Thursday, July 31, 2008

More St. Petersburg Pier

In gathering materials for my blog post on the St. Petersburg Pier, I came across an undated postcard depicting early-era cars at night. The image is so cool and evocative that I couldn't resist a brief follow-up post.

Reviewing Andrew J. Morris's Postcard Dating Guide Styles and Types page - just looking at the cars, too! - I'm sure this card is unlikely to be any newer than 1930. Indeed, I'd guess that the image is from a pre-1926 pier.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Darker City

One of my favorite movies, Dark City, has been given the director's cut treatment - with mixed results. Hereafter, expect plenty of spoilers.

Visually, the film is more stunning than ever. Even the muted palate pops off the screen, and the climactic showdown (with some cool new effects, this time) is much more clearly articulated over the original. We even glimpse more spiral imagery this time -- thumb prints and the swirling of coffee creme -- to illustrate the maze-like reality of the city.

Narratively (at first), the film benefits from a generous application of a "less is more" philosophy. Director Alex Proyas's decision to remove the "Help! The audience is too dumb to understand this movie" intro monologue means that you no longer must mute the audio until the doctor opens his stopwatch when showing Dark City to first-time viewers.

Unfortunately, Proyas chose to add some heavy-handed dialogue between Mr. Hand and Emma that, true, makes the Stranger's "There used to be a ferry" exchange even more crafty and cruel. But the extended scene also weighs the movie down with too much exposition of what we already know.

And then there's the soundtrack, which is not improved this time around. The original version is far more prodding and orchestral, perhaps a sop to audiences at risk of drifting off. I loved it all the same. The new one is too restrained. I suppose that choice is a sign of the director's confidence in his material, but I miss the constant sense of dread produced by the gorgeous music in the original.

And don't get me started on Proyas's inexplicable choice to use Jennifer Connelly's original vocals in the film's two nightclub interludes (one, extended in this version). The first cut made use of Anita Kelsey's lovely voice. This version: not so much. Jennifer Connelly may possess many talents (acting, itself, a debatable issue in this film), but she can't sing.

One final note: The addition of a scene in which John Murdoch uses his psionic powers to torture Dr. Schreber seems to be both unnecessary and yet useful to understanding the "darker" truth of this film. Its protagonist, a character with which we initially relate and sympathize, risks losing the same humanity that the Strangers never had when he becomes the God of this "world."

Now, even the happy ending of Dark City is a little bleaker.

Learn More: This year I published a book chapter entitled "'Small World': Alex Proyas' Dark City and Omnitopia" in an edited collection called Sith, Slayers, Stargates and Cyborgs: Modern Mythology in the New Millennium. If you wish, you can read an excerpt of the chapter and contact me (wooda AT to get the entire piece.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rethinking our suburbs

Haya El Nasser writes in today's USA Today how rising gas prices are inspiring suburbs like Maricopa, AZ; Rancho Cucamonga, CA; and Huntersville, NC to consider redesigning themselves into self-sustaining communities. The article even mentions a website, that evaluates the "walkability" of some 2,500 neighborhoods, proposing that our nation's tolerance for driving vast distances between bedroom, work, and market is rapidly declining. Here's a snip:
"We're sort of stuck with retrofitting the suburbs," says Scott Bernstein, head of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which for years has urged that transportation costs be a criterion for mortgage qualification. "That's not all that bad. … There's nothing like a crisis to get people to try something."
Incidentally, my neighborhood (Scotts Valley, CA) has a Walk Score of 63/100 ("Somewhat walkable"). I hope that number will increase with the addition of our long awaited Skypark Town Center. It's a literally perfect illustration of this article: the transformation of an empty lot and two ill-placed propane businesses into a real downtown.

Read the entire piece: Gas prices drive push to reinvent America's suburbs

Monday, July 28, 2008

Planning for Halloween 2008

Anyone who knows me well can probably guess my favorite holiday: Halloween. OK, sure, Christmas is more meaningful and Thanksgiving is more sentimental. But hour-for-hour, I enjoy the times when Jenny and I design, build, and execute our annual Wood Family Halloween Theme Porch more than any other ritual of the year. Thus far we've done a pirate dungeon, a corpse wedding, an alien autopsy, and a psycho circus (check out the video from 2007).

This year I think it's time for "Dr. Frightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors" (and, yes, I got the character-name from The Simpsons). Off and on, I might return to this post with thoughts on props, scripts, and other inchoate notions. Right away, I envision the construction of a demented mad scientist's lab with eerily lit jars filled with body parts, some sort of creepy electrical device that creates cool effects, and a gory medical experiment gone horribly wrong. As usual, Jenny and I will dress the part and develop some funny patter to add life to the scene.

We always post signs up the stairs announcing the PG-13 rating for our porch, not wanting to traumatize kids too young for our brand of Halloween fun. But each year some parents still choose to trundle their wide-eyed moppets into our lair, inspiring Jenny and I to downshift our act to a more toddler-friendly vibe. But our "target audience," pre-teens from 8 to 12, loves the show. Some years we've had to shoo a few off after they'd seen the entire show and couldn't pull themselves away, producing a traffic jam of kids waiting to climb the stairs. As usual, I hope that this year will be the best Wood Family Porch yet.

Any suggestions for ways I can flesh out the Mad Scientist theme? I hope you'll post a comment.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mad Men Returning - Video Blog Post

Check out my video blog post on Mad Men

NOTE: YouTube somehow lost the "normal quality" version of this video, but it still works on "high quality." So click this link and ignore the note, "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Go ahead and select "Watch in High Quality." It should work.

Don't forget: Sunday night at 10 p.m. on AMC [check your local listings to be sure].

Oh, and here's the intro:

Learn More: New York Times [Registration required] review: Back to the Office, Vices in Tow

Here's a snip:
"'Mad Men,' which returns to AMC on Sunday, distills the moment in the American century when the buoyant certainty that came with winning a war and running the world was beginning to crack."

"On the surface the dollar is strong and the Kennedy administration is in sparkling swing. There is a mournful, autumnal pulse to even the gayest office parties and supper club sorties, but it mainly goes unheeded. Most of the privileged white-shoe account executives and copywriters who ogle their secretaries; cheat on idle, discontented wives; and keep their offices as segregated as their country clubs have no real sense that their world is coming to a fast end. They are like vacationers on the beach just before a tsunami hits. All they see is that the ocean has receded and suddenly there is a lot more sand."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2005 Wood Family Trip to Australia

In three weeks and countless thousands of kilometers, we sampled the cosmopolitan pleasures of Sydney, watched Aussie parliamentary action in Canberra, enjoyed the coffee culture of Melbourne, played with kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas on Kangaroo Island, saw a Green Day concert in Adelaide, journeyed by train into the Red Center, communed with Uluru near Alice Springs, snorkeled along the Great Barrier Reef, befriended the fruit bats of Brisbane, and visited friends upon our return to Sydney.

Here's a link to the website (text written by Jenny) from our trip:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Space Solar Power

With all the discussion these days about the increasing costs of energy, it's cool to hear about a new idea that is both good for the environment and our economy: space-based solar power. Here's a snip from today's New York Times:
"A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the Earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather, low angles of the sun in northern climes and, of course, the darkness of night.

Once collected, the solar energy would be safely beamed to Earth via wireless radio transmission, where it would be received by antennas near cities and other places where large amounts of power are used. The received energy would then be converted to electric power for distribution over the existing grid."
Read the entire piece: O. Glenn Smith (New York Times, July 23, 2008, registration required): Harvest the Sun -- From Space

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting Closer to Reed

The weeks continue to count down to our trip north to Portland, where we'll drop our daughter off at Reed College.

Jenny and Vienna are pulling together paperwork and checking off boxes of to-do lists, preparing for this big move. And all of us are finding opportunities to spend plenty of time together as a family -- seeing movies, taking trips, and catching up on conversations, along the while recognizing the quickening momentum of time advancing us along its course.

These days, I find myself looking back on special times with my daughter, understanding at last what Jenny has long known: This transition will be tough for all of us. Until now I've generally concentrated on the excitement I have for the possibilities opening up for Vienna. The fact that I'll miss her, that in some ways I miss her already, has been more difficult to discern. But it's true, all the same.

So I remember good times. Obviously I begin with our 2006 roadtrip, when Vienna and I spent fourteen days of a three-week journey traveling by ourselves before catching up with Jenny in New York. During those first legs of the trip, Vienna and I shared inside jokes and developed our own routines, all while winding our ways through big cities and small towns from California through Canada to Maine and all over the eastern seaboard.

I also remember smaller things too, like our occasional lunches together, just the two of us, talking about college and her professional plans, even occasionally chatting about more important things in Vienna's life. It's difficult to imagine that those moments will be harder to come by as she embarks on her own adventures.

Perhaps my fondest memory of Vienna comes from the first moment when I recognized just how special she is. We were living in Ohio, she might have been five or six at the time, and it was Halloween. In Athens, they only allowed trick-or-treating during the late afternoon, and only for a strict limit of one hour. Jenny and I were taking Vienna up and down the streets when we spotted an arbor filled with tiny hanging jack-o-lanterns. Vienna exclaimed, "It's a Trick-or-Tree!"

I was delighted and amazed. This little twinkle of a kid had managed to crack a really clever joke, one suggesting a subtlety with language that I'd never before seen in her. Surely, I over-dramatize. But Vienna's joke fed me with optimism that she had the potential to do something really cool with her life. And now, a breeze of time later, she's headed for college.

With our preparations for Reed coming to culmination, I can only imagine what lies in store for this amazing young woman.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pfffffffffft! There Goes the Vacation

Alex Williams has posted an article on The New York Times (registration required), entitled Pfffffffffft! There Goes the Vacation. The piece addresses the impact of our nation's current economic struggles on the traditional (middle class) family vacation. While working folks would understandably read this piece and seek out their tiniest violins, Williams still manages to convey a meaningful illustration of our current difficulties. A snip:
To most Americans, a summer getaway is a crucial component of the life-work compact: they trade 50 weeks of cubicle-bound servitude for two weeks of sun-dappled bliss, and it seems worth it (well, almost).

But halfway through the 2008 season, vacationers (and would-be vacationers) are being squeezed by a confluence of dismal economic realities: fuel prices that have nearly doubled since the start of last year; airlines that have jacked up fares 17 percent since the start of the year; a dollar that stands like a pygmy alongside foreign currencies.

Travelers flush or fortunate enough to get away, whether to the Amalfi Coast or to a friend’s pool in New Jersey, must labor to keep this season’s economic anxieties — plummeting home prices, tanking 401(k)’s, looming layoffs — off their minds.
Read the entire piece: Pfffffffffft! There Goes the Vacation

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Former Vice President Al Gore on efforts by some politicians to alleviate our current economic woes through off-shore drilling: "Going back over and over and over again to the old ways of the past just puts off the reckoning with the opportunity that we need to seize now, to shift over to renewable sources of energy."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Journey - Separate Ways

As a child of the eighties, I look back on the music videos of the era with a mixture of delight and embarrassment. Such ambition! Such confidence! Such cheesiness!

And if one video reigns supreme in its ability to induce a psychic cringe, it is Journey's Separate Ways (opens in new window; sorry, no embedding allowed on this one).

I think even then I laughed at the silliness of the group's depiction of a neo-preppy babe walking the docks of a New Orleans wharf, being accosted by porn star-mustachioed band members playing frequently invisible instruments.

Then there's Steve Perry's e-nun-ci-a-tion of every tear in his heart as he and his lady go their "separate ways." That dude was the William Shatner of lead singers.

Thanks to YouTube, Journey remains a remnant of the eighties, an eternal reminder that folks now in our forties should never make fun of kids' music.

Of course, there's a shot-by-shot remake.

(Video image montage by Andrew Wood)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Free Starbucks for You!

Check out this story about a Daytona Beach, Florida cop being fired after threatening to reduce emergency response time for a Starbucks that cut him off from free coffee. Apparently the guy showed up about six times a day, even demanding his specialty drinks when off duty.

Read the entire piece: Officer Accused Of Threatening Starbucks Managers For Free Coffee

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

St. Petersburg Pier

The St. Petersburg Pier has long fascinated me. Growing up nearby, I remember visiting the famed local hangout and tourist attraction with my mom. But this was the 70s, and the pier had been remade into its current iteration as an inverted pyramid. Only while flipping through postcards at a local antique shop did I discover the older "Million Dollar Pier," which had been built in 1926 and demolished a year before I was born.

The old pier was a St. Pete landmark known for its natural and artificial attractions. Quoting the back of one card: "Recreation Pier, jutting one mile out into tropical St. Petersburg Bay, is daily visited by thousands of winter visitors who delight in feeding the long billed Pelican, watching trim sailing yachts and cruisers ply over mirrored surfaces, airplane and seaplanes humming overhead. In the background is portion of the St. Petersburg Hotel and shopping center skyline."

Hundreds of postcards featuring the pier were produced, many depicting it as a mooring spot for ships and even occasionally as a backdrop for dirigibles.

Quoting from the back of another card: "A wonderful $1,000,000 attraction extending half a mile out into Tampa Bay, open to the public without cost, providing a pleasant promenade, parking space for 1,000 cars, fishing balconies. Containing a mammoth convention and dance auditorium, the radio station WSUN, extensive space for picnics, bridge parties, etc. There are up-to-date Novelty and Gift Shops for all Souvenir Hunters."

Have you any memories of the old pier? Post a comment! What was it like to dance in the auditorium? What was the vibe in the casino? How did you feel when the tore the place down in 1967? Please share your recollections below.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

U.S. Economic Fears

The UK Telegraph has produced a concise and frightening look at our current economic turmoil. The thesis:
"Merrill Lynch has warned that the United States could face a foreign 'financing crisis' within months as the full consequences of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage debacle spread through the world."
Read the entire piece: US faces global funding crisis, warns Merrill Lynch

Sleeping in Airports

Sharon McDonnell writes in today's New York Times about the dearth of hotel vouchers being handed to stranded air travelers and the resulting reality that more folks are being forced to sleep in airports. Having had some personal experience with this topic, I was interested in McDonnell's take. Here's a snip:
"Airports range widely in what they offer overnight guests. The top-ranked airport at the Guide to Sleeping in Airports Web site for the last 10 years is Singapore Changi Airport. It has dimly lighted napping areas, where comfortable leather chairs have leg rests and headrests. Some are even fitted with alarm clocks. There are also cheap sleeping cubicles available for travelers."
Visiting Singapore's airport was, indeed, a key goal of my 2006 trip to Asia. And I can tell you: Changi is a swell airport - once you get through security.

Read the entire piece [Registration Required]: Snoozing at the Terminal

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mark Sanford - Owned!

Wow. (To borrow from The Simpsons) if you slow down the videotape, you can practically see the precise moment when South Carolina governor Mark Sanford kisses his chance to be John McCain's vice presidential running mate goodbye.

Shameless Media Plug - Washington Square

A few months ago, I was asked by Mansi Bhatia to define "justice" in 50 words for Washington Square Magazine (Spring, 2008). In the interests of justice, I kept my draft to 50 words exactly:
Justice balances conflicting forces, distributing goods and meting penalties without favor or prejudice. A human construct, justice may be contrasted with nature and tyranny, both of which deploy pleasure and pain inequitably. Justice demands the dispassionate negotiation of rights and responsibilities, affirming yet also limiting the realm of the self.
What's your definition of justice?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pickens Plan

I intend to learn more about the Pickens Plan in the future. I recommend that you do as well.

As the Dallas Morning News (July 12, 2008) notes, "Yes, America's infatuation with oil made Mr. Pickens rich. Yes, he has significant investments in natural gas and wind power. But the United States must make different and better energy choices. Who better than Boone Pickens to champion this crusade? Sometimes, when money talks, it makes a lot of sense."

Learn More

T. Boone Pickens (Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2008): My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil: "How will we do it? We'll start with wind power. Wind is 100% domestic, it is 100% renewable and it is 100% clean. Did you know that the midsection of this country, that stretch of land that starts in West Texas and reaches all the way up to the border with Canada, is called the 'Saudi Arabia of the Wind'? It gets that name because we have the greatest wind reserves in the world. In 2008, the Department of Energy issued a study that stated that the U.S. has the capacity to generate 20% of its electricity supply from wind by 2030. I think we can do this or even more, but we must do it quicker."

USA Today's Dan Reed: Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens wants to supplant oil with wind: "Critics could easily accuse Pickens of advocating a major new public policy initiative that will line his own pockets. He is, after all, a big player in both the wind power and natural gas businesses. Pickens says while his hedge fund will earn money for its investors, earning more money personally is meaningless: 'I'm 80 years old and have $4 billion. I don't need any more money.' He's more concerned that his efforts to make reducing foreign oil dependency the No. 1 issue on the national agenda will be dismissed by the public and, therefore, by Washington. So he says he's carefully steering his plan clear of partisan bickering."

The Independent's Leonard Doyle: The texan oil baron and the winds of change [Quoting Pickens]: "This is not about Republicans versus Democrats, he said. This is about saving our country from the ruination of spending $700bn a year on oil imports. Ninety days after the oil hits our shores, it's all burnt up, and we've got nothing to show for it. But they [foreign oil producers] still have our money. It's killing our economy."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Fun Post - Crackerbox Palace

George Harrison's Crackerbox Palace hit the airwaves back in '76, and for a time I thought it was the coolest song I ever heard. Recently, I came across the video...

Wow. Cocaine (with an LSD chaser) is a hellava drug.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On the Job, Everywhere

This is one of those ancient articles, a New York Times piece from November 20, 2007, that I've allowed to atrophy in my to-read queue. It's a piece by Susan Stellin, entitled "On the Job, Everywhere." I once thought it might end up quoted in my in-press book about omnitopia, but now I'm just happy to remove it from the pile.

The article discusses ways in which hotels, airports, and other similar environments are transforming themselves into nodes for the Work Anywhere/Anytime Generation, noting that business travelers expect one amenity over all others when moving through omnitopia: internet access. Along with that innovation, business hotels are working to install more outlets in more places, recognizing, for example, "that many travelers end up working on their computers in bed."

Airports, less rapidly, are also working to ensure that travelers can pack more work into every moment, even while waiting for a flight. To that end, many are offering power chargers and wireless options, even that most necessary of resources: silence. I was particularly interested in Dallas-Fort Worth's new (as of 2007) vending machines that sell noise-canceling headphones. All the more, the enclave is mobile.

Read the entire piece: On the Job, Everywhere

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Crude Awakening

Tonight Vienna and I will watch 12 Monkeys (again), and once more I'll likely be struck by that image of a high-ceilinged department store filled with customers fading into a post-apocalyptic future devoid of human life.

Movies like 12 Monkeys call forth a nagging modern fear that we're all sitting precariously atop an edifice ready to collapse into ruin. We keep shopping, keep driving, keep building, and we hope that we're wrong to feel that the center of civilization simply cannot hold.

Then comes a documentary like Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, and a far more substantial degree of confidence begins to give way.

Crude Awakening gathers together an impressive array of experts ranging from oil geologists and historians to a former secretary general of OPEC, a former energy adviser to the president, the mayor of an oil boomtown-gone-bust, and even a Hummer car salesperson, all to consider the possibility that the world has reached an era of Peak Oil, that we've reached the summit of our production of oil and gasoline and now face a steady decline in our quality of life as demand exceeds supply.

Watching this film, I found it compelling to consider that the creation of oil was a rare and relatively brief set of geological events that, for most of human history, was no more relevant than the birth and death of dodo birds. From this perspective, our oil-based economy, largely born in the 20th century, is a blip destined to fade.

During that blip, though, we've witnessed the explosion of our global population as cheap energy allowed the birth of automobiles, suburbs, interstates, and global trade, the creation of the modern world (and its environmental discontents). Crude Awakening dares us to imagine the fate of the world once the oil runs dry.

In this world, shaky economies propped up by petrodollars collapse and we face the true price for our profligate ways. Prices spiral beyond imagination as the production of once-cheap products, luxuries we take for granted today, become unsustainable. The result is a new Great Depression, but a different one than the struggles we faced in the thirties. This is a Depression built on natural limitations not artificial speculations.

Even more frightening, the film marches through the alternatives to which many of us cling, those bridges to the future of more cars, bigger cities, and unchanged values. With hybrid cars, we hope we can continue to carpool two kids around town in mammoth SUVs. Maybe hydrogen technology will save us, or cleaner nuclear power. And then there's solar!

Crude Awakening argues that these technologies, some of which are genuinely promising in the long-term, are insufficiently developed to make a sizable dent in our energy needs for the next generation, and that the price of peak oil will ravage our societies sooner than that.

Already we're used to gas prices that have spiraled to crazy heights over a matter of months. And we know that it's going to get worse. What we don't know, what we can hardly imagine, is the harrowing reality of a world whose nations must wage perpetual war to secure dwindling oil supplies. We know that Iraq was really about oil. But are we prepared to invade Iran? Saudi Arabia? Iraq now wants us to plan our exit. Will we? With no more validity to our claims that our wars are meant to democratize the middle east, just what kind of country will we become?

And then there's the even bleaker future presented by Crude Awakening: a foreseeable world in which air travel and even auto travel reside beyond the means of those who enjoy those privileges now. How then can we sustain our global economy, our far-flung suburbs, our daily lives? This documentary suggests nothing less than the end of modern civilization, what James Howard Kunstler calls The Long Emergency.

Another piece of dystopian pop culture from my early years, a book by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka called Nature's End, refers to the last 25 years of the twentieth century as the "joyous sunset." I always found that image to be potent, suggesting as it does the obliviating pleasures of excess and disregard before the night falls.

We soon thereafter got a glimpse of life after those happy years on September 11th. And today our sunsets (in California, at least) are often particularly lovely due to the fires burning throughout the summer. I hope that these images portend only to a momentary fear-mongering that is due a fan of sci-fi such as myself. But a documentary like Crude Awakening calls forth quiet but urgent questions before I head off to sleep.

How long do we have?

(Hummer Image from

Learn More: Here's a preliminary post on Crude Awakening uploaded on November 8, 2007.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Starbucks Slightly Less Ubiquitous?

Old news, but a fact I'd like to recall later on...

Michael J. de la Merced writes in The New York Times (July 2) that Starbucks is feeling the pinch from an economy that makes four-dollar coffee seem sort of stupid, and it's planning to close 600 stores in the United States.

Chatting with my local barista, I'm told that local Starbucks do not face closure, but that a glut of them in San Francisco, Southern California, and Florida will be shuttered.

According to the article, Starbucks does plan to continue growing its international brand. But in the U.S., where folks increasingly must choose between coffee and gasoline (or even food and medicine), a tall, low-fat, extra soy, sorta-whipped, Iced Whatever just doesn't add up.

Read the entire piece: Starbucks Announces It Will Close 600 Stores

Monday, July 7, 2008

Central Texan Barbecue

Castroville's Central Texan Barbecue is the best place for ribs, sausage, and brisket we've found in California. Jenny and I enjoyed our inaugural meal there in 2000 at the start of a drive to Texas. We figured that fate was smiling as we pulled onto the parking lot and smelled the wafting of smoked meat from two open pits. On that summer day, we met the gregarious (though sometimes cantankerous) pit-master, Don Elkins.

Born in 1938, one-time cotton picker and trapper, 20-year veteran of the Army's Special Forces (including duty in Vietnam), Don has been the heart and soul of The Central Texan since 1984. During our first meeting, back when he was nearly a dead-ringer for Willie Nelson, Don told us of his early years in Red Rock, Texas, espousing the glory of Lockhart, Texas 'que and planting the seeds of our 2007 Wood Family Southern Routes BBQ Tour. Of course, if you can't make it to the real Texas, Don's place is a pretty good facsimile, complete with sawdust floors, country music, and plenty of western paraphernalia.

About once a month we make the roughly 45-minute one-way drive to Castroville, enduring the backed-up traffic when the four-lane converges into a two-lane near the Moss Landing Power Plant, all to visit our little version of Central Texas. Sometimes the brisket is tender, sometimes it's a little rough, but Don's artistry is always infused with that sublime smoke. Each time we make the turn, I scrutinize the "open" sign, searching for neon proof that Don is keeping the flame alive. How fortunate that the light continues to shine.

(Photographs by Andrew and Jenny Wood)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Lilipad Cities

Can you imagine? Cities built to float atop oceans swelled from melting icecaps, crossing the oceans in search of mild weather. The shape of the island city is perfect for collecting rainwater and allowing for a diversity of recreational activities that even include mountain climbing. Vincent Callebaut calls them Lilypad Cities.

Read more: Pictured: The floating cities that could one day house climate change refugees

(Image from Inhabitat)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Man in the High Castle

Yesterday I finished Philip K. Dick's (1992/1962) book, The Man in the High Castle. Consider everything that follows to be composed of spoilers.

High Castle depicts an alternative-Earth following German-Japanese victory in the Second World War. Yet that setting is mainly a backdrop; the book is much more focused on the personal stories of a handful of characters whose story-arcs intersect in odd ways. Each character is a fake invested in the manufacture of reality. Each somehow knows that her or his own duplicities and productions of historicity reflect a larger artificiality.

To illustrate, one character, a producer of ersatz Americana knickknacks (coveted by Japanese occupiers of the western United States) comments on the value of human-made authenticity in the form of "proof," rather than some intrinsic quality, to generate meaning: "And so it's all a fake, a mass delusion. The paper proves its worth, not the object itself!" (p. 64). Throughout High Castle, characters stretch against the confines of the simulations that confine them. But each (with, perhaps, one exception) find no truer meaning "outside" their continuum than within.

The reader studies the fragments, hoping that "this" reality is more meaningful than the ones that reside in the book. But I found myself wondering all the same.

Some other quotes:
"Apple pie, Coca-Cola, stroll after the movie, Glenn Miller . . . you could paste together out of tin and rice paper a complete artificial America" (p. 112).

"Synthetic image distilled from hearing assorted talk. Myth implanted subtly in tissues of brain" (pp. 142-143).

"Now one appreciates Saint Paul's incisive word choice . . . seen through glass darkly not a metaphor, but astute reference to optical distortion. We really do see astigmatically, in fundamental sense: our space and our time creations of our own psyche" (p. 233).

"Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive" (p. 244).
One can hardly imagine Gibson's Gernsback Continuum without this book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Augmented Reality

Have you ever wished you could "right click" a person to learn more about them? One day, thanks to Augmented Reality, you may have that power. Since we're getting used to "marking ourselves up" thanks to Facebook, it seems like a natural progression that strangers will be able to peer beyond our clothes to gain insights into our predilections, whether they be musical, political, or sexual. How? Mobile phones or even special eyeglass lens can show us information embedded onto objects that we wear or even attach into/into our bodies.

Steve Mollman has written about this on CNN. Here's a snip:
Augmented reality (AR) -- or the "real world Web" -- has been listed by research firm Gartner as one of the most disruptive technologies companies could face over the next few years. The possibilities of AR are impressive.

During a heart transplant, identifier labels can be superimposed over the valves and chambers of a beating heart. On airplane factory floors, AR visors help electricians navigate complex mazes of wiring. Military minds dream up darker uses of AR.
Read the whole piece: The missing 'links': Looking towards an augmented reality

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Little Less Conversation

Anyone remember that 1968 Elvis song, "A Little Less Conversation"?

I'm humming that tune in celebration of California's new law, in effect today, making it illegal (with necessary exceptions) to use a mobile phone while driving.

Of course, you can trust California to leave a loophole wide enough to fit a moving car. At present, it's still OK for adults to send text messages while on the road, as if that activity is somehow less distracting than talking. Apparently the law was written before the explosion of text messaging, and the legislature couldn't figure out a way to close the loophole in time.

Oh well. Baby steps. I'm delighted with this new law all the same.

Being a communication studies professor, I celebrate the widest possible range of opportunities for people to share their ideas. More media. More information. More good.

Good, that is, until you get behind the wheel. Then I'd prefer that all motorists focus solely on safe distances, reasonable speed, courteous merging, and all the other niceties that help us get from place to place with a minimum of bloodshed.

Heck, even assuming that mobile-phone addicted drivers arrive alive, I agree with research finding that car-talkers contribute to traffic by driving more slowly and reacting less quickly than they would without their phones.

So I'm glad to see the new law.

Yesterday I heard that cops practically lined up along Highway 17, a symbolic reminder that they'll be vigilant in their search for cell phone scofflaws.

At least person with whom I chatted was annoyed by the display.

Me? I love it.

No fan of excessive state power to constrain communication, I'm glad to see a little regulation on this front.

Mobile phones are a net positive in our lives. They help keep us connected to our loved ones, they allow us to stay safe in unfamiliar environments, and they're potential lifesavers in case of mechanical or natural problems. But the benefits of unnecessary mobile communication while driving simply fail to meet the costs in terms of safety.

What about hands-free devices? They're legal for drivers over 18.

Even those devices present a problem though, given research that shows how talking on a mobile phone constitutes a more significant driving distraction than holding the phone.

If only drivers would limit usage of that technology to brief calls regarding changes of plans or other necessary last-minute communications. That's my plan, at least.

I hope the people I see on the road today employ a similar approach.

Yes, we spend more and more time in our cars, thanks to worsening traffic conditions and our growing tolerance for commutes that previous generations could never imagine. Many of us therefore want to use that time in the car for conversation.

Yet our primary conversation while on the road must be nonverbal -- with the drivers around us -- not with distant friends and coworkers.

When we drive, we form a fluid community (or sorts): people who depend upon one another to be alert and aware. It's a delicate relationship transformed all too easily into something brutally intimate without proper communication.

Sure, mobile phones appeal to our occasional desire to be anywhere but "here." But when behind the wheel, here is precisely where we need to be.

So three cheers for California's new law. When it comes to traffic safety -- yours and mine -- I agree with Elvis. It's time for "A Little Less Conversation."