Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I hope you and yours have a great holiday season. I'll be back soon after New Years.

2007 Holiday Newsletter

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bay Area Tiki Night

Late last week we visited two Bay Area tiki meccas, San Francisco's Tonga Room and Alameda's Forbidden Island bar. After suffering through hellish traffic (waiting for 101 traffic to diverge at I-80 during rush hour can kill anyone's Mai-Tai anticipation) we started our evening at the Tonga Room, located downstairs in the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.

The Tonga Room earns points for one reason only: atmosphere. The island vibe begins with thatch-roofed tables surrounding a "lagoon" (once an indoor swimming pool), complete with an occasional fake tropical storm of rain, lightning, and thunder. That's it: a reason to visit the Tonga Room once. Beyond that, as is well documented elsewhere, the food is bland and overpriced, the service is acceptable but hardly worth the bill, and the drinks -- oh, those pitiful drinks. Suffice the say that the "Zombie" tasted like cough syrup. And I'd never confuse their Kool-Aid-quality "Singapore Sling" for the complex concoction I've had at the Raffles Hotel. Bottom line: Go to the Tonga Room if you're a completist bent on seeing well-known tiki-spots, but don't get too excited about the food or drink. And certainly avoid the "floor show."

Our night picked up at The Forbidden Island in Alameda. Here, Jenny revealed just how cool she is. A devout Mormon, my wife doesn't visit bars. But she understood how much I wanted to see this place, which is quickly ascending the ranks of must-see Polynesian-Pop spots. So she came with me and ordered a virgin Piña Colada. The bar is filled with tikiabilia: mysterious lighting, exotic idols, classic advertisements, and (on the night we visited) a DJ who spun an eclectic mix of rockabilly and jazz, offering an odd harmony with the tiki vibe. Signed dollar bills are tacked above the bar, a remembrance of days when sailors would post money for their returns to port. Best of all, the drinks are sublime. Freshly squeezed juices, generous portions of the hard stuff, and quirky mugs (see below for one example) prove that the owners of The Forbidden Island are serious about repeat business.

One reminder, though: The drinks are potent. Really potent. When that little voice tells you not to order one more Zombie, listen. The "Technicolor Yawn" isn't as pretty as it sounds.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ready for the holidays

Christmas letters are in the mail, presents also. The tree is strung with lights and dangling candy canes; the banisters wrapped with garland. The fireplace is lit pretty much every night and the cats are delighted. The Wood family had an adventuresome year in 2007, and some sadness too. Jenny and I dealt with the passing of our mothers (mine just before last Christmas, to be exact) and the transition of our daughter from a kid to an adult. We're proud of her, of course, but our feelings are tinged with the bittersweet reality that she's preparing to leave us. Not today or tomorrow, but inevitably. And yet we have this Christmas to share, and the hopes for a wonderful new year. In 2008 Vienna will have started on her path through college, I will (supposedly) have published my book, and Jenny will continue to expand her real estate empire. So much to anticipate. But I will try to think mostly of small things, the tender moments of kindness and laughter and quiet that make our family. For me, the holidays will be a time to rest and reflect on what matters. I hope these next days offer the same to you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Perils Of Paid Obits

I'm reading Michael Largo's The Portable Obituary and therefore found it appropriate to post a link to Philomene Offen's Editor & Publisher article, The Perils Of Paid Obits . Here's a snip:
Spelling Actually Matters - More than once I have thought back to the somber pronouncement in a local obit that grandma "has gone to live with the angles."
While I've previously written my own screed about writing the ideal obit, I envision a follow-up, adding several other must-not-dos; syrupy euphemisms for death ("gone to live with the [angels]") will be top of the list.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Enclave Extremism

I just read Cass R. Sunstein's fascinating essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Dec 14, 2007, p. B9), entitled "The Polarization of Extremes." I enjoyed this piece so much that I might add it to the reading list for a forthcoming offering of my course, COMM 149: Rhetoric and Public Life.

The essay begins with a reference to Nicholas Negroponte's prediction of "The Daily Me," an increasingly possible newspaper designed entirely around a person's customizable interests and beliefs. Sunstein then transitions from print-based information to internet-based information, noting how online technologies such as collaborative filtering allow interest groups to arise and flourish without the risk of being contaminated by contrary opinions. A person who subscribes only to the interests of left-handed albino Eskimo pipe-welders, for example, can find only those books, articles, blogs, and opinions that relate to that community. As a result:
[W]e live increasingly in an era of enclaves and niches--much of it voluntary, much of it produced by those who think they know, and often do know, what we're likely to like. This raises some obvious questions. If people are sorted into enclaves and niches, what will happen to their views? What are the eventual effects on democracy? (p. B9)
Sunstein then outlines a 2005 Colorado experiment that invited groups of people to discuss controversial issues in order to determine the role of group interaction on personal opinion (elsewhere he summarizes that experiment). As anyone who has studied groupthink will tell you, the results were hardly surprising, though they were certainly interesting. Among the findings: (1) individual opinions became intensified when they were organized in like-minded groups and (2) divergent opinions within enclavic groups became squelched. From this foundation, Sunstein poses the notion of enclave extremism:
When people end up in enclaves of like-minded people, they usually move toward a more extreme point in the direction to which the group's members were originally inclined. (p. B9)
After some analysis of the causes of this effect, Sunstein concludes with a reminder that enclave extremism is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, he notes, civil rights campaigns that sought to transform seemingly implacable attitudes about race and gender required clarity of opinion and precision of goals. Yet, he emphasizes, enclave extremism also contains the seeds of danger.
There is a general risk that those who flock together, on the Internet or elsewhere, will end up both confident and wrong, simply because they have not been sufficiently exposed to counterarguments. They may even think of their fellow citizens as opponents or adversaries in some kind of "war." (p. B9)
Suddenly all that "red state/blue state" silliness attains more significance than I'd previously considered.

Read the essay: While the Chronicle piece is no longer available freely, you can read a version of the essay here: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/news/sunstein-121407-polarization.html

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kentucky Wigwam Village

Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal reporter Katya Cengel has written a fine article about the Cave City Wigwam Village. Here's a snip:
While interstates and hotel chains put an end to many roadside cottages and attractions, Wigwam Village, in the heart of Kentucky's cave country, remains -- a piece of Americana that even American Indian tribal preservation officers seem to understand, says Green.

"Most reactions I got from people, they understood it is a piece of Americana and kitsch architecture, a piece of our history, whether politically correct or not. ..."
Read the entire piece, Wake Up in Wigwam Village.

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rendezvous With Rama

As the semester winds down I'm taking some time to enjoy more leisurely pursuits. Thus much of Saturday was dedicated to re-reading Arthur C. Clark's Rendezvous With Rama. Rama follows a group of explorers who survey the interior of a vast alien spacecraft passing through the solar system. What is the purpose of the ship? What are the intentions of the Ramans? How should humankind respond to an incommunicative, inscrutable visitor from the stars?

Rendezvous With Rama is one of my favorite sci-fi books. Clark's descriptions of the alien world, the dizzying geography of cities and oceans wrapped around the inside of a mammoth tube, has long populated my imagination:
Even the millions of candle power of the flare could not light up the whole of this enormous cavity, but he could see enough to grasp its plan and appreciate its titantic scale. He was at one end of a hollow cylinder at least ten kilometers wide, and of indefinite length. From his viewpoint at the central axis, he could see such a mass of detail on the curving walls surrounding him that his mind could not absorb more than a minute fraction of it. He was looking at the landscape of an entire world by a single flash of lightening, and he tried by a deliberate effort of will to free the image in his mind.
Journeying to Rama, one never knows what will happen next. Indeed, throughout the story, newfound answers lead merely to more questions. I guess that's one of my favorite parts of Rendezvous With Rama: In Clark's world, some mysteries ultimately cannot be solved.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just the Facts

Today I finished Michael Hayde's My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb. I can't honestly recommend the book as great reading; the book suffers both from colorless minutia and regrettable preponderance of cliché-ridden prose. Moreover, I came away with little more insight into the mind of Jack Webb than when I started. But, to be fair, Hayde did not attempt a true biography; his book simply offers a chronology of the rapid rise of the hard working radio and television visionary -- who, in his early years, was compared to Orson Wells -- concluding with the auteur's sad transformation into pop culture detritus. I can only imagine what it would have been like to amble into the Cock 'n' Bull restaurant on Sunset Strip, spotting Jack Webb holding court with any of his various hangers-on willing to match him scotch for scotch. And now I can hardly find a rerun of Dragnet even on Nick at Nite. But as I've written before, I have a soft spot for the man who wore Badge 714. For that reason, I worked through Hayde's well detailed description of Webb's radio, film, television, "music," and production career, even though the book really did provide "just the facts."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stereo Sanctuaries

Virginia Heffernan describes the use of stereos to enable aural enclaves in a December 9, 2007, New York Times piece. Here's a snip:
By offering immersion and later “surround sound,” stereos ingeniously allow men to create virtual rooms inside their own bodies, in their heads, in the organs of hearing. Think of the groovy 20th-century dad in his Eames lounge chair, his head’s circumference doubled by giant earphones. He blissfully shut out the racket and demands of domestic life.
Read the entire article

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Tech Bubble?

I came across this on AVClub's Videocracy. It's about what some would call Tech Bubble 2.0, featuring an excellent spoof of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Monday, December 10, 2007

2007 Holiday Lights

Every year (at Jenny's insistence) we add a little to our holiday display. Starting with a nice line of twinkle lights and maybe some boxing around the windows we graduated upward to the second story windows until, eventually, we started placing lights on the roof. By "we," I mean Jenny. When her friends played Tarzan and Jane, she always wanted to be Cheeta, so she does the high climbing in our household.

This year Jenny ordained that we would now tackle the front yard, placing lights in our big tree (the one that rains prickly seeds all year). This year we made it about halfway up, but I'm sure that we'll reach the top pretty soon.

Tonight will be dedicated to Christmas cards and the infamous Christmas letter. We'll break out our CD of holiday favorites ("Merry Christmas, Darling" is my favorite) and maybe sip some hot chocolate next to the fire. The cats will continue to stare quizzically at the noble fir that suddenly appeared in their territory (they'll start climbing the thing in a day or so), and we'll discuss the ideal time to watch It's a Wonderful Life (we'll hold out until Christmas Eve, I suppose).

As the semester winds down, I must admit that I feel more of the holiday spirit than in recent years. I'm hoping that your holidays will be joyful as well.

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Scared Of Santa

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has published a set of family snaps that reveal an under-recognized reality of Christmas: Santa can be pretty creepy.

See more pictures like these: Scared of Santa.

Beware. May result in a coffee-soaked keyboard or monitor.

(Photos from South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Internet in the Air

Susan Stellin writes in The New York Times [subscription required] of plans by JetBlue and other airlines to roll out wireless internet access. Here's a snip:
“I think 2008 is the year when we will finally start to see in-flight Internet access become available,” said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forrester Research, “but I suspect the rollout domestically will take place in a very measured way.” “In a few years time,” he added, “if you get on a flight that doesn’t have Internet access, it will be like walking into a hotel room that doesn’t have TV.”
An interesting aspect of this article is whether airlines will allow internet-based telephony such as Skype. Happily, at this point, that service already faces resistance. Here's another snip:
Onboard phone calls are “one of those ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ types of technologies,” Mr. Harteveldt said. “The last thing you want is to be in a crowded tube at 35,000 feet for two or three hours with some guy going on and on about his trip to Vegas.”
Read More

Susan Stellin, Web Access and E-Mail on Flights, New York Times, December 7, 2007.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Planning a Tiki Night

Inspired by our local (and much-appreciated) Hula's Island Grill, I'm planning a visit with Jenny to two San Francisco-area Polynesian-theme spots: The Tonga Room (in the basement of the Fairmont) and the new Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge (in Alameda, south of Oakland) - most likely in the next few weeks. While researching these places, I came across a fine American Heritage magazine article about the history of the Polynesian craze in the United States.

Read more

Wayne Curtis: Tiki: How sex, rum, World War II, and the brand-new state of Hawaii ignited a fad that has never quite ended

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Selected Chaff

I just finished Selected Chaff: The Wartime Columns of Al McIntosh, having first heard of the beloved newspaper publisher in excerpts recited by Tom Hanks in Ken Burns' The War. For folks who, like me, still grow misty-eyed when contemplating the vast and seemingly impossible undertaking of World War II, Selected Chaff is a special find: a rich vein of wit, wisdom, and insight into one town's experience of that war.

McIntosh extolled the daily comings and goings, along with the thrills and tragedies, of Rock County, Minnesota, mixing nearly-poetic descriptions of the changing seasons with humorous anecdotes of small-town life, and heart-wrenching accounts of local folks going overseas to fight and sometimes die for our nation.

Burns, flush from his monumental accomplishment of documenting the "necessary war," has compared these columns to the discovery of a heretofore unknown Mark Twain. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the book provides a poignant glimpse into a nation that has changed so very much in the past three generations. For that alone, I recommend that you find a copy. Heck, just reading McIntosh's report of that wonderful new movie playing at the local theater, Casablanca, is worth a few bucks.

Here are some excerpts:
December 11, 1941

Events are moving at such a dizzy pace that editorials and news stories are outmoded almost before the type is ready to be laid on the page forms for the press. Outwardly, Rock county is as serene and peacefully beautiful as always. But, already, the shadow of war is over the county. (p. 16)

May 28, 1942

And so at last -- the first of those dreaded envelopes from the war department bearing the grim news that two Rock county men who unflinchingly faced their inevitable fate at Corregidor must be considered "missing in action." (p. 45)

October 21, 1943

Floyd Lawson, even more critical than usual, complains that there isn't anything in Chaff (who doesn't) except items about freak vegetables. Floyd blithely waves aside our offer to let him write the column for a change. Just to keep him in his usual even tempered (mostly bad) mood we should report this week that Herman Jarchow brought a carrot which had 11 separate carrots, and that Mrs. Mike Wiggins picked a pan full of peas Wednesday from her garden, the second crop of the season. (p. 111)

February 17, 1944

There will be a special radio program on Friday, March 3, from the Sioux Falls army air base. Mrs. Lloyd S. Hansen will make the trip from her home at New Richland, Minn., to receive the Air Medal and 2 Oak Leaf clusters earned by her husband, Lt. Lloyd Hansen. As you know, Lloyd, the son of Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Hansen of Kanaranzi, is now a prisoner of war in Germany, having been shot down in a Fortress raid over the continent. (p. 131)

May 25, 1944

Outwardly things haven't changed here. The lilacs are out in full bloom, making the air heavy with their rich fragrance. Tulips are one big splash of color round the homes and the lawns. The countryside was never greener . . . at night there are a million or more stars winking in the summer sky . . . with a couple of million bull frogs parked along the edges of the bank full ditches croaking a mighty chorus. (ellipses in original, p. 149)

June 8, 1944

When we sleepily stumbled down the hall to answer the clamorously ringing telephone we made a mental note that it was shortly before 3 a.m. We picked up the receiver, thinking it was Sheriff Roberts calling to say that there had been an accident. Instead it was Mrs. Lloyd Long, playing the feminine counterpart role of Paul Revere, saying, "get up, Al, and listen to the radio, the invasion has started." (p. 153)

March 29, 1945

Everywhere you drove in Luverne Tuesday night you could see people starting to work out in the yards. (Seed catalogs are favorite reading right now.) Everybody, papa, mama and the youngsters are out raking lawns. And wherever you go there is the pungent smell of bonfires made from the leaves and dead grass. And, of course, the youngsters are busy poking at the bonfires with sticks. You see a few kites but very, very, few. There is a shortage of string, among other things, so I don't know how the youngsters can do much kite flying. (pp. 222-223)

August 15, 1945

The torrential flood of great news had left everyone emotionally exhausted, like a damp dishtowel. Even with the radio bulletins and the screaming of the siren here to signal that Victory was a reality it was still hard to believe. (p. 258)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Death of the Cube?

Mark Boslet and Katherine Conrad write in the San Jose Mercury News about Intel's experimentation into a cubeless office space. Here's a snip:
Intel, which helped popularize the cube culture in Silicon Valley - even leader Andy Grove had one - ... is having second thoughts about its gray, maze-like work space. And its practicality...

"My office isn't a space in a building," [Rhett Livengood, an Intel director of sales development] said. "My office is the space where I am."...

"Cubes have had their day," said Michael Joroff, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Architecture + Planning. "They were established at a time when work was done head down, by yourself. More and more, work is collaborative."
Read the whole piece: Out of the box: Valley companies dump cubicles for open office spaces

College Shopping

I'm resurfacing after a five-day family road trip dedicated to touring two more college campuses of interest to my daughter, Vienna. The three of us set out for Reed College in Portland and the University of Washington in Seattle, and we had a terrific time. Reflecting on the purpose of the trip, we enjoyed our tour of Reed most of all. A small liberal arts school, Reed is well known for its dedication to a well-rounded education based upon the classics. Yet the school attracts quirky students accustomed to charting their own courses through life. The campus is pleasantly funky, filled with odd and eclectic art pieces and happily serious students. I suppose our most lasting memory of the visit was the meta-board, a map to the coolest and most informative bulletin boards on campus. Prizing itself for attracting nerds (and known for its unofficial and satirically cheeky motto, communism, atheism, and free love) Reed just may be the perfect fit for Vienna.

Beyond the literal purpose of the journey, our trip also offered the Wood Family a chance to enjoy one of our favorite pastimes: long distance travel. Just getting to Portland took about twelve hours, a pretty hard haul beginning at 1 p.m. Thereafter, we took it easy. In fact, once we departed Seattle, we decided to amble our way back home, cruising down U.S. 97 through the midsections of Washington and Oregon before catching I-5 in Weed, California. The trip was a real treat. Our Friday began with a walk through the Pike Place Market before we headed for Yakima, where we enjoyed a nice meal at a French restaurant. Note to self: next time we're in the area, we'll stay at the Bali-Hai Motel, which looked lovely. The next day we awoke to a light dusting of snow and headed south to Zillah to photograph the Teapot Gas Station. Heading further south we wandered through white fields and snow-covered fir trees, chatting and laughing. That evening we drove to Redding, where we walked through a downtown holiday lights display. Thereafter we stopped in nearby Red Bluff, staying at a clean and comfy motel called the Sky Terrace. On Sunday morning, we returned to the interstate, reaffirming our family's appreciation for the increasingly ubiquitous Black Bear Diner. By mid-afternoon we returned to our cats and stacks of mail, ready to begin a new week.

(Photos by Andrew and Jenny Wood)

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Last Payphone?

Reuters is reporting that AT&T is getting out of the pay phone business. Here's a clip:
Top U.S. phone company AT&T Inc said on Monday it plans to end its dwindling pay phone business by the end of 2008, as more consumers use mobile phones...

Pay phones in the United States have declined across the industry from about 2.6 million phones in 1998 to an estimated 1 million phones today, AT&T said.
Read the whole story: AT&T to end dwindling pay phone business

Iran Update

In today's New York Times [subscription required], Mark Mazzetti writes that a new American intelligence agencies report concludes that Iran placed its nuclear weapons program on hold in 2003. Here's an excerpt:
The finding [comes] in the middle of a presidential campaign during which a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program has been discussed. The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”
Read the entire article: U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Traveling this week

I'll be on the road for a few days, no further blog posts until Monday.

Airport Hell

The Independent summarizes a recent high-profile listing of the world's worst airports:
Why are airports so bad? Perhaps it's because travellers are not so much customers as captives, and airports exploit them without mercy. Got to wait for a few hours? Why not stroll through the soulless shops and pick up some overpriced bauble? For most of us, the abiding experience of airports is not horror. It is tedium.
Read the entire article: The World's Worst Airports

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Starbucks Card

I admit it: I have a Starbucks card.

Mine is a half-hearted admission of guilt, because I'm not that guilty at the prospect of being seen in a Starbucks.

I once was.

Among my cool friends, the ones who see only art films and read the New York Review of Books regularly, Starbucks is often dismissed as hopelessly square: bad, burnt coffee, silly attempts at exoticism (ohhh, this coffee is from Ethiopia), and, most damningly, death to the neighborhood café.

I sympathize with that reasoning. I prefer local places, even if the quality may be uneven.

But I still like Starbucks.

I began visiting the ubiquitous coffee chain when writing my first draft of a book about ubiquity, the ongoing omnitopia project. I found a Starbucks in Salinas whose plate glass windows offered views of both the interstate and a Wal-Mart. When writing about placeless architecture, it's hard to imagine a more apt site.

No connoisseur of decent coffee, having never drunk the stuff even after a hitch with the Navy, I started with frothy, milky drinks before discovering the thrilling jolt of espresso. Sure, there are "great" espressos to be had. In Italy, I guess. But you can't convince me that Starbucks offers a lousy one.

Eventually I learned to order mine in the doppio ceramic cups -- no paper for me.

And then I discovered those damned toffee bars.

Sometimes the bars have a lot of toffee; sometimes they have none. Sometimes they're a bit dry and sometimes they're tender and moist. But almost always they go perfectly with the thick, strong shot of espresso served in that tiny cup. Almost always, they help me craft a mental vacation from a busy afternoon.

That's the point of Starbucks, for me anyway. I have an espresso maker in my office. And in a pinch, I can brew up a decent cup. Nothing memorable, but nothing too shabby either.

But the chance to walk a few blocks to a place whose employees seem genuinely happy to rap a few moments (when the line isn't too long) and serve some coffee is a good thing.

So now I have a local Starbucks that is "mine." It's near my office (aren't they all?) in San José. I go every day or so, looking forward to the times when the counter-person knows what I want before I have to ask.

I'd never queue endlessly during a morning just to get a jolt. But the afternoon fits with my schedule and has become a consistently happy part of my day for months now.

So, at last, I decided it was time to buy a Starbucks card. Carrying it offers no privileges, no special deals (yet, at least). Sure, I got a couple of free iTunes selections out of the purchase. But I would have happily bought "Stairway to Heaven" on my own eventually.

It's just nice to know that I keep a reminder in my wallet of a relatively cheap and dependable dalliance from the daily grind, a promise of consistency amid seemingly endless variation.

I admit it: I like Starbucks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

No Country For Old Men

Disturbing, dark, solemn, and intense, No Country for Old Men is one of the most memorable films I've seen this year. And while I've only read one Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road, I am amazed that the Coen Brothers so perfectly managed to evoke the author's unmistakable voice in their newest film. Predictably, Jenny didn't much care for it. She's no fan of either the directing duo's work or of this kind of film, so bleak it was. That's OK. I enjoyed it enough for the both of us.

Spoiler Alert

The plot of No Country for Old Men is disarmingly simple: a fellow named Llewellyn Moss comes across a satchel full of money after stumbling upon a drug deal gone wrong. Taking the cash, he is pursued by various thugs, most notably a killer named Anton Chigurh. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, recognizing that Moss has stepped out of his league, also tracks the man. For his own reasons, Bell wants to help Moss. Along with the human characters, the film adds the desolate wastescape of southwestern Texas, a land of prickly scrub and dusty towns. No question, the movie is not a "fun" experience; it's no summer blockbuster. But every scene is its own moment of almost perfect acting, pacing, screenwriting, cinematography, and musical score. The movie coils with menace and strikes in brutal and surprising ways, even while managing remarkable pathos and odd humor. And at its conclusion, you might be amazed at how subtly the film's primary message and point of reference shift from character to character, from present to past.

Walking out of our beloved Del Mar Theatre, Jenny and I discussed the various mysteries left hanging in No country for Old Men, wondering about the choice made by the remorseless killer who demanded that Moss's wife determine her fate by a coin toss. He stepped out, wiping his shoe, leaving many observers of the film to conclude that he kills her. To be honest, I'm not sure. Chatting with Jenny as we walked through downtown Santa Cruz, I explained that I prefer to imagine that the fate of Moss's wife may be similar to that of Schrödinger's cat, that we can never really know without going into the house. From this perspective, "fate" remains a sort of choice. An older couple walking a few paces ahead entered our conversation with their own thoughts, and for a few moments we four strangers compared mental notes. I was actually a bit sad when an intersection set our paths apart once more, so much did I enjoy chatting about this relentlessly thought-provoking film.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be taking the next couple days off, enjoying the holiday with my family. See you next Monday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NCA - Chicago

I've finally resurfaced from the NCA conference in Chicago, after working to complete a lengthy set of interviews for candidates to the SJSU Peer Mentor Program in the days that followed. Only now I can spend a few moments reflecting on my trip. This post won't focus on the academic side of my travels - presenting papers about Greyhound bus terminals and mobile/placeless enclaves, and hearing some of the research shared by my colleagues. Rather, I'll highlight some of the images from the time around the conference that stuck with me:

I enjoyed breakfast at the Artist's Snack Shop with my former forensics coach from Berry College, Randy Richardson, and our mutual friend and colleague, Kathy McKee. I so enjoyed the chance to relax with old friends, sharing our recent adventures in writing along with our other activities. Our conversations carry a collection of well-worn stories and jokes that we tell year after year, offering comfort and consistency no matter where or when they're shared. It always means so much to spend time with people who helped me become who I am. During our breakfast, Randy and Kathy encouraged me to check out Renoir's "Alfred Sisley" at the Art Institute of Chicago. They assured me that my resemblance to the figure portrayed in that piece was uncanny. How correct they were is a testament to our friendship.

I toured the Chicago Art Institute on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, digging the impressive collection of nineteenth and twentieth century pieces. Favorites include Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and Gustave Caillebotte's "Paris Street, Rainy Day," while I also enjoyed the eerie post-9/11 vibe of Richard Misrach's collection of birds-eye view photographs entitled (post apocalyptically) "At the Beach." I was less enamored with the Jasper Johns collection that seemed less about art as communication and more about communication between artists.

I also ambled through Millennium Park, peering upon Anish Kapoor's beloved "Cloud Gate" installation (known informally as "the bean") and photographing the Crown Fountain. I overheard a tour guide explain that the faces on these twin 50-foot tall glass-block installations were picked from regular, every-day Chicago residents. But there was nothing normal about their towering height and creepy one-way stare. I also enjoyed the Frank Geary-designed outdoor amphitheater, notable for its graceful crisscross of silver arcs that hold speakers aloft so that folks sitting on the lawn can still enjoy the show.

I went to dinner with Chris Nix, Kenny Sibal, and Lee Wyman, taking a taxi to Smith and Wollensky. The restaurant is a favorite of mine for its location, ambiance, and quality. This is a red meat and martini place, where the menus are cased in glass framed wooden displays. The prices are somewhat obnoxious, but the steak almost always calls to mind the "ignorance is bliss" scene from The Matrix. Afterward we walked to the Hancock Building, me enjoying the guilty pleasure of a fat cigar. We met a large contingent of Georgetown College students at The Cheesecake Factory. There's something delightfully wrong about ordering a massive dessert at midnight.

While returning to San Jose on Sunday night, my plane flew over a grayish cover of clouds for almost a half-hour, a carpet lit by a brilliant moon. As we began to descend, I thrilled at the prospect of carving through that gray wall, wondering what I'd see below. Sure enough, for almost a minute I waited as my window filled with cloud. Then gradually I gazed upon the clear and vividly lit city. I wondered at the fact that all those people below saw only a dreary cloud cover, maybe not even imagining that angelic moon glowing above.

I'm told that NCA will be held in San Diego next year, which is nice enough. But I'm delighted to hear that we're returning to Chicago in 2009. It's my favorite conference city, one I can't wait to see again.

(Mobile Phone Photos by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Iran Update

Gareth Porter writes in the The Asia Times that the September attack against an alleged nuclear site in Syria was, in fact, a message being sent to Iran.
Until late October, the accepted explanation about the September 6 Israeli air strike in Syria, constructed from a series of press leaks from US officials, was that it was prompted by dramatic satellite intelligence that Syria was building a nuclear facility with help from North Korea.

But new satellite evidence has discredited that narrative, suggesting a more plausible explanation for the strike: that it was a calculated effort by Israel and the United States to convince Iran that its nuclear facilities could be attacked as well.
Learn More: A warning shot for Iran, via Syria

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Off to NCA

Just a note about my forthcoming trip to the National Communication Association's annual conference in Chicago. Since I'll be generally offline during this trip, there will be no further blog posts until Monday, November 19th.

Economic Consequences of Bush Presidency

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, has written a powerful indictment of the costs associated with the Bush presidency. It makes for sober reading.

Here's a snip:
Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.
Learn more: The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shameless Media Plug - Saskatoon (Canada) Star Phoenix

In an article entitled Landmark 'theme' motel in Montreal closes doors for good, published on November 10, I was asked to provide a brief history of the American motel. It's a tiny clip of a lengthy interview, but it's nice to share...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are reporters doomed?

David Leigh of The Guardian has written an interesting article about the state of journalism in the internet age. While focusing mainly on British reporting, he offers some compelling analysis that is pertinent on this side of the Atlantic. Here's a snip:
The internet is an incredibly rich information resource, and a great tool for worldwide sharing. But as well as overloading us with instantaneous terrors, it also degrades valuable principles — the idea of discrimination, that some voices are more credible than others...
Read More: Are reporters doomed?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Conference Fees

I'm getting ready for the National Communication Association's Annual Conference, this time in Chicago. I've attended that conference since 1991, missing only one in the intervening years. To me, the conference is a great chance to get caught up on emerging scholarship, share some of my own work, and meet interesting people. My favorite part, however, is the opportunity to reconnect to old friends going back to my undergraduate years. Having attended, I think, 15 NCAs, thus far -- and planning many more -- I regret only one thing. I wish I had bought a lifetime membership.

When registering for your first or second big-time professional conference, those lifetime rates seem exorbitant. And on a student's paycheck, they are. But by my fourth or fifth NCA, I knew that I'd gain membership to this profession somehow, and I knew I'd attend many more NCAs. So, I'm feeling an acute sense of "if only." If only I'd paid that rate back then, when the cost of attendance was merely exorbitant. With various inflationary pressures (some less necessary than others, I think), the yearly cost has become a real pain. Sure, I can afford it. But I'd rather have bundled all those bills up early and paid them at once than as a fee that climbs year after year.

Perhaps anyone reading this who plans on making regular conference attendance part of her/his professional plans may benefit from the lesson I've learned.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Oil Apocalypse Movie

The Guardian describes an upcoming movie called Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash that depicts a global crisis following the time in which oil production passes its peak and begins to decline, even as developing economies in China and India demand more and more.

In this article, I was struck by a particular line:
Oil companies say that there are still major reserves to be exploited. In particular, Arctic and Antarctic fields - which are being freed of ice and snow as the world heats up - are being sized up for their reserve potential.
One may find better examples of "vicious cycle," but not today.

Read the article: New 'disaster' movie warns world of oil apocalypse

Follow-up: Here are my 2008 reflections on the movie.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wood Writing Guide - Its vs It's

Really? The difference between "its" and "it's" is so hard to decipher? Apparently for the writer of this article, it is.

This is the point where I remind you just how prone I am to typos of all kinds, and it's true: anyone can slip an apostrophe into most the inappropriate linguistic crevasse. Yet an increasingly large number of students and even professional journalists seem to make this error. I wish they'd stop.

I wonder about the most effective reminder to help folks avoid the its/it's dilemma. So far, the best I can discern is a simple reminder: "it's" always means "it is" or "it has" and any sentence with "it's" should be capable of being read that way. Otherwise, stick with "its."

Oh yeah. "Get over it. No one cares" won't work. Sorry. It's a passion of mine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

New Sanfrakota

Lately, AT&T has run an ad campaign that illustrates the notion of mobile enclave, an intersection of technology and performance that allows its practitioners to carry miniature version of the world with them. The mobile enclave is best illustrated by the iPod's (and, now, iPhone's) enablement of a portable bubble of sound whose impressive storage capacity allows users to disconnect from the outside world for increasingly long periods of time. Consider the contrast of radio that is static (in terms of motion, if not in terms of quality), limited to a narrow range of music, and innately public. With new personal data, navigation, and entertainment devices, we need not be tied to those old media-sites. AT&T illustrates a fascinating expansion of the mobile enclave concept with its "works in more places" spots.

Here's a typical example: "You live in New York. You work in San Francisco. You play in South Dakota. AT&T Works in more places like New Sanfrakota." The name is awkward and confusing at first, but it undoubtedly grabs your attention. Where is this place? Then you realize that the name is meaningful only to its author. The place is a conflation of nodes designed to further an individual ambition or corporate vision. New Sanfrakota - and other amalgams such as Philawarapragueacago - are precisely not places for you or for anyone else.

A number of critics have castigated this campaign as being confusing or, worse, kind of stupid. Bloggers have emphasized that AT&T, regardless of its ad budget, sells a lousy product. A reasonable critique. Yet I'm drawn to the ad campaign's proposal that we want to carry our own artificial worlds around, tying together personalized nodes that allow us a more perfect dislocation from the places through which we pass and the people by which we walk.

I wonder how this trend will end.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Shaking Hands

These days I'm conducting interviews - 72 of them - with potential peer mentors. Along with the way, I'm shaking lots of hands. Some of these introductions have helped develop rapport. Some, however, have not set things off quite so well. In that spirit, here's an interesting article I found on CNN about deadly handshakes.

The worst way to shake hands

Friday, November 2, 2007

Wood Family Halloween 2007 - Video

Here's a video from our Wood Family Halloween: Psycho Circus.

Difficulty seeing the video above? Click on the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78jNRX8oOVA

[Note: If you select the link rather than the embedded video, please click "Watch in High Quality" to get the best looking view.]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wood Family Halloween 2007

Once again, the Wood Family created a haunted porch sensation for our Scotts Valley neighbors. This year's theme: Psycho Circus. Taking for granted the fact that many people think that clowns are creepy, we created a multimedia Halloween carnival this year. The highlight was a freak show with a two-headed baby (with cooing and gurgling sound effects), a crawling hand, and a man-spider hybrid. Jenny rigged the baby to wave and the spider to bounce when folks peered into the boxes. The carnival also included a gory "Corpsy the Clown" (absolutely earning our yearly "PG13" warnings to parents), a video display of scary movie clown scenes, hanging clowns in the upper windows (lit by strobe lights), and atmospheric music from Michael Hedstrom's "Midnight Circus" CD. Rounding out the spectacle, Jenny gave tours of the freak show as a bearded lady and I handed out candy as "Creepy the Clown," complete with dangling cigar. Psycho Circus, which ran from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., was a smash. Countless waves of kids waited in line to climb the porch and enjoy the show!

To see pictures of Psycho Circus, point your browser to: http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/wooda/halloween2007.

In the next day or so I plan to upload a brief video from the show as well...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yesterday's Quake

I'd feel pretty silly if I failed to note yesterday's 5.6-magnitude earthquake - the most powerful temblor to hit northern California since Loma Prieta in 1989. I'd just gotten out of class and was waiting for the bus, sitting on a bench a block away from City Hall. It was 8:04 p.m. when I heard a rumbling in the building behind me. About a second later I felt intensified shaking and settled in for the ride. The quake lasted for about ten seconds before subsiding.

As I looked around at the other folks, I exclaimed, "sweet!" Truthfully, though, I felt plenty of rumbling in my gut as I began to wonder whether we'd gotten the gentle part of a much more serious quake elsewhere. Yes, I actually wondered whether our house was still standing. Students were streaming out of the campus, everyone chatting nervously.

Once the bus arrived and we headed over the hill, I attempted to call Jenny and Vienna. No luck: mobile phones didn't work for almost an hour. Eventually, though, we connected and shared our shake-stories. Aside from freaking our cats out a bit, the quake left our house no messier than we left it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

At Last

At last, I sent out the manuscript for the omnitopia book. That's as good an excuse to have missed blogging yesterday as I can imagine. While my day was organized around myriad details concerning the peer mentor program, I managed to squeeze in enough time to discover that my computer had been struck with a virus, that my images were too big to scan without photoshopping them into manageable pieces, that the faculty lab printer was not networked to the computer I was using, and that I'd run out of writable CDs for the digital copy. But as a drizzle of rain began to fall last night, I held the manuscript and CD in my hand, ready to mail. Today I completed that task and now I look back on several years in which this project has weighed most heavily on my mind.

In many ways, writing this book was akin to writing another dissertation, with a couple of key distinctions. First, while I'm writing this book primarily for an academic audience, I hope that a broader community of readers will take some interest in this project. Also, I hope I've improved at this craft over the past ten years, a little, at least. So, am I done? Not by a long shot. Even though I've signed a contract, this is just the initial manuscript. The series editor will now read it carefully and critically, and he'll decide how far along I am to getting this project into publishable shape. Consequentially I do not consider this blog-post to be celebratory; I'm just pausing a bit before the next step. At this juncture, however, I feel it appropriate to look back a bit on several essential steps that led me to this place.

First, I remember seeing the film Logan's Run as a kid and getting inspired. Just looking at the commercials, I became entranced by the cinematic city (later called the "city of domes" in the television version of the show), amazed by the grandeur and audacity of that view. From one vantage point, an observer could peer out over the entire metropolis, all glittery and geometric with that peculiar seventies-sheen. Captivated by Logan's Run, I tried to create my own domed city, gathering Lincoln Logs, Legos, and other childhood bric-a-brac to fill my room with the phantasmagoria of a wholly contained world. Ordering and populating my city, I first attained the perspective of a planner. Omnitopia, while not even an inkling to me back then, was born with Logan's Run and my first encounter with the God's-eye view.

Then, in grad school, I wrote a paper on The Simpsons, conducting a semiotic analysis of Springfield as depicted in the show's opening credits. I was amazed by that city too, and I spent several hours pausing each frame of the show's intro, exploring how the animators rendered their complex world that seemed to play by alien rules to the urbanity I saw elsewhere. Struggling to make some sense out of Springfield, I concluded my essay with a couple of lines about the city's strange conflation of multiple narratives and paradoxical geography. Unable to find an existing term that illustrated Springfield, I demonstrated typical grad school ambition and coined my own: omnitopia. Even then I knew that the clumsy slapping together of Latin and Greek roots would cause any serious student of etymology conniption fits, but I only planned to use the word in this classroom exercise. I would probably forget it soon thereafter. Yet when my professor, Jenny Nelson, commented in the paper's margins that I should pursue this line of reasoning in future work, I decided to store omnitopia in my long-term memory.

The word came in handy when I entered the tenure track at San Jose State University, when my college dean, Lela Noble, surprised me by adding to my fourth-year evaluation that, while I was "on track" for tenure, it would be useful for me to pursue more scholarly journal articles. It seemed like good advice to me, but things got tense when I mentioned that note to my department chair. "She wrote that?" he asked, his eyes wide with concern. Suddenly I understood that my dean's comment was no small addendum; it would become the line against which my tenure prospects would be measured. I lost a lot of sleep over the next two days, realizing that I'd focused too much of my time on other academic projects, failing to advance the peer reviewed-journal part of my tenure dossier. I needed to get productive in that area, fast. I met with a senior colleague (and my office-mate at the time), Philip Wander, and discussed my options. We talked about several papers I'd written, and he encouraged me to revise them. Soon afterward I sent one to an international journal, one to a regional journal, and one to a state journal. I dedicated my strongest work, a preliminary extension of the omnitopia project, to Communication Theory. To this day I am amazed that the editor accepted my rough amblings about the omnitopian implications of airport design and performance. The work needed a substantial revision, but eventually my wanderings around omnitopia got published. I had discovered a research line that would carry me through tenure and beyond. Several articles followed in quick succession, and by the time I got through tenure I had long shed my worries about job security. I was too exited about omnitopia to consider stopping, even after I became an associate professor.

Finally, I recall a conversation with my family while we were on the road that helped cement my confidence in the omnitopia project. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love long-distance highway travel. Two weeks provide a good minimum for a cross-country roadtrip. So, it was during one of those journeys that my daughter asked me, "Dad, what is omnitopia anyway?" She'd heard me discuss the term while I was writing some of those initial articles, and she was curious. She's a bright and precocious kid, so I felt comfortable sharing some fairly complex theory. But I still had to explain my terms in language accessible to a high school student. That's the real test, I think: sharing one's academic work with a non-specialized audience. I did my best, working through the omnitopian framework with my daughter, offering examples and clarifying things even to myself. She asked thoughtful and probing questions, prompting me to rethink a few underdeveloped assumptions. And at the end of my mini-lecture, she confirmed that omnitopia made sense to her. Thereafter on our trips she and I would occasionally point out what we saw as examples of omnitopia. The word and some of its related terminology became a shorthand to our family as we traveled. That's when I knew: When my family adopted omnitopia for themselves as a way of seeing the world, I was sure that this work might merit a book.

Since then I've spent countless hours on buses, in airplanes, at coffee shops, and in conversation, trying to complete this manuscript. Today, at last, I have sent it to an editor, and I feel hopeful that this first draft bodes well for the successful completion of this project. If this book does get published, I will search for opportunities to deliver guest lectures and enjoy the appearances of omnitopia scholarship in other scholars' works. Not everyone agrees with my articulation of the term, and plenty of folks are sure that I'm missing essential components of urban life when using omnitopia as a lens. That's OK with me. I'm just happy to help advance a useful conversation about the city as a site (and as a confounding variable) of human communication and sense-making.

Read At Last - Part II

Read Omnitopia Update

Friday, October 26, 2007

Luxury in the air

CNN reports about the new cool passenger jet, the world's largest, complete with extraordinary amenities:

"The A380 -- as tall as a seven-story building with each wing big enough to hold 70 cars -- is capable of carrying 853 passengers in an all-economy class configuration."

"However, Singapore Airlines opted for 471 seats in three classes -- 2 Singapore Airlines Suites, 60 business class and 399 economy class."

"Each suite, enclosed by sliding doors, is fitted with a leather upholstered seat, a table, a 23-inch flat screen TV, laptop connections and a range of office software. A separate bed folds up into the wall. Two of the suites can be joined to provide double beds..."

Read the story: Luxury jetliner features beds, flatscreen TVs, lobster

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Raking Leaves

Yesterday I drove home after a long day at work, turned into my driveway, and realized that I could not wait another moment before raking the lawn. I stepped out of my car and saw what I'd ignored for weeks, fallen leaves that had engulfed my yard - and formed expanding colonies upon the lawns of my neighbors. Since it's so easy to sneak past the glares of those who live on my block, to click a button that closes the garage door behind me, I had no idea whether the discourteousness of our trees had annoyed my neighbors, or whether they had even noticed. But guilt caught up with me at last.

Still wearing my "dress-causal" clothes I grabbed a rake and dug in. For a moment I wondered at whether I should rake my neighbors' lawns without asking them, but I decided to risk the awkwardness and finish the job my trees had started. Five huge piles of dried, red leaves had accumulated as Jenny rode up on her bike. She was already tired and sweaty from her in-town commute from work, but I acquired her services nonetheless. I was possessed, determined to clean those yards. Within about a half-hour the leaves were gone, stuffed into our green bin.

Across the street, one of the neighborhood kids shouted "looks great!" and my embarrassment subsided. Her mom joined us and we chatted about our community's upcoming Halloween plans. They informed me that everyone is buzzing about our plans to outdo our previous porch displays (last year we did an alien autopsy), and I smiled with pride about our plans, offering only a few vague hints about this year's theme. After raking those leaves and talking about Halloween, I felt a burst of civic pride. Entering the house, removing socks drenched with the sweat of exertion and enjoying a cool shower, I thought to myself, Scotts Valley is a nice place to live.

Oh yeah, when I arrived home today: the trees had covered my yard again. Damn leaves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Don't Tase Me, Bro - Part 2

The state of Florida (Department of Law Enforcement) has released a report exonerating officers who tased Andrew Meyer (the "don't tase me bro" dude of YouTube fame). The report found that officers acted correctly in subduing the University of Florida student who pushed his way in front of a group of waiting students, made a rambling speech about John Kerry, employed inappropriate language in a public forum, refused to submit to police instructions, and fought against their attempts to remove him.

Read a WFTV story to learn more.

Read my original post on the subject.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cliches and crutches

While completing my book on omnitopia I decided to conduct searches through each chapter, hunting for words that laden my writing with laziness. I have noted my tendency to rely upon certain favorites -- examples: continuum, environment, encounter, experience, explore, particularly, phenomenon, recognize, singular, seemingly, vast -- when I allow myself to drift into an almost unconscious flow.

How depressing it was to find the word "explore" 25 times in a single chapter! Fortunately this kind of search helps me rethink ideas that may have "flowed" with inadequate precision. Reading a draft, spotting that comforting word, I tend to presume "all is well" and continue without careful consideration. Choosing instead to identify my crutches I unearth phrases that need tending or pruning. Sometimes entire clauses reveal themselves to be useless or meaningless.

Click. They're gone.

Searching for clichés and crutches is a real hassle, but it provides some confidence that this manuscript is nearing completion at last.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I'm a longtime fan of Fark, a news aggregator that provides a broad range of stories that range from breaking headlines to "only in Florida." In many ways, reading Fark has replaced much of the pleasures of my daily paper. One of my favorite parts of the Fark experience is the talkback feature where readers comment on stories in clever (and sometimes frustrating) ways. Reading the talkbacks, I enter a world of unlimited semiosis where comments reflect back to previous conversations without end. Arising from these talkbacks are a vibrant and growing assortment of Fark clichés. I recognize most, but struggle to keep up with the plethora of new ones. Happily, I have found a website that keeps track of these internet memes: Grampy's Cliché City. Take a look!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Atrium Elevator

Here's the last image from my recent visit to San Francisco-area atrium hotels, a sign I photographed in an elevator. It's nice to learn ways to channel an occasional sense of alarm productively...

Outside the Atrium

This is part three of a four-part series of photos from my recent visit to San Francisco-area atrium hotels, researching my almost-complete book on omnitopia. My images seek to gently subvert the design of these places by walking around their perimeters. "Some subversion," chuckles the critical reader. But these sites are not built for exterior traverse. One is meant to enter them through a flow of interstate or shuttle, being deposited through lobby into the vast interior. The banality of the purely functional exterior is not meant for touristic consumption. Naturally, that's where I want to go.

The outer facade of the SFO-Hyatt resembles a fortress against the traffic noise of highway 101. A fence, a stagnant creek, a thin line of trees, and some orange netting guard the perimeter. Near the walls, equipment, storage containers, and doors that open only outward ensure a tight seal. A place ostensibly open to the walker out for a stroll, this environment calls forth an almost militarized sense of security.

Reflecting on an afternoon wandering the borders of the Hyatt, seeking the ways in which public and private life leak back and forth across their thresholds, I recall one of my favorite books, John Stilgoe's Outside Lies Magic. An advocate for mindful wandering, Stilgoe inspires me to cut across designated pathways, to search for the hidden flows of commerce and history that connect seemingly disparate structures. Encountering the urban scene this way, I read signs as an outsider.

Tomorrow I will share one last image from my tour through the San Francisco Hyatts, a humorous look at the ways in which safety and fear merge at an alarming rate.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Alone in Public Life

This is part two of a four-part photo essay from my recent visit to San Francisco atrium hotels. These notes reflect some of my amblings while researching a book on omnitopia.

The atrium hotel complex conflates disparate environments -- lodging, commerce, entertainment, tourism -- gathering large numbers of people into an coherent continuum. The milling, chatting, laughing amalgamation resembles the ancient agora, a site for public life. What interests me most, though, are moments of isolation, when an individual faces the vast interior alone.

In many ways, this project is inspired by Edward Hopper's grim depictions of modern life, people waiting in all-hours cafes, lost in their own thoughts in motel rooms, standing alone at gas stations. The bright and vibrant colors of contemporary life seem muted somehow. And in turn they mute us.

In these waiting places, many of us practice technologies of anticipatory disengagement. We use mobile phones, iPods, and other aural enclaves to augment other acceptable ways to isolate ourselves. Yet I think that these gaping interiors alone contribute to our experiences of isolation. Even when we chat among friends, sipping Starbucks in a hotel lobby or grabbing a snack in a mall, each of us alone occasionally looks upward toward the open spaces of the atrium and feels somewhat smaller than we are.

Outside the privileged enclave, other individuals carry their worlds with them, not in iPods or mobile phones but in shopping carts. Here the frontiers of omnitopia reassert themselves, while inside the atrium the world seems endless.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

San Francisco Atrium Hotels

Over the weekend, I visited two atrium hotels in San Francisco, one at Embarcadero Center and one near the city's international airport. Writing a chapter for my omnitopia book, I've been doing research on the ways that atrium hotels transform much of public life into a massive interior, creating an enclave against the weather and against troublesome elements of urbanity.

What intrigues me most about these environments is their integration of corporate and consumer spaces. Embarcadero Center opens into an elevated spine of buildings that draw patrons away from the street and into a safe enclosure. the SFO Hyatt enacts a sort of fortress that stands detached from the interstate and surrounding buildings, gathering a wide range of spaces into a singular place.

For me, the atrium has been a hallmark of my personal visions of "the future" since I saw Logan's Run in the late '70s. Though atriums may seem dated in an EPCOT-Center like manner, they are mainstays of buildings rising throughout Asia and the Middle East.

This week I'll post several sets of pictures from my writing-trip. Tomorrow I'll concentrate on individuals in and around these atrium hotels. Thursday I'll present a photographic look behind the scenes of these complex structures. And on Friday I'll show a sign from an atrium elevator that might inspire a chuckle or two.

(Photos by Andrew Wood)

Cat Humor: Wake Up!

Try not to laugh at this...

Monday, October 15, 2007

New Jersey Courtesy Campaign

New Jersey has developed an interesting way to deal with difficult dialogues regarding rude transit users who spread their stuff on multiple seats or yak loudly on their mobile phones. Rather than accosting the troublemaker directly, you simply point to a poster. Here's a snip:
As part of the campaign, the agency is putting up posters on all trains by the end of the month that feature pictures of people venting about many of the problems that commuters complain to NJ Transit about.

"The posters are a social safety valve," Doug Bown, president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers told the Asbury Park Press for Sunday's newspapers. "Instead of having to initiate your case, you can point to the poster."

One poster shows a woman whose mouth is wide open, appearing to be screaming, under the words "How many seats do you need?" Another poster shows a man plugging his ears with his fingers under the words "I can't take the noise!"
Learn more with this AP article, Transit Launches Courtesy Campaign

Friday, October 12, 2007

New Route 66 Visitor Center

The Associated Press reports the opening of a new Route 66 Visitor Center. Here's a clip:
A restored 1930 gas station in southeast Kansas reopens tomorrow as a Route 66 Visitor Center.

A grand opening ceremony is set for 1 p.m. at the center in downtown Baxter Springs, followed by a reception at the nearby Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum. A program will include some Route 66 oral histories.

The Baxter Springs Historical Society used volunteer work and materials to match a $26,000 grant from National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Battlestar Galactica - Season 4 Trailer

Here's the trailer for the next (supposedly last) season of BSG. It looks pretty awesome to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Atrium Collapse

Just yesterday I wrote about my plans to study atrium hotels in San Francisco, and today I hear of the collapse of a hotel atrium in Baltimore. Freaky.

Happily, at this point, there is only one reported injury.

(Image from WBAL TV)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Portman Atriums

This weekend I'll be visiting San Francisco to photograph two Hyatt hotels, one designed by famed architect John Portman and one that reflects his influence, designed by Mark Hornberger. The goal of this shoot is to help complete a chapter on hotels I'm writing for the omnitopia book.

To me, atrium hotels demonstrate a key aspect of the omnitopian sensibility, the desire to enclose a synecdoche of the world within a glass enclave, one that appears to blur interior and exterior spaces while enacting a firm distinction between two distinct urban worlds.

One thing that I particularly find when thinking about these places is their construction of spectacle. Looking upward as row upon row of rooms climb toward the light one senses an almost spiritual reverence that could never be found in pre-Portman hotels.

When I return from that trip, I'll post plenty of photos to illustrate what I mean.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Iran Update - Pinpoint War?

The Telegraph has published an article entitled Britain 'on board' for US strikes on Iran, which describes a narrowing of plans to assault Iranian forces.
Washington sources say that America has shelved plans for an all-out assault, drawn up to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities and take out the Islamist regime.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that President Bush's White House national security council is discussing instead a plan to launch pinpoint attacks on bases operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds force, blamed for training Iraqi militants...

Vincent Cannistraro — who served as intelligence chief on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council and then as head of operations for the CIA's counter-terrorist centre — said: "What's on the table right now is tactical strikes."...

The White House and Downing Street would justify such an attack as a defensive move to protect allied troops in Iraq. But moderates in the US government are concerned that the counter-terrorist argument may be used by hawks as a figleaf for military action that could escalate into all out war with Iran.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Vanishing Route 66 motels

Scott Craven of the Arizona Republic has written another piece about Route 66 motels, following up once again on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's recent listing of endangered historical sites. This article concentrates on Earl's Motor Court, which has taken some inspiration from the movie Cars. Here's a snip:
Inspired by the Pixar animated film (its landscapes reminiscent of the 1950s Southwest), the Earls dug the old neon signs out of storage, reinstalled them and gave the hotel a fresh coat of paint. They also returned to the old way of renting rooms by the night, rather than by the week or month.

"We realized that we were really dumb, that we needed to have enthusiasm about where we were and what we did," Floranel said. "I love it. We're getting people from all over the world who want to experience life on Route 66."
Next time I'm "standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona," I'll check this place out!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Road Trip Essentials - Part 8

More road trip essentials, with 36-40 must-do stops along the highway. In no particular order...

Take a pilgrimage to the death-site of a beloved actor, politician, or family member. Connect with her or his mortality - and your own.

Go to a biker bar. Order a PBR and strike up a conversation. Most bikers are actually pretty cool.

Cross a long distance only on farm roads. Avoid even the two-lanes. Get so lost that even GPS can't save you.

Tour a local history museum of a town too small to have a Starbucks. Stay at least two hours; talk to the curators.

Listen only to AM radio stations for a day.

Road Trip Essentials - Part 7

My road trip essentials feature is back, with 31-35 must-do stops along the highway. In no particular order...

Since fast food is such an important (if regrettable) part of the roadside experience, search out "fast food firsts," such as the first KFC and the first Pizza Hut.

Visit an alligator farm. Just make sure you don't confuse this stop with a petting zoo.

Drive Route 66 through Texas and plan a stop at Cadillac Ranch. Bring spray-paint so you can add your words of wisdom to this tourist trip for the ages.

Visit the McDonalds in Vinita, Oklahoma. Eat a burger over the interstate.

Plan a theme trip searching for "capitals" of the world, such as a town boasting itself the "lentil capital of the world."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Halloween Clown Costume

This Halloween, the Wood Family is continuing our tradition of creating a PG-13 "Haunted Porch" for the neighborhood kids. Last year's theme was Alien Autopsy. The theme this time: Psycho Circus.

Preparing for Halloween, therefore, I've been searching Amazon.com for a great clown costume, and this one appealed to me: something creepy, with lots of skulls and crossbones. Then I noticed one selling point: "Makes a great Easter Costume."

What kind of weird-ass Easter do these people have in mind?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Iran Update - early October

The Sydney Morning Herald reports escalating interest in bombing Iran. Here's a snip:
AUSTRALIA, Britain and Israel have reportedly "expressed interest" in a US campaign to launch surgical bombing raids on Iran targeting Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities.

A report in The New Yorker by the journalist Seymour Hersh said the Bush Administration had stopped trying to justify a campaign against Iran on the basis of curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions. It is instead redefining the war in Iraq as a strategic battle between the US and Iran.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Death Race 2000

As I discovered this weekend, Roger Corman's 1975 production of Death Race 2000 makes a swell double-bill to Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Both movies mock the American blurring of cars, sex, and violence, though Death Race 2000 takes itself much less seriously. That'll happen when a film's budget can be transported in piggy banks. Director Paul Bartel recalls, "Because Death Race was so cheap and looked so cheap in many ways, it was easiest to do it satirically and not have to worry if it seemed futuristic" (p. 156). I first became intrigued with Death Race 2000 because of its promised depiction of a dystopian American future. But, aside from the cheesy matte shot that frames the race -- and a few 70s-era buildings that looked vaguely futuristic in an EPCOT Center sort of way -- Death Race 2000 is set securely on back roads that demanded no filming permits.

Despite its half-hearted efforts and political and media satire, this movie is really abut a transcontinental road race in which drivers run pedestrians over for points. Heads explode like tomatoes while, at the pit stops, it seems that no women can keep her clothes on. This was, after all, a 70s-"Hard R" flick. Still, you've got to love a movie whose main character is called Frankenstein after losing various body parts to car wrecks. And, yes, Sylvester Stallone plays a Chicago mobster-type racer who crashes into his own pit crew to score points. Death Race 2000 is made for an evening of bad jokes and bad food (I chose pizza combos but would select pork rinds if I ever planned to watch it again).

Death Race 2000 is an awful movie, a classic of exploitation cinema.

Bartel, P. (1984). Death Race 2000: New World's violent future. In D. Peary's (Ed.), Omni's screen flights/screen fantasies: The future according to science fiction cinema (pp. 152-157). Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Skyview Drive-in Update

Writing in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Genevieve Bookwalter reports that one of my favorite places, the Skyview Drive-in, is likely to close soon. While the story focuses on the flea market, it also contains news about the drive-in. Here's a snip:
Vendors who for years have pawned high chairs, stone necklaces and old videos, among numerous other wares, at the Skyview Drive-In flea market are concerned that a weekend tradition since 1971 will soon come to a close.

Vendors who have tried to reserve their selling spots at the flea market through the end of the year have been denied, and petitions are being passed to preserve what some are calling "a cultural icon"

But those fears are only partially justified.

Attorney John P. Christian with Tobin & Tobin in San Francisco, who represents the drive-in owners, the Martins family, confirmed that vendors have been told they could count on selling their stock on the Soquel Drive lot through the end of November.

"Beyond that, I don't know," Christian said.

But officials for Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center on Friday said sellers have no reason to fear; the health care provider stands by the group's statement earlier this year that the flea market — considered by many a community staple — would remain open for a couple more years, despite the pending sale.

"We realize that [the flea market] is something that is important in the community, and we want to explore any option we can to make sure that continues to be available," said Sutter spokesman Ben Drew.

He did not, however, commit to continue running the drive-in movie theater.
Update: The Skyview closed for the last time on December 2, 2007.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Newspaper Podiums

Riding the Highway 17 bus into town, beginning the turn near the train station, I saw a striking illustration of the demise of the newspaper era. To my left, I spotted a fellow standing behind a newspaper box, using it as a podium. He had placed a laptop computer atop the box and was typing. Standing literally opposite from the newspaper's "television screen" that depicted today's headlines that were written last night, this guy was almost certainly drawing from some wireless cloud. Catching this scene, I noted two particularly odd things. One was the fact that ten feet away, another guy was doing the same thing, using a newspaper box as a stand for his laptop. The other thing I noticed was stranger still: a piece of advertising for the San Jose Mercury News at the base of the box that read, "Your 50¢ Laptop. Upgraded Daily."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Holographic America

I found a useful parallel to omnitopia in Jean Baudrillard's notion of America-as-Hologram:
America is a giant hologram, in the sense that information concerning the whole is contained in each of its elements. Take the tiniest little place in the desert, any old street in a Mid-West town, a parking lot, a Californian house, a BurgerKing [sic] or a Studebaker, and you have the whole of the US -- South, North, East, or West . . . The hologram is akin to the world of phantasy [sic]. It is a three-dimensional dream and you can enter it as you would a dream. Everything depends on the existence of the ray of light bearing the objects. If it is interrupted, all the effects are dispersed, and reality along with it. (pp. 29-30)
Baudrillard, J. (1989). America (C. Turner, Trans.). New York: Verso.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Aviopolis Part 2

Here are some more notes from a book I recently read while researching for my own omnitopia project.

"You may not need to speak the language of the country to get around; but you do need to know the techno-cultural dialect of English -- the international language of the airport. "(p. 31)

"The airport represents 'laboratory conditions' for thinking through the techno-cultural processes and systems of global movement." (p. 38)

"Colonialism reorganised [sic] geographical space into sovereign zones of ideological and economic allegiances. Place became terra nullius long ago, wiped of indigenous particularities and incorporated into a totalising [sic] space of urgent global improvement." (p. 39)

"Sydney Airport . . . has been in continuous operation since 1920, developing from a modest airstrip in the middle of a swamp-lined paddock on the northern shore of botany Bay. For 80 years this airport has been 'terraforming' its environs, sucking highways and rail corridors towards it, re-zoning its surrounding suburbs, flattening houses and changing the geography of the city around it." (p. 41)

"Cairo Airport may look nothing like Singapore's Changi Airport, but its information is the same -- it is designed to process mobility. It is a self-renewing machine that 'refreshes' after each take-off and landing. Planes download passengers, baggage, cargo, excreta, and rubbish, and, then, upload passengers, baggage, cargo, fuel, food and packaged gadgets. The airport propels and regulates direction and flow. The sky is turned into bandwidth as plans move along specified air corridors." (p. 43)

"Within the glass groundscrapers that dominate contemporary airport design, only our thoughts move in private. Our baggage, our bodies and our movements are all part of an all-encompassing spectacle. Visible to everybody, we disappear into the multiple matrices of the airport." (p. 78)

All quotes from:

Fuller, G. & Harley, R. (2004). Aviopolis: A book about airports. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited.