Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Not News

First, that students aren't using information technology responsively. Second, that USA Today thinks this is news.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:37 PM | 0 comments


Too tired, I guess. Brain's not working.

There's something behind the walls, in the corner where the dog sleeps on blankets under the table. It -- the something, I mean, not sleeping on blankets -- makes her nervous. I can hear her scratching at it.

My legs hurt from the tension and the up-and-down of an especially annoying workday with which I will not bore you, except to note that, according to a newScale poll via Newsweek's Survey of Surveys this week, it takes an average of 3.3 people to screw in a lightbulb at a large company.

Other than that, I've got nothing to say.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:31 PM | 0 comments

If It’s Monday Night, It Must Be Tributary

It’s getting cold: below freezing at nights and the cars covered in frost from dusk till dawn. The frost melts in the sun quickly on the windowpanes; they fog and drip behind the changing table as I iron the folds out of my khakis over coffee in the morning. Some day soon they’ll be too iced over for Willow to wave to Daddy as he drives off in the morning, and it will be winter and bare, frozen fingers and white from here to the other side of the silent river valley. For now, it’s just chilly, the air sharp like snow, the throat dry.

The coyotes wake us up at night. We keep the cat inside, where he sleeps on a basket of sweaters, or sometimes on the t-shirts in my bureau drawer.

Willow was up at four this morning, napped just an hour while I was gone; you’d expect she’d be tired, but there I was at seven, then eight, then eight thirty, still in the playroom. Her language and her self-hood have brought her to the cusp of a new role in my life; where yesterday we watched her (and watched over her) in play, now we simply hang out. She wants to talk to us, to play with us, to bring us into her world as much as we want to help her experience ours. She asks us to do things as much as we ask her to do things. And, in the words of Martha "what do you mean, I can't paint my jail cell in subtle tones of salmon and eggshell?" Stewart, It’s A Good Thing.

Tonight’s radio show playlist follows, as always. I almost didn’t make it – Willow didn’t go to bed until almost nine.

Tributary 11/10/03

Bob Dorough – Too Much Coffee Man
Phish – Wolfman’s Brother
REM – Stand
Beck – Devil’s Haircut
Joss Stone – Fell In Love With A Boy
Skavoovie and the Epitones – Subway Joe
Spacehog – Senses Working Overtime
That song with the chorus that starts "I would like to hold your little hand…"
Natalie Merchant – Soldier Soldier
Bert – The National Association of "W" Lovers
The Gourds – El Paso
Girlyman – Hey Rose
Brooks Williams – Birth Of The True
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – Cocktail Swing
Rusted Root – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Suzanne Vega – Book Of Dreams
Joss Stone – Some Kind Of Wonderful
The Salesman and Ernie – Would You Like To Buy An "O"?
Glen Phillips – Have A Little Fun With Me
Ben Folds Five – Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
Natalie Merchant – Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow
Lucy Kaplansky – Ten Year Night
Ernie and Bert – The "R" Machine
Mark Erelli – Take My Ashes To The River
Bruce Cockburn – Blueberry Hill

posted by boyhowdy | 12:45 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Monday Mosh!

After a weekend of relax and meander, Monday is too often chock full of hurry up and wait, mostly while seated. The meeting couldn’t go any slower. A short walk to lunch leads to a long wait for food. From the traffic on the drive to the office to all that butt-tingling time at the desk, it’s all about the sitting down. With a tip o’ the hat to mrs_fezziwig, we proudly present this week’s memetheme:

Mosh from a seated position.

Bonus points will be granted for choice of seat (comfort and style) and for creativity in incorporating the chair itself into your Mosh routine.

Ready? Go. (Leave comments below.)

How to do the Monday Mosh:

As always, participants answer three questions in their blog and then post their results and/or a link in the comments below.

What song did you pick, and why?
What did you step on / bump into? (Bonus points for breakage)
Why did you stop?

I’ve already done mine, if you need an example. Or there's always the Moshrules.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:20 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, November 08, 2003

A Blast From The Past

A repackaged childhood

After a full day of cleaning with a cranky, snotty, and finally-asleep baby, and in the midst of a nostalgia kick prompted by an impending course in Modern American Popular Culture, fed by an interest in the workings of memory both personal and cultural, and substantiated by a mind prone towards kitsch and memorabilia, following a last minute cancellation due to illness last week, we finally managed to host my best-friend-from-third-to-ninth-grade and his live-in girlfriend this evening.

Tonight was our first official try at friendship reclamation after ten years of a total lack of communication (throughout which, every few months, my mother continued to ask so, do you ever hear from Eric?): pastries and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the kitchen over reminiscence and catch-up while our ladyfriends looked on, a look at the eerie total lunar eclipse from the precarious fire escape in the finally freezing cold, and finally a few hours of chat over an excellent red wine they brought from the Brattleboro Food Coop. They're both teachers too, so we had plenty to talk about; things clicked; and I look forward to doing it again.

In other news, Willow's language development has transcended the noun, moving on to the phrase. She asks before sharing her cookie with the dog (Willow cookie? Zellie cookie?), and sings the entire alphabet song, albeit in gibberish after the first five or six letters; she even knows the difference between the alphabet song, Twinkle Twinkle Litlle Star, and Baa Baa Black Sheep, which seems pretty mature to me, given that all three songs have the same tune. Today she even said "thank you, Mommy" when Darcie gave her juice. Of course, when I gave her a coop-brand cheese puff later in the afternoon, she said "thank you, Mommy" to me, too, so she doesn't seem to have separated the name from the concept yet for some of those longer idea-chains. But it's a start.

Oh, and when shopping for the possibly feverish baby the other day, Darcie chose to buy one ear thermometer over another because it came with a CD of Sesame Street alphabet songs she knew I'd like. Now I have this lovely tune stuck in my head:

Would you like to buy an "O",
Circular and sweet?
"O" looks just like a donut
Really good enough to eat
It'll cost you just a nickel
(A nickel!)
Shhh! (A nickel?) Riiiight...
So buy the O and
Take it home tonight

Other fave and now newly-recovered songs from my childhood include C is for Cookie, Bert and Ernie fave La La La (recently covered by Barenaked Ladies on the highly-recommended For the Kids) and that Bert-led song from The National Association of "W" Lovers, though the Elmo version of ABC-DEF-GHI isn't as strong as the Big Bird version I remember. Have I mentioned that I love my wife very much?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:37 PM | 0 comments

Friday, November 07, 2003

From The Department Of Thank God The BBC Said It So I Don't Have To:

Playing simple computer games at the office could improve productivity and job satisfaction, research suggests.

Of course, here I am at work, blogging while I'm on hold with the DMV, at a desk invisible to anyone who might need me, because I'm not allowed to have a phone out in the library Information Commons, where I could be actually working while I was on hold. So what else to do but blog, and play minesweeper, and listen to ads for the DMV website where I got the phone number in the first place?

Oh, wait. I'm not very satisfied, and not doing my job productively. Hoorah for the BBC, but they seem to be wrong.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:54 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, November 06, 2003


One challenge of blogging – a primary reason so many fall by the wayside, I think – is that you feel obliged to repackage your day, and find that perfect kernel, even on days when you don’t really have anything to blog about. I don’t know about other bloggers, but I find there is a part of myself that is constantly alert behind the brain, self-monitoring for the blog, evaluating the random tidbits and thoughts that cross the synapses for humor, relevance, interest, and above all, that amorphous quality we might call blogability. It's tiring. It makes me feel verymildly anxious about the world once it's been a few days and I haven't found just the right subject yet.

And it never goes away.

There’s a part of me that knows it’s okay to take a day off from blogging, rather than muddy the ether with thought even I don’t really want. Folks will forgive me. I will forgive me. Nobody cares, really.

But there’s a part of me that knows that the potential for caring isn't entirely divorced from the issue of posting frequency. Interest wanes quickly in a digital world. I've done it myself – if a newly found blog isn't updating as often as I’m visiting, I don’t bother going back as often. Some, to be sure, are still worth a peek every now and then, just to catch up; my habit now, in fact, tends more towards the catch-up-on-a-week-of-otherblogsallatonce, skim-and-skip perusal than the daily visit of other blogs. I project this tendency on the blogging community, of course, Knowing other bloggers through blogs, I assume commonality more than I should, perhaps, but can you blame me? Though the plural of anecdote isn't data, like most of us, I have to assume that other people are mostly like me, or I'll go mad with loneliness.

And so, we blog, sometimes, when we have nothing to say.

At some point today, I read half an article (found via fark) about what would surely be the first classic rock radio station to adopt an all-90s format, and thought I might have something to say something about the rapidly collapsing distance between a time period (say, the nineties) and nostalgia for that time period.

But the bon mot never came. I don’t, really, have anything to say here, at least nothing coherent, cohesive, cogent, new. I’m tired, and it’s not worth blogging about today, though on some less tired days, perhaps over a vacation, it might have been worth the effort. Which is just to say:

My apologies. It seems as if there will be no blogentry today. Please come back tomorrow, when perhaps I will have found something worth sharing with the bloggiverse.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:33 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Down In Fraggle Rock

Muppets on acid, says VH1's Remember The 80's

It's pouring outside the empty library, and I can't get the Fraggle Rock theme song out of my head. Could be because I'm getting a bit sick of watching the same nine Muppets tapes over and over again with Willow, I suppose. But it might be because I'm just feeling old these days, missing my adolescence all over again, thinking about nostalgia as a cultural phenomenon for my course next term.

Unfortunately, all the Fraggle Rock videos at amazon.com are out of stock -- permanently, I'd guess. Quizilla seems to think I'm Red, when I always thought of myself as mostly Wembley, with a little Mokey thrown in for good measure. And other than a couple of pics, some old scripts and rare musical cheatsheets, and those old PVC Fraggle-in-a-vegetable-vehicle Happy Meal handouts from the late eighties, there's not much in the way of content at the otherwise well-intentioned Unofficial Fraggle Rock Site.

Like all nostalgia searches, prompting the memory proved elusive, perhaps reinforcing the sad truth that the past is best preserved in mind, idealizations and all. Still, it was fun to have a few moments of peace in an otherwise drab day to search the universe, and stir the cobwebs from that deep unused segement of my brain reserved entirely for Doozers, Madame Trash Heap, and the odd postcard from Uncle Matt in Paris. As an added bonus, here's some wise words from Boober:

If you find a flat pebble, throw it in the air and you will have all the pebbles you want for the rest of the day.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:59 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Mymy Meme

My favorite meme (well, except this one) has honored me by featuring my suggested weekly memetheme. The least I could do would be to take it out for a spin myself:

What's On the tip of your tongue Right Now?

Figuratively: The name of that guy who wrote that book I read in Kate Ratcliff's American Studies course up at Marlboro College. You know, that book. The one by the theory guy. I've been trying to remember his name all week. Argh -- what the hell was it? It's been on the tip of my tongue so long it's giving my front teeth cavities.

Generally: Pretty much everything, given the right context. I get performance anxiety when talking to people in all but the most public of settings; it tends to cut off the blood supply to that brainpart which otherwise monitors outgoing messages for stupidity. I once actually said "Yeah, but you can't escape the "stink" of IT" to my department supervisor in a department meeting.

Literally: An under-roasted pumpkin seed caught behind a molar. Also, of course, taste buds.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:42 PM | 0 comments

Why I (Still) Love Customers Suck

Post 3533701: As overheard by Alyssa, Pottery Barn retail wage slave.

Xerox Box Man
Note: I never interacted with this man, but I was subjected to him, so it counts.
XBMan (on cell phone):it's in the basement, in a Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
No, a Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
Let me spell it for you...X-E-rox.
A Xerox box.
No, not like "rocks" like "rox," with an X.
No, there's an X at the end.
There's an X at the end and at the beginning.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
In the basement...A Xerox box.
It says Xerox on the box.
It's a Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
A Xerox box.
It's a big....box. And it says....Xerox.

Customers Suck is the only Livejournal community I read regularly. It's inconsistent in quality, grammar and syntax and, due to its retail focus, skewed more than most online community spaces towards the adolescent. But as a window into the way we all look at our worst consumer-ego moments, it's priceless; once or twice a day, it makes me laugh out loud. Not too shabby for a little whine in the wilderness.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:59 PM | 0 comments

Is There Anybody Out There?

Late autumn, low wind. Headlights illuminating the otherwise dark. Under the mostlybare trees the road disappears in redgold fire. One ragged bearded guy on a bike in the center of town; otherwise, no cops, no cars, and hardly a light in sight during the drive home from Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night musicmakers here on WNMH 91.5 fm.

The show itself was quiet, too. Only two callers, both regulars, both within five minutes of each other: Molly called with the correct answer (Pink Floyd) to tonight's trivia question (Name the original performers of "Wish You Were Here"), and then, at 11:20, after missing a first hour that was pretty rockin if I do say so myself, Nora called with a request for "something rockin'." Not even a word from Foster, the weird guy who lives locally and calls fake addresses. (Oh, and I suppose you belive that it's just a coincidence that his address and our phone number are identical?)

Shaw and I were the only ones to Monday Mosh. The site got 60 referrals from iampariah's memelist, so I know the fish are out there. But no one's biting.

EricJ isn't even reading blogs anymore.

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to know who your friends are. But late at night in the valley's dark shadow, under a half-starred night, being "here" feels so alone. Leave me a comment, won't you?

As always, tonight's playlist follows.

Tributary 11/03/03

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
They Might Be Giants -- Fibber Island
Richard Thompson -- Kiss
Eddie From Ohio -- Old Dominion
The Biscuit Boys -- Ramblin' Fever
Grateful Dead -- The Race Is On
Patty Griffin -- One Big Love
Manu Chao -- Me Gustas Tu
Keller Williams -- Vacate
Acoustic Syndicate -- Pumpkin 'n Daisy
Cake -- Manah Manah
Les Claypool's Frog Brigade -- Locomotive Breath
Jethro Tull -- Living In The Past
Donna The Buffalo -- Seems To Want To Hurt This Time
Kris McKay -- Wish You Were Here
Johnny Cash -- Desperado
Spin Doctors -- Jimmy Olsen's Blues
Tony Furtado Band -- I Ain't Got No Home
Jourma Kaukonen -- Waiting For A Train
Zoe, Pieta, and Constie Brown -- Ella Mae
Suzanne Vega -- The Queen And The Soldier
Sarah McLachlan -- Blackbird
Patty Larkin -- Have A Little Faith In Me
Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me

posted by boyhowdy | 12:40 AM | 0 comments

Monday, November 03, 2003

Why, Fly?

There are gnats, ladybugs, houseflies and wasps in the house again after two days of almost summery heat. One stingy thingy actually got me on the belly yesterday, and the big red lump it left behind itches like mad.

To top it all off, no one's doing the Monday Mosh but me and Shaw.

Wassup with all that? It really bugs me.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:11 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Monday Mosh!

Yes, folks, it's that time again. In keeping with the new and improved Monday Mosh concept, today's memetheme is:

Mosh to a song you've only recently heard for the first time.

Ready? Go. (Comments below.)

How to do the Monday Mosh:

As always, participants answer three question in their blog and then post their results and/or a link in the comments below.

What song did you pick, and why?
What did you step on / bump into? (Bonus points for breakage)
Why did you stop?

I’ve already done mine, if you need an example. Or there's always the Moshrules.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:35 PM | 0 comments

Food, Family, Friends

Met up with Darcie's parents yesterday morning at Memorial Park playground in Brattleboro, where I used to spend summers as counselor for the local Head Start camp. The baby -- a toddler now, I suppose, at almost 16 months -- didn't so much climb and play on the wooden structures as squat on the upper platforms, absorbing the new perspective only height can bring a small one. Also sand-sifting and a short gleeful stint on the swing, followed by a visit to the mini covered bridge, which Willow deserted to walk shamelessly into the stream below, getting her pant cuffs soaked.

She walks right up to other kids and stares at them shamelessly; you can practically see the mind growing.

Afterwards a short trip through Bratt's quaint downtown area. Picked up a six of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (the gold standard of Microbrews) and some healthy snacks at the food coop; got dalmation rubber boots for Willow and two dress-for-work vests from Keri, who Darcie and I know from our Shakepeare in the Park days six summers a go, at the vintage clothing store in town.

Then off to the day's prize: the Top O' The Hill grill, best pit barbecue in a hundred miles (sorry, locals, but its true), closed for the season with an all-you-can-eat private party, and thanks to Neil's creds as a regular we were invited. Ribs, chicken, brisket, pulled pork and pork roast in mustard sauce; gumbo, jumbalaya, paella and beef stew; homemade slaw, beans, cornbread and rice on the side; orange cream soda and fresh local cider in the ice tub. The rub, for once with sauce optional, was sampled dry; I found it excellent and just spicy enough. The pulled pork and other "wet" dishes fresh and meaty and not too sauce-heavy, just like I like 'em.

Back home, after napping off the food coma, we checked the answering machine to find that our dinner guests -- an old childhood friend, complete with live-in girlfriend, now moved local who we bumped into at the People's Pint down in Greenfield last week -- had cancelled, so the three of us watched Bend It With Beckham, a lighthearted romp with a nice international pace and flavor, while we ate the fresh cream horns and cream puffs we had aquired for company, because those pastries with real cream in them may be the best kind, but the cream turns quickly to butter in the fridge if you don't eat them in the first day or so.

And then, this morning, woke up with groaning still-full stomach to find out Dad's surrogate father-figure David had finally passed away after a week in the hospice. Might go to Long Island for the funeral tomorrow. Certainly couldn't eat breakfast today.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:40 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Halloweenblog: Hello, My Name Is Jesus

Orange goes so well with the site colors, doncha think?

Cobwebs and pumpkin faced goons on every porch, in every corridor; chocolate pudding cakemash with candy corn and gummy worms in it at supper; students dressed as Fat Elvis and Dilbert, pirates and angels, devils and catholic schoolgirls (or I suppose they could have been porn stars in catholic school girl uniforms). As for me, though I decided to start with a tie for a parent meeting this morning, by eleven I was letting the now over-a-foot-long hair down, changing surreptitiously into sandals, and the good old burlap and belt, behind the circulation desk. So help me God, I was Jesus this year again, and if I do say so myself, it was, as always, a huge success.

It feels a bit like cheating to go out into the world as Jesus. I mean, I'm practically the son of God already: I'm Jewish; I've already got the long blond hair, the beard, the blue eyes and the semitic hook of the western conception. I make a goddam awesome Jesus, scarily so. But more, I love to push the Politically Correct button more than most, and isn't Halloween supposed to be liminal, anything-goes, a day of topsy turvy? Kids laugh and tell me I "look good" (we are all good, my child); I got a roomful of laughter when, without thinking, I said "bless you" to some kid who sneezed; the kids on the bus gave me a standing ovation when I gave them a benediction as I passed. So what if a few old fogeys on faculty were a little bit uncomfortable. A decade after God's voice endorsed Hebrew National hot dogs, nothing is sacred save in context. In the realm of the post-postmodern, iconography doesn't mean what it used to, and they'll just have to get over it.

The hardest part is deciding whether or not to go with the stigmata. So far, I haven't had the guts. But the sunglasses were a big hit this year, and made folks less uncomfortable than the crown of thorns did three years ago. I'm thinking next year I might add a machine gun. Y'know, like After 2000 years Jesus is back...but this time he's really pissed. Or maybe just a name tag. If you're gonna run the risk of defiling someone's sacred symbols, you gotta keep it simple.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:27 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 30, 2003


Life is about as hectic as it could be these days; while I have a short moment in the media center and the students are all in class, here's a quick catch-up just for you!

Item: Due to some shifts in who can teach what at the administrative level, I've been asked to teach a full-credit course in Modern American Culture this Winter term in our trimester block calendar (course description here; scroll down to HIS 321 for details). It's late in the game to begin planning for a course I've never taught before; bookorders were due weeks ago, and the guy who designed and used to teach this course left the school last year and hasn't returned my emails, so I'm coming into this a little nervous and unprepared.

Although I'm excited about the opportunity, and honored that the History department chair thought that I was the only one here out of a teaching pool of 175 who could teach the course well other than himself (despite the fact that I teach media, not American Studies, my undergrad degree is in American Studies and Sociology, and that plus the communications and pop culture work I do now is a good platform for a primary-source course in the evolution of American values since 1945). But because I was only really given enough time in my schedule to teach the class, not to prepare and grade, it was very tempting to say no. It was, apparently, more tempting to say yes. Expect plenty of blogging of curriculum ideas and course dynamics over the next months as I settle in.

* * *

Item: The miracle has occured: in the past weeks, Willow, now fifteen months, has begun to show me the kind of affection she once reserved for her mother and the dog. I've gotten kisses (on the lips!) while waking up for the past few mornings; yesterday she insisted on eating lunch in my lap instead of her highchair at the dining hall table, all the while pressing her face into mine, looking around at my teaching peers across the table, pointing to my nose and saying "Daddy! Daddy!" as if proud to tell the world she loves me. I love her so much, and it hurt so much to be ignored for so long, but trust me, new and future parents, it's well worth the wait.

* * *

Item: Evenings here have been a bear this week. Monday night radio show after a four-to-five 9th grade history class presentation of how stereotypes (Muslim/Arab, Terrosist, the "other") are reframed in the popular American mind and media in moments of cultural crisis (9/11); Tuesday night Professional development Committee meeting where, as Chair, I'm leading this year's sabbatical proposal review process; last night duty in the dorm. Tonight's the last minute for college rec letters for those increasingly numerous kids applying early action to the bigger schools and Ivies. Tomorrow I have to meet an alum in the auditorium after work to show him how not to use CD-played music in the ancient and acoustically poor space, followed by trick-or-treating with a kid too small to really appreciate it. In each case, this is after an 8-4 day of instructional work with teachers and students in and out of their classrooms, not to mention my Media Literacy class, which has been meeting online in AIM this week to explore the phenomenon of the Second Self a bit. Will the pace ever slow down? See item 1 above for a pretty solid No, and Item 2 for a pretty good reason why that sucks.

* * *

Still to come in the days ahead: Halloween (I'm thinking Jesus again, since I already look like the Western conception; the question now is: stigmata or no stigmata?). Thanksgiving break, and some as-yet-undefined meal with an ever-more-extending family group. A slight blog redesign. The bat in the attic. And, finally, pictures of this summer's expeditions to Bangladesh and Alaska. I promise. I just need a minute here, okay?

posted by boyhowdy | 9:03 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

What's On...Right Now?

Darcie just went shopping this morning without asking me what I needed this week, and missed some pretty serious items. So I was totally ready for this week's What's On Wednesday memetheme, what's on your grocery list right now?

I should note, of course, that we live at a boarding school, and tend to eat in the dining hall most nights, so our shopping list is often snack-heavy and meal-light. That said...here's what's still on the list:
  • Fresh ground Green Mountain French Roast coffee

  • Original scent aerosol Right Guard

  • Starbucks Mocha Frappucino

  • Halloween candy (d'oh!)

  • Sponges

  • Paper towels

  • Dark socks (okay, this morning's lack of clean socks could have been solved by doing laundry, but I do need more dress socks)

  • Lays potato chips (no flavor or ridges, just plain, regular chips in a yellow bag, thanks)

  • Other snack food I can't think of right now

Disclaimer: Our fridge and cabinets are pretty full, as is my schedule. I may have missed one or more of the above items in my fruitless blurry morning search for coffee today; if so, Darcie dear, I apologize for jumping the gun.

[UPDATE 10/30/03 8:40 am: Guess I jumped the gun; although the above items were still on my list as of last night, Darcie had a fresh cup of coffee ready for me when I emerged late for work this morning. Also muffins. Mmmm.

Guess that's what happens when I'm too busy workin' to check in -- the list gets outdated even while I blog it. Ah well. I suppose, technically, the above list was still my own, it was just sadly out of date. ]

posted by boyhowdy | 11:04 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Geek Chic

You might be a geek if you think this parody of those ubiquitous Microsoft version comparison thingies comparing new features in Microsoft Office 2003 to those of previous versions should be blogged immediately, but you've bookmarked it on the wrong computer, so you have to wait three days before you find where you bookmarked it.

It's a good one, though. For example, c.f. new Office 2003 Managing Word Documents feature Word Selection Enhancements, in which...
It's even harder to select less than a single word. Select two letters and the whole word is highlighted. Select a word and the whole sentence is highlighted. Select a sentence and a word in a random document on your hard drive is deleted.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:18 PM | 0 comments

The Sonic Q-tip That Is Tributary

Drove down to New Jersey Saturday night to visit my brother, an MFA student and teacher of painting at Rutgers. After finally seeing his studio – I’d describe his current work, but then I’d have to shoot you – we stayed out far too late barhopping with his art school cronies, holding down the pool table to the cheesy techno remixes of eighties songs on the badly beaten radio in the corner of Doll’s Place while a Green Party rally band played awful tooloud metal under our feet up against the bar and the electronic trivia games.

Nominally, of course, we were there for the wedding of a second cousin. My parents joined us, though my sister was too emeshed in vet school applications to attend; the four of us knew few folks there, and pretty much stuck together, off to the side, during what must have passed for New Jersey party music – mostly throbbing-beat medleys of half-familiar disco songs -- finally sneaking out early while everyone was distracted by garter-throwing.

On the way home, passing over the Tappan Zee what had been a fairly decent Calypso radio show began to fade. The ride home is a blur, mostly – a solo five hours peering into the dark and rain – but I seem to have a faint memory of a long stint of top forty, marginally better than giving up on the radio altogether, somewhere between White Plains and Hartford.

It was a weekend of pretty awful music, actually. By the end, my aural palette needed a good scrubbing. Thank goodness for the radio show and, an added bonus, a sweet live version of Divided Sky, one of my favorite old Phish tunes, from the station’s overnight computer-generated radio feed the way back home again. Tonight’s playlist follows, with cover songs starred.

Tributary 10/27/03

Bob Dorough – Too Much Coffee Man
Phish – Golgi Apparatus
Oysterhead – Oz Is Ever Floating
Barenaked Ladies – Be My Yoko Ono
Dar Williams – Are You Out There
*Alana Davis – 32 Flavors
Domestic Problems – I’m A Line
String Cheese Incident – Latinissmo
*They Might Be Giants – Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
Sheryl Crow – Strong Enough
Charlie Parker – Ko Ko
*Negativland – Over The Hiccups
Negativland – Sycamore
*Bobby McFerrin and Yo Yo Ma – Flight Of The Bumblebee
*Jazz Is Dead – Scarlet Begonia
Keller Williams – Anyhow Anyway
Mickey Hart – Down The Road
*Indigo Girls – Uncle John’s Band
Susan Werner – Time Between Trains
*John Cale -- Hallelujah
Marc Cohn – Mama’s In The Moon
Alison Krauss – Forget About It
Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem – Finland
Shawn Colvin – Shotgun Down The Avalanche
Nickel Creek – Smoothie Song
*Dixie Chicks – Let Him Fly

posted by boyhowdy | 12:44 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 27, 2003

The New And Improved Monday Mosh
Now chock full of thematic goodness!

Drove to NJ yesterday and then back again tonight – ten hours over two days in a car with no CD player. As the miles passed and the static stations waxed and waned I flipped the dial from calypso and folk, speed metal and Gregorian chants, cried at This American Life and secretly sang along with Queen at the top of my lungs. Ah, radio.

This week’s theme: Mosh to a song you love to hear on the radio.

Have fun, kids. We’ll be back next week with a brand new memetheme.

How to do the Monday Mosh:

As always, participants answer three question in their blog --

What song did you pick, and why?
What did you step on / bump into? (Bonus points for breakage)
Why did you stop?

-- and then post their results and/or a link in the comments below. I’ve already done mine, if you need an example. Or you can check out the Monday Mosh Memerules.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Our Friend, The Policeman

A relatively short dinner-and-drinks night on the town with old college friend Hayley, her husband Peter, and their three year old Linnea last night to kick off a busy weekend: Jack (my grandfather’s brother) and his wife May impending any minute now, a drive down to New Jersey this afternoon to visit my brother and attend a cousin’s wedding the next day. Gonna be a busy week, with no blogging expected from now until the Monday Mosh meme kicks in again at the week’s beginning.

Though we don’t see them often enough, Hayley and Peter are about the closest thing we have to peers-in-common out there. Young parents, community-grounded; preferences for coziness, wood furnishings, and local organics; one child each, both girls. Hayley and I went to college together, but she also attended the prep school where I teach, and she and Darcie grew up less than ten miles from each other, while both Peter and I grew up in Bostonian suburbia. But the way we sustain our commonality puts us at opposite end of a spectrum of sorts – while I have long hair and teach, Peter, once a bakery owner, now close-crops his head and polices Battleboro for a living. Not as distant as one might think, though: we spent a good deal of time comparing notes on pay and benefits (his are much better, and not just because of the excellent overtime opportunities in an understaffed department) and comparing anecdotes, and it turns out resident teaching shares an awful lot in common with small-town police work.

Peter does overnight shifts almost entirely in order to have the most time for his family, so part of the end-early reasoning was his own 9:30 start time. But moreso, the kiddies got cranky quickly, and weren’t happy trying to share. It’s okay – a nice night with no pressure to stay up late was afterall a good thing, timely and needed, to prepare for the stress of family and the days ahead. See y’all Monday, folks.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:10 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Second Self, Updated

Rooraaah Mew Crumbs, whose legal name change from Andrew Paul Johnson was the subject of a rant I created in response to an article in a body modification magazine someone posted on fark, linked to my rant, and, because all his friends wanted to see the cool article I wrote which mentions him, my new hit counter became swamped with references from his blog (in fact, my own site actually crashed for a short time due to the overwhelming number of hits).

The plethora of hits from his blog prompted me to check it out. Not only did I find a very cool copy of his actual legal namechange form there, and a commendation for Matt's comments on my original rant (which, if you remember, was a comment on an article I found via a comment about it on fark), I also seem to have triggered something on Mr. Crumb's hitcounter, or perhaps the delay was just coincidental; either way, this is how Mr. Crumbs ended up sending me a pretty nifty email thanking me for mentioning him and for entertaining his friends, which prompted a thanks from me to him in return for being subject and for the hits, which just generally turned into an all around thanksfest after a while.

I know that's all pretty confusing, but there isn't really a better way to explain how I and Mr. Crumbs, once a subject of my cyberrant, actually "met," albeit virtually. But I can report that he's pretty cool.

One of, oh, about four hundred thousand things about the Brave New (Digital) World that I find fascinating is the way in which, to be crude about it, publishing and interpersonal connectivity seem to be growing towards each other. Time collapses in on itself -- a series of events and exchanges, information-and-dissemination, that might have taken months before, if indeed it happened at all, cascades in a matter of hours. In this case, I think the nuts and bolts, as well as the possibilities inherent in the phenomenon, pretty much speak for themselves.

Moral: If you blog it, they will come.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:50 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

This Should Be Obvious

So obvious, in fact, that I wrote this last night and then decided not to post it after all. Alas, a series of headlong days and short-shrift night coupled with the wife and child's absence -- they're off to her parents house to petsit for the next three or four -- have left me too busy to blog. I therefore bow to the weight of convenience, and post the real blogthoughts that evoked last night's mini-thought on the same topic (i.e. blogs); I ask only that you recognize the following as a first draft not worth polishing, and forgive, in advance, redundancy, rhetorical messiness, and redundancy.

Making Public The Lost Segue

I read Alex Halavais’ post-conference report on the informatics of blogging, I’ve been thinking about blogs, and I’ve had a beer. Here’s one reason why blogs matter in my own solipsistic blogworldview.

Blogs make public the act of segueless writing.

You might say they democratize it, or universalize it: by offering us a powerful yet relatively simple tool for / knowledge pools of the ability to create, publish, broadcast, and read to so many of us, they bring a David Lynchian postmodernism to the everyman, much like writing brought us realism and narrative as we recorded and rerecorded our stories.

Though we agree, you and I, about the relevance of blogging conferences and books, the straw men that profess and promise utopia through blogging are nothing new, and hardly worth dismissing anymore. We’ve heard it all before, for every new technology – the naysayers and the promisers, the yeas and the nays; we can put down our straw men, and move on unencumbered.

Sure, the mass spread of realism did not suddenly lead to mass empowerment. It did not transform the world; was symptom, not C-change. Expecting blogs to transform the universe is similarily both true and false: blogs only contain the force of change in that they are (one of) the transformed. Where the ability to record the real brought little more than the illusion of empowerment in re-ordering the world, as if the act of documenting was an act of ownership, the blog merely follows the overall trend, and asks us to own the world through dis-order.

But blogs say something about us – the very fact of them has real meaning. For example, where Alex points out that blogging requires technical skill not really held by the average member of the population, I’m currently watching a younger generation grow up with it. The rising numbers and the integration of blogs into the daily habits of even a twentieth of the total population can, perhaps, be used as a mark of technological literacy – say, once the number of bloggers reaches the same overall percentage of the culture once represented by journal-keepers, diary-writers, and secret-keepers.

But change…yes, now, we sure see change coming. Haven’t we learned by now that the good and bad in changes is what we make of them? When everyone can write, and those who want to saturate the environment do so – when technical stumbling blocks and a lack of basic literacy fade in re: the computer, as they did before, with the written language – then blogging will still not be transformative. But why so many people willingly shifted the way they use…well, blogs, yes, but pretty much any technology…what it means to us, what it signifies. Ay, there’s the rub.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:54 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


How do you explain this blogthing to people who look at you like you're from Mars, or cyberspace, whatever? Technically correct definitions are technically correct, but they don't have the eureka effect for the not just unitiated but also relatively clueless. I keep having to say it's like a journal, except online; for teachers, this can mean not having to take journals away from diarists when it's time for grading, and the ability to make commenting entirely unobtrusive, and the ability to make connections between the subject of your thought and the thought itself, and the ability to use pictures to show what you mean (oh, yeah, and then there's the peer thing).

But I'm thinking when someone pronounces it that way, they're not ready yet.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:10 PM | 0 comments

Woodsmoke and Snow

Cloudy; the night is dark between the streetlamps. Last night’s coyotes have grown silent, their voices dampened sans moon. On the end of her leash the invisible dog rasps in the chilled air, tugs like a fish nibbling on a deep sea line, sniffs woodsmoke and snow. A distant sky glow marks nearby Greenfield, where everything’s long closed but the neon stays on all night, illuminating the highway and the sky to the south. Otherwise, from here tonight looks like...nothing.

This morning the world burst forth from nothing, too. Not just the darkness of sleep, although that, too – I mean to say here something vivid and sensory about the way I sat in the car for a couple of minutes waiting for heat to burn the frost off the windshields and mirrors before driving off into the New England morning fog, the reds and golds of the last few trees to lose their green around me, the road rustling. I mean to say it, but the night is already close, closing around me, as I move towards that littledeath sleep once again. It’s hard to stay focused. It’s harder with the vision fading, the first sense opening up the others for that briefest moment before total end-of-day shutdown.

Tonight’s radio show playlist, then. And, soon, the light rasp of breath on the next pillow over, the finger touch of our daughter between us reaching out in sleep, the weight of the smalldog on my calf under the velvet coverlet.

Tributary 10/20/03
with cover songs starred

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
A Tribe Called Quest -- I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
Rusted Root -- Rising Sun
*Santana -- Oye Como Va
Barry White -- Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Baby
Habib Koite -- Batoumambe
Cesaria Evora -- Tchintchirote
*Sarah McLachlan -- Dear God
Tori Amos -- The Wrong Band
*Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise -- It'll Come To You
Ben Harper -- Steal My Kisses
Eddie From Ohio -- Monotony
Erin McKeown -- Queen Of Quiet
Bela Fleck -- Throwdown At The Hoedown
Girlyman -- The Shape I Found You In
*Nickel Creek -- Spit On A Stranger
Jack Johnson -- Rodeo Clowns
*Patty Griffin -- Stolen Car
Barenaked Ladies -- When I Fall
Dar Williams -- Bought And Sold
*The Wayfaring Strangers -- Man Of Constant Sorrow
Allison Krauss -- Down In The River To Pray
*Gillian Welch -- Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor
*The Bobs -- Golden Road
Bobby McFerrin -- Baby
*James Taylor -- Walkin' My Baby Back Home
Phish -- All Things Reconsidered

posted by boyhowdy | 12:55 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 20, 2003

The Monday Mosh

I've noticed a lot of hits from the various meme-aggregators out there last Monday, especially I Am Pariah's eminently useful memelist. Though I flaked out and missed my own meme last week, I do think there's potential here, so I figured it's time to restate the Monday Mosh meme (so people know what it is) in the hopes some will take the MM Challenge. Admittedly this meme is looser than some, though -- so after you try it, please take a moment to offer your collective opinion about possibly tweaking it just enough to make it interesting.

So. In summary, the Monday Mosh is designed for Mondays. It's a meme, so it's supposed to get you thinking, and prompt a little blogfodder, but unlike most blogmemes, the Monday Mosh requires more than just thought -- it also asks you to do a little dance, make a little love, and get down a bit, a kind of panacea for what is often considered the worst day of the week. Here's the deal:
How To Do The Monday Mosh

1. You dance around your house/office/car/place-where-music-happens to a song of your choosing.

2. You answer three basic questions about your experience:
-- What song did you pick, and why?
-- What did you step on or bump into? (bonus points for breakage)
-- Why did you stop?

3. You post the answers in your blog.

4. You leave either the text you pasted into your own blog OR a link to your blog in the comments below.

5. Theoretically, people then go to YOUR site to see what your answers were. Except your site is really cool and interesting, so they stay awhile and your readership grows.

Seems simple, doesn't it? Here's my own Monday Mosh for the week:

What song did you pick?
Mano Chau -- Me Gustas Tu. That song's been in my head all week for no good reason. Que hora son, mi corazon?

What did you step on / bump into?
An unbatteried cordless phone that Willow had been playing with, and some blank purple post-it notes. No breakage or tearing, but some crumpling.

Why did you stop?
Parents impending arrival -- they were coming up to a friend's housewarming party, but showed up here first for a delightful light lunch and some grandchild play.

That wasn't so hard, was it.

Now you try.

Postscript: Save The Meme! This meme is, as I mentioned before, a work in progress. It gets many hits, but no takers other than Shaw, myself, and occasionally mrs_fezziwig. In the hopes that there is indeed potential here, have begun to wonder if real memes need their own page, though originally I resisted the idea due to the unchanging nature of this particular memequestion; opinions here would be useful if you've got 'em. Also, I'm taking votes on whether the meme would be more fun / more effective if I offered a different focus each week (for example, one week we might ask for you to pick a song randomly off the radio, or mosh to a song that's been stuck in your head, or even mosh to your secret shame song -- that song that you love but would never be caught dead buying or downloading). Whaddya think?

posted by boyhowdy | 12:01 AM | 0 comments

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Everything But Bashful and Happy

Apologies for the slight oververbiage of the previous entry. I’ve got either a massive no-sneezes-barred cold or some severe sort of allergic reaction to whatever the radiators spit into the too-dry air. The nose itches into the throat and sinuses, and damp sneezes snap through me like lightning. The brain fogs up like a cool morning windshield: continuous, logical thought becomes impossible. My knees ache.

I managed through another rec-letter breakfast interview and, after a two hour nap on the futon, a short trip to the farm for apples, cider, and a peek at the cows and chickens with Willow. But all told, I’ve been through five of the seven dwarves today, mostly simultaneously, and have come to the end of the day sapped, and a bit short on ceremony.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:26 PM | 0 comments

Which Self Is The Second Self?

If you think BMEZINE.COM, the largest and oldest full-spectrum body modification publication on the planet sounds like an unlikely source for substantive modern cybersociology, you're clearly not a social scientist.

This week the publisher of this odd little website (again via Fark) brings us a half-decent write-up of of an inevitable phenomenon: people legally changing their names to their chosen screenname. In most cases, we find that the legal move merely confirms an extant social turn -- most of these folks had long decided to use their online persona-tag in all venues and interactions, on-line and off. The article offers decent case studies, and a surprising statistic -- of the substantially populated online community polled, 60% had seriously considered changing their name.

The article, as a part of a bodymod mag, can conveniently compare name changing with other, primarily physical marks of relatively extreme self-modification-as-definition, such as tatooing or even branding, and the pictures accompanying the article seems to suggest that extreme hair and clothing choices are part of the game here, too. But I fear this only trivializes what is surely a significant symptom of our modern C-change. Here, as always, the subject voices speak best for themselves:
It's very liberating changing something that has been with you since birth, but that wasn't of your deciding. To other people it's only a name, but to me it's my identity — or at least a small part of it which the outside world uses to address me.
Andrew Paul Johnson or RooRaaah Mew Crumbs — not a hard choice really is it?

I just feel more relaxed with this name. When I think of Andrew Paul Johnson, I don't think of me. Now, when I hear my name, I do think of me.
Though the selfname -- what we might consider the portable address of our own meatbody -- is indeed but one factor, like skin color and hair style and smoking-or-non, in the plethora of cues and gambits which make others see us as we are wont to be seen, one cannot see one's own tattoos -- where the name is given and taken alike, and thus seems more . Nor does the tattoo or piercing exist outside of ourself, standing for the self, on the myriad feedback forms and possessives which represent our mark upon the world when we ourselves have moved on.

Of course, we're talking about a still-fringe element here, although I would posit the rise of such a phenomenon as indicative of a more general trend towards increased flexibility of self-hood. Obviously, serious cybercommunities contain those more likely to identify with their online personas seriously; it is tricky to make a general case for the culture at large from such exploration, and more tempting to let it lie as a distinct subcultural phenomenon. But subcultures do reflect their cultures. Selves in corners are, in some ways, still showing that of the whole room, even if in extreme ways. It is finding the norms in the neos and nerds which makes social science interesting and justifies the study of groups in the first place. Thus, it is not so much a stretch after all to wonder what it means to us that somewhere out there a guy gets IRS returns for RooRaaah Mew Crumbs, or Swirly Wanx Sinatra, or the Reverend Grenade Bee Of Death.

One thing it might mean is that we've gone father, faster, towards a new concept of identity that we thought we would have by now. In writing of the self and the cyber one inevitably turns to Sherry Turkle, just as one turns first to Julian Dibbel's Rape in Cyberspace when exploring the standard for the cybercommunity. Though plenty of others have followed up in new and more subtle directions, Turkle was the first who clearly expressed the no-longer-new idea that the new opportunities for identity play inherent in networked technologies and their resultant society were healthy for humanity, and for adolescents already engaged in a lifestage of testing the world and the self to see what each might ultimately be. In order to show this, her sociological studies of and at the MIT Media Lab have focused on the development of what she calls the Second Self -- that constructed self (or selves) which exists once the body has been left behind in its chair.

But the phrase Second Self may be -- or need to be - passe already, in that it's very linguistics assume ultimate primacy to the meat-and-blood self, the mind over the mind-in-tool, the unavoidable subconscious default over the constructed. It is only now that we are beginning to see that, perhaps, the question of which self is the second self, of whether the mind alone is the housing of the self, and if there is indeed such a thing as the self anymore except as a fluxuating social concept and construct, will be the real questions of and for the next generations.

The question, then, is not so much when am I boyhowdy, or even which part of me is boyhowdy. Not "which me is real?", but "what is this thing we call me, and how does it flux, and under what circumstance; what power do I have over it and what power does it exercise and on whom?" The concept of second self may, in fact, be deliberately false in its dichotomous construction; Turkle, like the rest of us, seems ultimately interested in the philosophical quandries of mind and being; you don't have to be an expert on piercings to watch the choices we make -- both the extremes and the more subtle norms -- from the lab that is the self in the first place.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:18 PM | 0 comments

Friday, October 17, 2003


Thanks to a hint from I Want To Hug Kafka, I am now traffic-tracking with re_invigorate. It's much better than the alternative -- offers the same basic stats (visitor numbers, where they came from, how that compares to yesterday and last week, etc.) but, as a bonus, where most "free" data analysis services require ad-like iconography on your site in return for the service, the kind folks at re_invigorate ask only that you let them use your stats (anonymously) to gather writ-large data about traffic patterns on the web.

For the record, according to now-finally-dropped alternative Bravenet, this site had over 25,000 hits before starting at zero with the aforementioned new company. Not bad for ten months of readership, eh?

posted by boyhowdy | 3:27 PM | 0 comments

Mind The Generation Gap!

Tetris: my kind of game

Speaking of Pong: Electronic Gaming Monthly, which I don't read but apparently farkers do, isn't known for ensuing hilarity, but you just gotta check out Child's Play, a bunch of interviews originally recorded a year ago as research for an article which explored the potential timelessness -- or not -- of classic 70's and 80's video games by giving them to nine children ages 9-12 and watching them play. Transcripts of this easily-scavenged fun are nominally presented in the form of an actual article, but the real meat and potatoes here is in the generational disconnect apparent in the exchange of kids with interviewer, and with each other. Here's one partial exchange in front of Tetris; grownups, prepare to feel OLD:
Tim: Which button do I press to make the blocks explode?

EGM: Sorry, they don't explode.

Becky: This is boring. Maybe if it had characters and stuff and different levels, it would be OK. If things blew up or something or—

Sheldon: If there were bombs.

Becky: Yeah, or special bricks. Like, if a yellow brick touched a red brick it would blow up and you'd have to start over.

John: Why haven't I won yet? I've paired up so many of the same color.

EGM: Don't worry about colors.

John: I just lined up six of the same color. Why didn't they blow up?

EGM: Nothing blows up.
And another, in reference to Space Invaders:
EGM: This game was so popular in Japan that—

John: They made it into a TV show?

EGM: Well, no. It was so popular that they ran out—

John: Oh, did they make collectible trading cards for it?

EGM: Um, no. It was so popular that there was a shortage of the coins used to play it.

John: But you can get this game on a cell phone. Why would you want to pay for it in an arcade?

Bonus thought of the day: How cool is it to work for Electronic Gaming Magazine? I mean, they actually have the original versions of all these games sitiing around in their offices. Sweet.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:23 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Yeah, that Pong.

It's duty night, and that means ego tripping in a major way, because after six years of one-night-a-week-one-weekend-a-month dorm duty in front of the green table and net, I am the master.


Nothing gets by me. I have an innate sense of defense, an interesting offshoot of the ADHD which lets me hyperfocus fluidly, the brain out of the way, when the ball comes to my side of the table. I am grace in gravity, poetry in motion, that cool faculty member with the long hair who spends all night holding down the table while the other dorm parents read at their desks in the next dorms over. Got no offense, a weak forehand, but a kind of zen backhand twist that won't let anything by, and a persistence that is plenty enough to wait while, one by one, the kids before me beat themselves, off the table, into the net.

To be fair, it's my only sport. I mean, you're talking about a guy who took Dance for gym credit in high school in a vain attempt to train the klutziness out of his system, a guy who doesn't wear wristwatches anymore due to a weird tendency to smash their faces on walls as he passes by (I like to call it "low limbic awareness"). And, as a sport, it doesn't do much for my physique: I sweat, but the potbelly grows regardless.

Still, it feels good to beat the students. Maybe it's just a secret inferiority complex, but it feels good to beat the students. Especially the varsity athletes. Especially the varsity tennis players.

In other news, used an online version of Pong to start a second day of video game study with my Media Literacy class this afternoon: last Friday we talked about the ways in which video games are a mass medium (programmed environments which reinforce limited consumer choice and televisionary body norms and behavioral tendencies) and yet an interactive medium (projected selves in environments with some choice, a kind of template for the second-self identity-play which networks bring to the cultural table); today we did primary research, watching each other play games on some kid's X-Box hooked up to the classroom projectors, charting -- through body language and verbal cues -- the evolving and personal relationship between the self-out-here and the self-in-there, the homunculus and the body, the transition from human to cyborg.

Have I mentioned I love my job? Hate some people's tendencies to give me vague mandates and no direction and then misinterpret my motives for action and change the spaces I oversee behind my back and call me into their offices to tell me I'm not doing what I should how I should, even though how could I possibly know how to do what I do the way they want if they won't tell me and won't meet with me except to say "you did this wrong." But love my job. Next week we're going to start looking at email and chat; as promised, I'll hold class in an AIM chat room just for kicks sometime soon, too.

And why aren't the kids studying tonight? Because tomorrow's Mountain Day, a school-wide holiday with mandatory mountain climbing by class. Why? Well, one fine day, a hundred years ago, our founder (this was back when the guy who founded the school was also the head of the school) walked into the dining hall (this was back when there was only one dining hall) during breakfast (this was when students were required to eat breakfast) and said something along the lines of "It's a beautiful day; lets go for a walk!" Course, this was all back in the day when the school could actually decide things at the last minute -- these days, although Mountain Day is a surprise to all of us, it's called the day before so that we can all plan ahead for our spontaneity. Ah, tradition. It's still nice to have a day in the woods when you thought you'd be having another damn meeting with your supervisors.

Bonus: Did you know that blogger's spellcheck doesn't have the word "cyborg" in it? Nor does it recognize "blogger's," the possessive form of its own NAME? Geez, guys -- get with the cyberprogram, will ya?

[UPDATE 10/16/03 1:13 A.M.: Did I mention that I'm reading David Foster Wallace's short non-fiction collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again? Just now from pages 327-338, in the midst of the title essay, there's this scene where Wallace (who writes like this, except with footnotes instead of parentheses, and who has taken a cruise much like the one I took with my family this summer, only in his case he's there ), who it turns out is also a master ping pong player (although he calls it Ping-Pong, somewhat smugly, as if he knew something you didn't), describes for us a morning trouncing the cruise's on-board ping pong pro, or 3P, both verbally and ping-pong-wise.

I can't decide if all this coincidence -- the way themes just seem to pop up in life, although I suppose it might just be me, as I can't speak for your life -- is ominous or serendipitious or what. Maybe it's symptomatic of a universe with a sense of humor. Maybe it's just life. ]

posted by boyhowdy | 10:17 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Fall Stories

It was one of those vainglorious autumn-in-New-England days where you just can't help but grin at people passing by. The mountains down the valley and on the other side of the Connecticut glowed watercolor orange and yellow under the cloudless sky like a daylong sunset; closer to home each landscaped tree showed the same dappled colors on a smaller and more intimate scale. It felt, to be frank, an awful lot like we'd all walked right into the NMH admissions literature. You had to hate yourself for loving it, if only just to keep it at enough distance for the impending winter months to be tolerable by comparison.

It was a beautiful day for the Pie Race, our annual 4-point-something mile on-campus run and the oldest continuously-run road race in the world, and didn't it just suck to have to stand outside, enjoying it all, from antique cannon-shot start to that last downhill freshman finisher, almost an hour and a half after the first to cross the finish line. Well, I suppose my arm did get a little sore from holding the video camera that long. And it would have been nice to have had some pie -- the fastest runners get fresh-baked apple pies, made with our own orchard's Spys and Cortlands. But Willow ran the kids-only Tart Race beforehand, or ran for a while, anyway, until Darcie and I took turns carrying her around the football field, so we did get a mini-pie for the family to share, and memories of apple cheeks and bubbling laughter and whiteblond hair in the sunlight to last a lifetime.

Now, just back from the radio show, the moon's waning outside in the chilly fall night air, the fog that cursed us for the past few nights but a wisp of its former self. The steeplebells chime a late late song, for me and those who listen in their sleep. Feeling good: had three new-to-me CDs to feature, got three calls tonight in quick succession, read quiet love sonnets by Pablo Neruda in the dark at the halfway mark, and played a half hour of nothing but cover songs on my way out the door, just because it felt right. Tonight's playlist, as always, follows, with cover songs starred.

Tributary (10/13/03)

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
Juliana Hatfield -- My Darling
Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit -- Basically Frightened
Marc Cohn -- 29 Ways
They Might Be Giants -- Birdhouse In Your Soul
The Biscuit Boys -- Boograss
Patty Griffin -- Changes
*Nickel Creek -- Spit On A Stranger
Mark Erelli -- Miracle Man
Phish -- Back On The Train
*Dolly Parton -- Shine
*Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem -- Turtle Dove
The Story -- The Perfect Crime
Deb Talan -- Something Burning
Sting -- History Will Teach Us Nothing
Patty Griffin -- Goodbye
*Bela Fleck -- Bach: "Prelude" from Suite for Unaccompanied Cello 1
Erin McKeown -- Slung-lo
Emmylou Harris -- My Antonia
Girlyman -- Postcards From Mexico
Great Big Sea -- Ordinary Day
*Sarah McLachlan -- The Rainbow Connection
*Los Lobos -- I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)
*Norah Jones -- Cold Cold Heart
*Nancy Griffith -- Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness
*David Wilcox -- The Kid
*Cry Cry Cry -- Fall On Me
*Shawn Colvin -- This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

posted by boyhowdy | 12:47 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Out Of Focus

I've always been suspicious of opinion polls and the like. As a media and communication teacher, I never tire of pointing out to students and peers alike that the way a question is phrased has more to do with what answer you get when you ask it than what people really think of or on a given issue. But I never realized that the continued trusted proliferation of the format -- and the untrustworthy cultural flotsam that results -- was our own damn fault, because I never put the problem into focus as well as Lies, Damn Lies, and Focus Groups: Why don't consumers tell the truth about what they want?, a veryclear, interesting and well-documented article in yesterday's Slate.

The premise -- that telemarketers desperate to make moot their impending death knell, aka the Do Not Call law, have thrown their industry to the wolves by pointing out that people cannot be trusted to know what products they would actually prefer to their current consumer habit -- reveals the inevitable flaws which make focus groups a useless tool for actually predicting mass product appeal (notably, the sole function of the focus group itself). In offering a point-by-point demonstration of why even though few in the industry question their value, a huge gap yawns between customer intentions expressed in focus groups and behavior in the marketplace, however, commentator Daniel Gross slickly broadens the question, calling into question a much larger societal premise -- that asking people to tell you what they think is in any way an accurate indicator of what people actually think.

Consider for a moment how many questionnaires you've filled out, and how many answers you've offered up for your own behavior, in the past six months -- from quizilla personality tests to job interviews -- and for what purpose. Dwell on why -- for in most cases, those answers determine both our fate in the hands of others and the way we think and act. Now realize that it's a standard tenet in, say, sociology (one of my many undergrad majors, a necessity for a degree in cybercultural studies) that people generally have no idea why they do things, and that those ideas they do use to explain their own quirks and social mores tend to be, when examined empirically, entirely and totally wrong.

And, interestingly, here we have a fact that is its own proof. We've known all along that empirical data and observation are trustworthy, and self-examination too biased. Yet millions of dollars are spent feeding and compensating focus group participants in Hollywood alone each year. Mere observation of the effect of focus groups would have told us all long ago to try something else. Instead, we keep filling out the forms, and living with the lives that follow -- all because someone along the line said it would work, and, god help us, we believed him.

Happily, Gross gives us a few sources to follow which have already chosen the empirical path over the anecdotal. If I ever decide to leave academia, I'm sending a letter of introduction to Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and managing partner of the Context-Based Research Group, an organization which conducts market research through fieldwork observing people using products in their natural habitats.

Guess Heinlein was right: mass psychology is a real, hard science after all. Now if we could only start acting like it, we'd have a shot at empirical application of it. Imagine being able to pre-determine exactly how much bias you wanted your ad copy to carry, and which buttons exactly to push. Or, if that's too scary, imagine using the same benchmarks to determine what consitutes propaganda, thus making an analytical challenge of what is now a legal, human enterprise, shifting standard and all.

As an addendum, I've just realized that this issue is exactly why I don't trust my own school's impending move towards smallness, including perhaps a move to a single campus. Major changes are afoot here; my job may be gone this time next year, or the next. But if any good comes of it it's sure to be accidental: the whole decision's based on summer focus groups asking "what do we want this community to be, and what's the best size to make that community happen?" Garbage in, guys.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:23 AM | 0 comments
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