Saturday, December 26, 2009

Up in the Air

Interesting reflection on non-places and hyperreality. In some ways, we could read George Clooney’s character’s (Ryan Bingham) life as the condition of postmodernity: living in the in-between, in non-spaces which are all shiny surface, desire collecting around rewards points and mileage levels, ephemeral signs of status. In this way, given the films critique of Bingham’s life, could this be a parable of the end of the postmodern?

There is a parallel of the airworld nonspace with another one: cyberspace. The plot revolves around a scheme to fire people online rather than face to face (and someone breaks up with their fiancée via text message). It seems the same shallow, friction-free space as the postmodern world of airports and chain hotels. The next generation, embodied in the up and coming Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick), seems heading towards the same disconnect as Bingham.

The film offers no simple solutions (for which I was grateful), though it being a Hollywood film it makes some predictable conclusions (triumph of humanity over technology—that shouldn’t be a spoiler, by the way), though it does leave things, for some, up in the air.

[new post coming up on the Clickable World blog, too]

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Ain't Got Time to Blog just crept past 3,000 views in the last couple of weeks.

Anyway, beautiful double rainbow in the sky this afternoon. Bright, vivid. Tried to capture some of it.

They stretched from horizon to horizon.

You can see how bright it was.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Books

It's always a nice surprise when books appear, unbidden, in my mailbox. And if they are interesting and useful books, so much the better! So thanks to Oxford University Press for sending these on.

Jason Mittell, Television and American Culture looks great, chock full of interesting examples and approaches to television studies from economics to production to critical analysis. It makes me want to teach Television Studies again.

Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. A second edition of this excellent and influential text.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Start stocking up on the sunscreen, Communication Scholars! I just found out that ICA (The International Communication Association) will be in Phoenix in 2012. May 24-28. Perhaps this is common knowledge, but I just saw it.

Lecturing in the Age of Distraction

Following on from Jonathan's comment on my post-before-last. I recently ran across an article on lecturing within the context of proliferating technologies of attention. Eric Gordon and David Bogen (Spring 2009) "Designing Choreographies for the 'New Economy of Attention.'" DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, 3(2).

It's an interesting article arguing how we should try to leverage the advantages of the new technologies to enrich lectures, rather than just fighting against them. Though in some ways it's like saying that the bucket has holes and the water is pouring out. Rather than plugging the holes, we should explore what the leaks have to offer the situation. Teachers should be sensitive to the means of communication and habits of thought and life of their students and be somewhat adaptable, flexible, and creative in that regard, but at the same time the students need to meet us at least half way. When they're signed up for a class, they should be in the class and make every effort to participate and pay attention (though perhaps I'm just old-fashioned). The article presents a number of suggestions for choreographing all these means of distraction and attention as part of the lecture. But I think there's a fine line between creatively engaging the situation and catering to rude behavior (electronically based or not, passing notes is passing notes).

Just my 2 cents.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Surveillance (2008)

To be disappointed in Jennifer Lynch's film, "Surveillance," which I just saw on DVD, would mean that I actually had high expectations in the first place. Since I had none (given some of the critical responses I've read), I was not disappointed. For a film that tries its hardest to be disturbing and shocking and brutal, it ended up being fairly affectless I thought. It's a mess, and not in a good way. It's got great actors, but the performances are all twitches and eccentricities (and not in a good way). The plot is predictable, the images gruesome in a fairly banal way (which is precisely the way death and pain and gore and brutality should NOT be represented, IMHO) or so studied that one finds oneself looking at it saying, "oh, I see, that's supposed to be creepy the way he leans in to the camera that way." Comparisons with her father's work are perhaps not fair, but the film keeps referring to her father's work and trying to mine the same territory. Even if I had not known she was David Lynch's daughter I would have found myself saying, "Wow. David Lynch did that so much better, and on broadcast TV to boot!"

What I *am* disappointed about concerned the film is that it's really not about surveillance. Yes, there is a conceit that witnesses in three separate rooms recount their stories while being filmed by Bill Pullman (who supposedly is closely attending to all three people talking at once), but nothing is really made of it. It's not really even a device. The only bit that is really about surveillance is the realization that the little girl is the real surveillor, who watches and understands much more than everyone else.


"Workers on average spend just eleven minutes on a project before switching to another, and while focusing on a project, typically change tasks every three minutes....Once distracted, we take about twenty-five minutes to return to an interrupted task and usually plunge into two other work projects in the interim....Nearly 45 percent of workplace interruptions are self-initiated. (And when workers interrupt themselves, they take slightly longer to resume their original work--about twenty-eight minutes on average."
Maggie Jackson, Distracted, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. pp 84-86.
Jackson is referring to Gloria Mark, Victor Gonzalez, and Justin Harris, "No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work," Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems (Portland, OR, 2005).

You mean it's not just me?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Get a Master's in Surveillance

City University London now offers an MA in Surveillance Studies, starting this semester.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Random Quote

This wasn't a meme or anything. I was dusting and randomly pulled off the shelf Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (which I've never read; I'm not a big Dreiser fan), opened to a random page and was drawn to this paragraph:

People in general attach too much importance to words. They are under the illusion that talking effects great results. As a matter of fact, words are, as a rule, the shallowest portion of all the argument. They but dimly represent the great surging feelings and desires which lie behind. When the distraction of the tongue is removed, the heart listens.
p. 115, Signet edition, (1961)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Stack of last minute, late summer reading (less than 2 weeks before school starts).

Alva Noe, Out of Our Heads: Why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness. Hill & Wang, 2009. Just about done with this. Whereas Clark (below) still, in the end, separates consciousness from the world, Noe does not. Noe: "Notably, neither Clark not Chalmers has sympathy for the idea developed here that consciousness itself can be explained only if we make use of such an extended conception of the machinery of the mind" (p. 196)

Andy Clark, Supersizing the Miind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension. Oxford, 2008.

Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The erosion of attention and the coming dark age. Prometheus Books, 2008. Got this last summer, but finally sitting down to work my way through it. It really brings in a broad range of research.

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The Penguin Press (2009).
Somewhat disappointed in this; it's more "lite" than Gallagher (which is more densely researched). Though as an argument for the need to pay attention in life, especially to others in one's life, to meditate, &c. it's a useful book.

Hal Niedzviecki, The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors. CityLights Books. Just starting on it; it seems a fun read. (Thanks to Greg S for the recommendation)

And I've been lapped by Thomas Pynchon. His latest, Inherent Vice, is on the bedside table. Just six pages, in, but it's reading fast and seems lots of fun. Meanwhile, I'm still only on p. 322 of his last one, Against the Day, which I really like, but don't get great swaths of time to read. 763 pages to go (and the font's a couple points smaller than Inherent Vice, too)!

Still haven't cracked Neal Stephenson's Anathem, and am just over halfway through Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, which doesn't quite have the spark of the earlier ones in the series. Every few months I pick it up and read a couple of chapters.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Peeping Tom

Just finished watching Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). I’ve noticed that the film is often mentioned as an early and influential film regarding voyeurism and surveillance. However, I haven’t seen it discussed much in the surveillance literature beyond the fact that it’s about a disturbed individual who stalks women with a specially prepared camera with a knife in the tripod leg so he can film them as they die. The film is obviously quite Freudian (in fact, the writer and director had initially wanted to do a film about Freudian thought, but someone else was doing it so they did this instead). Mark, the filmmaker who is the murderer, was abused by his father, a psychiatrist who was studying fear and using his son as a case study by terrorizing him and coldly watching his reactions. But not only is he watching his son’s reactions, he is filming them. Indeed, Mark is subject as a young boy to constant surveillance. He says he was filmed constantly, even while he slept, and his entire house was wired for sound. In this way the film plays an interesting articulations between obsessive voyeurism (of the father) and the scientific gaze. These traits are passed down to Mark: his father gives him a camera of his own, another psychiatrist tells the grown up Mark that he has his father’s eyes, and Mark now controls his father’s house and his father’s instruments. What makes this really creepy is that Mark’s father is played in the old films that Mark shows by the director, Michael Powell, and the young Mark is played by Powell’s real son, and in the scene where child Mark is shown by the corpse of his mother—that’s his real mother (Powell’s wife) on the bed (presumably alive).

The commentary track on the Criterion DVD is by none other than Laura Mulvey. If you want a master class in psychoanalytic film criticism, watch the film with this commentary. There’s also a documentary on the writer, Leo Marks, which connects the film with the bookstore at 24 Charing Cross Road and WWII cryptography.

The film was incredibly controversial, universally panned by critics, who were shocked by its content. Carl Boehm, who plays Mark, comments in the accompanying documentary that after the press screening no one would even look he or Powell in the eye as they left the theater. The film was pulled from theaters after a week and promptly forgotten; Powell’s career ended. Apparently we know of the film today because Martin Scorsese discovered it and championed it in the 1970s as a masterpiece. Since the film is really about being a filmmaker (voyeurism and sadism and the camera), it’s an interesting self-reflexive exercise that unnerves the audience (and perhaps the early critics). It implicates us, the audience, in the voyeurism more directly than even a slasher film since it is self aware (this film keeps reminding us that we’re watching a film, since it makes us watch films in the film). The content of the film was also shocking for the time: the first shot of the film is of a prostitute being stalked by the killer; and from the underground pornography sold at the newsagents to the first shot of nudity in a mainstream British film its content pushes boundaries. The fact that we may feel sorry for this tortured man is also controversial.

Alfred Hitchcock (with whom Powell worked at one point) refused to do a critic’s screening for Psycho (which premiered a few months after Peeping Tom) because of what they had done to Powell’s film. Hitchcock thought his film was much more shocking. [This was mentioned in some of the supplemental material]

Ebert's got a discussion of the film here

Scorsese writes about the film here

Monday, August 03, 2009

CCTV at home

Newest intervention into "problem families": put CCTV in the home to make sure everyone behaves! This isn't control society stuff, this is simply the swarming of disciplinary mechanisms Foucault talked about. If you're a "problem" ("the worst families in England"; the Daily Mail calls them "Yobbish families"), now the State will tell you how to behave and watch you so you learn. They're calling the set up "sin bins." The papers like the Orwellian metaphor (The State placing cameras in the home; in England) though Big Brother watched everyone. This is discipline, pure and simple: render visible, document, differentiate.

How I wish this were April 1.


Got the link from WIRED via Huffington Post originally.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Heat

This is what happens when one leaves unopened soda cans in a car in the sun when the outside temperature reaches close to 115 degrees F. One can literally blew its top (kinda messy). All the others in the case are distended like the other one pictured here.

Hmmmm... do you think these are still drinkable?

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I was reading Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print and came across a passage where he writes, “This discovery helps to explain the motivation behind the aggressive campaign by Waldenbooks in the late 1980s to bring its warehouses and 1,000 plus retail stores online…” (100).

Working, as I was, at a Waldenbooks (Summer and Fall 1988 in San Antonio), it made me reflect on the changes I was seeing in our little mall store at the time. This was the year between my undergraduate degree and starting grad school, when I was actually shopping for grad schools. I had just been to ICA in New Orleans to meet Larry (and James and a number of other folks) to talk about Illinois (and to talk about Wisconsin with Fiske). Anyway, I worked full time at a Waldenbooks in a mall in San Antonio. I liked the store because the manager had customized the stock a bit—we actually had copies of Foucault and other critical theorists on our shelves, and other more esoteric volumes tucked in with the usual wares. We were not computerized in those days. We hand entered ISBN’s, I think, into the register. Then we actually got our first scanner so that we could scan bar codes (and spent too much time playing with it). To look up something for a customer meant pulling out microfiches from Ingram or Baker and Taylor to see if they had things.

At some point in my six-month tenure at the bookstore (around Thanksgiving I quit and went to work for a small mail order company, Haverstick and Ballyk, selling classical CDs) we started getting inventory lists from the main office. These were lists of what we were to have on our shelves and we had to go through and pull anything not on it (bye bye Foucault). I got the sense that our store manager was getting increasingly frustrated by the controlling nature of the corporation (trying to rebel at one point by shelving an entire display of a new bestseller, dictated by the corporation, upside down--the Assistant Managers put them right). Anyway, the store became much less interesting after the purge.

One of the things that Waldenbooks did was run a deep discount of all New York Times bestsellers. What surprised me is that the company seemed to know what a bestseller was before a book was even released. So that the new Ludlum (for example) was discounted right out of the box even though, technically, it hadn’t been sold and couldn’t therefore be a bestseller.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Surveillance and TV

Forgot the list of TV shows about surveillance.
I should note that I'm looking for fiction (which eliminates documentary, reality TV, etc.)

The Prisoner
The Wire
The Last Enemy

Surveillance Films

I'm compiling a necessarily incomplete list of films about surveillance. That is, films which are primarily about surveillance, where surveillance is a key element of the film, the atmosphere of the film, or plot of the film, not just films with shots of people watching each other, or occasional images of CCTV cameras. Potentially this is quite a large genre if we include police procedurals and spy films where surveillance is a matter of course. But are there specific films which seem to reflect on the act of surveillance?

I haven't categorized them, just put them alphabetically. I've included a very short list of TV programs about surveillance as well, though I'm primarily concerned about film.

Additions to the list (or objections for the inclusion of certain films on the list, I haven't watched them all) most welcome.

1984 (1956)
1984 (1984)
Blue Thunder
Body Double
Bourne Identity (&c)
Code 46
The Conversation
Deja Vu
The Departed
The End of Violence
Enemy of the State
Final Cut
The Good Shepherd
The Handmaid’s Tale
Hi, Mom!
The Lives of Others
Minority Report
The Net
The Net 2.0
Oceans 11
One Hour Photo
Panic Room
Peeping Tom
Rear Window
Red Road
Der Reise
Stakeout (& Stakeout 2)
Surveillance (2008)
Surveillance 24/7
The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
THX 1138
The Truman Show
V For Vendetta
Winter Kills

Monday, June 22, 2009


Introducing Tinkerbell, the newest family member. She's a 2-year old Poodle/Poodle-mix. Very mellow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

So Long Analog

The last day of analog TV in the US.
This set still works after 50 years*, but as of tomorrow we'll need a digital converter box (which I'm half tempted to get for it, just because).

*(OK, I think we busted a tube last time we moved it and the sound's out, but the rest still works),

Monday, June 08, 2009

limiting Backscatter

From Epic.Org. For more on this story, see their website.:

[1] House Approves Bill Limiting Whole-Body Imaging at Airports
The House approved an amendment bill that will limit the use of Whole-
Body Imaging machines in US airports. The Transportation Security
Administration had earlier decided to replace the walkthrough metal
detectors at airports with whole body imaging devices. These devices
enable a virtual strip search that produces detailed naked images of
individuals, including females and young children. The technology
provides little additional security beyond other screening techniques,
including magnetometers, physical examination, and baggage inspection.

The amendment, put forward by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), aims
to establish limitations on the use of this invasive technology for
aircraft passenger screening. The bill prohibits the use of these
devices as the sole or primary method of screening aircraft passengers,
unless another method of screening, such as metal detection,
demonstrated cause for preventing such passenger from boarding an

Friday, June 05, 2009


This is absolutely devastating. Pollution piling up amongst the world's poor. The second link is to a gallery of discarded computer waste (which is highly toxic).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Adam Rifkin’s 2007 film Look is the latest in a long line of films that take surveillance as their central theme. I wish it were a more distinguished entry into this category, but films about surveillance often cross over from criticism to exploitation.

This is a film with actually little pretension to a message, just a general statement that there are surveillance cameras everywhere and we have no privacy (especially it seems in our most private moments of vulnerability or anguish). There is a vague gesture towards the fact that cameras can be both positive and negative, but this is not pursued in any depth. If it were attempting to be a more serious message picture, there would be more serious issues with it. As it is, I think it uses the issue of privacy and surveillance as a simply a conceit, a hook to bring in an audience to watch this sensationalist fare. It plays like a compilation of FOX surveillance camera TV specials except with better quality footage and without the pixellations.

Look is a film about disparate lives in Los Angeles, all of whom interconnect at some point, at theme that has been much better done by other films. The unique angle here is that the movie is filmed as if it were captured entirely by CCTV cameras—if CCTV cameras were all high def and had sound (and having a microphone on a CCTV camera is actually illegal in places—capture an image, but not sound too). Of course, this (a film based exclusively on CCTV footage) was done back in the 1980s with Der Reise, but no matter.

The film certainly has critical promise in that we are made to identify with the cameras (we certainly don’t identify with these caricatures of characters) and participate in the violation of privacy, the voyeurism. That discomfort of being made to watch could be turned to social critique (how can this happen? What can be done to protect us?). But this is not the case here. The violation is made entertaining. Let me give you an example. The opening scenario is of a scene that represents one of the more disturbing invasions of privacy: a young woman changing clothes in a mall department store fitting room being recorded without her knowledge. Though this makes one feel immediately uncomfortable, something else happens here. As she strips down to a thong, she begins posing in front of the mirror, to be joined by a friend who also strips down. They start engaging in a teasing play, bumping and grinding in front of the mirror. It reminded me of a point John Berger made a number of years ago about the history of the nude in oil painting. One of the themes of nudes in oil painting was Vanity. There would be a picture of a nude woman, but she would be shown admiring herself in the mirror. This would ostensibly give the painting some moral purpose as a critique of character, while it’s real purpose would be to give the wealthy owner of the painting a nude woman to look at. It’s OK to look at her because she is already looking at herself (and besides, she secretly wants to be looked at). The painting would present a nude woman and then critique HER for her moral failings (as vain). Since the girls are performing for the mirror themselves, they obviously want to be looked at. This all makes our voyeuristic invasion OK. It distracts us from the point that we are invading their privacy. The film seeks to make this scene familiar, safe, and titillating, comfortable for fans of teen sexploitation films. In the end the scene leaves me feeling disturbed but not that I have been made complicit in violating the privacy and dignity of a vulnerable individual, but that somehow I’m watching this adolescent misogynist junk.

And the film proceeds from there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Blogs

I've started a couple of sidelines in the blogosphere (further diluting my readership, no doubt). One is a blog entitled, "Cultural Globalization" which will be a series of short, informal reflections on issues and ideas arising from my last book, Cultural Globalization: A User's Guide, a continuation of the discussions in that book. Unfortunately, Blogger has tagged the blog as a Spam Blog and have slapped some weird warning on it. I'm working to have this taken down.

The second, "The Clickable World" will be a space for ongoing notes on my next research project regarding everyday life and interactive mobile media. There have been scattered reflections on "Ain't Got Time to Blog" on this project; the new blog is just to focus these more. I'll post some earlier parts of this there too (like the link to the paper I presented in Korea). Right now there's nothing there, but check back later. It's nighttime in the clickable world. :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Me, in the paper

Missed when this actually hit newsprint (assuming it did), but there's a series of quotes from me towards the end of this column in the Arizona Republic. Of course, if the inverted pyramid structure of newspaper writing holds true, the stuff at the bottom is that which is least essential and most easily cut :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New in Surveillance

First, apparently the NSA has been spying on Americans beyond the already lax boundaries set up by the Bush administration. Is anyone surprised?



And these oversteps included plans to wiretap (without a warrant) a member of Congress. To quote from the New York Times:

The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.

One would think such a plan would merit more than "concerns."

Second, apparently it is now illegal (or if not officialy illegal, greatly discouraged) to take pictures of anything having to do with public transportation in England, as an Austrian tourist found out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Roller Coaster and Clazziquai

Roller Coaster is an acid pop group from South Korea. I've got several of their CD's, and just ran across this video on YouTube. Love this song.

Check out Clazziquai Project while you're at it. Or this video from them.

thought for the day

It seems that the only place in North America (at least) that we publicly debate (or at least engage) issues of technology, responsibility, and humanity (apart from the odd lecture hall here or there) is in popular science fiction films and television shows.

Backscatter to become the default?

From the most recent EPIC alert: apparently the TSA is planning on making Backscatter X-Rays the default security screen at airports rather than metal detectors.

Lots of links off of the EPIC page.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dave Arneson

Dave Arneson died. NYT obituary here. He was co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, along with Gary Gygax. Gygax died last year about this time. I thought I had gotten Arneson to sign one of my old D&D books, but I guess not. Gygax was more of a presence at the GenCon gaming conventions in the early 80s than Arneson.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Thought of the Day

Why does cat food always come in these bourgeois* flavors like Salmon Feast, Filet Mignon (not kidding--see here), and now this new line of Fancy Feast that is "Restaurant Inspired" (Tuscany?? Florentine??) and so on.

Shouldn't cat food come in, like, "Small Mammal Flavor" and things like that?

Update: Squirrel Flavor, Pigeon Flavor, Rat Flavor, and now, for a limited time, Vole Feast!

*Update: perhaps "Yuppie" would be more accurate than "bourgeois"?

Updated my spelling, too, which was really off in the initial post


This is a quick follow-up to my earlier post about my camera phone. When I checked it this afternoon it told me that I had 502 pictures saved in my gallery.

Yes, 502.

About 25 of those are pictures I took myself. The rest are ones the camera decided to take in my pocket.

Now I've got to delete 475 or so pictures of blackness off my phone.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Clickable World

Jennifer sent me the link to a fascinating video on new work introduced by Pattie Maes (who pioneered intelligent agent work back in the 1990s*).

I think this deserves a Keanu Reeves-like "Whoah!"

And it represents a big step forward towards the clickable world.

*Once upon a time (mid-1990s) I actually got a letter published in Wired which was a response to an interview with Maes. Intelligent agents, I argued, are always double agents. They work for you, but also for (e.g.) Microsoft.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


So, just got some old newspapers from my in-laws. Now I need to figure out how best to preserve them.

The future of malls

Interesting discussion in the NYT about the future of malls. Just started in on it, but fascinated to learn that no new enclosed malls have been built in the US since 2006.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Crying Nut

What does it mean that when you Google "Crying Nut," my blog is the 4th site on the list?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Books

New books over the threshold (in no particular order):

Stephen John Hartnett and Laura Ann Stengrim (2006). Globalization and Empire: The US Invasion of Iraq, Free Markets, and the Twilight of Democracy. U. of Alabama Press.

Phaedra C. Pezzullo (2007) Toxic Tourism: Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel, and Environmental Justice. U. of Alabama Press.

Helene A. Shugart and Catherine Egley Waggoner (2008) Making Camp: Rhetorics of Transgression in US Popular Culture. U. of Alabama Press

Paul Alkebulan (2007) Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party. U. of Alabama Press

Carroll Pursell (ed) (2005/8) A Companion to American Technology. Blackwell

Sharon Marie Ross (2008) Beyond the Box: Television and the Internet. Blackwell

Paul Hopper (2007) Understanding Cultural Globalization. Blackwell. [Checking out the competition :) ].

Angharad N. Valdivia (ed) (2003/6) A Companion to Media Studies. Blackwell.

Kelly Askew and Richard R. Wilk (eds) (2002) The Anthropology of Media: A Reader. Blackwell. [Ever since reading Horst and Miller's book on the cell phone in Jamaica I've been interested in how anthropologists deal with media; I'm really liking this work]

Neil Gaiman (2009) Blueberry Girl. Illustrations by Charles Vess. HarperCollins. [This is an absolutely beautiful children's book, a prayer for a new daughter, with all ones wishes for her life. I highly recommend it].

Monday, March 09, 2009

Gas Pump TV

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Not bad. I’ve been rereading the comics over the last week (apparently the original set is becoming more of a collector’s item). In many ways the film is like an animation of the graphic novel; it stays true to the feel of the graphic novel (which in itself was very cinematic), and the limitations of the graphic novel. As a whole, I think the film worked (though less sure of how it worked as a film if you came in without prior knowledge). I think they carried off the feel of it, and it didn’t seem awkward (as films about caped crusaders may). Could they have done something more with it? Certainly. Perhaps made the melodrama of the original into actual drama. If Malin Ackerman had been a better actress, perhaps (and she’s not; she’s got to carry a lot of emotional moments in this film and comes across as wooden). Night Owl is supposed to be dweebish and wooden; he’s not a dramatic center for the story, and actually I thought Patrick Wilson played it with some subtlety (the audience liked him). Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach was quite good, though they had to trim some backstory (the whole Kitty Genovese connection was gone) and radically truncate the days of “therapy” he gets in prison (which cheapened the reveal a bit). R. was certainly a crowd favorite, and it’s always disturbing to watch an audience root for a brutal misanthropic psychopath. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian was fine, but needed a bit more Robert Downey, Jr. (touch more charisma, touch more psycho).

I thought that the film evoked the 1980s quite well. Little details, not just of the movie, but of the ads, styles, TV images. What was anachronistic was the fighting style. In every movie these days it seems that everyone does some form of martial arts, and this film is no exception. This is fine in an of itself, but a bit of variety would be nice. And back in the 70s and 80s, that wasn’t superhero fighting (despite that song)

Can we have a moratorium on shots of violence that suddenly slow down to a crawl so we can see the impact, the splatter of blood, and then suddenly accelerate again? ITS BEEN DONE. Move on.

I’ve never liked the ending of the original series. It seemed too silly for all the gravitas that came before (giant psychic squid???). This ending actually makes more sense (while making the same point), and explains events more logically. The actual end of the film dragged. Too many final scenes (watched a number of audience members leave early at points which looked like the final scene).

One big change from the graphic novels is a ramping up in the brutality and graphic nature of the violence. It’s a violent novel, don’t get me wrong, but the film lingers on prolonged fight scenes to beef up the action between the debates about humanity’s future. [This is sort of like battles which are brief paragraphs in Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books suddenly becoming elaborate set pieces]. Especially disturbing was the increased violence by Night Owl and Silk Spectre. In the scene in the alley, they’re not just defending themselves against a gang, but brutalizing them until the gang members lay about as twisted broken bodies. It collapses some the moral distance between them and Rorschach. In the novel, they always stood apart a bit, still the goody-two-shoes of the Watchmen, but seeming to silently assent as Rorschach and the Comedian do their thing.

What’s missing: the pirate comic I was never that fond of (though I see the point it was trying to make in parallel with the main story about losing one’s moral compass), and the dynamic of the newsseller and neighbors, but we get their anxiety about the end of the world and the coming war grafted onto Dan and Laurie. They did skip one of my favorite lines from the book, which is when the two detectives are in their office and get a call tipping them off. And the officer says, “What did you say? Raw Shark? Why would I want to know where I can get raw shark?”

Another chapter in the general cultural narrative of the armored fascist male body. Between this and Iron Man (which, I must admit, was more fun that Watchmen in and of itself) Claudia Springer’s critique of Robocop et al is still quite relevant and needs to be revisited. Which means I should see the Batman film sometime too.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Global Nomads--part 2

Darn it! I actually had started sketching out a short essay on the fact that President Obama is a Third Culture Kid/Global Nomad and that at least one of his closest advisors is also a TCK/GN (and why all this is a Really Good Thing for this country), but Ruth Van Reken got there first.

Ah well, the important thing is that it's been said.

Global Nomads

I just got the nicest email from a woman in Japan, writing that as a TCK/global nomad herself she really felt she could relate to my Cultural Globalizaton book (which she found in a bookstore in Tokyo).

This got me thinking more about TCKs (third culture kids) and global nomads. So I ran a couple of searches just to see if anything new was out there and found, sadly, that Norma McCaig passed away last November. She was the leader of Global Nomads International and the woman who coined the term "Global Nomad." Ruth Hill Useem, the sociologist who coined the term "Third Culture Kids," died in 2003.

Also ran across, a social networking site and magazine rolled into one which seeks to bring together global nomads (defined rather broadly, it seems) in conversation. Could be an interesting site, but have to read more of its articles.

This also got me thinking that a way to describe my book would be that it's a Third Culture Kid/Global Nomad's perspective on the processes of globalization and culture.

And this also got me thinking: my book is on bookshelves in Tokyo?? Why can't it be on bookshelves here?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Quick update. Looks like the Master's Programs at the west campus will be safe after all. They're hammering out a new vision statement for the campus, which includes MA programs.

Obama motorcade

Another grumpy dispatch from the clickable world

With analog TV, if there's interference you can still watch through the snow and odd rolling lines. With digital TV, if there's interference or a bad signal the picture pixellates, the sound goes out, like a skipping DVD, rendering it unwatchable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Senators

So, I got an invitation out of the blue to attend a breakfast with Jon Kyl, Senator from Arizona and current Republican Whip, which was taking place on our campus. There ended up being about 70 people or so attending, at 7:30 this morning, mainly business and community leaders with a handful of faculty. I was certainly the only guy there not wearing a tie and jacket. Kyl spoke for a while, primarily about how terrible he felt the “so-called stimulus bill” (his words) was. At one point the head of the Maricopa Community College District (the largest in the country) asked a question about their financial crisis and if the stimulus plan could help and Kyl said back, in no uncertain terms, that first off he felt that education was a local issue and it was a mistake for the federal government to get involved in education (funding, I would presume). Anyway, for the life of me I couldn’t think of a question I wanted to ask, or at least one with any chance of getting a real response.

And then in walks Senator McCain (there's a hyperlink there, but who doesn't know who he is at this point?), which was something of a surprise (a brief moment thinking, “that’s not…”). He looks much like he does on TV, a touch less hair. Everyone immediately leaps to their feet and starts clapping. He and Kyl answered a few more questions, primarily criticizing the stimulus bill, though McCain took some time to put in a pitch for a guest worker program and argued that we need to be much more worried than we seem to be about drug cartel violence in Mexico. I notice a couple of folks getting out cell phones to snap pictures. Then they both swept past me and out.

I found out they had a press conference scheduled in the next room, and since I was ASU faculty they let me hang out in the back of the room (and, yes, snapped a blurry cell phone picture). I was mainly curious to watch how the whole press conference thing worked, what the reporters would ask, how they would answer, and so on. It was a pretty sparsely attended conference (see above picture). I bet the Senators were wondering who on earth that long-hair was hanging around the breakfast and conference. Anyway, news reports of the press conference here and here and here. The Senators certainly have their talking points down about the stimulus package (“neither bipartisan nor stimulus”; “generational theft”; etc) and the economic crisis (according to them they’ve been pleading with the congress to do something about this pending housing crisis since the early 2000’s, but those darn Democrats would have none of it). The reporters were definitely asking more pointed questions than the community leaders, not surprisingly.

The vast majority of the political news in Phoenix today is about Obama’s visit (he’s in town overnight to introduce his housing plan in the morning), coverage of the Kyl-McCain press conference seems limited to smaller papers (or Fox news--the Grand Canyon metaphor and graphic on the flatscreen display towards the start of this piece is hysterically bad). Anyway, glad Obama’s in town, jealous of a friend of ours who got a ticket to see him, and hoping that traffic’s not too tied up because of the visit that I can’t get the kids to school.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Electric Cars

So, ever since I saw “Who Killed the Electric Car,” I’ve been somewhat interested in this vehicle, though haven’t studied it in any depth by any means. But I find it irritating that the Chevy Volt is being touted as a new innovation, when not only have electric vehicles been around for almost as long as internal combustion engines but that there were a number of models out and about in the 1990s (which were withdrawn and scrapped without a real explanation as soon as California lifted its regulations requiring a certain number of 0-emission vehicles on the road). Anyway, that’s the thesis of the documentary.

In today’s paper there’s an article on the Volt. Costing between $30K and $40K it can go up to 40 miles on a charge. After that a small internal combustion engine kicks in. So, for local trips only.

Later in the paper, there’s a review of the Tesla Roadster, an all-electric sports car. Now, I’m not a car guy by any means, but wow! Interestingly, this high performance vehicle can go about 200 miles on a charge (if going fast; if going slower—as if!—it can get up to 240 miles). Also for fairly local trips. This is for the very exclusive price of $109K, so I won’t be making that down payment any time soon.

But, running the numbers, if you divide car price by mileage, here’s what you get: the Volt, taking the midrange price: $35,000/40=$875/mile. The Tesla, taking the lower mileage: $109,000/200=$545/mile!

I’m not sure what to conclude from this, except I doubt that the Volt will be as impressive as it probably could be, and doubt that Chevrolet’s heart is really in it. Though I would have said that before I read these articles anyway.


No news. Just additional concern about changes at the west campus (e.g., here and here).

Apparently there's some meeting next week with representatives from State Government, ASU, and the city of Glendale regarding the West Campus. No details offered. Not sure if this is a renewal of the proposal to somehow spin the west campus off to become it's own State College, though that's apparently a plan on the table (as is the plan to shut the west campus down, and a plan just to continue as New College).

Friday, February 13, 2009

More ASU

No new info, just reactions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Well, I haven't had much in here about ASU's financial difficulties which are the result of the State of Arizona's cutbacks. I'll just post a link to the latest:

Key for us is the loss of our Master's Program (and all MA programs on our campus).

We'll see what this all means...

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A grumpy dispatch from the clickable world

What could this be? The answer my friends: a photo of the inside of my pocket. Yes, a photo of the inside of my pocket. Why do I have such a photo? Well, let me tell you.

My cell phone finally died last month. It was a rugged little thing, made by LG, that was battered and scratched, but had lasted for years. It was simple, without bells, whistles, or a camera. But finally, one day, it went through the wash, and that was just too much for it. Now, it tried to hang on for a few days after The Incident, sputtering to life, screen flickering meekly, seeking a signal from out of the aether, but finally flatlining (and taking down all my contacts and phone numbers with it).

As a replacement, I sought out something also non-flashy, simple; in other words, a phone and not an electronic Swiss Army knife. But cameras are ubiquitous these days and I ended up with a Samsung phone with a camera. It was about a week into my time with this new device when I discovered the Design Flaw. There is a button on the side which, when tapped lightly, turns on the display. I should note as an aside that as a power-saving feature the external screen goes black after a few seconds. My old phone kept the display going, so I could use it as a clock during lectures. This phone I can't. Anyway, if you press and hold down the side button it turns on the camera.

You're way ahead of me.

Every so often, as I go about my daily business, I hear the digital reproduction of a shutter clicking from somewhere in my pants pocket. The button has been pressed by keys or a nail clipper or loose change (or my hand seeking any of these items) and the camera has been activated. It happily starts taking pictures. In the month I have had this phone I have had to delete, I kid you not, over 150 of these pictures. Most are pitch black. I think the above photo, and a couple of its companions, are from a day I was wearing khakis and light seeped through the fabric.

In any case, if we are to make any progress towards wearable computers, someone needs to solve this button problem. An electronic device with a button subject to jostling, gets jostled in a pocket, purse, or bag. This was a problem with my old Palm Zire. The power button was too exposed and it would turn on in my bag and the power would drain away (and when the power was gone, so was the memory, and anything not backed up: poof). This was also a problem with the first set of remote car keys I ever got (being suspicious of them on principle for years: key--lock seems safe; key fob--radio signal--carlock seems less safe, but that's just me). I would accidentally unlock the van or open the sliding doors while I was inside my house. I'd go out and it would be open. Or I'd set off the alarm. I'm glad I don't have one of those remotes which remote starts the car or else my vehicle would head off like the Batmobile. Luckily it seems to have calmed down and for some reason isn't as sensitive anymore, or perhaps I've just trained myself to keep my keys free and out until I'm out of range. That's probably it. "Change for the machines," as Pat Cadigan once wrote in Synners.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Bill Posters Will Be Band

A couple of links to live performances of the Bill Posters Will be Band, an anarchic British jazz group made up of performers from a variety of other groups including the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Their home page:

Elise and I know (or, at least, knew, since it's been ages and ages since we've seen him) one of the members of the troupe, Jim "Golden Boots" Chambers, through a friend of a friend. We were given Jim and Sharon's contact information when Elise and I were over in England as undergraduates for study abroad back in the mid 1980s. Jim and Sharon were always very kind and welcoming and we loved visiting them in their house south of London. Jim worked as a curator at the Natural History Museum in London, in charge of the fish section. I went with him to work one day and he showed me some of the preserved specimens in a back storeroom, some well over a hundred years old (and some apparently collected by Darwin himself, though I don't recall). Bill Posters was his occasional gig. He's the sax player with the long beard and the John Lennon glasses.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bad Ideas

A collection of random Bad Ideas (by me, not collected from elsewhere):

1) Reality TV Show: "So You Think You can Dance Like an American Fifth Grader" [OK, that's more parody than a bad idea...]

2) Cell Phones with customizable scents. Just like you can customize your phone to ring a different tune for different callers, embed one with technology to make different scents. So rather than an annoying ringtone, you get a slight waft of something, telling you that you have a new text message, or call. Different scents for different folks (flowery, acrid, and so on). Scent, unfortunately, is not as quick as sound so that's a negative factor here (missed calls if you're in so much as a slight breeze). And it's also as public as sound ("Is that you or did your boss just call?")

3) One upon a time I actually drafted a parodic post in response to a news article on NASA's budget troubles, though I don't think I ever posted it. Might lead Bad Ideas II with that one later on, but given proximity of this post with the previous one I'll hold off for now (though it may have come through on an earlier posting).