Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Origami Urbanism Update

Finally wrapping up my chapter for the Urban Communication Reader! Here's some of the new stuff...

To this post-place we now turn, learning to read the city that unfolds itself to our gaze. This is the modern city too, in a way; it is the perfection of modernity, no longer limited by the plane-truth. In this city, flat power is dispelled with a magic trick, a mediated fantasy of moving parts with no mechanism aside from consumer choice. Such power--strange, illusory, intoxicating--must first be recognized as such; its users must be trained to recognize themselves as its masters, to see themselves as artists, engineers, poets, creators. This is post-industrial power, when reality-television allows even the otherwise disadvantaged among us to become producers of icons, to brand themselves. This power is the child’s plaything, the personal totem, the solitary confidence. Easily crumbled, burst with merely a word, this pleasure transcends vast chasms between ideas and action, between self and other.

Origami urbanism reveals the sensual pleasure of this manipulation, our technological means of ascending to the summit of a God’s-eye view once more. Amid the flat city, origami urbanism recall’s Gatsby’s “constant flicker”: the flick of a finger upon an iPad, swiping the world into digital shape.  Such is the power and pleasure of mobile communication devices, the means to produce frames of reference that alter themselves according to our perpetually shifting positions, thickening homogeneity in an internal performance. With these new personal data, navigation, and entertainment devices, we need not be tied to fixed locations but may create new ones instead, building our own multidimensional worlds atop the flat screen.  We wander the boulevard, texting rather than speaking, posting rather than engaging, editing rather than experiencing, and our fantasy worlds appear to convulse with every stroke. The pleasures of origami urbanism appear, to the uninitiated at least, like an addiction.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Learning to Decode Scholarly Journal Articles (Part 1)

[One of my favorite parts of blogging is the opportunity to draft language for specialized projects - and potentially receive feedback from a much broader community of readers. Toward that end I'm sharing a preliminary version of a note I hope to share with students struggling to make sense of scholarly journal articles.]

Learning to read the professional journals of your chosen field of study can sometimes feel like stepping into quicksand. Most likely you began your coursework reading textbooks, workbooks, and other introductory materials designed with you as the primary audience. These resources typically include glossaries to help you master new terms and pictures to illustrate complex concepts, along with other components meant to aid student learning. These tools are rarely exciting, but navigating them should be easy.

Scholarly articles, in contrast, tend to be thick and weighty. Start reading and you may quickly get bogged down in all those endless paragraphs. The vocabulary alone may intimidate you. This feeling can be especially frustrating if you are a student of communication studies. Read a few paragraphs from Quarterly Journal of Speech and you might think, "For supposed experts in communication, these folks are awfully dense." After wading through a few pages, you might even wonder if you chose the wrong field.

The good news is that you're not alone. Professors can feel overwhelmed by scholarly journal articles too. Some authors pile ideas and references into a structure so thick that their articles seem like walls built to obscure understanding rather than windows designed for illumination. Articles should be accessible. In fact, the multiple drafts and revisions necessary for a scholarly article to be published should all but ensure their readability. Unfortunately though, layers of anonymous peer review and editorial feedback can add unnecessary complexity. And some scholarly articles, no matter how complex they might be, suffer a simple problem: they are poorly written and/or carelessly edited.

Still, you should not immediately dismiss a challenging scholarly article as pointlessly overwritten, at least without first considering a basic question: Who is the intended audience for this piece of writing? In most cases, scholarly articles are written for a relatively narrow community of experts for whom simple terminology can actually impede understanding. It's strange but true. Scholarly articles often include exactingly specific concepts that require precise vocabulary. Their authors select terms carefully to signal their identification with particular schools of thought, ways of researching, and even groups of people.

Chances are you've employed a similar strategy. Think about the care you devote to selecting clothes before a job interview or a date. To someone outside of your peer group (present or future), your attire might not merit close scrutiny. Shoes are shoes, right? And who cares about the label on your jeans or the brand of your coat? But you're hoping that your potential employer or romantic partner will read the signs you've chosen to communicate. Your particular choice of shoe, which might be meaningless to a cultural outsider, says much about your identity and much about the community with which you prefer to affiliate. The same applies to the other signs you arrange to communicate your nonverbal message.

What's more, your selection from potential meanings will become more precise as your notion of community becomes more refined. Consider a cover story about romantic relationships appearing in a glossy magazine like Cosmopolitan. The article might be titled, "What does his body language really mean?," which could be an interesting topic for communication research. But scholars of nonverbal communication would require much more specific wording. After all, when we speak of "body language" do we mean "ritualistic facework" or "paralinguistic turn-relinquishing signals"? Do we employ a "positivist" paradigm or an "interpretivist” approach? And what about "mutual or co-active influences"?

These phrases may seem needlessly opaque to the casual reader. But they reflect specific ideas that cannot be easily conveyed by the generic term, "body language." Yes, the choice to use these words and phrases will not appeal to all readers. Yet a scholarly article isn't intended for all readers; it's meant for professionals who practice a particular approach toward a topic.

Cracking the professional's code requires more than a dictionary; this feat calls for context. Accordingly you should read a scholarly article as an interested and open-minded stranger wandering around a new city. Initially you might be confused or frustrated by seemingly meaningless things said by members of that community. You will likely need a guide at first, a friendly insider who can help you interpret the subtle and nuanced meanings of the messages you see (while directing your attention to messages you can't quite discern). You will certainly require patience and time to endure this initial encounter.

Eventually, you will recognize the purpose behind these seemingly strange messages; you'll know why they were selected and to whom they are intended. And then, almost without knowing it, you'll find yourself reading and speaking like a "local" in a place that once felt so foreign. At that point you'll be in a much better position to assess the selection of words and symbols in your community. You might even work to open up your profession to new members by increasing the accessibility of the words valued by your group. It all begins with one step.

Read - not just to understand but also to join.

[In a forthcoming post I'll offer additional tips for deciphering the typical components of a communication studies journal article.]

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yet More Tilt-Shift Fun

Following up on my earlier post, here are a few more tilt-shift experiments.

San Jose, CA

Pendleton, OR

Battle Mountain, NV

Kennebunk, ME

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wood's Writing Guide: State, Don't Believe

As a professor I often reflect on how students can write better essays. One suggestion: Lose phrases like "I think" or "I believe."

If you're a student, especially if you're taking courses in the social sciences and the humanities, you've probably written a similar phrase once or twice. In many of those courses, professors like me allow - and even encourage - folks to write in the first-person.

Moreover, some of those assignments might actually leave room for you to express your beliefs and philosophy. For instance you might be asked to reflect upon how something relates to your personal life. In that case you might write something like this:
"Watching the State of the Union address reminds me of Thanksgiving at my own house. Once a year the family gets together and performs the old rituals. Everyone plays their roles, but conflicts still always seems to seethe below the surface. Of course, I believe that conflict can be useful. Thus I smiled when Justice Alito mouthed 'Not true' during President Obama's 2010 State of the Union speech. All families need a crazy uncle who's not afraid to tell the truth."
As a reader, I may agree or disagree with your analysis. But I'd have no problem with you writing "I believe" in an assignment that seeks that sort of personal reflection.

At the same time, such license generally does not extend to assignments that ask you to advance an argument or express an opinion. In these cases, you are undoubtedly affected by your beliefs. But your audience will rarely find those beliefs to be sufficient as a means of proof.

Consider this hypothetical prompt: "What was the most significant technological innovation of the 20th century?" Sure, you might believe that the atomic bomb was more important than the invention of penicillin. But you are actually being asked to advance an argument that requires different forms of proof.

In this case you are expected to deploy facts, statistics, testimony, illustrations, and other well-reasoned proofs to advance your claim. Your beliefs, though certainly related to your thinking, contribute little to supporting your claim. Indeed, phrases like "I believe" add unnecessary delay, requiring the reader to sort through the phrase before getting to your point. [She believes. Does that mean she doesn't know?"]

Of course you might be inclined to add "I believe" precisely because you don't know with 100% certainty. As a student you might wish to admit that your assertion comes from limited knowledge. You know a little about this topic, but you don't claim to be a subject matter expert. Thus you "believe," or you "think," or you offer this claim "in my opinion."

Even so, don't do it.

When you are asked to state an opinion, you can remind yourself, "I don't know everything about this topic, so everything I say can be questioned." You can even write that phrase in your first draft when you're still sorting out your arguments. But when you submit your final draft, search your document for unnecessary modifiers like "I believe" - and remove them.

When the time has come to express your opinion, state it simply and clearly, with no prevarication. Offer multiple forms of proof, considering the standards of your reader(s), not just your personal preferences, and then keep an open mind for contrary responses. When you're tempted to write, "I believe that the atomic bomb was more important than the invention of penicillin," cut those first three words.

State your claim and make your case.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

iWriting with iBooks Author

Launching a couple potential ebook projects, I've been playing with Apple's new iBooks Author app, and I'm tentatively impressed. I'm also wary. As usual with 1.0 versions of software, I find myself reflecting on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

The app offers an intuitive workflow: Open a new file from a template of lovely options, add chapters and sections, add content, and you've got an ebook. Copy/paste text and watch it flow across the columns. Drop and drop an image onto a page and iBooks Author places it with WYSIWYG-ease. Change your mind on chapter order? Click and drag. No problemo.

Even better, iBooks Author is easy to use and offers some mighty advanced tools for ebook production. You can integrate widgets for dynamic content (e.g., a live Twitter feed), 3D objects, videos, and interactive graphics. Perhaps most impressively you can integrate Keynote slideshows that provide (with some limitations) remarkably granular control of how you deploy words and images.

The best part? iBooks Author is free.

The Bad

Well, it's sort of free. Actually I had to upgrade my Mac's operating system to the newest version of Lion; that cost me about $30 bucks (a decent price for a fairly substantial improvement over my laptop's older OS). And needless to say, folks who don't drive a Mac are out of luck. There is no Windows version - yet (though there are plenty of open-source alternatives).

Beyond the OS issue, iBooks Author is limited in some important ways. Remember those swell templates? They're undoubtedly professional, featuring integrated fonts, colors, and layouts. But there's only six of them. Surely Apple will add more (and templates are relatively easy to customize in the meantime). Still, the "textbook" focus of iBooks Author's first templates won't appeal to many authors.

The app also includes some weird hangups. Add one of those cool interactive images and you're able to label elements. Great! Want to center the font in one of those labels? You can't. Want to click and drag a video onto one of your pages? Terrific! Want it to work? Better make sure that video is saved in a particular Quicktime format. Other similar goofiness crops up from time to time, some of which will likely be revised in forthcoming versions.

The Ugly

As with most things Apple, iBooks Author does not play well with others. Yes, you can export your project as a PDF document or web-viewable site. But readers must use an iPad to access the most dynamic features of your book. No third party options will work (as of now). And that limitation applies to authors too. You can edit your ebook on a Mac, but you can't see its full functionality unless you hook up an iPad. So there's another half-grand to spend.

More annoyingly, you are stuck using Apple's storefront if you plan to sell your eBook. What's more, while Apple requires you to secure an ISBN code, the company offers little help in that process [I've read elsewhere that you're forced to shell out about $100 bucks for a code through a third-party, even though Apple could purchase them in bulk and sell them much more cheaply]. And most troublingly, even if our friends in Cupertino clear up some vague language about ownership in the end-user license agreement [which they subsequently appear to have done], Apple alone decides whether they'll sell your book.

That's right: You could spend countless hours on your ebook, only to find that Apple won't sell it - and they won't allow you to export it to the more commonly used ePub format. Walled Gardens, indeed!


Ultimately I'm optimistic about the potential for iBooks Author to help transform the textbook publishing industry. I'm optimistic because I imagine myself sharing ideas in a form that is more dynamic, more cost effective, and more easy to update than anything found in today's textbooks. For a 1.0 version, this app is robust and largely free of bugs. Revisions will only bring more improvement.

At the same time I'm unconvinced that Apple's iPad alone is the ideal device for eBook reading - especially for textbooks. In its current iteration, the iPad is expensive and ill-suited for the rough-and-tumble of the average student's backpack. And the costs of repairing and refreshing the iPad may surprise schools who are cheerfully buying them by the truckload.

Still, Apple has proven its ability to produce meaningful improvements in our lives by its willingness to force innovations onto a wary public. iBooks Author and its tightly tethered iPad aren't perfect, but they are impressive. Potentially they're game-changers.

Just ask anyone who works in the music industry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Tilt-Shift Fun

Here are a few more tilt-shift images from my growing collection.

Disney World, Florida

South Beach - Miami, Florida

Rhyolite ghost town, Nevada

Manzanar historic site, California

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rota Fish Taxi (ca. 1988)

Back when I was a Navy journalist (1986-1990) in Spain [learn more], I liked to produce music videos - nothing fancy, just a chance to practice my editing. Sometimes these packages would find their ways onto Rota Today or Weekend Hot Pix. I had a great job: a chance to learn my craft in some fascinating environments.

One morning I borrowed the station's video camera and joined Jenny at the Rota docks. We'd seen "taxis" row fishers to their boats and figured it might be fun to get a closer look. Jenny captured still-images while I concentrated on video. Little by little, we both realized that we'd stumbled onto something special.

Actually I remember being a little nervous, lugging a pricey video camera onto a wobbly rowboat. In addition, I spoke almost no Spanish. But the taxi driver was pretty cool; he didn't mind a guest. So we rode from shore to those anchored boats a couple times, and I imagined how nice this scene would be set to Genesis's "Blood on the Rooftops."

Given the years and generation loss (copying from tape to video to archive to digital), the project suffers from age. Nonetheless, this was one of my favorite videos: an early morning with Jenny, joining the Rota fish taxi driver on one of his runs.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sabbatical Success

They say that sabbatical is related to the word "sabbath" - as in "abstinence from work"... rest. And I'm not going to kid anyone here: I intend to relax a little. But I also plan to complete projects I'd never had time or bandwidth to attempt during the regular academic year.

Just for fun, I'll keep track of 'em on this page.

Fri, Jan 20: Updated laptop to OSX Lion to start playing with iBooks Author.

Sat, Jan 21: Downloaded Zotero desktop version and finally got my small but growing reference library integrated with Word.

Sun, Jan 22: Got Networked Blogs to post Woodland Shoppers Paradise-posts onto my Facebook account.

Mon, Jan 23: Created my first interactive graphic on iBooks Author.

Tue, Jan 24: Went on my first run in about two years. Only a mile (and a pretty pathetic time at that) but a start to better health. Used Nike's GPS runner's app to track my course, distance, and time.

Wed, Jan 25: Installed a piece of software (EndNote - a potential competitor to Zotero as my primary bibliography management system) and made solid progress on COMM ebook.

Thu, Jan 26: Started building a Picaboo book on roadside relics.

Fri, Jan 27: Finished first draft of Roadside Relics book.

Sat, Jan 28: Jenny and I managed to repair and reinstall our chimney cap - without falling off our roof.

Sun, Jan 29: Uploaded final draft of Roadside Relics.

Mon, Jan 30: Installed new versions of Photoshop and Acrobat. (Seriously, I've had this software for more than half a year and never had time to get the serial numbers to complete the installation process.)

Tue, Jan 31: Finished and mailed “Origami Urbanism Amid the Flat City: An Omnitopian Analysis of Commercials Depicting Mutability in Urban Life.”

Wed, Feb 1: Revised every voice-over and almost every edit of my GTI video.

Thu, Feb 2: Wrote abstract for potential NCA paper, "Trade Your Trouble for a Bubble: Imagining the Enclavic Future at the 2010 Shanghai World's Fair."

Fri, Feb 3: Starting getting my head around Pinterest. Started DPRK visa process.

Sat, Feb 4: Began building Roadside Relics iBooks version.

Sun, Feb 5: Continued developing Roadside Relics for iBooks, watched Super Bowl commercials.

Mon, Feb 6: Learned how to create Keynote "video" that can be exported to iPad.

Tue, Feb 7: Built iBooks interactive graphic for APA referencing.

Web, Feb 8: Prepped kick-off meetings for Salzburg and Beijing summer trips.

Thu, Feb 9: Created COMM 101 graphic that illustrates how student-selected articles can build upon one another - and built a Salzburg Talking About Global Topics Activity.

Fri, Feb 10: Participated in kick-off activities for Salzburg trip.

Sat, Feb 11: Led kick-off activities for Beijing trip.

Sun, Feb 12: Built personal Google-map for upcoming solo trip itinerary.

Mon, Feb 13: Organized visa applications for Beijing 2012 students.

Tue, Feb 14: Worked on all sorts of projects (but more importantly) sent hourly Valentines to Jenny.

Wed, Feb 15: Lengthy lunch with longtime pal (and future office-mate).

Thu, Feb 16: Photographed West Oakland street art.

Fri, Feb 17: Organized Salzburg passport information for airfare purchase

Sat, Feb 18: Photographed East Oakland street art.

Sun, Feb 19: Enjoyed Battlestar Galactica marathon with the fam.

Mon, Feb 20: Began prepping Humanities Honors lecture on 20th century art.

Tue, Feb 21: Took care of bank wire for international travel. Prepped more of honors lecture.

Wed, Feb 22: Prepped more of honors lecture.

Thu, Feb 23: Met with colleague to discuss potential book project.

Fri, Feb 24: Attended to logistical issues about three back-to-back trips.

Sat, Feb 25: Built collaborative Beijing map.

Sun, Feb 26: Improved Beijing map and began to finalize RSQ article edits.

Mon, Feb 27: Completed version 2.0 of "Regionalization and the construction of ephemeral co-location."

Tue, Feb 28: Arranged itinerary for upcoming solo roadtrip.

Wed, Feb 29 [Leap Day!]: Planned flights for summer Europe trip and brainstormed with colleague for potential book project.

Thu, Mar 1: Finished initial layout for Humanities Honors lecture on modern art

Fri, Mar 2: Updated itinerary for solo roadtrip, discussed Humanities Honors performance with colleague, shot animated neon sign in Boulder Creek

Sat, Mar 3: Dinner at home with friends

Sun, Mar 4: Met with writer's group to discuss new projects

Mon, Mar 5: Completed (mostly) the Salzburg student ticketing process and five hours of consulting

Tue, Mar 6: Chased down paperwork, composed massive Beijing 2012 update message, and built Salzburg 2012 map

Wed, Mar 7: Picked up Beijing 2012 visas and continued Oakland street art search

Thu, Mar 8: Revised RSQ article and read Liquid Modernity

Fri, Mar 9: Wrapped up Weimar travel plans and began COMM 149 refresh

Sat, Mar 10: Devoted most of the day to COMM 149 refresh

Sun, Mar 11: Improved, revised solo road trip

Mon, Mar 12: Completed solo road trip itinerary

Tue, Mar 13: Skyped with colleague about literature review project

Wed, Mar 14: Met on campus to discuss Salzburg video revisions

Thu, Mar 15: Resolved minor software crash (not all sabbatical projects are fun)

Fri, Mar 16: Freed up gigs of hard drive space (again, not all sabbatical projects are fun)

Sat, Mar 17: Attended Salzburg BBQ and packed for epic three week road trip

Sun, Mar 18 through Sun, Apr 8: 7,400 mile road trip from home to L.A., across the south to Georgia, then north to Chicago, and back to L.A. across Route 66 - and then back home to Scotts Valley. Final weekend back home: editing video and pix.

Mon, Apr 9: Wrote two "nodes" for literature review project

Tue, Apr 10: Visited Santa Cruz court house for potential jury duty

Wed, Apr 11: On-site jury selection process slowly proceeds

Thu, Apr 12: Three days of jury selection - oaths in court, voir dire, the whole bit - and my number never came up. I appreciate that serving on a jury is a privilege, and I know how fascinating it can be, but in this case, wow, I'm grateful they didn't call my name.

Fri, Apr 13: Edited and posted pix of St. Louis street art

Sat, Apr 14: Edited Blue Swallow Motel video

Sun, Apr 15: Began prepping 20th Century arts lecture

Mon, Apr 16: Wrote John's Modern Cabin's blog post, continued prepping 20th Century arts lecture

Tue, Apr 17: Wrote "Bigger Classes, Better Outcomes?" blog post, reviewed thesis prospectus, worked on literature review project

Wed, Apr 18: Continued prepping 20th Century arts lecture

Thu, Apr 19: Reviewed thesis topic sentences and prepped Beijing 2012 course

Fri, Apr 20: Adopted Fall 2012 books, prepped for 20th Century arts lecture

Sat, Apr 21
: Posted my Route 66 video on Buzzfeed and finalized 20th Century arts lecture

Sun, Apr 22: Practiced 20th Century arts lecture

Mon, Apr 23
: Practiced 20th Century arts lecture

Tue, Apr 24
: Presented 20th Century arts lecture and had a celebratory beer with colleague

Wed, Apr 25: Flew to Chicago for Illinois Institute of Technology department review; dinner at Mercat a la Planxa

Thu, Apr 26
: All-day work on Illinois Institute of Technology department review; dinner at Chicago Club

Fri, Apr 27: Co-wrote Illinois Institute of Technology department report; returned home

Sat, Apr 28: Relaxed at home with Jenny; enjoyed Scorsese's The Departed

Sun, Apr 29: Finally cleaned bedroom post-painting mess

Mon, Apr 30: Final edits (I hope!) on IIT document; reviewed Beijing handbook

Tue, May 1: Wrote Missouri rest stop blog; ditched crazy-unwieldy collection of to-read clippings; integrated Pocket snipper/saver into my workflow; wrote two more literature review nodes

Wed, May 2: Addressed lotsa Beijing 2012 logistics in the morning; started planning Weimar keynote lecture in the afternoon

Thu, May 3: More work on Weimar talk

Fri, May 4Finally resolved (I think!) my dual Google account problem. At last, one account to rule them all!

Sat, May 5: More work on Weimar talk, studied the cinematography of Michael Mann's Heat.

Sun, May 6: Much-needed relaxation with the family - even took a long walk together!

Mon, May 7: Consulting in the morning; Lit Review project in the afternoon

Tue, May 8: Laborious correspondence and campus details in the morning; Fresno Street Art project in the afternoon/evening

Wed, May 9: More correspondance - then some editing and time with our foster kitties

Thu, May 10: Sent feedback on RSQ page proofs

Fri, May 11: SJSU premier of Salzburg video "Ripples Across the Pond"

Sat, May 12: Started playing with HandBrake software

Sun, May 13: Enjoyed Mother's Day with Jenny and Vienna

Mon, May 14: Began packing and granular writing process for Weimar speech

Tue, May 15: More Weimar logistics and two new Lit Review project nodes

Wed, May 16: Picky travel details (calling banks, etc.) and Weimar work

Thu, May 17: Wrote "Omnitopia as Urban Epistemology"

Fri, May 18: Weimar talk prep and dinner with friends

I'm concluding this post here, given that my sabbatical ends with the spring semester. In summer I'm traveling to Europe and to China (twice!), and I'll be blogging much less than normal during that time. Later on, I'll reflect on the value on this sabbatical. I didn't do all the reading I'd hoped, but I did finish projects large and small that would never have been possible during a typical semester - and I made real headway toward one (and potentially two) book projects. As always, I'm grateful for the time and investment that SJSU made in my personal and professional life. I hope that the results are worthwhile!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Have I found a reason to jump onto the iPad bandwagon? Maybe so.

Today Apple announced its iBooks Author app that may provide me the tools necessary to produce the sort of post-traditional press project I've long imagined - maybe my world's fair book, maybe something else entirely - a "book" that is dynamic, malleable, engaging, and much more updatable than the current model.

Reviewing Andy Ihnatko's initial assessment, I see lots to like about iBooks. Integration with iTunes, intuitive design, multimedia content… Nice. Then of course there are the typical caveats as Apple continues to expand creative options while managing distribution its patented brand of granular control. Oh, and let's not forget the hardware costs (never a one-time-only proposition).

Considering the potential and the pitfalls of today's announcement, I don't plan to rush to my nearest Apple store and buy iPad's next iteration (the one supposedly arriving this spring). I've got plenty of work ahead of me for the next year or so, just developing content. You know: words and stuff. We haven't advanced quite so far as to forget those minor items, have we?

At the same time, I've got to admit: I sure would like to play with an iPad right about now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Turning 44 today doesn't lead me to much reflection on the past 12 months. Mostly I'm focused on the road ahead. That's a benefit of having a birthday in January, I guess: I'm inclined to see the day as a chance to plan ahead.

So what's the plan for Year 44?

Certainly I hope to use my spring sabbatical as a chance to start building the structure of a book on world's fairs I've long been threatening to write. I'll start with an essay on the 2010 Shanghai Fair, while also sketching more detail into the framework of the overall book project.

I'm not yet thinking about securing a publisher, though. Heck, I'm not sure that the traditional publishing model works anymore - either in terms of remuneration or in terms of flexibility to deliver content in a compelling way. So I'll spend some time contemplating form as well as content. Without the stresses of tenure and promotion to freeze my imagination, I feel no need to reproduce past accomplishments. I want to try something new.

I'm also fired up about the opportunity to lead student groups to Beijing and Salzburg this summer. I feel so lucky to return to parts of the world that continue to fascinate me. Yet I'm aware of the complexity of the tasks I've chosen to tackle. Some of spring will therefore be dedicated to necessary preparations - even as I work on a potential plan to augment my China travels with an odd but potentially amazing side trip (more news on that topic later).

Year 44 will also include plenty of other travels in the U.S., most notably a cross-country solo road trip that may inspire a video about animated neon signs (You know, the stuff you see at motels, bowling alleys, and diners). Jenny and I will likely return to Yosemite too, hoping to climb Half Dome. And there's always time for a Highway 163 sojourn. Monument Valley never ceases to quiet my soul.

I also look forward to friends coming to California this year as we prepare to celebrate Vienna's nuptials in fall. I have a pretty clear idea of how Jenny will manage that particular transition. For myself, I am less sure. I'm hopeful that my daughter is embarking on a wonderful adventure. Still I can't quite shake a father's anxieties.

In the interstitial moments between big changes, I hope to read some of the books that have been piling up on night stands and lamp tables around our house. While my mind has hardly stagnated in these past busy years, I feel an acute need to rethink old ideas, perhaps to jettison a few altogether. One gift I offer myself today is the assurance that I may continue to change my mind.

Most importantly, though, I spend more time with good friends this year. Indeed I've read recently that failure to nourish genuine friendships constitutes one of the great regrets many folks discover when they near death. I don't foresee a chance to prove that theory any time soon. I merely hope to refresh those relationships that are mutually meaningful.

Here I emphasize my aim to be less concerned about folks for whom friendship is divvied according to utility or convenience. I hope to be kind and helpful to acquaintances, of course. But my fondest hope is to be a better friend to those people who have added so much to my life - both when it's easy and when it's hard.

No doubt my 44th year will include plenty of both.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yosemite - Winter 2012

Jenny navigating the rocks near Lower Yosemite Falls
Jenny and I just got back from our second winter trip to Yosemite. Normally we head to the Sierras in spring or summer, but we so enjoyed 2011's snowy sojourn that we had to return to our winter wonderland a year later. So we packed our chains and prepared to brave the elements. Problem was, there was no snow and little ice this time around. We arrived in a period of unseasonably mild weather.

Andy preparing a Lower Falls leap
We still had a lovely time. We rented bikes to cruise around the valley, hiked to the Vernal Falls bridge, trekked through the woods, and climbed the rocks near Bridalveil and the Lower Yosemite Falls. All the while I kept staring up at half dome, imagining the climb I hope to complete in early summer [Jenny's not as thrilled about that plan, but she's game].

Half Dome: our next hiking adventure
We stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge, just outside of the park. Normally we opt for Camp Curry; their tents are comfortable even in wintertime. But Jenny got a good deal on a hotel. Even better, we got a "spa room," which includes an in-room hot tub and fireplace. Best of all, we were joined by three raccoons who scampered from balcony to balcony in search of a meal.

Ice transformed rivers into artwork
Despite the pleasures of the trip, our return home was a bit of a pain. The night before our departure, we blew a tire on 140 remembering that the used car we bought about a year ago didn't come with a lug wrench. Thankfully we pulled over at one of the few spots near Yosemite that get a flicker of cell reception. The next morning we got our tire replaced without too much hassle, even on a holiday. Thus once again we returned to Scotts Valley with happy memories of one of our favorite places.

Yosemite deer awaiting springtime
(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood)

San Jose Motel

Taking the day off for the holiday. But I had to share one new image - a view of a San Jose motel from a perspective that many see but few can photograph...

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Raygun Gothic: Mexico Theatre

Following up on this week's posting of Raygun Gothic photos, I couldn't wait to check out the current status of San Jose's Mexico Theatre [opened in 1949 as The Mayfair]. I thought it'd been demolished. But it's still there, waiting to come back to life.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Raygun Gothic - Part 3

"Los Angeles was a bad idea, and I spent two weeks there. It was prime [Raygun] country; too much of the Dream there, and too many fragments of the Dream waiting to snare me. I nearly wrecked the car on a stretch of overpass near Disneyland, when the road fanned out like an origami trick and left me swerving through a dozen minilanes of whizzing chrome teardrops with shark fins. [Hollywood was] even worse."

- William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum"

Here's my final (for now!) collection of Raygun Gothic photos [don't forget to check out Part 1 and Part 2]. Naturally we have to conclude our tour in L.A.!

Cole and Santa Monica, West Hollywood

Cole and Santa Monica, West Hollywood (another view)

Crossroads of the World (1936)

Former KFI Radio Station Building (1936)

Griffith Park Observatory Obelisk (1934)
(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Raygun Gothic - Part 2

"The designers were populists, you see; they were trying to give the public what it wanted. What the public wanted was the future."
- William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum"

Following up on yesterday's post, I'm sharing more images from my Raygun Gothic photo collection. These buildings reflect an early- to mid-twentieth century fascination with the moderne, a stylized version of "the future" where the buildings seem to be copied from Flash Gorden comics and Amazing Stories pulp magazines [Learn more]. Here's part two!

Disney's Celebration, Florida
Carthage, Missouri
South Beach, Miami
Salinas, California
South Beach, Miami
Sacramento, California

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Raygun Gothic - Part 1

"During the high point of the [Streamlined Moderne Age], they put Ming the Merciless in charge of designing California gas stations. Favoring the architecture of his native Mongo, he cruised up and down the coast erecting raygun emplacements in white stucco. Lots of them featured superfluous central towers ringed with those strange radiator flanges that were a signature motif of the style, and made them look as though they might generate potent bursts of raw technological enthusiasm, if you could only find the switch that turned them on. I shot one in San Jose an hour before the bulldozers arrived and drove right through the structural truth of plaster and lathing and cheap concrete."
- William Gibson, "The Gernsback Continuum"

I've always been fascinated by Raygun Gothic, and I've been collecting images of those examples of this gaudy, goofy style for about ten years now. I thought I'd share some of my favorites... [I'll post more tomorrow.]

San Jose, CA theatre
1197 East Santa Clara Street [See more pix]

South Beach, Miami post office

U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas

Tucson, Arizona gas station

Portland, Oregon gas station
(Photographs by Andrew Wood and Jenny Wood)

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Photographs of Your Junk (will be publicized!)

This does as good a job as anything I've seen lately to convey the current zeitgeist.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stop the Ad-Madness

Remember bell-bottoms?

I grew up in the seventies, and I remember how it seemed that everyone wore goofy pants with flared cuffs that appeared tailor-made for showing off those stylish platform shoes that were also popular back then. Just to be clear: I don't mean a little bit of flair, like you might see today. I'm talking about street-sweeping size-flair. Charlie's Angels-cast-off flair! The 70s, at least in terms of fashion, were a dark time for America. Sometime around the 1980s, though, the bell-bottom fad faded away.

Sure, some folks still wore 'em. Some folks still do - and God bless those brave retro-fashion souls. Yet most people have decided that bell-bottoms look kind of silly. And the companies that once produced wildly flared jeans have since learned to adjust their styles or go out of business. It didn't take a grand campaign to rid the world of 1970s-era bell-bottoms. It simply took a choice to look in the mirror and say, "I'm not going to do this anymore."

So if we could collectively opt out of the bell-bottom craze, abandoning it to the land of disco music and pet rocks, why can't we tell the politicians that their annoying, insulting, and manipulative campaign ads, radio spots, and robo-calls are out of step with the times? Why don't we demand a change of political fashion?

Given that we're in the middle of a presidential race now, it's possibly unreasonable to expect such a transformation in this year. But in 2016 I intend to support a presidential candidate who pledges not to run a single campaign ad. Not one ad. No television attacks, no radio pitches, no telephone intrusions. 

[NOTE: Such a pledge will also require the candidate to firmly disavow any ads run by third-parties - on a daily basis, if need be. I should add that this proposal applies only to the post-primary presidential race. I haven't a clue about how to clean up the primary process.]

When it comes to the final two or three candidates in the presidential race, I will only support one who promises to limit her or his campaign communications to a handful of messages: perhaps a website, a newspaper editorial, a YouTube video, and maybe a book.

Taking a page from Newt Gingrich, my ideal candidate will also pledge to compete in a series of Lincoln-Douglas-style debates. These unmoderated debates, organized by the campaigns themselves, would allow candidates to state their policies, plans, and goals without interruption - taking turns to explain their cases, refute their opponents, bolster their claims, and summarize their arguments.

The debates, potentially lasting three hours or more, would be held in various locations around the country, thereby inviting candidates to demonstrate their grasp on regional issues. Each debate would surely receive full coverage by even the most stridently partisan news networks. Together, these debates, in addition to the other messages shared by candidates, would help Americans make a reasoned choice about our next president.

Well, that's my plan. It requires no government mandate, no unconstitutional restrictions, no complex rule-changes. It's a personal choice, the decision to say, "If you want my support, you'll stop the ad-madness and communicate clearly about what you intend to do for our country." It's an individual decision to abandon bad political fashion, one vote at a time.

Think about it. We stopped wearing bell-bottoms, we stopped wearing leisure suits, and we stopped wearing mood rings. I know we can stop the ad-madness too.

I'll explore some ideas to implement this proposal in the near future.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Demand-Side Political Reform

Yesterday I was thinking about the interminable nature of modern political campaigns - focusing especially on the blizzard of inane television advertisements that accompany almost any serious race for national office. Most folks despise these ads. They also hate the mailers, the radio spots, and the robo-calls. Yet we're told that candidates need these weapons to win their campaigns.

One result - beyond the barrage of annoying ads - is a political system that compels politicians to cater to powerful interests who can bundle together insane amounts of money to purchase all those campaign spots. For members of the U.S. House who face two-year terms, that means a perpetual campaign. From their first day in office, each representative must begin raising money for the next election. Senators and presidents may enjoy more breathing room, but they are hardly freed from the demands of fundraising. Someday soon, they'll need to run new spots that cost money. Lots of money.

And while individual donations are limited by law, a plethora of soft money sources ensure that special interests are free to raise the stakes year after year. You can bet that the Supreme Court's recent decision allowing corporations to throw virtually unlimited amounts of money into the system rigs the game even more against us. It's an arms race, with each campaign raising the stakes to unfathomable heights. Thus this year's presidential election alone could cost over two billion dollars - much of that money meant to buy ads that no one wants.

How can we disarm this crazy political system?

A supply-side solution would mandate public financing for all campaigns, requiring candidates to restrict their spending to those limits, kind of like ensuring that each side in a war starts with the same number of weapons. Such an approach may sound "fair," but few serious candidates would consider that option these days, particularly with all that soft money sloshing around. Moreover, a supply-side restriction would run afoul of constitutional free speech provisions (especially in today's judicial climate).

The larger problem, though, is not the financing of ads but rather the ads themselves. Fewer ads, or the same number of ads per candidate, fails to address this issue. Typically built to shove carefully calibrated soundbites into 30- or 60-second increments, most campaign spots trade reasoned discourse for bumper sticker thinking. They work that way because campaign advisors tell their candidates that people will not tolerate more thoughtful forms of discourse.

If those advisors are correct, if we will not sit still long enough to consider all the arguments for one candidate over another, if we're willing to suffer the onslaught of ads that we actually hate, then perhaps we deserve our dysfunctional government: a rigged game where practical, moderate, bipartisanship is abandoned as politicians chase the money to pump ever more shrill, ever more ubiquitous advertisements into our lives.

But what if the political hacks are wrong? What if we chose to expect thoughtful discourse from our candidates, vowing not to tolerate the television spots, the radio blather, and the robo-attacks? What if we initiated a demand-side solution? The idea I offer may sound naive, it might appear overly simplistic, and it will surely need substantial refinement. But it promises at least some improvement over our current mess.

Tomorrow: I'll share some specifics on a plan to disarm from this pointless war.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tired of the Endless Campaign?

Jon Stewart, as usual, conveyed some sense of the absurdity of the GOP primaries, recently comparing the candidates with a Whitman's Sampler. Poking through the dreary selections, Stewart dispensed with Michelle Bachman (too nutty) and Rick Santorum (too gooey), concluding that Republicans will dilly and dally - only to select the boring chocolate square in the center: Mitt Romney ("the little messenger boy" covered in gobs of "Santorum").

Still, I don't think Stewart went quite far enough. You see, much of his argument relied on the supposedly shared assumption that most folks wade through many of Whitman's offerings while enjoying few of them. Maybe I'm alone here, but I like pretty much everything that comes in a Whitman's box. Yeah, even the cherry cordial. [OK, maybe I said too much here.]

Sure, few people will agree on which candy tastes best. That's why the boring choice usually wins a popularity contest. Indeed, as much as I'd like to believe that Michelle Bachman suspended her campaign this morning once Iowans had concluded that she's bat-shit crazy, I know that many voters base their choices on electability rather than sanity. At the same time, plenty of people genuinely like Bachman's brand of battiness. Nuts can be popular too, even if they fail to win the mainstream taste-test.

So I was thinking this morning: what's something that pretty much all people agree that they dislike, even more than those occasionally regrettable Whitman's choices? Let's see. Reflecting on the past month, I'll bet all of us can remember at least one holiday party we attended just because we were expected to be there. Yet most folks still like holiday parties, yes? OK, how about fruitcakes? Who really likes fruitcakes? Maybe a smaller number of people. But some folks like 'em. Not ironically but for real.

Yet there is one thing, no matter the season, that almost everyone hates: television campaign advertisements. Think about it. Even if you believe in the candidate, don't you get tired of seeing his or her face in your living room every five minutes? All those blathering platitudes, all those banal slogans, all those clichéd images. Does the candidate support education? Here comes the footage of fresh-faced school kids raising their hands all at once! Does the candidate have a plan to "get America back to work?" There's a hard-working joe turning a wrench.

And we all know the script for the opposition spot: eerie music, grainy photos, and that earnest, alarmed voice ("haven't we had enough of [whoever, whatever]?" We suffer the same drama season after season, and maybe we even believe that some candidates are "Bad For America." Yet I don't know a single person who actually likes the onslaught of campaign effluvia we must endure every two years. Not one. And yet we feel powerless to stop it. What can we do?

Well, I have one idea that, oddly enough, I borrow from Newt Gingrich. More tomorrow

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Jenny and I spent much of the week between Christmas and New Year's on the road, sharing hours of conversation, music (and sometimes lovely silence) as the miles flew by. We drove some insane distances too. For starters, we cruised all the way from Scotts Valley to Sedona - a little over 750 miles - on our first day. We chose Arizona as our initial destination to enjoy days of sunshine and blue skies, a welcome respite from the Pacific Coast's gloomy, drizzly winter.

For our first Sedona morning, we hiked to Devil's Bridge, a "moderate" trail known for some occasionally steep climbing. It was such a treat to cross that narrow stone walkway and survey the vivid colors of Sedona's panorama. In the afternoon we opted for a supposedly easy hike from Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point. Only problem: after circling the butte in rapidly fading sunlight, we discovered just how far away from our car we'd wandered. So we faced another two mile trudge - this one along the highway to our trailhead. And believe me, we felt every rise and fall of that danged road.

After all that hiking, I was actually kind of excited the next day just to drive south to Bisbee. First, though, Jenny wanted to experience a Sedona vortex. You've heard of these, right? Those famed convergences of masculine and feminine "energies" that have attracted artists and other mystics for years. Well, even through we didn't have much time to commune with nature, we found a perfect spot for some quick enlightenment: a formation near the local airport that also offers an amazing view of the surrounding region.

After inviting Jenny to join the "Ancient and Mystical Order of the Red Rock" (an informal cult I formed during my first visit to Sedona in 1997) we began the long drive south through Phoenix and Tucson, all the way toward the Mexican border. Our goal was Bisbee's Shady Dell Trailer Park. There, we stayed in a museum-quality midcentury "Tiki Bus," complete with Hawaiian music on the phonograph, 50s-era magazines on the table, and a tiki idol near the bathroom. We drove for hours just to enjoy this evening, and we savored every minute.

The next day found us heading west from Bisbee to Los Angeles - a nine hour slog (presuming no traffic). Depressed at the prospect of retracing so much of our journey, we detoured slightly to I-8, dipping toward San Diego. While we found some amazing pie at Black Cyn City's Rock Springs Cafe, we were also forced to stop at four border patrol check points along the way. Annoyed but determined, Jenny and I finally arrived at our final destination: Disneyland. Sure, we sometimes mock the kitschy excess of the "Happiest Place on Earth." But we just had to see Disney's winter transformation.

For Jenny that meant three visits to the Nightmare Before Christmas-ified Haunted Mansion. And I made sure that we endured a passage through "It's a Small World," which was equally decked out in relentless holiday cheer. With our pricy park-hopper passes, we collected fastpass tickets at both the Disneyland and California Adventure parks, bounding between rides and attractions from 8 a.m. to well past midnight. We celebrated the New Year with thousands of folks who'd gathered for the "World of Color" watershow at DCA before finally collapsing into bed at 2 a.m. The next day was all about the drive home. We were exhausted - but also ready for 2012.

(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood, and a cool dude we met at Sedona)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Animated Neon Sign: Route 66 Supai Motel

For my first post of the new year, I thought I'd share some homemade video from our recent Arizona-SoCal roadtrip: the Supai Motel in Seligman, Arizona!