Friday, June 30, 2006

Back Again, Sort Of

I have returned safely from a weekend at the Stražnice folk festival (photos to follow when feasible) and a conference in České Budějovice (much rain, no photos), but as the hard drive on the laptop began to make alarming noises at the conference, it appears I will be spending a good while making sure my backups are pretty good before I attempt to replace the drive with its predecessor (this is to say, putting in 30GB where I have become accustomed to 100GB). Fortunately I was able to find a set of small screwdrivers this afternoon.
But, while most of my programs are actually already on the small hard drive, many of them are not very up to date and I will have to reinstall my internet connection.
I suspect this means I will not be much prone to public self-expression in the immediate future. Of course, there are also major Czech holidays coming right up.
In other matters, I am unsure whether I was less happy with the intense heat of the past few weeks, or the chilly rain that has followed.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Posters, Prague Style

Since I am running off to a weekend at a folk festival and thereafter to a week at a conference, I have nothing brilliant to say. But one can always find plenty of colorful posters to photograph near the Malostranska tram stop.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Importance of Plus-Fours (Pumpky)

Now that the weather has settled into being around 80-90° each day, everyone in the library (myself included) has caught cold. Everywhere one looks, someone is sneezing, coughing, or blowing their nose. I must say that this does not make it easy to prepare the conference paper I will be giving on Tuesday, as generally I have to read a paper out loud numerous times as I try to fit it into exactly twenty minutes and no more. My throat is not up for such workouts and has not been for most of the past month. Thus, sitting on the couch going over my text is not very appealing; joining the rest of the sick is somewhat more tolerable.
Since my brain is not up for much in this state (even though it is a very mild cold thus far), I am not examining anything requiring much serious thought. Instead, I am learning that so-called homespuns were a favorite fabric for men’s sporting garments in 1926. (Homespuns, really? I am skeptical, but that’s what Gentleman tells me.) One could also get special fabrics with names like Sportex, Traveltex, and Smartex. (I guess names haven’t changed much in eighty years. I wonder whether Healthtex is still a major name in American children’s clothing…)
The most important parts of a sporting outfit, however, were one’s plus-fours and cap. I’m not sure why, but that’s what the article in front of me says. As for one’s shirt, the best material is flannel. (In the winter, I guess.) Oxford fabric can also be used. Ah yes, in the summer one could also have silk. Pearly buttons could be employed on the shirt. And one mustn’t wear the plus-fours without a strong pair of wool socks. I don’t suppose it would be appropriate for the sporting male of 1926 to show his calves.
I will spare my readers the details of white elastic collars, sport ulsters, impregnated gabardine, and how to buy a hat.
No, men's sporting attire of 1926 does not relate closely to my dissertation, but other topics covered in Gentleman are more apropos.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Time and the Vltava

It has recently hit me that I am the most productive when I have no external structure (or almost none) to deal with. In other words, when I am unemployed and not taking any kind of classes. Only then do I feel able to settle down and work steadily, without worrying about how to organize my time around a lot of different responsibilities.
It is not that I can’t accomplish anything in situations when an external structure is imposed upon me. Were that the case, I would be a bad student and pretty much unemployable. I am pretty wily and can get a lot done despite having to deal with other people's requirements.
However, that is not my best mode. My mind wanders, there is only so long I can manage to get up at the same time before I sleep through an alarm, I mislay things, half the time I am obsessively early and half the time I am late or almost late because I was doing something else, I forget about appointments and things I have planned to do, and I am always thinking about how to squeeze in time for whatever I want to get done. (This said, I manage well enough that employers generally like me, I get satisfactory grades, and I have written a lot of fiction during slow periods and lunch hours. I am also able to knit a lot on public transit and in situations that involve sitting with unoccupied hands.)
When my time is my own, life is good. I wake up without an alarm clock, and unless I get sucked into spending too much time checking my email, I am soon at work. If any kind of writing is involved, even if interspersed with research, I am set for the next few hours, especially if I am in a place where I can have coffee. Eventually, it dawns on me that I am tired and hungry. Lunch (or possibly dinner) must be found.
Ideally, food is followed by a complete change of scene. This is a good time to run errands or (situation permitting) do something like sit in the sun reading a book. On the other hand, moving laptop and self to a different location also works. This process can then be repeated, although usually it is saner not to attempt more than 8-10 hours a day on a given project. Spending some time on other projects, like quilting, scanning images, or digitizing music, can be desirable. Gardening or things that involve taking a walk are always good. Rabbits, being crepuscular by nature, prefer to get most of their attention in the morning and after 4 o’clock, but are adaptable and seldom refuse a little afternoon petting, especially if they can remain in nap mode.
Writing in the evening is possible, but not always the best plan. If I get too involved, it is hard to stop. At midnight or two it generally occurs to me that I am sluggish and ought to go to sleep, but if everything has been going well, my brain is too active to sleep. This tends to result in mild insomnia followed by waking up abnormally early with my mind on my project but my body feeling utterly dysfunctional. Much better to spend the evening doing something else, like lying on the floor petting rabbits. (Well, when rabbits are available.)
Unfortunately, I have not had all that many chances to lead the self-structured life. Back when I could save up money to quit work, I discovered that it really was possible to write for more than three hours a day without becoming utterly drained, so I often wrote for 8-10 hours (in two or three chunks of time). Having summers off during graduate school has also worked, except that (when I wasn’t in the archive or in Czech class) it has usually benefited non-dissertation projects. This year, nine months of grant support have meant the dissertation has been the main beneficiary, appropriately enough. I suspect the dissertation will get less attention over the summer (taxes can only be put off so long, jury duty awaits, friends and relatives need to be visited), but in September the research-and-write process will kick in again. I like to imagine that I will do a lot of reading over the summer—going into more depth on the French surrealists, for one thing—but this seems unlikely. One can only do so much.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Consider These Findings

First, the scholastic quiz:

Your Scholastic Strength Is Deep Thinking

You aren't afraid to delve head first into a difficult subject, with mastery as your goal.
You are talented at adapting, motivating others, managing resources, and analyzing risk.

You should major in:

Foreign language

That's very nice. But now we've got the sin quiz:

Your Deadly Sins
Sloth: 60%
Lust: 40%
Envy: 0%
Gluttony: 0%
Greed: 0%
Pride: 0%
Wrath: 0%
Chance You'll Go to Hell: 14%
You will die while sleeping - and no one will notice.

I am a bit offended to score higher on Sloth than on Lust. On the other hand, I have spent all day on the couch (although reading other people's dissertations) after waking up with a sore throat. The idea of getting up and doing much is not very appealing.
As for dying in my sleep, I am all in favor, but I would prefer that someone noticed. If it should happen while Ms. Spots is living with me, I can feel confident that she will notice, but not that she will be able to do anything useful about it.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

SUA and Pizza

From time to time I go to the National (or State) Archives. These are housed primarily in a large modern building down in the Chodov area (known to most people as the home of the gigantic new mall that opened in December). On the whole, the archive is a pleasant place to work, apart from the difficulty of figuring out exactly what it has that one might want to request. So far I have requested (and mostly received) Prague police records relating to Toyen and other avant-gardists. These range from the rather dull to the decidedly interesting. I now know where Toyen lived during the early 1920s, and that Nezval owned a Renault and sometimes required first aid when he had imbibed heavily.

Between the archive and the bus stop, one encounters the local branch of Pizza Go Home. I have never eaten there, but I am very fond of its name and logo. This branch does not seem to have the pizza's legs very visibly displayed on either its sign or its car, alas.

And so, the Pizza Go Home outlet at the foot of the towering National Archives complex...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fat and Fashion

There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun. According to the mid-1920s Czech magazine Gentleman, American doctors were concerned about the fattening of the American public.
Gentleman itself was much more concerned about the availability of English tailoring in Prague, and what sort of silk pajamas could be had to wear after a long evening in a tuxedo.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Your Historical Soulmate

This blog doesn't get much into the love lives of live people, preferring those of the dead (to what extent they can be figured out).
But maybe the living would do just as well getting together with favorite historical figures. As they say, "End the heartache of today's 'real live people' dating scene. Find your life-partner among the most successful and famous names in history!"
Well, you can't go too far wrong with this one. It matched me up with Leonardo da Vinci, Agatha Christie, and Frida Kahlo. Leonardo rejected my advances but the other two were interested. I think Frida is my best bet, although I'd like to join Agatha on an archaeological tour of Egypt. I did not think that I would do so well with Rudolf Valentino, Edgar Allen Poe, or Ms. Borgia, although the first two might prove entertaining.
And you?

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rabbit Reads

If you like this blog, I anticipate that you will also enjoy Rabbit Reads, which is written by a Canadian library student and rabbit rescuer. I now know that Nathaniel Hawthorne had a rabbit (or more than one?). Interesting reading and fun pictures galore here!

NOTE: Rabbit Reads is no longer available.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I use tags on this blog as a way of creating a form of broad category index, so that readers and I can find posts on certain broad topics. I first got the idea from Julia, whose piece on how she did it seemed much more comprehensible than the website itself.
Once I had set this up, however, I began to learn more about, and found that while it works very nicely to categorize one’s blog, that’s not what most people use it for. Most people use it to keep track of Web pages.
Think about it. In your Web browser, you have “Favorites” or “Bookmarks” or whatever your brand of browser calls them. You visit an interesting or useful website, you bookmark it. Very easy. If you’re inclined toward organization, you create a section for Software, News, or whatever. Splendid.
On the other hand, once a person has been using the Web for more than about a year, the browser has hundreds of these things listed. The user no longer knows what half the titles refer to, how to find something that didn’t fit in a category, or whether to put a given page into School, Art, or Czech. It’s a system that only works well for beginners, or those who only go to a few tightly controlled types of sites (for example, you have no significant overlap between your News and your Shopping pages, or your only interests in life are Skiing and Quilting).
I quickly realized that I needed to start tagging my Favorites so that I could more efficiently find subjects, especially things I rarely use but might want again. For instance, that page of tiny national flags. I found it very useful once, and might again, but it clutters up my Favorites list.
At the same time, I didn’t want to turn my blog tag list into an index of every web page that ever caught my fancy. I had also made the mistake of using my own name when creating the account, as doesn’t warn you that the user name shows publicly. Since this blog is not particularly anonymous, that was merely irritating, but I think it is generally good practice to be somewhat less instantly identifiable. What I needed was a second user account. However, automatically knew it was me.
I was pretty sure that this was browser-specific—probably a result of cookies or something. I could make a point of logging in and out of, but I don’t mind being permanently logged in. It occurred to me that I had been meaning to try the Firefox browser. It’s easy to have two browsers; anyone who does Web design has several in order to test compatibility.
After putting off the download for quite some time, I finally got Firefox and installed it. It was easy to create a second account that was primary for the Firefox browser and didn’t affect the account I use for the blog. Firefox also handles tagging much more easily than does Internet Explorer, so I recommend it for anyone who plans to have just one account (which would be nearly everyone). The setup is almost instant.
I then started going to everything on my list (Firefox can import the list from your current browser). This is actually proving to be fun! It’s an excuse to find out what all those things are and why I thought they were worth bookmarking. I can assign ten tags to one web page if I want. I can tag it as Library, Catalogue, California, Berkeley, or Art, Artists, Duchamp. If other people have already tagged the page, shows me the tags they have chosen, which I am free to use or ignore.
The larger benefit of tagging is that it helps more than the individual user. While I’ll now have a place on the Web I can go to look up my stuff (for instance, if I’m using someone else’s computer, I have no access to my browser’s Favorites list), and can see at a glance that I’ve tagged some sites as being about Leonor Fini, other people can also find sites of use to them via the tags. Many readers come to this blog because they searched for a topic I’ve tagged, like Prague.
There are many more fun niceties to using, but here you have your basic reasons why to do it.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Beware of Electricity

Saturday was a bad day for me to go near electrical outlets in public. The library was exceptionally full, but I thought I had found a seat near an outlet… until I got under the table and realized it was a single outlet. There are signs telling us not to unplug the lamps, but of course people do if no one is using them.
I looked at my neighbors. It was a bright day and no one appeared to have turned on a lamp, so I crawled under the table again and switched lamp cord for laptop cord. When I emerged, my immediate neighbor made clear to me that he wanted his lamplight back.
I proceeded to work on battery, but my activities were not the sort that go well with battery use; I would flip through pages for a good while looking for useful articles, and every now and then actually find one and need to enter it on the computer and make some use of it. Eventually the battery got rather low, so I closed the laptop and turned to photographing one of my periodicals.
It was not long before the battery on my camera was low and I had filled up all the memory cards. I had no fresh camera batteries and I couldn’t dump the memory cards onto the laptop because that would completely drain the computer battery. I took to looking for more articles that actually needed to be cited, and wrote down pages of those that would need to be dealt with later, when I had electricity (I was dealing with two publications, one entirely text and the other of interest more for its images).
Eventually, my neighbor turned off his lamp and departed. No one else appeared to want lamplight, so I plugged in the laptop. By this time, however, I was hungry. I formed a plan: I would work at the library until the battery was fully charged, then go find food at a place that had at least one table near an electrical outlet.
When I arrived at my destination, I had my choice of two tables near outlets. One had some dirty dishes, but better light. There was no sign of other customers anywhere in the room, as most patrons wanted to sit outside. I moved the dishes to another table, set myself up, and ordered.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the employees come and pick up the dishes. Next thing I knew, there were unpleasant sounds of respiratory illness coming from the table behind me. Eventually I turned to look, and discovered the employee seated there reading a book with the dishes in front of him. It dawned on me that I must have taken his table. However, he wasn’t doing anything that required an electrical outlet, and neither he nor the employee who had taken my order had indicated that I shouldn’t sit at the table, so I returned to work.
I had ordered an item that takes some time to prepare and a fair amount of time to eat. While I awaited its arrival, my neighbor repeatedly ventured into the nearby bathroom, where he indulged in extended periods of hacking, coughing, spitting, and retching. I was astonished that anyone could sound quite that revolting, and wondered whether he was on break or merely couldn’t bear to stay away from his place of employment on his sick days. Either way, it did not do much for my appetite.
It also struck me that he might be putting on a performance especially for my benefit, since I had so wickedly stolen his table. This seemed a little far-fetched, but it was hard to imagine anyone sounding that sick being willing to leave home. I felt, however, that if he was doing this just to drive me away, he should not be granted immediate success.
When I had emptied about half my bowl, another customer entered. This was, I felt, my opportunity to find out whether the spitter was as sick as he sounded (on his last trip to the bathroom, he had left the door open so that I could hear even more clearly).
Indeed, the presence of another customer immediately quelled the loathsome noises, which made it somewhat easier to finish eating.
Since this is the only bad experience I have had in this establishment, it shall not be identified, but I am hesitant about returning in the near future. After all, next time he might be my waiter.
Unless, of course, I am completely confused and he works at some other establishment that I frequent and only happened to be hanging out at this one. If he is one of the younger librarians, it could be very embarrassing, but at least he would not be likely to spit on my books.
It would have been nice if a message had come to me early in the day warning me to beware of public electrical outlets.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Comings and Goings

It’s that time of year; some of the Fulbrighters are getting ready to go home, or at least to go somewhere else. On the other hand, what with many schools already being out for the summer, other people are heading back to Prague. It looks like we are going to get quite a collection.
Deborah, who was here on Fulbright during the fall, couldn’t stay away from Prague and is back to take a language class. She says that at home she led a dual life, in which during the work day she kept her nonprofit consulting business going, and in stolen moments she was reading my blog and pretending to be in Prague (!).
Barbara, who used to ride the tram to Czech class with me in 2004, also couldn’t stay away, and will be spending the summer working on a data-gathering project for the EU with a Czech colleague. In the meantime, she has developed a fondness for panelaky and Karel Teige. I can understand Teige, but panelaky? (One of these days I will actually do a photo essay on panelak renovation.)
Alice, who had a Fulbright two years ago, is back for a few weeks to scout out dissertation sources. We met in the literary archive and she is responsible for my having gotten the Fulbright-Hays grant, as had she not told me about it, I would probably never have heard it existed. At least, not until getting here on the Fulbright that I turned down to take the Fulbright-Hays. Today we got together for brunch with some of her other friends, one of whom proved to be my former roommate Deanna. Brunch was excellent and there was lengthy discussion of research and archives. For reasons of her own, Alice persuaded me to expound on such matters as Nezval’s political history and Devětsil’s relationship to Paris and Moscow (not to mention Ilya Ehrenburg’s slurs about the surrealists).
Other characters can be expected in the near future, including my friend Joe, the inimitable leader of the University of Pittsburgh Czechoslovak Nationality Room Committee. Joe has plans to cook a feast at my place for as many of our associates as we can fit into the space. (I have warned him that this is not likely to be all that many people, but he is used to cooking for multitudes in a small space.) If I know Joe, he will probably want me to present a Toyen slide show.
Unfortunately, scheduling problems have prevented John from coming to Prague in early July according to our earlier plan, but as he is moving back to San Francisco, we’ll see each other shortly anyway.
In the meantime, I have tried concatenating the various dissertation-chapter files, and the pages are legion. I do not take the view that the final product must therefore be gigantic, however. Many notes can presumably be cut to make room for additional vital text. It will all fall into place somehow, eventually. One hopes this will be before anyone demands a chapter from me.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Calypso Spots, Single Doe

My mother tells me that Calypso Spots is coping well with life as a single rabbit, but that if I am going to get her a new companion, I had better find someone smaller than Her Abundance. Ms. Spots used to weigh around seven pounds, which seemed to suit her nicely, but apparently she is now nearly eight! No wonder Dr. Harvey has put her on a diet. While an extra pound may not seem like much, it would be something like my gaining an additional 15-20—not exactly the stuff of serious obesity, but a significant amount of padding. (Chubby or rotund might be suitable descriptors.) My mother figures, not without cause, that Ms. Spots is already heavy enough to lug in the carrier, and that a second rabbit of that size would render rabbit travel untenable. George, she says, was a very nice size.
In his heyday, George was around six pounds, perhaps a little more. I’m afraid he lost considerable weight in his latter life. At his low, when recovering from a bladder infection and with almost no appetite, he was not much over four pounds. At the end of his life, I would guess he was closer to five. And I agree that a five-pound rabbit, if meant by nature to be somewhere in that range, is a very agreeable size. Smaller breeds can be a bit high-strung, while larger breeds are usually good-natured but hard to carry around.
Of course, the difficulty is that the most important thing will be to find a rabbit of good character who will excite the passionate devotion of the Spotted Wonder. She is a very loving creature, but accustomed to George. We cannot expect her to fall in love with a second rabbit as quickly as she fell for George, but I know that there is one out there awaiting her, perhaps one who will desperately need a home right when we come along.
In the meantime, there are always photos of adoptable rabbits to look at at the House Rabbit Society's Richmond Rabbit Center website (Larry, Curly, and Moe are an especially handsome trio, unlike their namesakes) and at the San Francisco/Marin site. I enjoy looking at them, but it would be a wonderful thing if all the rabbits currently up for adoption at these two locations could find homes before I get back to California and take Ms. Spots on the matchmaking circuit. That would free up badly needed space for rabbits who are running out of time at the local animal shelters, as, now that Easter has come and gone, many families are abandoning the Easter bunnies they didn’t know how to care for.
Adoption pages for House Rabbit Society chapters throughout North America are here.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Some Congratulations

While I can't say that any of these things will definitely materialize as planned, let's just say that:
1) Dawn expects to be teaching German language in Canada for the next year
2) Megan is firming up the details of an Americorps position with Habitat for Humanity in the San Francisco Bay Area
3) Alex anticipates moving to Zlin in the fall to work with and study at the film school there
4) Hubert got an extension on his Fulbright and thinks he will be going to a lot of music festivals, then coming back to Prague
5) Jesse has received word of funding that will allow additional research in Brno.
As for me, I too have been granted another year of funding and have heard that I can use it in Prague.
As for what's going on with some of my other comrades, Kelly is getting ready to go back to the US, where he plans to visit family and take his son on a cross-country trip before the school year starts. (Kelly's explanation of his desire to empty a midwestern storage-unit promptly caused me to have a mild nightmare about storage units. I hadn't thought I was so anxious on this score.) And I guess Nathan will return to his patient spouse sometime during the summer. In the meantime, he is learning more vulgar language from the employees at the local pub.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on the Elections

Since I am not a political commentator, I will not be saying much about the recent Czech elections. However, for those who would like to know somewhat more, Jesse has written a certain amount about them:
Terrorism is the bird flu of capitalism (my favorite poster)
various Green, ODS, and other campaigns
a short update on the returns
Jesse claims this is his last word on the elections.

These posts have links to additional information.

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Other People's Archives

From reading this blog, you might think that the path of the researcher working in a foreign land is relatively smooth and easy. One goes to the library or archive, orders and usually receives materials, and settles happily down to work (as a rule, near an electrical outlet and with sufficient light).
I would not like to mislead you. For some reason I have been unnaturally fortunate, or perhaps merely lazy in my investigation of diverse archives.
To get a fuller sense of what can happen, I direct you to:
Jesse's account of the Janáček archive;
closure of library for technical reasons.
Kristen on getting access in the first place;
inaccessibility of periodicals;
archive blindness;
it's Tuesday, therefore...
paperwork and fees;
only one book is available.
So... all I can say is that if you want an easy time researching, choose a Czech author or someone who corresponded with Czech authors, and stick to people who have been dead for at least 25-30 years. Try to do something that will benefit from plenty of periodicals research and does not rely solely on handwritten materials.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Librararies and Coffee

It’s that time of year again… when Czech university students are in the throes of exams, or preparations for them, and completely take over the Národní knihovna. They are everywhere with their books on pathology, muscle function, obstetrics, law, and geological strata, and they highlight their notes obsessively in several colors. (Where are the humanities students lurking? Where are the philosophy students, the linguistics students, and the literature students?) They are, for the most part, an impressive lot, although admittedly some claim a spot and then disappear for the greater part of the day. The only way to be sure of a seat, especially one near an electrical outlet, is to arrive before 1:00. For those of us who don’t tend to leave home before about 10:00, this causes some degree of stress.
It is not that I generally get up very late, although I sometimes do, but I like to spend the first part of my morning with a hot beverage of some description. I prefer to drink it while reading or working on something, but obviously the library does not allow me to bring in tea or coffee. This means that the first part of the day is spent either at home or at a suitable café. While as a rule this means home (it is cheaper and easier), I can wholeheartedly endorse Káva Káva Káva. This fine establishment (with two locations, both relatively convenient to me) is one of those rare examples of a successful Czech-American hybrid. It offers high-quality varieties of coffee, either to take out (!) or to drink on the spot, plus various kinds of food, and much resembles its urban American counterparts. It is also an internet café. But it is not merely a hangout for tourists and expats; it is very popular with Czechs. And this is a fine thing. As a rule I avoid places that do not attract Czechs, but a mix of locals and others is agreeably cosmopolitan.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

What I Hate Most About Prague

There is not much I dislike about Prague. On the whole, I am quite happy here. It is true that I would prefer there to be fewer people downtown, but I am nonetheless glad that people find this a city worth visiting. I would also like to see street names on every corner, but this complaint is not limited to Prague; most cities are deficient in this regard. And while the Czech Republic is known for its bureaucratic annoyances, I have mostly been spared the need to confront these.
After having had almost nine months plus past visits to come up with complaints, I conclude that the thing that REALLY GETS ON MY NERVES is the way that shoplifter-deterrent systems here target me.
I am sure most of my readers have encountered stores that have some sort of electronic gateway guarding the door. Such systems are also common in libraries.
I have not got the faintest idea what sets off these devices. I have never yet set one off in a library without cause (ie, the librarian has not desensitized the book or videotape). No library in Prague rings an alarm when I walk out. On the other hand, it is almost impossible for me to leave a store (and sometimes to enter one) without setting off the bloody things. It even happens in supermarkets from time to time.
This prompts a lengthy and tiresome procedure wherein the security guard has me walk through again to make sure that he heard the alarm correctly. Having verified that I set off the alarm, he then passes my various items through separately. Usually no individual item sets off the alarm, but only the full collection. Sometimes my wallet is enough to set off the alarm, causing guards to speculate that my credit card is at fault. Occasionally my laptop is blamed. No one has ever verified the true cause, especially as sometimes I am carrying almost nothing.
This sort of thing does happen to me now and then in the US, but rarely. Here, I would say it tends to be about three times out of four, which is a strong disincentive to go into any store with an alarm gate. It is most likely to happen at Bonton, at Datart, and at clothing stores. I seldom go into Bonton or Datart without buying something, so it at least I have a purchase and receipt to show, but one could say that I have now had aversion training against looking at clothing.
Well, considering that the weather was only warm for a week or two, I didn’t need to worry that I had to find warm-weather clothes after all. Those turtlenecks and heavy sweaters that served me throughout the winter are apparently going to be my standard gear until I leave. When I give a conference paper at the end of the month, my black wool suit will evidently be just fine so long as I pair it with long underwear. After all, public buildings have turned off the heat by now, so one must wear much more clothing than when it was snowing.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Music from Pandora

Some time back, Dawn told me about a free music website called Pandora. I'm not sure there is anything else like it out there. It's designed to come up with music that has related characteristics, such as complex guitar work, minor key, and so forth. Thus, rather than seeking and downloading a favorite song, the user types in the name of a song or artist and Pandora creates a "radio station" that plays the requested song or artist along with similar music. The listener discovers new music that has a good chance of pleasing, and can also fine-tune the selections by rating particular pieces as desirable or not.
I admit that the first time I tried this, the first five or six things I typed in were not even in Pandora's database. Typing in Nina Hagen was successful, but on the other hand I don't actually listen to Nina Hagen all that often. My best try so far has been Pentangle, as this brings up Pentangle, efforts by members of Pentangle, and all sorts of interesting other music that combines folk and jazz. The Pentangle "station" is also good for listening on headphones while I'm working at the library, which is about the only place I tune in to Pandora. Nina Hagen would not be very conducive to quiet reading of early twentieth-century periodicals. But perhaps I could try one of the 1920s jazz or blues greats and get something that would be more historically appropriate.
Pandora is currently expanding its database to include more Latin music, but hasn't yet really gone into Classical or World, which explains why my initial tries got nowhere.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Blogging Discourse

Regular readers will have noticed more blogless days here than is usually the case; why this is, I am not entirely sure. Feeling down after George died? Dreary weather? Overload? Spring fever? Too many dinners with friends leading to late nights and overnight guests? Well, who knows--I certainly don't.
Recently, however, I was talking with my friend Travis on Skype (he is the first non-living-abroad American I know to have bothered to get this simple technology, a fact which continues to amaze those of us here), and the topic of blog-reading came up.
I mentioned that he is really the only person in our department (of those not abroad) who has kept in touch at all. He subscribes to my blog on Bloglines and occasionally even emails me a report of his latest adventures.
Travis says that while he doesn't keep a blog himself, a good many of his friends do, and that he reads quite a few blogs. On the other hand, we concluded that other people in our department simply do not read blogs, even those by their friends. Anything Kristen and I write that might be directed toward our colleagues is pretty much wasted effort, which may explain why we don't say more about our dissertations.
Danah Boyd, the much-read chronicler of the internet "social networking" phenomenon, has also been pondering the issue of who reads blogs and why. It does not really surprise me that Danah reads fewer blogs as she approaches her comprehensive exams, and that those she reads are entirely escapist rather than dissertation-related, but all the same, since blogs and related phenomena are her professional interest, she has some interesting observations. Danah asks, for example,
"what does it mean for blogging discourse if there's a consumption/production divide in blogging? Are (non-professional) bloggers with more readers less likely to read blogs than bloggers with fewer readers? What kind of peculiar power hierarchy emerges if bloggers who are read more read less and depend on readers more? Are those who read less less involved in the dialogue or are they simply bridges dependent on sharing?"
This blog certainly isn't as widely read as Danah's, but it has a respectable number of readers for a blog of its type, most of whom are not people I know personally, and I see some of the same dynamics at work. I read very few blogs regularly, various others now and then, and I thus fall somewhere between the person who primarily provides content (especially those who are fed material by their readers) and the person who may or may not blog but reads and comments on numerous blogs.
Well, this is just the anthropological/cultural historian part of me at work wondering about this larger phenomenon in which I participate in my small way.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Czech Political Posters!

It's election time in the Czech Republic. For quite some time, political posters have been taking over the signboards, advertising spots, and random empty spaces everywhere.
While I am not a connoisseur of political advertising anywhere, I did make a feeble attempt to collect photos of the various types of poster, in part because there are so many different parties, and in part because many of the signs develop interesting defacements. Unfortunately, I usually see the most remarkable ones when on public transit with the camera tucked away or at home.
How many parties are there in the Czech Republic? Well, lots--including a folkloric party (what did I do with its flyer?) and a safe sex party--but only about five have any power. A party has to get a certain percentage of the vote in order to put anyone in parliament. The Green Party, for instance, which is stronger here than in the US, nonetheless is just getting a foothold on the threshold. There is concern that a vote for the Greens is a vote thrown away and abetting the Communists, but all the same, I know a few people who plan to vote Green as the Greens are likely to get at least some representation.

For awhile, it seemed as though the Communists were the only ones to diverge from a really boring pattern of headshots plus party name. The KSCM has favored posters like this, with scenes of young couples looking forward to a better future ostensibly provided by the Communist "solution." Originally these posters claimed that the Communists had "other solutions" but this prompted considerable satire so the slogan was switched to their merely having "solutions." Personally, I don't see much difference, as you can still make most of the same jokes about their purported solutions. It is noticeable, however, that the one party associated with voters over fifty (pensioners who remember Communism as a time when life was more secure and hard work and intelligence were not required to keep a job) plasters young people on its billboards.

While at the polls the parties are identifiable by random numbers, parties no longer seem to be using the numbers as an advertising strategy ("vote 5" or whatever). Instead, they seem to be taking a cue from the Greens and associating themselves with particular colors. (And note the official-looking added text pasted on next to the candidate who will work for us. Although I'm not sure what the satirical nuance of "We sincerely think it" gets at; perhaps a mere expression of disbelief.) I must admit I think most of the ČSSD candidates look like they belong on another planet, although this one is relatively ordinary looking.

Here we have part of the SNK team vowing to fight corruption. In fact, they say they're "firmly" against corruption. (One would hope so.) I'm not sure whether they have any further platform than this, unless they are also the party that claims to have equal representation for women (I have really not been following all those bus ads that closely). I can't remember hearing anything bad about them, but they too come in for their share of derision. Whether it is from ordinary vandals or proponents of other parties is less clear, but juvenile forms of embellishment to candidates' faces are not uncommon on election posters of all stripes.

The ODS is one of the largest and most secure parties, and recently its ad campaign has become quite creative. One sees everything from plain, simple verbal ads on benches (invariably focused on its catchwords of "future," "society," and "hope") to small girls who have been encouraged to roam the city holding bouquets of blue ODS balloons.

I was most surprised, however, by this Brno-area ODS poster, which advertised that the party was going to have a festival at Veveří castle involving knights, falconers, and so on.

Months back, a series of mysterious lavender English-language posters began to appear all over the place announcing that this or that was legal. There was lively curiosity as to what this was all about, although as there has recently been a fashion in advertising for plastering a mysterious sign or symbol everywhere before revealing what it is advertising, a few people did suspect it might be the sign of a new political party. Once the party admitted its identity, it began posting signs in Czech as well as English. It appears to be focused on youngish voters who can read English and who are not only anxious to maintain their freedom of thought and sexual identity but who also believe that free internet access is a civic right. Well--sounds fine to me. On the other hand, what is their plan for preserving/achieving these things?

On the surface this election at least involves some viable choices, despite strong voter skepticism. While European-style governments that usually lack strong majority parties have their faults, at least there will be several parties represented in parliament. While a vote for the folkloric party is probably a vote thrown away, a vote for the Greens is probably not.

You can also read Jesse's accounts of the percentages of party support, the Communist party and its ads, and humorous responses to the election.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nový hlas and the Third Reich

Returning to the pages of Nový hlas, I find that following Hitler’s rise to power the magazine kept a watchful eye on the Nazi split personality regarding homosexuality. The magazine was, for instance, sarcastic about the German desire to root out the “Jewish plague” of homosexuality and praise the “holy German ideal” of romantic friendship.
And it was not amused by Czech comic Ferenc Futurista’s joke on the topic:
--Já musel z Říše, já nesnesl ten jejich národní nápoj…
--Jakéj nápoj…?
--No, kafe.
--No jo. Hnědý a teplý.
(I had to leave the Reich, I couldn’t stomach their national drink… What drink? … Coffee… Coffee? …Yeah. Brown and warm (gay).)

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