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'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

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Modern Myth, Fabled Future

J. Robert Lennon's Opening:
The company's CEO had taken a particular interest in this store, and now spoke in the parking lot to a crowd of reporters and eager consumers about the company's virtues. Then, with a wave of his arm, he ordered the butterflies released.
Amazing how little the fairy tale form -- from syntax to size, and from narrative pace to story infrastructure -- has changed since Aesop, Grimm, and Anderson, how well it's weathered the c-change of time. From the first sentences Lennon's new-this-week piece, consistent and tight at six small paragraphs, hovers just on the right side of saccarine cliche, reveals the languages of fable and journalistic endeavor to be one and the same. Opening shows us how thin the line between fiction and journalism has become, if there is such a line at all, if there ever was. This unknown no-link-provided author-from-nowhere makes it all seem easy. Best, it could easily all be true.

Discovered at McSweeney's Internet Tendency, where love is full-color and loud.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:16 PM | 0 comments

Friday, October 10, 2003


I always fancied myself an absent-minded professorial type, but have recently been rethinking. Is there such thing as a mad social scientist?

Also, don't tape your students to the chalkboard. And does it matter what kind of tape was used? Stupid CNN.

I've come to realize that cyberspeak is perhaps the first language to evolve on a global scale. I've got kids who know how to cc without knowing what it stands for, and a walk down the dorm during study hall shows the same acronymic, emoticonic shortform of cybserspeak creeping into both asian character and western language IM sessions. I sure hope someone out there is making "so what does it all mean" their life's work for that one, because I sure as heck don't have time.

Tomorrow, my parents will be in the audience at a live taping of A Prairie Home Companion. If you listen real close to your local NPR station, you might hear applause that sounds like mine, except a generation older. If you live in St. Paul, keep an eye out for a guy that looks like me, except with shorter hair and a little bit more grey in the beard.

Now that shorts are becoming shorter from top AND bottom, at what point does it become sexual harrassment to actually see my students wearing them?

Libraries are nice. Shifted Librarian blogs are moreso.

*Brevity is one of my favorite words, partially because of the inherent semiotic connection in most minds with levity. I actually shot myself in the foot years ago by putting this word, and only this word, in a space on the Vassar College application when asked to "please list some of your best qualities and attributes."

posted by boyhowdy | 1:09 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 09, 2003


Neil Postman, modern inheritor of McLuhan's legacy, dead at 72

...these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.

The third idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet, Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence, "The medium is the message."

He was my hero, and I never met him.

But for the past four years, I read his masterwork Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, a book "about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right," twice a year, teaching it dilligently for five weeks a time. I poured through his essays, agreeing in turn with him and with Camile Paglie in their '91 Harper's co-interview She wants Her TV! He Wants His Book!. I scoured used bookstores for out-of-print earlyworks on teaching as, in turn, a subversive and conserving activity. And, as he grew to recognize the place of digital media in his theoretical standpoint, I relished the more recent emergence of Technopoly, and his triumphant return to redefining education, in his final works.

His term for our mutual field, Media Ecology, gave a focus and a metaphor for what we wanted to say; his legitimacy of the field through his professorship at NYU churned out hundreds of us, and sparked thousands more to rethink our society, unwilling to accept what is.

"The medium," he said, "is the metaphor" -- meaning that the way our technologies inherently streamline sense and prioritize meaning inevitably become templates for the way we see ourselves, our world, and our place in it. Building on the works of Innis and McLuhan before him, he clarified our discontent and gave us purpose; he made the modern study of media what it is, and what it could be.

Untypically, the New York Times obit says everything he would have wanted to say about the modern world of media, in that it misrepresents him terribly, saying
Dr. Postman's core message was that an immersion in a media environment shaped children's lives to their detriment, and society's.

In fact, however, Postman had no beef against media as a general category. It was the particular media environment which arose post-literacy, beginning with the telegraphic mindset of Hemmingway and the train schedule's relentless commodification of time in the last century, and as epitomized by the rise of television, which he saw as detrimental, on a societal level, and at that, only to public discourse -- that important stuff we talk about that makes us human, connected, aware and alive. To him, the downfall of our culture came with the gradual loss of our association with twice-abstracted symbol system that is the written word in all it's longform glory; the iconographic, fast-paces mediaspace that TV and later the web created was, he showed us in detail, antithetical to the high-order thinking which only extensive, objective, and literal thought could enable.

The Times makes him look like the king of all luddites. Rather, he was a metaintellectual, making his life's work to identify the gap between the ways of the tube and the way we, as a society, were able to bring our world to life, to sense, in the first place.

Neil would hate blogs -- he'd see their screen-fed shortform as prototypical of the modern delineralized media mindset which he made it his life's work to rail against -- so, while it's tempting to spend real time denying the blogform and making a real stab at a serious essay here, let's leave it at this:

Sorry, Neil, if most of us still struggle to understand. If it helps, there's a small handful of us who owe you our vocations, our critical minds, and our souls. We will remember you when we teach our children to turn on their minds -- and to turn off the TV.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:29 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Ladybug, Ladybug away home.

First there were no ladybugs, then the weather turned glorious and warm. Now there's a dozen of them by the air conditioner, and perhaps twice as many more by the unsealable half-circle window in the dining room; singlets zoom through the air like drunken wasps, and still they come.

We've battened down the hatches as much as we can but it doesn't matter -- the cat's once-propped door may be closed at the bottom of the stairs, but they can find crevices where we thought there were none. Darcie says they're looking for snug harbors to curl up in for the winter. Did it have to be here? I guess there's such a thing as too much luck.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:55 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Am finally reading Roald Dahl's R.A.F. memoir-slash-short fiction collection Over To You, which I bought in Vancouver to read in Alaska but never got to until this weekend. Like his childhood memoir Boy, it's a bit fragmented, a bumpy ride, inconsistent. But its got a gemlike quality when it works, a sense of tone and ear like Hemmingway, and a hint of Catch 22's sly humor, and when Dahl turns a phrase, he really nails it:
It was not easy having only one child. The emptiness when he was not there andf the knowing all the time that something might happen: the deep conscious knowing that there was nothing else to live for but this; that if something did happen, then you too would be dead. There would be no use in sweeping the floor or washing the dishes or cleaning the house; there would be no use in gathering wood for the fire or in feeding the hens; there would be no use in living.

Tonight Willow called me in to her bedroom as she sat there in the dark on her mothers lap. I came to her, and knelt down by the rocker, she gave me a benediction: outstretched arms, a hug and kiss, and a unification, a closing of the circle around us, a recitation of our names together -- Daddy, Mamai, baby -- before yawning bye bye. Knowing not to question a miracle, I left on cue. It was, after all, worth waiting for.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:48 PM | 0 comments

More CNN fun

Bestseller List Dominated By Liberals is news, yet the media has a liberal bias. Yeah, right. Does no one else see the contradiction here?

posted by boyhowdy | 9:20 PM | 0 comments

Teacher Defenstrates Students For Excessive Noise

The kids were nine and ten, and sustained pretty serious injuries. The teacher warned them, but "They did not listen. They should have listened," some high-level school administrator told Reuters by telephone.

Though CNN considers this "World News" and names the nationality of the teacher in the headline itself, I have decided it is not really relevant to the story to point out that it took place in Morocco, and rewritten the headline accordingly.

Link courtesy of my father. Nice one, Dad.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:47 PM | 0 comments

Spinning Into The Wind: Tributary 10/06/03

Though the students don't begin to return until midafternoon tomorrow, it didn't feel like a Monday without Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on 91.5 WNMH serving Northfield, Gill, Keene, and Brattleboro. So I went. Other than one random guy who called and asked for some Warren Zevon, the lines were silent, but I had my groove on: I knew you were out there, and thanks for the vibes. Let's let the tunes speak for themselves tonight, eh?

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
Warren Zevon -- Don't Let Us Be Sick
*Warren Zevon -- Casey Jones
Disco Biscuits -- M.E.M.P.H.I.S
Phish -- Poor Heart
Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
Sam Phillips -- I Need Love
Keller Williams -- Best Feeling
*Leslie King -- Money
Girlyman -- Even If
Kasey Chambers -- On A Bad Day
The Waifs -- London Still
John Gorka -- Like My Watch
Patty Griffin -- Time Will Do The Talking
*Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem -- Big Black Bird
Chris Smither -- The Devil's Real
Soggy Bottom Boys -- I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow
Dar Williams -- Are You Out There
*Dixie Chicks -- Top Of The World
Peter Gabriel -- Love To Be Loved
*Angelique Kidjo -- Voodoo Child
Suzanne Vega -- Blood Makes Noise
*Be Good Tanyas -- Rain And Snow
*Brooks Williams -- May You Never

* As always, the first reader to correctly identify the original artists of all starred entries wins a small but real gift certificate to the paypal or account of their choice. Seriously.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:33 AM | 0 comments

Monday, October 06, 2003

Monday Mosh

What song did you mosh to?
Taj Mahal's version of The Banana Boat Song -- a repeat from a few weeks back, I believe. Willow sang Day-O and wiggled her hips, face all lit up like a kerosene fire; it was all I could do to keep up.

What did you bump into or step on? (bonus for breakage)
Nuthin'. Gotta set a good example for the wee one, don't I?

Why did you stop?
Back to cleaning out the unfinished cavern at the end of the house we call the "attic." I'm spending the days off trying to arrange the storage into active and long-term shelving, while clearing the front of the room to make Darcie a workspace for crafts projects, with finger-crossed hope that she'll go back to maskmaking, because there's really nothing like coming home in the afternoon to an hour or two of meditative paper-bag-shredding and elmer's glue.

I was going to put a poem here, one I wrote about a summer six years ago, when, childless but rich in resident friends, Darcie and I spent the summer making them. But the E: drive isn't working on this laptop. Just one more thing that doesn't spin in our house (we burned the motor out on the new washer yesterday, too).

posted by boyhowdy | 5:05 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Remaindered Ideas

Finally came to terms with the fact that I'm a lazy bastard, far too unmotivated to make use of these get-rich-quick ideas that've been keeping me up nights, so I'm letting 'em go cheap. Each is a kind of pop culture killer app, a gem and a genius, if I do say so myself; if you manage to make anything of one or more of them, all I ask is the credit. And, oh, lets say 5% of the gross. And yes, I know some of them actually exist, but I swear I thought of them first.

Idea #1: My Other Shirt Is A ______. We're all familiar with these self-referent bumper stickers. Making it a shirt-related conceit calls to this lightly humorous pop-culture-istic laugh-at-the-consumerism phenom, but adds a new layer in that the very idea of having only two shirts (implied by "other") is itself farcical. Like with the bumper stickers, possible "fill in the blanks" might include socioeconomic affiliation (my other shirt says Subway), the masquerade of status (my other shirt is a pinstripe oxford), even sentiments of socio-religious freedom (my other shirt has a cowl). Also, my other shirt is also dirty.

Idea #2: Ancient Egyptian Wheel Of Fortune (or Wheel of Bast). I envision this as a single cartoon panel: humor is found through Vanna White's typically King-Tut, right-angled manner of gesturing to the turned-over symbols, as well as the graphic dynamics of the ecologically-grounded iconographic symbols themselves. But the coup de grace is a caption clearly indicated to represent a peasant-type contestant's voice, via punchline, of course: what else but Pat, I'd like to buy an owl.

Idea #3: "Digital Browsing" Refrigerators. The original theory here was to simply produce a fridge with a clear door, thus allowing for adolescent and midnight-snack browsing without the traditional loss of energy and freon. It took me a while to realize that, unless you dropped the usual door-rack and butter-and-egg cases from the model to compensate, condiments would block the view. However a digital solution, in which one can have several cameras, and view one's still-cool food via a split screen showing images from each section of the fridge, has much better potential.

Idea #4: Transformation and Rejuvenation of the Pure Form of Hip Hop. Two words: Iambic pentameter. Man, I'm such a genius.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:19 PM | 0 comments

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

From the vague creamy center of a long weekend, some recent subjective choice consumerism from a variety of media. What can I say; I teach this stuff.

1. It Was A Dark And Silly Night, the third installment of the Little Lit highbow comic collections, just came out; like its predecessors Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies and Strange Stories For Strange Kids, it is gorgeous, well-written, broad, deep, and singularly unique. Edited by Art Spiegelman (yes, he's the guy who did Maus) and his wife Francoise Mouly (a comic artist in her own right), these nominally-for-kids coffee table art books feature short pieces by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Jules Feiffer, Daniel Clowes, Maurice Sendak, and David Sedaris, and read so beautifully, it will be years before I can bring mysef to let Willow play with "Daddy's books," even if they have such funny and wonderful pictures and stories in them.

2. The gods smile on me and they always have. Having signed up to teach the Mass Media Messages course this winter term on the subject of Reality TV, I find Bravo airing a five-part series on The Reality of Reality TV. Recording three repeat episodes back-to-back this afternoon; from what I've seen in the background, the universe has once again found me the perfect secondary texts for the class. Now all I need is some recordings of Survivor, Trading Spaces, and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, and I can rest on my fat butt until the course begins, secure in my preparedness.

3. Thank God Monk was a repeat this week, or we wouldn't have discovered The Handler, a new show (CBS, Fridays at 10 pm) which is everything reviewers said it was and more. See, this guy works for the FBI planting undercover sting agents in difficult situations; the show attends equally to both the stories of each sting and to Joe Pantoliano's title character, the node holding it all together. The show promises vastly different storylines, ample guest star characters, and a smooth ride for all.

4. I have a tiny silver pencil after a post-brunch meander through Northampton with Darcie and Willow this morning. Also, a roughpaper cartoon lamp that looks like a television, and a red pen with a tiny working etch-a-sketch on it. All are for my new desk at work. Got Darcie a tape measure and a kiss token (no, not a KISS token, ew); got Willow a bathtub puffer fish that squirts when squeezed. Had juice with unexpected Ginny before leaving for home again.

5. I want The House Carpenter's Daughter , the new Natalie Merchant album badly. She produces with banjo, sings very oldschool American folk tunes, from what I heard on The River yesterday, to say she has mellowed it down is quite the understatement. Saw her two summers ago at Clearwater the year I went by myself by mutual agreement, Darcie being 8 and a half months pregnant at the time, and she was already leaning into this style; I'm glad to see it, as it suits her warbly voice so well. The new release is number 48 on; they say that customers who bought this CD also bought -- and tell me this isn't cross-genre appeal in a nutshell -- the following list of new music:

Soul Journey ~ Gillian Welch
North [LIMITED EDITION] ~ Elvis Costello
Identity Crisis ~ Shelby Lynne
Some Devil ~ Dave Matthews
Sacred Love ~ Sting
Life for Rent ~ Dido
Chinatown ~ The Be Good Tanyas
Dark Chords on a Big Guitar ~ Joan Baez

[Why no link to amazon? Call it a stab at the consumer in me and in all of us. When I remember, I always buy local, and recommend either the same or, of course, buying direct from the artist's home page. makes consumerism so easy, you can get there on your own if you really feel a need to save a buck in return for pepetuating the mad accelleration of information ownership. Silly rabbit -- don't you know information wants to be free?]

posted by boyhowdy | 3:39 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, October 04, 2003

You're Soaking In It

Rain. The dog comes back from walks wet, leaving pawprints as we ascend the stairs towards home. Water drums against our steep-angled attic ceilings and walls; the wind it brings bends the trees sideways and back again. My long thick hair gathers moisture and weighs upon my neck, giving me a headache.

Family Days came early this term, a full week before midterms. Hundreds of adults descended on the campus to attend classes, watch their kids play sports in the drizzle, and meet with Deans, teachers, and advisees. As always, seeing the parents with their offspring was the best spectator sport on campus, with each family set a spotlight of understanding, a lifting of the veil, bringing context to nuances and habits, behaviors and trends, illuminating each student: suddenly these kids make sense.

By this morning, the parents had all come and left with their children. Now they're gone for days and days; I had a pre-college-recommendation breakfast interview with a day student advisee this morning, but that's hardly work and took place of campus; in reality, work ended yesterday at 4:00 with the end of my last advisee parent meetings (yes, managing a sport is a good idea for colleges; sure, we can figure out how to prepare better for tests in Religion in the second half of the term; try this apple, it was grown on our own school farm and harvested by your very own kid); now we're off until Wednesday.

But Family Days hit home, too -- time for us is time for the ones we love after a long drought of work and busy-ness. Dinner last night in Greenfield and a nice autumn walkabout in town with Darcie, our first real date in far too long, while Virginia babysat; a casual stopover this morning at Darcie's parent's house, where Connecticut-ites Alicia (Darcie's other sister) and her fiancee Matt were visiting for the day and Virginia stopped by to say hello on her way to Mocha Joes for a closing shift; more Matt and Alicia tonight on their way home again. And time for the three of us -- brunch tomorrow morning, maybe a movie early next week, and a plethora of hours just being together, home and playful. Time I shouldn't be spending blogging, so enjoy the rain while it lasts, folks.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:40 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Why Is This Website Interesting?*

No, seriously.

*pic removed because, while it was interesting enough to post initially, it wasn't interesting enough to fuss with.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:27 PM | 0 comments

Things (After Reading McSweeney's)

1. It's Cold

Now everybody wears sweaters, except I only put one on when I get home. When I go to work I wear a t-shirt under my white Oxford and tie instead. The dog ran into the woods with her sweater on and came out without her sweater, and we can't find it. Also, there are a whole lot of bugs flying around the bare lightbulb in the middle of the attic. I think they came in to get warm; the window doesn't really close too well.

2. In The Dark, I Step On Toys

Sometimes, when you kick one of the blocks that's supposed to go in the round hole, it goes in a spiral. Other times it just rolls under the couch: it all depends on what kind of english you give it when you kick it. You have to kick the triangular blocks really hard to make them go anywhere. Because the baby opossum puppet has that little patch of velcro on its belly which lets you stick it to the mother opossum's back, it doesn't go anywhere when you kick it.

3. I Had a Conversation All Through Dinner With One Of The Science Teachers About Her Son, Evan, Who Is A Sophomore This Year And A Bit Of A Handful Right Now

It was pretty boring, actually.

4. Darcie And I Have A Date Tomorrow Night

Virginia is coming to babysit. She didn't get the job at Haymarket after all because the guy kept calling her when she wasn't home, and then she'd call him back when he wasn't there. Sometimes he didn't even leave a message. Today they gave someone else the job, which probably means he finally called and got to talk to her, but it was too late. Luckily, Virginia has a plan to start her own coffeeshop and put Haymarket out of business, even though there are already five coffeeshops and two cafes in downtown Northampton, including the cybercafe and the Starbucks where all the bikers hang out.

5. Librarians Love The New Archie McFee Librarian Action Figure

It has a kung-fu grip so it can hold tiny rubber books. Also, it looks kind of like a nun. The librarians are going to put it on their new Library Lounge webpage -- the one that they were calling the Living Room until several of us suggested that students think of living rooms as boring, stale places with plastic on the seat cushions, ones where you have to get all dressed up and entertain your mother's friends and their snotty children. When I used to work at the Museum of Science in Boston, we used to get stuff from that catalog all the time, like huge barrels of tiny plastic trinkets you could give away to kids or just play with at your desk.

6. I'm Really Tired

Otherwise, this would be a longer list. It isn't, though. This is about it.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:09 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 01, 2003


Long day and a half and not much to show for it that's not been said before. That, and exhaustion began to set in about an hour into dorm duty this evening; despite pepsi after pepsi, by the time study hall ended at 10:00 my brain had begin to melt. A few boring quickbits from my manic humdrumness over the past 48:

...they're finally drilling a hole in the marble wall base behind the Information Commons desk; the network and power drops should be in by my weekly stop-by on Friday. Amidst the grinding drillnoise held a meeting with teachers of new and required 9th grade History course, sold them on using me and my presentation on how media stereotypes and iconography reform and refocus in times of national crisis in their unit on Terrorism. Technology and media curriculum I designed and worked into the curriculum now a major component of five required 9th grade courses plus multidisciplinary electronic portfolio; I win.

...the food's been good. Cold homemade meatballs in front of the tube late last night, sausage-and-swiss omelette breakfast out at the new place in town this morning while errand-running, Chinese for supper -- a suprise from the family -- and then Darcie made homemade applesauce, and why is homemade applesauce always red? moment tonight listening to two kids explain acceptability of their mutual (and already tense) attraction to and subsequent smooching of same girl: Oh, it's okay, she has a serious boyfriend at home. I miss so many things about adolescence, but the way the half-formed brain does the relationship thing isn't one of them.

...Things with Willow getting a little bit better. Things with laundry [see below] getting a little bit stupid. Empty apartment below us promised to some random guy we just hired to adjunct some winter term sport who needs a place to crash a couple nights a week -- a disappointment, as we had hoped to take over the downstairs two-roomer ourselves if no one needed it this year.

...Molly flipping out completely, almost as if about to go manic, about college and the weight of the world it seems to come with (but actually doesn't, even if it feels like that). Oh, and musn't forget to start meeting kids to talk about writing their college rec letters. Hint for teachers: If you take 'em out for breakfast on Saturdays and take notes, all you have to do is type it all up afterwards and your letters come out great!

posted by boyhowdy | 11:59 PM | 0 comments
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