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