costumes.

You've been warned...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Can you rewind…?

Yesterday I was introducing Marshall McLuhan to students of my COMM 101 class. I started with that famous scene from Annie Hall when Woody Allen pricks a media studies professor's pompously incorrect diatribe about McLuhan's notion of hot and cool media by pulling the famed theorist from behind a conveniently placed stand.

McLuhan proceeds to berate the prof: "You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong." It's a wonderful moment that humanizes theory, complicates common sense, and sets up the larger postmodern context that my students are beginning to enter (if only in the classroom).

Thereafter I started working through McLuhan's media theory of history, comparing oral and textual eras of society. Folks were asking questions, making notes, and struggling to see the bigger point. For many, I suppose, it seemed like we were plowing through some dead history without relevance or utility. What does Marshall McLuhan tell us about human communication today? Then this moment:

McLuhan's endlessly frustrating, endlessly fascinating aphorism, "The medium is the message" is hanging in the air when one of my students raises his hand. "Hold up," he says, looking through his notes with an earnest expression. "Can you rewind and say that again?" He's a smart guy, this student, but he doesn't yet see the what just happened. I ask for him to repeat his question, and for his colleagues to listen closely to the words: "Can you rewind…?" The student smiles and a few of his peers laugh good-naturedly. They get it.

If McLuhan could somehow enter my classroom, he might find my own media cluelessness just as incredulous as he found that fellow in Annie Hall. But I have no doubt that he would have loved the moment.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Doonesbury at 40

Doonesbury © G.B. Trudeau and Universal Press Syndicate
Can you believe that Doonesbury is celebrating its 40th anniversary today? 40 years! I started reading Doonesbury when I was in middle school after picking a paperback collection of Watergate-era strips from a pile of mildewed books at a yard sale. Most of the jokes were too esoteric for me to understand, but I loved the detail and precision of those drawings. As I read other Doonesbury books, checking them out from the school library, I started to understand the characters and their relationships to the world outside the comic frame. I was hooked.

Turns out, Doonsbury creator G.B. Trudeau didn't set out for a life in comics (or, in some papers, the editorial pages); he wanted to be an illustrator. At first he didn't show much promise for even that line of work. Trudeau's early strips were wiry, confusing, almost unintelligible. And the world they inhabited, fictional Walden College and a nearby commune, could hardly spark the imaginations of children; Walden was too small, too localized, too adult. You'd hardly imagine that Trudeau had a future in the fickle world of the funny pages.

But Trudeau expanded his reach, and Doonesbury's world grew. The comic started tackling tough and timely topics that other comics wouldn't touch [I have no idea why I'm drawn to alliteration today. Sorry]. Some of Trudeau's characters retained some degree of childlike innocence - you could tell by the wide shape of their eyes - but most were firmly caught in the adult world. For many Americans, especially those reactionary buffoons so deserving of cartoon comeuppance, Trudeau created a hard world to love.

Still, Doonesbury ultimately revealed the humanity of even the most complicated or controversial characters. As a result many Americans found that they could relate to Vietcong insurgents when they met Phred the Terrorist, identity with "women's libbers" when they cheered Joanie Caucus, commiserate with AIDS sufferers when they wept at the passing of Andy Lippincott, and confront the realities of war when they saw B.D. lose a leg in Iraq. Unlike its timeless cousins, change was practically a character in this comic. Especially after Doonesbury's 1983-84 reboot, characters tried new careers, got married, had kids, and grew old. Some died sadly, some sweetly. Trudeau's world converged with ours.

I hate to admit it but I don't read Doonsbury as regularly as I once did; comics aren't part of my regular routine these days. But I still keep up with my favorite characters by flipping through new books and occasionally dipping into their daily adventures. Occasionally in class I'll flash back to my all-time favorite strip, the January 27, 1985 Teaching is Dead cri du coeur that speaks eloquence to the sadness that can sometimes overcome any educator these days. Stung awake, I can't help but smile.

Reflecting on the impact that G.B. Trudeau's creation(s) had on my imagination, I conclude with the best compliment I ever saw paid to a comic strip. I don't recall the exact line, but someone once said that the dependably honest satire of Doonsbury - never shrinking from its essential struggles against stupidity and pomposity - is like leaving a nice bike unlocked on a busy sidewalk. It's a big risk; it's sure to get lost or stolen. Yet day after day, year after year, Doonsbury is still there. It's an amazing feat.

Timeline: Slate has pulled together a collection of the strip's funniest, strangest, and most memorable moments. Check it out:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Planning Europe 2011

Update: Nov 19

Jenny and I have begun to clarify our Europe plans. Here's the most recent itinerary - following a rough course of our anticipated travels over about 24 days. Any recommendations for these places? Advice? Warnings?

Also, you can scroll down a bit to find our original post featuring more detail about what we want to do in some of these locations.

• Northern Scotland - 2 days

• London - 2 days

• Hamburg - 1 day

• Frankfurt - 1 day

• Prague - 2 days

• Budapest - 2 days

• Vienna - 2 days

• Athens - 2 days

• Santorini - 2 days

• Florence - 2 days

• Pisa - 1 day

• Nice - 1 day

• Paris - 3 days

It begins!

Jenny and I have just begun planning our Europe trip for August 2011. We hope to make it from the UK to Turkey, but we may end up sticking with Western Europe if our schedule gets overly packed.

So far our top four priorities are Paris, Northern Scotland, London, and Hamburg (the order of which are, of course, subject to revision).

Now we're fleshing out the details and adding additional stops. Have you any recommendations?

1. Paris for two or three days

Place de Dublin - Intersection of rue de Turin and rue de Moscou near Saint-Lazare train station (to see the location for my favorite paintingParis Street, Rainy Day - see blog posts here and here). I suppose we'll also want to spend a bit of time in the train station to see where Monet painted Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare.

Passage des Panoramas and Passage Jouffroy (because of my interest in 19th century shopping/walking arcades)

Jardin des Tuileries

Basilique du Sacre-Coeur

Arc de Triomphe

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Musée du Louvre (already I'm finding some hints on how to survive this place. Elsewhere I found some notes on seeing Mona Lisa: "Waiting to see the Mona Lisa has all the thrill of standing in an airport check-in queue. The crowd pushes forward, cattle-like and unquestioning, performing a ritual they know they have to go through with in order to complete a pre-ordained tourist experience.")

Musee d'Orsay (to see its collection of early modern art)

• Musée National d'Art Moderne (to see its collection of 20th Century modern art)

• And, of course, we've got to at least see the Eiffel Tower!

2. Northern Scotland for a day or two (to learn a bit more about my Frazier Family roots)

• Castle Urquhart - near Inverness

• Castle Dunnottar - south of Aberdeen

• Castle Fraser - near Kemnay

3. London for a day or two

• London Eye (a top priority for Jenny)

• Stonehenge

• Speakers' Corner, Hyde Park

• Tower of London

4. Germany

• Hamburg to see Miniatur Wonderuland (a world-renowned "tiny town")

• Frankfurt (Jenny has a friend she wants to see there)

Other priorities in order of importance:

5. Greece - Athens and Greek islands (definitely Santorini)

6. Italy - Florence or Venice

7. Turkey - Istanbul - (Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Grand Bazaar, etc.)

8. Czech Republic - Prague (Nationale-Nederlanden Building)

9. Austria - Vienna

10. Hungary - Budapest

Europe in three weeks is a bit crazy, but we're going to experience as much as we can. Got any suggestions? Hints? Warnings? Please post a comment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Fun Post: Chicago Neon

Yes. This is exactly what you think it is.
Image from Time Out Chicago.

A few weeks ago came across this swell collection of Chicagoland neon signs. I've been thinking about doing a midwest roadtrip sometime in the next couple years, shooting architectural relics and old school signage around Illinois and Michigan. Now I definitely know a few places I'll have to see...

Enjoy the show: Chicagoland’s amazing neon signs (Time Out Chicago)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Something feels different this time

"Something feels different this time.": This quote from Fareed Zakaria's Time essay, "How to restore the American Dream," rings true to me. I recommend this piece for its honest and thoughtful assessment of our nation's contemporary fears and potential. A few excerpts:

What's happening today: "The middle class, many Americans have come to believe, is being hollowed out. I think they are right."

Why is the middle class getting hammered? "You can divide the American workforce in many ways, but any way you slice it, you see the same trend. People who get paid a decent wage for skilled but routine work in manufacturing or services are getting squeezed by a pincer movement of technology and globalization."

One part of the solution: Grow our economy by investment, not by goosing consumption: "The only good jobs that will stay in the U.S. are jobs related to knowledge and innovation." And, yes, changes to our tax system must be part of the plan. But the Republican mantra of "cut 'em all" suffers from near criminal cluelessness.

The time to act is now: "America needs radical change, and it has an 18th century system determined to check and balance the absolute power of a monarchy. It is designed for gridlock at a moment when quick and large-scale action is our only hope."

Read the entire article: How to Restore the American Dream

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Nights in Bangkok

Getting there... I'm working through my notes to post the story of our summer adventures in Asia. Now I can share our three nights in Bangkok. Of course if you haven't yet read the full story - including our time in Shanghai and Hangzhou - you might want to start at the beginning.

Oh, and don't forget to check out our two videos. One's dedicated to the 2010 Shanghai World's Fair; the other video summarizes the entire trip.

Coming next: Chiang Mai and Phuket!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Season of the Witch

Just a couple weeks until Halloween, my favorite holiday. Jenny and I started building a big prop for this year's show. I'll talk more about our porch theme in coming posts. But for now, just imagine what we can do with three large pieces of sheet metal and a couple metal vents. Rolling our gear out of Home Depot this past Saturday, we were stopped by a woman who asked whether our metal was corrugated. I had no clue. She then asked what were building. We told her in a matter-of-fact way, but she didn't believe us. We have 13 days to create a multimedia show that involves music, video, photos, live theater, and lots of blood (both red and green). Yep, it's time to break out the PG-13 signs (PG for "Pretty Gory").

The rainy season has begun, earlier than normal this year. And the drizzle has cast a pallor over our little corner of California. I gave a speech yesterday at San Jose's First Congregational Church and experienced one of the more intellectually stimulating chats I've had all year, even with my somewhat pessimistic thesis. We talked about the impact of world's fairs on city planning, exploring the dark side of all that idealism, all that hubris. It's my second presentation for these folks, and they asked if I'd return next year. One called me "Mr. October." We had a lovely time together, especially when a fellow shared a notion - the design replaces the divine - that may show up in my next book. It's a shame that this sort of visceral exchange can't be found in what passes for political debates these days. The midterm elections promise to be a bloodbath, not just for Democrats but also for decorum.

Creepy behavior abounds, especially among the bright lights of the Tea Party. Republican senatorial Rand Paul refused to shake hands with his opponent after a debate that featured accusations that Rand once tied up a woman and forced her to worship "Aqua Buddha."

At an Alaska town hall meeting, private security goons working for GOP senate candidate Joe Miller responded to a pesky news-website editor by roughing him up and placing him in handcuffs. The rent-a-cops justified their shenanigans by explaining that the forum, which was held in a public middle school, was "private property."

Then there's New York's race for governor, where Carl Paladino has forced Democratic rival Andrew Cuomo to debate the Anti-Prohibition Party candidate, who also happens to be the former madam on Eliot Spitzer's speed dial. Paladino: this is the guy who explained his choice to email sex-videos involving horses thusly: "If the worst I ever did was send out some non-politically correct e-mails, my God."

Oh, and loony senator wannabe Christine O'Donnell is airing commercials assuring the voters of Delaware that she's not a witch.

Trick or Treat!