Monday, May 23, 2011

Semi-Summer Hiatus

Starting this week I'll be blogging much less than usual. As you may know, my summer travel schedule is packed: flights to China and Austria at first, and then a full-blown European Grand Tour later on. Along with some in-country travels, my blogging will be intermittent from now through mid-August.

Even so, I've got plans to share pix and stories from my travels. And, of course, I've still set aside Friday, June 24th for my fourth annual edition of Daytime Dispatches! [Check out the 2010 edition.] So please be patient and check back from time to time.

Woodland may be slower than normal this summer, but the wait will be worth it!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Depression in Color

For me, the Great Depression and World War II reside in monochrome; the struggles, values, and meanings of that time in American history possess such clarity. I recognize that things are never that simple, though. As students of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" series know all too well, there are no easy histories. Each moment contains a multitude of dimensions. Moreover, that period in American life isn't even black and white. By way of illustration, take a look at this swell set of color images gathered by the Library of Congress.

UK Daily Mail: In the bleak light of the Depression: Rare colour photographs of the era that defined a generation

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Selling [to] Women

Trevor DeVincenzi, one of my Spring 2011 COMM 101 students, clearly caught the vision of our class encounters with semiotics and gender studies by sharing this Sarah Haskins video about commercial attempts to sell "unmentionables" [Ooops! Did I just prove Sarah's point?]

It's funny, yeah, but it also makes some compelling points. Check it out!

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Del Mar Video

I dropped by the glorious Del Mar last night to test a new videocamera (Panasonic HDC-HS60) on relatively low-quality record-mode. The camera is swell, even sporting a 120-gig hard drive. It's lightweight, has lots of manual functions, and works well in low-light settings. If only the danged thing could accept an external mic. Can you believe that? A videocamera without an audio port.

As I'm prepping for two summer documentary projects - deciding what equipment to bring on my trips to China and Europe - I'm discovering pesky hassles like these.

So far, the most annoying hiccup is the fact that my newish MacBook Pro lacks a Firewire port, which means I've gotta go on campus to dub from a second higher-end camera I borrowed (a Sony HDR-FX1000, with an audio port). My Mac's got everything I need for serious video, including Final Cut Pro; it's practically an aluminum television studio. Without one tiny port, though, that Sony might as well be a paperweight.

Ah, the pleasures of getting machines to communicate.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Andy Learns to Take Care of Things

I saw this on Comcast's Something Weird collection (a favorite guilty pleasure of mine). There's something creepy about the way the narrator intones, "Wouldn't it be better for Andy if he'd only learned to take care of things?"

Oh, and don't get too attached to those tadpoles. Things aren't looking good for them!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Summer Travel Plans

This summer will be epic - at least in terms of travel. Indeed, regular fans of this blog will have to tolerate some posting delays; I won't have regular net-access for some of these trips. One thing I do anticipate: missing Jenny and Vienna when I'm traveling solo. Still, the road calls...

Here are the highlights:

China and ROC (Taiwan): Visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Taipei with SJSU College of Engineering - producing a documentary on their Global Technology Initiative.

Florida: All-too brief return - family business.

Bryce Canyon, Utah: Quick jaunt out to a place I've wanted to see for years. Stopping over in Las Vegas (staying at New York, New York Hotel and Casino).

Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria: Returning to the Salzburg Global Seminar's International Study Program - this time to shoot footage for another documentary.

Grand European Tour: Finally an opportunity to visit some of the capitals of places I've only read about.

It's going to be an amazing (and exhausting) three months!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gorgeous Deco Theater: Baltimore's Senator

During my recent trip back east I had an occasion to spend a bit of time in Baltimore. That's where I found my all-time favorite deco movie theater: The Senator.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

World's Largest Website

The Onion has done it again, creating a "story" whose goofy fakery manages to say something meaningfully true. The article, Silicon Valley Town Pinning Tourism Hopes On World's Largest Website, packs so much in a few paragraphs: pitch-perfect mimicry of small town-boosterism, a perfect quote from the feller who "just kept building" (maybe he's a cousin to that dude who spun the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota), and an aching wistfulness for a time that's been bypassed by the Interstate of Relentless Progress.

"After the bubble burst, we didn't have too many visitors coming through these parts," says the mayor. Now they're coming back - just like Route 66. So gas up the '51 Desoto, pile the backseat with "crossword puzzles, Spider-Man comics, and Mama's homemade rhubarb pie," and...

See! Acres of Java Applets...

See! Hectares of HTML code... and

See! the Scroll Bar that Stretches All the Way to the Horizon!

Oh, and don't forget to grab some souvenirs on the way out. "Won't the folks back home be jealous?"

(Image from The Onion; lyrics from Weird Al Yankovic)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Good Riddance

Last night's news trickled for a while, and then it gushed. Jenny, Vienna, and I were watching 60 Minutes - the story was about Zenyatta, the champion horse - when the Special Announcement began to crawl. We knew something was up because of its vague nature: President Obama was about to speak at a time that had already passed (something like 10:30 Eastern, when it was already 10:37 - or 7:37 p.m. our time). Weird.

My first instinct was to think that it had something to do with all that "birther" nonsense. Just a few days ago, the President had released his birth certificate, ending a silly controversy about a non-issue. Or so we thought. Maybe another shoe was about to drop. Then about ten minutes later we saw another crawl. The announcement was going to involve something about Osama bin Laden. That got our attention.

It's been ten years since the September 11th Attacks, but the feelings of that morning are fresh for most people I know. Just last month I saw the mangled broadcast spire from one of the Twin Towers at Washington D.C.'s Newseum, and I was struck by the placement of tissues next to a theater that showed footage from that terrible day. Streaming out from the room, dazed, a number of folks dabbed away tears. I did too.

Smoke was still rising from the rubble in 2001 when American intelligence agencies fingered bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization. We launched cruise missiles, we landed troops, and we toppled nations in search of anyone connected to the attacks. Ten years later we're still facing the consequences of those decisions. Yet bin Laden never lost his place atop those Most Wanted lists you sometimes see in the post office. Every few months he'd release a video or audiotape - his messages a mixture of specific threats and broad commentary. Somehow he eluded the dragnet all that time.

We imagined him holed up in a cave on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We heard he might be hiding in Iran. Experts explained that he died years ago; experts warned that he was still directing attacks. Some Americans reveled in confusing his name with President Obama. An Evil Genius, a terrorist mastermind, a mass murderer, Osama bin Laden had become an all-purpose taunt, an easy insult to throw at schoolyard kids whose ancestry evoked something wrong in the minds of the cruel and the stupid. Dead or alive, bin Laden had ceased to be human; he was an idea.

And then, yesterday, members of SEAL Team Six found him, flesh and blood, and took him out.

Right now we're still piecing through the details. Did he put up a fight? Did he cower behind one of his wives? Was there ever a chance to capture him alive? Will we see a photo, just to know it was really him? It doesn't matter, I guess. Some people will always question the official account. Just as conspiratorially minded folks are absolutely sure that Hitler escaped his bunker; they know that Oswald couldn't have killed Kennedy. For these people, bin Laden will live on and on, a ghost of doubts and anxieties, and some madness that can never be expunged.

For the rest of us (most of us, at least) there is relief that this long, sad and bloody chapter is over. Osama bin Laden is dead. Last night, Americans gathered around the White House and cheered. Today we went back to work. Good riddance.

(Photos by Andrew Wood)