Monday, December 31, 2007

Increase Thy Vocabulary

In general, I think it is safe to say that I have a fairly large vocabulary. The dissertation, however, is enlarging it with all sorts of obscure and often bizarre words.
Take, for example:
cryptesthesia: Mentioned by Breton in the Second Manifesto as something the surrealists ought to investigate, this refers to paranormal perception, such as clairvoyance. (Well, why didn't he just say clairvoyance?)
paletot: The English word for the Czech "paleto," used by Vítězslav Tichý to describe the suspended garment seen by the fox in one of Toyen's collages for Ani labuť, ani Lůna, this term refers to a type of 19th-century women's coat similar to a pelisse. Now, at least I had heard of the pelisse. I wasn't sure, however, from the illustrations of paletots that the garment in the collage qualified. Maybe it is really a pelisse. Then again, who really knows? I'm pretty good on costume history, but admittedly that was the only costume class I didn't take during my theatrical past.
lambitus: This term, a favorite of Bohuslav Brouk, but not to be found in any of the Czech dictionaries I consulted in Prague, turned out to refer to oral sex (female recipient). I don't know whether Brouk's readers had to look this one up. The vernacular term is more descriptive.
Sometimes, of course, my failure to type in the correct spelling leads to problems. When I typed in "pusta," Lingea Lexicon assured me that it meant "puszta." I gazed at this in astonishment and was unable to find any useful English meaning for "puszta." Eventually, I realized that I meant to type "pustá," which means bleak or desolate. Toyen was rather fond of bleak and desolate landscapes, although I wouldn't class the scene with the fox and paletot as exactly one of them.

Let's hope that 2008 will not be unusually bleak, and that on the contrary it will be rich in cryptesthesia, that those who wish for paletots will get them, and that there will also be a general abundance of lambitus.

Note: A reader informs me that while "puszta" refers, seemingly non-usefully, to the Hungarian steppe (a meaning I had encountered), like the Czech "pustá" it also means bleak and desolate. Let's hear it for Slavic-FinnoUgric borrowing...

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Slice and Dice

The process of cutting the dissertation to a manageable size continues. It's moving along, but never as quickly as one would like. I've managed to cut about 80 pages since beginning the operation, about 60 of which have been in the past two weeks (when I was hoping to do 100 pages a week).
In some ways, the cutting is not all that hard. I put an uncut version of the manuscript in a separate directory before starting to cut, so that nothing is actually lost. I expect to use a lot of what I'm cutting in conference papers and articles, so I am not feeling too sentimental about leaving out valuable data.
On the other hand, I'm reluctant to remove anything I might still want to use in the dissertation itself, so this makes the process slower. Yesterday I had every intention of chopping out a page of chronology notes about the formation of the Prague surrealist group, but when it came right down to it I had that feeling that I still needed it sitting in the text where I could easily refer to it. Decisions like that meant that instead of chopping the desired 10 pages or so from the chapter, the result was only 2. They will, however, eventually go. And my account of the Prague surrealist group in the 1930s is considerably improved over what it was yesterday morning.
It does irk me, I confess, that our spring semester ends at the start of May rather than in June. This means I have only two months left to finish all my edits and rewrites (deadline: March 1). It can be done and I intend that it will be done, but it will be a tiring endeavor.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Restaurant Dining and Its Oddities

My friend Dirk and I went out to lunch the other day, and settled on a nice little Japanese restaurant in Berkeley. We were quite content with the food, but two things struck us regarding American restaurants (Japanese-cuisine or not).
First, why is it that restauranteurs imagine that one wants TV while dining? I can understand that a sports bar ought to have a large-screen TV, but a restaurant that is tastefully decorated and laid out to encourage conversation? Not only were we disturbed to note the existence of televisions when we walked in, but after selecting a corner table where neither of us faced them, we realized that the mirrors on the walls forced us to watch all sorts of distracting movement. Neither of us like to be in the same room as a TV unless we plan to watch it. (I grant that Czech restaurants are no better than American in this respect.)
Second, why are waiters and waitresses in the US so obsessed with asking diners whether everything is all right? I am all in favor of being asked this once, but only once. I do not want to be asked this before I have taken the first bite, and I do not want to be asked this repeatedly throughout the meal. The wait-staff at this particular restaurant were so determined to ask whether everything was all right and to offer us refills of unwanted tea that it was difficult to carry on a conversation. They were so obsessed with asking that they were apparently incapable of attending to anything we really did want. For example, I had to ask twice for a fork (I can eat with chopsticks but the noodles in my soup defied them). And, of course, if the diners indicate four or five times that they do not want more tea, perhaps it would be a kindness to stop trying to press more tea upon them. Dirk and I finally concluded that the degree of solicitousness shown by our wait-staff indicated a serious insecurity about the food. I much prefer the Czech system, where the wait-staff silently removes empty plates and does not obsess about whether everything is okay.
In short, when I go to a restaurant with a friend, I would like to converse with that person, not have to deal with constant intrusion by TV screens and restaurant staff.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in the East Bay

Christmas has come and gone with somewhat less attention paid than usual, although we did have one guest and he arrived laden with baked goods.
There were some special moments, of course. For example, we usually do a dramatic reading of the Christmas letter from one of my father's old schoolmates, since it always features a cavalcade of memorable items. This year's edition included news of the correspondent's colonoscopy, being "put to sleep" over a dental matter, and apparently having had an eye removed instead of the scheduled cataract surgery. We were ...ahem... impressed that anyone would be in shape to write a Christmas letter after all that. There was also a long string of deaths (referred to by My Sibling as The Death List).
Then there was My Sibling's discovery that someone had chewed a hole in the new air mattress upon which he was to sleep (Orion is the prime suspect in this crime).
Before and after our guest's visit, My Sibling kindly helped me go over some portions of the dissertation, especially the Czech translations. We were entranced by a section of a František Götz essay in which Götz characterized the Devětsil generation (this was one of many 1920s articles discussing the three culturally active generations of the day). Götz began by calling the generation embryonic, which was fair enough. Initially we thought he was describing it as sucking the life-blood from worldwide culture, so we were disappointed to find that he really only said it sucked nutrients from the rest of the world. After all, Götz can be a pretty lively writer in his way. No vampirism this time, though.
And, while I was attempting to put the finishing touches on the Christmas Day cooking, my parents distracted me by reading specially heartwarming segments of Newsweek, particularly a story about the search for senator Larry Craig's special bathroom in the Twin Cities airport. When my father announced that the reporter had "scooped out the stalls," I really had to inquire whether this was an airport bathroom or a barn. I guess the stalls had actually merely been scoped out.
There was some discussion over whether it was okay to cobble together wrapping from a couple of pieces of our stash of ancient recycled holiday paper. The verdict was that "if it's eccentric it's okay, but if it's crappy, it's not."
I dug up our Christmas records and tried to play them, but something seemed to have happened to the wiring for the old mono speaker my parents have been using in preference to the stereo speakers I left them. We ended up trying Pandora's Classical Christmas offering, which despite the limitations of my laptop speakers was a pretty satisfactory alternative.
This year's presents included items from the Blogosphere. One of my friends gave me a copy of Disapproving Rabbits, from the blog of the same name, which caused merriment around the house and seemed to prompt the lapines to practice some disapproval (not their usual habit, unlike some people's lapines). The copy of the BibliOdyssey book I gave My Sibling was much admired.
Finally, the new computer for the Parental Units arrived on Christmas Eve, but their slide scanner hasn't yet shown up. Of course, we're still configuring the computer and learning how Vista works...

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Lurches Near

I happen to be one of those people who enjoys rather than loathes the holiday season, but like most people I find that certain aspects of it are fairly revolting. Like the noxious high-pitched Christmas-themed plaints that drove four of us out of Rasputin's in Berkeley this afternoon (this is supposed to sell CDs?).
But... for fun repulsive Christmassyness, Jim Dunn at Do What Now has been posting a remarkable collection of truly sickening, or at least really lame, photos of older holiday decor. They really bear looking into.
For example, a steel-wool angel bas relief, grotesque gift-wrap, "Cookware and Mummified Jesus," the industrial Christmas tree, the white wadded corduroy tree, the Pepto-abysmal-pink tree, the pink-swathed tree held up by a gold atlantid putto (I mean, I'm opposed to putti on principle, but even I don't think putti should be expected to hold up heavy objects, let alone this depressing abomination, about which My Sibling notes, "Rats kept in a cage near it would eat their own tails"), nasty "Angels We Have Loathed On High," glaring beheaded psycho pseudo-reindeer on a platter, drunk pixie under a toadstool, elf infestation, and finally, the piece de resistance, holiday doorbells made from pink mice in mousetraps (beggars description, has to be encountered to be believed, and maybe not then)!

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The World of Slide Scanners

I had earlier revealed that we had plans to get my parents a slide scanner. My parents have thousands of slides and my mother had surprised me by expressing a desire to scan them for posterity.
Now, it is true that Kodachrome slides have a pretty good estimated lifespan (we have some Ektachrome as well that are horribly faded), but only one person can inherit the things, and I daresay that at least some of them will be of interest to the extended family, although I don't suppose our cousins will want to see every Gasthaus we lodged in back in 1961 or something.
My parents do not have any special need for other types of scanning, as I usually bring my portable flatbed when I visit and we have gotten a great many old family photos digitized with that. Relatives can even get copies of photos of Grandpa in his casket, should they so desire (somewhat unlikely, I think).
The question, then, was which of the small selection of dedicated consumer-end film-and-slide scanners ought to get our frugal dollar. The things are not all that cheap, and generally a person doesn't want to go to the lowest end of the line on photographic-type equipment. To some extent you do get what you pay for, although in digital photography the item you pay for today tends to be superseded tomorrow. (BUT I have read that my digital camera, which I bought about six years ago, still has a better lens than most of its successors. I paid a lot and I got something I've been pretty happy with.)
The slide scanner in my department is a Nikon Coolscan of some sort. I haven't used it all that much and my impression was that it is hard to judge any piece of such equipment used by twenty or so people because you can't upgrade its software (I am not a network administrator, so my attempts to do so were doomed from the start) and you don't really dare fiddle with the settings for fear of messing up what everyone else is used to. We also didn't have a manual lying around the lab.
I found, however, that the Nikon Coolscan is still a major contender in the under-$1000 range. You can get one for about $550, and while that was more than anyone wanted to spend, I thought we might want to go ahead and then sell the thing when it had served its purpose.
My Sibling was, as usual, very skeptical about spending that much, and suggested that although we are particular about visual quality, it might be a higher-end product than we really needed or would benefit from. We are picky about quality, but we are not professional photographers, after all. He was also concerned that the software might be troublesome for us to get set up for my mother to use. She is a person who is very finicky about how something is hung on the wall, and about paint color and so forth, and she is very detail-oriented, but she is not a person who likes fiddling with equipment or software settings. We wanted something we could set up for her that would work with most slides, show her how to use it, and not have to think much more about it.
We then turned our attention to Plustek's OpticFilm line. I had seen a few mostly positive user comments, but these are hard to evaluate because users have generally only had experience with one model.
We were able to find some very detailed and intelligent reviews of the 7200i line that shortly convinced us that this was the direction for us. The 7200i is generally celebrated as a great item that provides the kind of quality you would expect in a machine costing twice as much. It is also, apparently, the highest-res film scanner on the market, or at least under some ungodly sum of money... it can scan at 7200 dpi (2400 dpi is the minimum for scanning slides). At 7200 dpi you can turn your scanned slide into a poster! We didn't think we were likely to want to do that, but it sounded as though there are still benefits to having such a high potential resolution.
About the only major complaint the reviewers had about the 7200i was that the dynamic range is not all that great. This means that in a photo with extremes of dark and light, some of the detail will be lost in the extremes. We didn't like that, but the reviewers confessed that this is unlikely to be a big issue on most slides. One person said he ran into it on about one in a hundred, and another on about one in twenty. We probably don't have many slides with such extremes, as the slides were generally shot in daylight without flash.
We were a bit baffled by the variants of the 7200 line and why some cost a lot more than others. After an hour or two of research, we got clear on the matter.
First, the 7200i, in contrast with the cheaper 7200, has infrared correction for scratches and such. This is supposed to be an excellent thing. We hope that our slides don't really have much dirt or many scratches, as they have had pretty good care and live in boxes when not being shown in our antique projector, but you never know. I found that photos in our albums looked all right in the album but when scanned proved to have all kinds of ugly dust particles.
The difference between the 7200i and the 7200iSE is not in the scanner itself, but in the Silverfast software that comes with it. The 7200i comes with Silverfast AI and the 7200iSE comes with Silverfast SE. We had to go to the Silverfast website to get a sense of what the difference between these was (AI has many more features than SE). We still, even after scrutinizing a comparison chart, weren't sure whether the AI had anything we were likely to use or need. When we saw that AI would output CYMK and RGB while SE only outputs RBG, we thought perhaps we wanted AI, but after reading up on CYMK and RGB, we learned that CYMK is only needed for four-color printing, while photo printing (inkjets and so on) use RGB. This was a surprise, but it caused us to decide that the cheaper SE would be just fine.
We were annoyed to find that the 7200iSE was out of stock nearly everywhere, but after sufficient searching we found a vendor and ordered one.
With luck the slide scanner will arrive before the new computer and we'll be able to try it out using my laptop before we get embroiled in setting up the new computer.
Reviews we read:
Michael Carr at
Gary Wolstenholme at Ephotozine
David B. Brooks at Shutterbug


Friday, December 21, 2007

Your Personal Computer Shopper

My Sibling and I spent most of Wednesday engrossed in the task of upping the Parental Units' technology. We agreed with blog readers who assured me that it was time to give in and get a new computer.
As my parents have never done anything very complex with their computers, and have given up using the laptop on trips, we decided that a low-end desktop machine would suit their needs. At the same time, we didn't want to make it so low-end that we'd have to replace or upgrade it right away. We have learned that RAM, for example, is not a good place to be modest and thrifty. We did think, however, that as hard drives are not too hard to upgrade, and will always provide more storage for the money the longer we wait, we could start off with a more modest hard drive. I was ready to go for 500 GB but My Sibling, who is less extravagant, persuaded me that 250 GB would do for now, especially given that we plan to get an external hard drive to go with it.
We were determined to have a flat-screen monitor, since the typing table my parents use is rather small. We also didn't want to take up space with a mouse (or have to re-teach its use), so we hunted for a keyboard with a touchpad and found something from Adesso that we thought looked pretty good. (If we like it, I could be tempted to get one for my own desktop! Then again, when my desktop computer is ready for replacement, I may just stick to laptops.)
We didn't bother with speakers, warranties, or other extras (if my father wants to listen to Deutsche Welle or Český Rozhlas, he can use the headset). But, since we didn't think Word 97 would work very well with Vista, we went ahead and got Office 2007.
Dell's website allows the buyer to maneuver very nicely from one of their pre-configured versions through a wealth of customizations, so while this took awhile to do, we were able to discuss each aspect as we went along. Overall, we made very few changes to the basic Dell Inspiron 531s package, but we think we will all be pleased with the result (at least for the next few years).
Once we had gotten that taken care of, we embarked on the task of finding the right slide/film scanner. More on that to come!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gardening and the Art of Dissertation Writing

My holiday dissertation goal is to cut the thing to approximately the maximum length my advisor deems desirable. Last I checked there were still about 240 pages to go. While that's a lot, I'm confident that there are lots more notes and disconnected quotes that can be trimmed away, and for that matter whole sections that can be used as conference papers and such.
Still, this week, Rob Brezsny hints that cutting and polishing the dissertation too far might be counterproductive:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Some weeds are good for flowers and vegetables, protecting them from predatory insects. So say horticulturalists Stan Finch and Rosemary Collier, writing in *Biologist* magazine. When the bugs come looking for their special treats -- the plants we love -- they often get waylaid by the weeds, landing on them first and getting fooled into thinking there's nothing more valuable nearby. So for example, when cabbages are planted in the midst of clover, flies lay eggs on only seven percent of them, compared to a 36-percent infestation rate on cabbages that are grown in bare soil with no clover nearby. I recommend that you use this as a key metaphor in 2008, Leo. Make sure there are always a few chickweed or henbit weeds surrounding your ripening tomatoes.

I think I will not be polishing the dissertation to such a slender and glossy form that it will lack interesting and amusing footnotes or the occasional mild tangent. After all, I have to leave something for my committee to chew on!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Holiday Ham Reprise

Last year John and Cesar, with some assistance from me, threw a massive holiday shindig with many performances. During the summer, they presented another iteration (without me), and now we've done a third. Read on to view the numerous photos of performers! And of course to see what John, his roommate Alice, and I cooked to feed the multitudes.
Aaron, one of John's roommates, kindly donates his bedroom to be the main stage. He chooses to leave town for the party and lets us remove nearly everything from the room, which I think is rather brave of him.

Alice and Cesar with freshly pinned Event Organizer carnations.
Cesar and John preparing to share the emcee duties.

Monica, our opening act, performing Bach.

Ken reading a couple of humorous poems.

John singing German love songs to piano accompaniment by Janice.

Mira reading a personal essay about a favorite pair of ugly but sexy shoes.

Since I read my work quite often enough in public these days, a second year of piano improv seemed more suitable.

A trio of three stunning belly-dancers followed.

I missed some performers, but here we have Katrina reading an account of what happens when you bring scented bathroom products to the Spirit Rock retreat center. It was not a pretty story. Defy the Spirit Rock rules at your peril.

Clifford doing one of his tour-de-force poetry readings.

Tressa reads a story about encountering a New Yorker with MS.

Kathleen chose to entertain us with a poem about Paris rather than one of her own pieces.

Sally sang a song and read a poem.

And we got a rendition of a Ginsburg poem (this is before the Ginsberg disguise was donned).

John and Rachel sang duets.

A whole gang of performers doing Christmas songs and Martin's special "God Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Michael presented some poems.

Further piano playing.

Cesar read new poems.

And our last reading of the evening, if I remember correctly.

A fine time was had by all or most!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Computer Gurus?

As usually happens when I visit my parents, their computer is ready for maintenance and has either developed or is in the process of developing some sort of weird problem.
Of course, this time is no exception. We were blithely planning to get a slide scanner and an external hard drive so that my mother could embark on digitizing and properly labeling our trove of slides (most of them are in pretty good shape but the Ektachromes have faded and are prime candidates for adventures in Photoshop).
It was right about when I was in the process of trying to decide just which slide scanner to order that my mother exclaimed that an alarming message had flashed onto her screen.
And lo, the machine wanted to install Internet Explorer 7 but had discovered that the hard drive was almost full!
I was not happy. I told it to cancel installation, but apparently the update had already downloaded itself, as I suppose we had set Windows to do automatic updates to spare My Sibling and I from having to spend hours updating Windows every time we visit. Apparently there remained only 383MB free on the 10GB drive (which I had tried to exchange for a 30GB drive awhile back only to be stymied by HP's having made a nearly impenetrable body for the thing).
My parents do not keep very much on this computer. They are your classic low-tech users who basically write some documents, send and receive a few emails, look at a limited number of web sites, and do taxes. They offered to delete documents and emails, and I said no. I got rid of a few unnecessary programs we had somehow missed in the past, but hesitated to uninstall the dictionary. I ran the antivirus software and looked for spyware. I halved the size of System Restore. And so on. I got the free space up to 6%, which strikes me as dreadfully low on a hard drive this size.
We are rather reluctant to replace a machine that does function, considering that their needs are so modest. On the other hand, it would be really nice if we could go ahead and get the slide scanner (its software would have to go somewhere), and it would be nice to stop messing with irritating things like whether the hard drive is large enough for Windows XP or the maxed-out memory is enough to make it run at a reasonable speed. Perhaps, now that flat-screen monitors are affordable, a low-end desktop computer would be a reasonable solution. (The laptop and printer live on an old typing table and my parents are loath to allot any more space to them.)
I invite comments from the technically aware, and of course if anyone has a recommendation on a dedicated slide/film scanner (Nikon or Plustek???) I would be deeply interested.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 14, 2007

Color My Brain

Blogger has been acting buggy, I spent all morning trying to cut fat out of a dissertation chapter that seemed to be in fairly good shape, a swarm of termites appeared in my parents' dining room, and I was appalled how much things tend to cost on Berkeley's Fourth Street (not that it has ever been a discount paradise).
But life is not so bad, and John and Cesar are throwing their holiday extravaganza tomorrow night, so tomorrow I'll be helping John cook up the feast. And should I read a bit of short fiction during the performance part of the party, or should I do a piano improv like last year? Cast your vote, and we'll see what my fertile (empurpled?) brain stirs up.

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.
You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.
Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Travel, Cards, and So On

The Spotted Pair and I have arrived safely at the Parental Lair, although Orion was very unhappy about Travis and my attempts to catch him and put him in the new carrier (Travis kindly gave us a lift to the airport). Orion, to the best of our knowledge, had never been on a plane before, whereas Ms. Spots regards air travel as something she dislikes heartily but which one recovers from in an hour or so.
I have now gotten all twelve job applications off my hands and do not plan to prepare any more this academic year unless something absolutely fabulous comes along. Or so I tell myself. I also finished off yet another postdoc application, and am having that feeling of "maybe this is really enough" and that perhaps I shouldn't bother to do any more this year. After all, if I don't finish the dissertation itself, there is not much use in being offered jobs or postdocs.
Turning our thoughts from matters lapine and academic, there is the year-end sale at Archelaus to contemplate:
Despite our best efforts at cost containment, inflation is finally catching up with Archelaus! As of January 1, 2008, the prices of a number of our fine cards will increase, as will the charges for shipping and handling. This is our first price increase in over two years of operation.
However, you have an opportunity to turn this otherwise distressing situation to your advantage! To rid ourselves of as many fine cards printed with the old prices as possible, we are having a pre-price-hike, year-end, inventory-clearance sale.

Print out a retail order form, get it postmarked by December 31, 2007, and take a 10% discount on your entire order!

Note: If the Archelaus link isn't working, trim out the part of the URL that makes it look like part of this site. The code is OK on my end but Blogger seems to be experiencing a bug.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Glassmaking in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has something of a history of glassmaking, but the place where ordinary people go to learn to make fun things from glass is the Pittsburgh Glass Center.
I wasn't really aware of it until Travis suggested that I join him and Kristen in an ornament-making workshop, but it's quite an interesting place.
Located on Penn in what Kristen tells me is a former car dealership, the Glass Center has exhibition space and runs many classes and workshops. The ornament workshop was more of an introduction to glass than a real class, as most of the work is done by people who actually know what they're doing and explain it as they go along. Basically, you pick out some colors of powdered glass to put on your round ornament, decide whether you want them in solid areas or swirls, and you get to do a little of the blowing. So it's not especially hands-on, but it's interesting.
Kristen said she had previously made a paperweight and taken a stained glass intro.
We enjoyed ourselves, but the ornaments won't be ready for pickup until at least Tuesday. They undergo a long cooling-down process.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Texting Explained

In Prague, I almost never talked on my cell phone. There was seldom any reason to. I had my phone set to vibrate, and most people SMS'd me, which I could then answer silently and at my leisure. A very nice way of making plans anywhere, anytime.
When I decided to go ahead and get a cell phone in the US as well, I assumed that this fine system would continue.
Alas, while most people under 60 now do seem to have cell phones, they seem to be baffled at the notion of using them differently (less obtrusively) than regular phones. I'd send someone an SMS and find out weeks later that it was received but that they "don't know how to answer" or "don't want to pay to do that."
It was very puzzling, so I was glad to see Danah Boyd explain the history of North American text messaging and compare it to the European model.
As she points out, the cell phone business is run very differently in America than in Europe. In Europe, you normally buy credit as needed and you don't pay for anything incoming, so your friends can contact you whether or not you've used up your credit. In America, you normally have a "plan" that allows some specific amount of voice calling plus (or not plus) other services. Even the pay-as-you-go plans are kind of weird; I've run out of credit on mine because someone called me when I was low on credit. It's not very much fun to have your phone act like a pay phone that's run out of change in mid-conversation.
I'm not too impressed with the American mode. I don't want to pay for anything incoming, and I don't want to have to talk to people when it would be easier and less troublesome on both ends to use SMS. If I want to have a good talk with someone, I'd rather SMS them first to see if it's convenient, not interrupt whatever they might be doing.
I suspect, however, that the American method is designed to let people run up the bill as quickly as possible. Ah, capitalism!

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Goodbye Miguel and Dalia

Miguel started his MA when I started my PhD; I think it was to pass the time while his wife Dalia was doing an engineering PhD at Carnegie Mellon. They had just bought a house and Miguel had spent the summer making it livable.
But time goes by with astonishing speed. Miguel, like me, hopes to finish his PhD this year, while Dalia has gotten an impressive job at Duke. Their house sold in five days, which must be a miracle in Pittsburgh.
Travis and I went to their going-away party last weekend, and now Miguel and Dalia are on their way to Raleigh-Durham. They're an amazingly talented and energetic couple, who seem to accomplish much more than can possibly be normal. We look forward to seeing them again when Miguel returns for his defense, if not before!

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gamelan Open House

As I've often complained, I only tend to find out about events on campus by lucky accident. Lucky accident has come along more than once to bring the University's Iron City Gamelan to my attention. Perhaps this is due to my long-time fondness for gamelan, which may by some mysterious synchronicity ensure that I find out about at least some of our gamelan events. Certainly, I was amazed when, some years back when I had no reason at all to imagine that University of Pittsburgh might have a gamelan, I encountered posters in the Fine Arts building announcing that my former gamelan teacher and the advisor for my undergraduate thesis would both be in town performing with the local gamelan. It was a happy reunion.
Later, Jesse and I had briefly thought we might manage to play in a Prague gamelan, but that didn't work out.
I had been meaning to join the gamelan this fall, but as I got to town just as the semester was starting, I never really got around to it. Chance favored me yet again, however, in that some intelligent person posted a notice for the gamelan's winter open house. It was on the board right near the Art History office and I caught sight of it about an hour before the open house.
The open house was quite the enjoyable event. First there were performances of traditional kinds of pieces, including a composition by my old teacher Undang Sumarna. I don't think I had heard Undang's piece before, but some of the others brought back memories. The second half of the program was rather unexpected, involving performance of contemporary hybrid types of Indonesian popular music.
I may get my act together and sign up for gamelan in the spring. After all, by January I should have sent off every last postdoc and job application and have absolutely nothing to do except finish my dissertation. There must be time for a little gamelan rehearsal in there.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Peak Direction

Why is it that now that the snow has begun, I can wait endlessly during rush hour to get the 71A bus home while about three 71C buses go by? The 71A is a pretty major bus route, after all, and even when it runs frequently, it tends to be full.
I'd also like to know why I always seem to end up on a bus with at least one screaming child, a phenomenon that makes me wonder why it is that Czech toddlers seem to be so uniformly well-behaved on public transit. (There was, to be sure, Samko, but Samko was a happy child.)
If there are answers anywhere to such Pittsburgh transit questions, they are likely to be found on the new blog Peak Direction, which covers Pittsburgh and other transit in loving detail. Other matters get mentioned, too. Check it out.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Down in Studio Arts

It's end-of-semester time, and downstairs in Studio Arts there are quite a few interesting pieces on display. These wire portraits, for instance. The last time I did any kind of wire sculpture (well, I guess the only time) was in fourth grade, when by some happy accident I managed a human figure that stood up without external aid. I like the idea of doing profile portraits in wire.
These large-size exquisite corpses are also quite fun. At least one of them (I'm not sure which) is based on mythological themes.
As the exquisite corpse (picture or literary effort composed by several people who can't see what the other participants are doing) is a surrealist specialty, I might consider assigning exquisite-corpse making should I end up teaching art history mainly to studio arts students. Or even if I don't. I like the idea of hands-on comprehension of what artists were dealing with.
Exquisite corpse, due to its additive nature, could even be worked into discussion of collage, although of course there is no shortage of potential collage projects to assign to people studying modernism.
This sculpture greets us at the foot of the stairs.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

You'll Rest When You're Dead

The above, I've been told, was a favorite comment of one of my long-dead relatives. Whether it is in fact true, I couldn't say, but I think it is safe to say that there is not much rest in store for the average grad student in the final throes of dissertation.
Last week there were job application drafts and the College Art Association paper to turn in. (The CAA conference is not until February, but I admit that at least this deadline gets the paper out of my way.) This week there's getting the job applications out the door (we hope) and coming up with a proposal for the upcoming Czech Workshop.
After that, assuming that all the job applications have been sent off, there are three more postdoc applications.
No wonder Ms. Spots and Orion have both been particularly pettable of late... (Ms. Spots has been licking my hand vigorously.)

Labels: , , ,