Monday, March 31, 2008

Still Kicking

It's been a long strange week, and once I'm able to post some photos, I'll say something about the Milt Wolff memorial service and the unveiling of the monument to the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (but I may keep all that brief).
In the meantime, I'm pondering the implications of Rob Brezsny's horoscope advice for me regarding "any big educational experiences that promise to dislodge you from your routine." He thinks that "the astrological omens suggest you'll benefit from responding to invitations that just might thoroughly upgrade your world very quickly." Some of these seem to be in the offing...

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Entertainments

I meant to post the usual reminder that chocolate is a better Easter gift than a live rabbit (except for those who are truly ready to embark on a life of servitude to the lapine kind and will memorize the contents of the entire House Rabbit Society website)... but I didn't even get around to getting any chocolate. Somehow I just couldn't see spending $12 on a chocolate rabbit when I could be spending that on greens instead.
Not that Ms. Spots wouldn't be excited by a chocolate rabbit, as she loves all chocolates. But I wouldn't have felt I could give her more than a few crumbs anyway.
On the food front, I did, however, find a great new Easter treat: Kristapoma bread. According to the bakery, it's a Greek Easter bread with figs, nuts, and golden raisins. I detest regular raisin bread, but the more delicately flavored golden raisins combine nicely with the figs and nuts. This bread makes splendid toast with butter and a spot of marmelade.
The temperatures hereabouts have not been all that springlike of late, but we had a sunny if cold holiday. I was tempted to go explore the park, but the rarity of sun entering into my apartment (as well as the need to do laundry) prompted me to spend the entire day improving my habitat. To the right one sees an improvement I made a week ago. I was very dubious that an over-the-door set of hooks would work on my front door, but it is a great success. The coat closet is no longer impenetrable. Of course, knowing what I'm taking off the hook without benefit of camera flash is something of a gamble. The entryway is a dark hole. It's also only as wide as the doorframe, which makes carrying anything in or out of the door strangely challenging. There is not, however, much that can be done about this architectural peculiarity.
This weekend, I finally got around to constructing a table I had found last weekend at Target (after the unsatisfactory trip to IKEA). It's called a console table, and it's exactly the size and shape I had in mind. Fitting it over the radiator was a little tricky (it had to be lifted above and set down), but not all that hard. (I'm going on the assumption that the table will not have to endure too many more days of radiator heat this spring.)
The table, I might add, made a sudden huge difference in the attractiveness of the whole area. It's not quite as startling in the photo, but it looks really handsome. Too bad the drawer (which is absurdly small) doesn't really work. I thought I would never get it closed, and now it will probably never open again. Luckily I didn't put anything inside... The black item on top is the new laptop!
For further entertainment, I decided it was time I hung the curtains I found last week at the ubiquitous Bed, Bath, and Beyond. (Which I acquired, I might add, for half price.) The blinds on this window had fallen on me last month and look completely unrepairable, besides which Orion has now sampled them. I did not really feel like getting involved with curtain rods, however, so readers can have my quick-and-dirty method for hanging lightweight fabrics: First, get a roll of some form of heavy-duty double-stick tape. Cut pieces of it, stick these at intervals along the top of the fabric. Then stick the fabric to the wall. The easiest way to do this evenly is to do it along the ceiling; otherwise some measuring would be appropriate. These particular curtain panels made it easy, as each panel had five pockets and I put tape on each pocket, stuck the ends to the wall, then the middle, and then the other two. I can usually eyeball this sort of division of space with considerable accuracy, but those who can't should use a yardstick or measuring tape.
And voila, there they are in place. They are sort of an unexpected fabric--a gauzy, somewhat shiny nylon with a paisley pattern of some sort of gold plastic. Nylon is not a fabric I feel any affinity for, but the sample curtains looked oddly tempting in the store, and after due consideration I decided that it wasn't as though I was going to be wearing or sleeping on them. And, as with the table, they look much more exciting in real life than in the photo. My only complaint is that they're very wrinkled and can't be ironed, only washed by hand and hung to dry. But with luck the wrinkles will gradually vanish.
In addition to these improvements, there were some others that didn't get photographed, but may perhaps form a future installment of the adventures in decorating.
As for my roommates, Orion and Ms. Spots spent a significant amount of the evening in passionate mutual grooming. I think Orion is getting Ms. Spots acclimated to the idea that mutual licking is better than one-way. She participates with increasing enthusiasm rather than just lying there waiting for him to do everything. This was probably the closest we got to a pagan fertility rite today.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

I Complain

Why, I should like to know, does it have to be so insanely troublesome to set up a new computer so that it can be used approximately like the old?
Let's put this in perspective. I have been using computers for a good long time now. While not an expert in their inner workings, I am pretty knowledgeable. On the hardware side, I can take them apart and replace various parts. On the software side, I've used more programs than I care to count and am often in the position of troubleshooting not just the quirky things that go wrong for me, but fixing things on other people's computers and showing other people how to use their software more effectively. In other words, I am not one of those legendary types who mistakes the CD tray for a drink holder, or even the average user who laboriously uses a mouse to do things that are much more efficiently done with keystrokes. (How many times have I watched people at conferences slowly mouse up to the top of the screen to start their PowerPoint slideshow from the menu when all they had to do was hit F5? This alone makes me want to bang my head on a wall in irritation.)
So. When I say it is a massive pain to set up a new computer, I am not speaking as a novice.
I possess a USB cable expressly designed to transfer data from one computer to another. First, for several days I could not get the two computers to admit that they were connected. I had done everything the instructions suggested. Since that wasn't working, I started copying files onto an external hard drive and recopying them onto the new laptop. This does work, but it is time-consuming. Most of the external drive is taken up with things I don't wish to delete.
Suddenly, last night, the two computers deigned to recognize that they were attached. No doubt I did something to facilitate that, but I have no idea what it might have been. In any case, I seized the opportunity to try the LapLink PC Sync software that had come with the cable.
Now, I already owned LapLink Gold, but it is an old version, so I thought I should give PC Sync a try.
PC Sync did not impress me as being as user-friendly as LapLink Gold. It seemed dumbed-down, and usually when software is dumbed-down, it proves harder to use rather than easier. Nonetheless, I got it set up to put some of the folders from My Documents onto the new laptop.
PC Sync has a feature where, if there is some sort of conflict (the file already exists, or something), you choose how it handles this. I set it to alert me so that I could make informed decisions on a case-by-case basis, although I didn't expect to run into much if any conflict. I was startled, however, when it told me there was a conflict with a folder that I was sure I had not copied earlier. And indeed, later on I discovered that there was no reason for conflict.
The next disturbing thing was that PC Sync claimed not to be able to find certain files that I wanted to copy. They all seemed to be files whose names included Czech characters. And I take the view that if Windows allows a character in file names, all Windows programs had better be able to handle that. A regrettable number of programs, including some from Europe, don't like Czech characters.
Still, I proceeded. I spent the evening copying what I thought was many GBs of data.
In the morning, I discovered that most of it apparently hadn't copied at all, even though PC Sync claimed that it had. The files in question were nowhere to be found on the new computer. I also couldn't get PC Sync to run properly again. No matter what I did, it would claim that the other machine had already initiated a connection and that I couldn't have two connections. It would then pretend to do some checking and I would invariably have to get out of it with Ctrl-Alt-Del, which would set off various error messages.
I decided it was time to try Windows EasyLink. EasyLink also proved to be a waste of time. First, it assumes you really want to copy everything from the old computer, or so I gathered when it said this would be 124 GB and told me that there wasn't that much space on the new (250 GB) hard drive. EasyLink doesn't make it very easy to specify just what you really do want to copy. It was easy enough to uncheck My Music, but I had to dig around to find that it wanted to copy all sorts of Toshiba files onto the Lenovo. Then, when it dawned on me that I had newer emails on the new laptop, the only way I could see to exclude Eudora was to go to a whole new list of stuff. Just to be safe, I excluded the whole Program Files directory.
Setting this all up took several restarts of EasyLink, because (horrors) the program has no functioning Back arrow or button. The only way to retrace your steps is to start from scratch. This is very bad.
But, of course, worse was to come. EasyLink apparently goes into some sort of endless loop once you tell it to start copying. It will grind away for 7 hours pretending it's gathering the information it needs to start copying. It will do this even if you only select a very small amount of stuff to copy. And, on the one computer, I couldn't get it to finish exiting either. Ctrl-Alt-Del was the only solution.
I then said, well, what about LapLink Gold? It used to work very well for me. Sure, the version I have is a little antiquated, but I used it successfully on XP machines and these are both running XP.
My Toshiba promptly told me that I would need to reinstall LapLink because it was missing a necessary component. I thought, well, maybe this is why I've never been able to get LapLink working on the Toshiba...
I reinstalled. Same message. I don't know what it wants, but if reinstalling is supposed to provide it, reinstalling is not doing the job.
It's looking like I will, after all, have to do all my copying using the external hard drive.
I am not happy. I do have a journal article to revise in the next few days. Yes, I can do that without doing the rest of the copying, but I would really like to just get at least most of the copying done.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Niblet at Beginning to Bird

Roaming around a bit instead of going to sleep, I came across the blog Beginning to Bird, which although mainly bird photography (and pretty impressive bird photography) also features a spotted character named Niblet!
Niblet looks a good deal like Orion, but for reasons unknown to me hasn't really got ears. (Sometimes you do see rabbits up for adoption who have lost part of an ear, but Niblet is really lacking in the ears.) Never mind the ear thing, he looks like a rabbit of considerable character and style and he hangs out with several handsome cats. And, lucky for him, he isn't as fat as Orion, although it's clear he shares the same passion for paper goods.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lenovo Comes Through

The new laptop has arrived safely and the interminable process of setup has begun.
First, I should say I was impressed with the speed of delivery. I made my order by phone last Monday since the web order wasn't going through properly, and the person who handled the order impressed me as competent and thorough, but he was cautious about predicting a delivery date. I was delighted when the computer shipped within the week rather than two-three weeks hence, and when I saw that it was shipping from China, I was skeptical that it would show up all that rapidly. But it reached my building yesterday and was in my hands this morning.
I hadn't quite expected it to be so small--I knew the Lenovo X61t was lightweight, but I hadn't been paying attention to the screen dimensions other than to be sure I wasn't ordering a widescreen laptop. It is definitely smaller than I had in mind, and this will take some getting used to. On the other hand, the lighter weight is delightful and, like all the reviewers, I had the immediate sensation that it was sturdily built.
Alas, getting a new computer isn't really any fun anymore because it is so time-consuming to get them usable. My plan was to load pretty much only the software I needed for academic purposes, and deal with the rest when I had a little time. Of course, this goal proved unrealistic. First, I had to situate myself at a cafe with wifi so that everything could access the internet (I was not about to try to get my Verizon DSL to work on yet another laptop after the trouble it caused on the last one--reinstalling Windows is not my idea of fun). But, stupidly, I didn't bring anything else to do, because somehow I always forget just how many hours it takes to install a relatively small number of programs, and how much staring into space occurs while this is happening.
Let's just say that attempts to install Acrobat and Photoshop, which must be two of the slowest-installing programs in the history of the universe, caused two of the dreaded Blue Screens of Death and I still haven't persuaded the laptop to eject the second CD because it is convinced, despite several reboots, that something is using it.
Ah well. Office 2007 installed slowly but without a hitch, Lingea Lexicon caused no trouble whatsoever (and I do use it all the time since I don't care to lug around a big Czech dictionary), and, frivolously, I did get iTunes installed although it has no relationship with my work unless we count its ability to play all those Voskovec and Werich songs.
But I regret to say that since Sunday I have been suffering from what Kristen might call a "malaise," although it is more tolerable than the one that has bothered her. Tolerable or not, I really don't care to be plagued with disagreeable joint and muscle aches, or to feel as though I have been stretched beyond endurance and ought to be lying in bed reading a diverting novel. After all, I have a journal article to revise by the end of the month.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Kiva Han Bathroom

Just for variety, here we have the women's restroom decor at the Kiva Han on Craig Street.
The bathroom walls are lively, the rest of the cafe somewhat more conducive to conversation and study.
Now if you'll pardon me while I head in the Kiva Han direction to settle down with a cup of coffee and get editorial...

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Štyrský in a Return Engagement

The astonishing number of visitors to this blog in recent months who seek pictures by Jindřich Štyrský has not escaped my notice. I'm curious why this is (it didn't begin during the Štyrský exhibition in Prague), but just on general principles, it seems like time to put up another Štyrský work for everyone's viewing pleasure.
(And I see that the scan is a bit askew. Um, it dates back to when I was first scanning and hadn't learned to rotate in Photoshop. I regret to say that some of the people who gave papers at CAA this year apparently haven't learned to straighten their scans either. I attended at least one talk where everything looked about like this. I hope no one takes one skewed image on a whole blog as a sign of unprofessional laxness and ineptitude...)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Progress on the Living Room Front

One of the benefits of Spring Break is that a person has a somewhat looser schedule (or, to be accurate, really no schedule at all) and turns to pondering such matters as how to get light into the living room, how to make the couch less scratchy to sit on, and how to create more desk space.
Thinking mainly of the latter, I visited a couple of local Goodwill stores in search of a narrow table that could sit over the bedroom radiator and provide a space for the laptop and scanner. Well, whether it is despite or because of the huge number of Goodwill stores in the greater Pittsburgh area, the furniture selection was extremely limited. One ornamental table looked vaguely possible, but I had forgotten to bring in the tape measure to see if it was tall enough. For that matter, while I like wooden furniture, wood might not be the best thing to put atop a radiator.
The next day I gritted my teeth and drove out to IKEA. I don't actually hate IKEA, but I have very mixed feelings about it. For one thing, I don't like having to drive half an hour to shop anywhere. Driving... ok, I might buy something large or heavy that I wouldn't want to take on the bus. But still. And IKEA is always an exhausting experience. There's enough interesting and appealing stuff to make it deceptively appealing. But I'm never in the position to remodel my kitchen or install large shelving units, and my bathroom is too small to accommodate most of the space-saving devices unless I hung them from the ceiling. And a lot of the designs are either hideous or just not to my taste. But I figured that IKEA would have plenty of tables to choose from, and perhaps a tolerable cheap lamp or two.
Well. I was disappointed to find that IKEA did not seem to have any tables narrower than about 23"--I was hoping for about 18". That is, that would fit over the radiator. This really surprised me. But I suppose that had I bought a desk deeper than about 21", I might not be wanting a table to go with it. That's what happens when one looks for a solid wood desk that won't fall apart when moved, I guess.
My experiences in the lamp area were more positive. While there is a custom lamp store back in California that I would rather patronize, at IKEA I was able to find a reasonable-looking table lamp that will accept more wattage than the lamp I had been using (up to 75 watts!) and I decided to go for a huge sort of lantern to suspend over the coffee table (also takes up to 75 watts). Plus, I was strangely taken with a comforter cover that struck me as a possible cover for the couch. The pattern on the comforter cover isn't quite my usual style, but I love the colors and I try to be adventurous when it comes to textiles, so long as they aren't absolutely alien to my sensibilities.

Voila, suddenly the living room is a lot brighter! It's actually possible to sit on the couch and read without putting the book directly under the lamp! And, while the couch's original wool upholstery is in great shape after 40+ years, it does show every hair Orion leaves on it and tends to make me itch even through my clothes. Admittedly, the hanging lantern does sort of take over the room, and its pole obscures my Remedios Varo poster a bit, but for the time being, IKEA has done its bit to liven up the living room.
I still have to figure out what to put over the couch, though. The space really demands something interesting.
Ah yes. Wouldn't interior decorating be fun if a person could really just do anything.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Pittsburgh Blogs

I see that Brent at Peak Direction continues to offer great coverage of Pittsburgh public transit along with the occasional foray into transit around the world.
He's also linked to some interesting Pittsburgh blogs (including this one), so I too will point out a few:
Bike Pittsburgh covers anything that relates to biking in Pittsburgh (including national developments)
Pittsburghers Gretchen and Frank (both students, I think) give an interesting take on "The Blurgh" with occasional references to how it has changed since their parents' youth. (NOTE: It's set in a fictional future in which Pittsburgh is a better place.)
ClickNathan has his say about Pittsburgh issues and random other topics, like digital photography.
Green Is Good, based in Pittsburgh, looks at green energy here and elsewhere.
My Homewood reveals (among other things) that I could buy a house in Homewood (Pittsburgh's 13th Ward) for less than the new laptop will cost. Or I could go wild and spend $3700 for a different house. Um, I guess it's all "location, location, location." They look like pretty normal houses to me, not made out of Tinkertoys or covered in tarpaper.
Nullspace also notes the housing prices in Homewood.
Pop City focuses on technology, sustainability, development, and arts and culture here.
Pittsblog, by a local law professor, looks at a variety of local matters including an upcoming talk on intellectual property that sounds worth checking out.
Tube City Almanac's server wasn't working but maybe you can get through and find out what they offer...
Walking Pittsburgh explores different parts of the city and provides photos and history.
That's it for Pittsburgh blogs on Brent's list, but let's not forget Kristen's Procrastinating in Pittsburgh, and Tazza d'Oro, my neighborhood cafe, has its own blog. Tazza d'Oro is one of Pittsburgh's several (many?) special cafes. Unlike the cafes I haunt near school, it has a clientele of all ages and is an object of passionate devotion within the neighborhood. You can find knitting groups, writing groups, bicyclists, political organizers, students, mothers with small children, theater people, and entrepreneurs, and (in the warm weather, outdoors) dogs there. And now the big question: after I try (again) to order the new laptop, should I set off in the snow to Tazza, stay home, or go to the library?

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Computer Shopping Is Annoying

Now that Spring Break is here, I've had a little time to ponder the inevitable new laptop. The one I have has continued to be (somewhat) usable, but the screen can be pretty hard to read and randomly changes color and brightness. Another user informs me that in his/her case, this proved to be due to motherboard failure. Well, that was hardly what I wanted to hear. My last laptop died of motherboard problems, only in that case they masqueraded as hard drive trouble. I really don't claim to understand anything about motherboards except that they don't seem to be replaceable on laptops.
After a good deal of hunting around and reading of reviews and suchlike, I decided that the Lenovo X61t sounded like just the thing. It has excellent reviews and people describe it as both light and sturdy. To be sure, there were difficult decisions to make: Vista or XP Tablet; an external CD/DVD drive, or the "unibase" that allows you to pop in CD/DVD drive, second hard drive, second battery, blah blah blah. The fact that I do have a second hard drive inclined me toward the unibase, although come to think of it I don't know what size hard drive it fits, only that it's a SATA connection and I'll have to look up whether my second hard drive is SATA or PATA. (I knew when I bought it, but my memory has only recorded the pondering of SATA versus PATA, not the result.)
Part of what led me to the Lenovo was the fact that I can get a significant student discount. My attempts to order the thing online, however, have been a complete failure. Never mind a few small problems, the main thing seems to be that Lenovo objects to shipping to an address different than the billing address.
Well, I can understand their caution, but then why can't I change the shipping address to match the billing address? Every time I try to do this, the whole thing stops dead. This is ridiculous. What if my billing address were a P.O. Box? No one ships to a P.O. Box. What if I lived in a notoriously insecure building? Fortunately, we have pretty good package handling here, barring one incident in which the package never showed up.
I suppose I will have to call in the morning and complete the order by phone. I really just wanted to get the whole thing over with so that they can start building the thing and ship it out.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Eastern European Music from Ann Arbor

Jesse reminds me that every Thursday night from 9-10 Eastern Time he DJs Eastern European music on WCBN. You can tune in and listen on the internet at I'm bad at remembering to do anything at a particular time in the evening, but when I do remember to listen, there's always something interesting and unexpected, like Slovak jazz.
WCBN offers several kinds of download, so there should be something for every connection speed. I tested out the 128 kbps hi-res and it sounded pretty good.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Concert Update

For those who might have been on the edge of their seats wondering how Saturday's gamelan concert went, it was very satisfactory.
We had been invited out to the university's Greensburg campus, which is about an hour from the main campus, to perform for what proved to be the season's initial concert in a series. After a brief afternoon practice, we spent an hour or so loading up the instruments (not all of them fit into the elevator), figuring out how to get to Greensburg, and all that. I've been to Greensburg a few times, as one of my cousins used to live there, but I really don't know my way around and was glad not to be one of the drivers.
The concert was done in a very educational manner, with explanations of what we were about to play and so forth. The audience was invited to come onstage afterwards and ask questions and look at the instruments. This went over very well, and we probably spent at least half an hour, perhaps more, showing people the instruments and telling them about gamelan.
It has been my experience that if a class is going to bond, either as a class or with the instructor, this normally happens around the middle of the semester (sometimes earlier, rarely later). Our class was no exception. While some of the students knew one another from last semester, and while there has always been a fairly good rapport in the group, the concert and the experience of traveling, eating, and moving instruments together put everyone in a friendly mood.
We're now moving on to a whole new project: each spring, Indonesian specialists come and work with the group, and now our dancer has arrived. We'll prepare music for her to perform to, and she'll also teach dance to whoever is inclined. From what she showed us yesterday, it looks like she does something akin to the classic dance drama that I studied in a past life, but that probably doesn't have a narrative.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Computers Are Weird

I should give up on trying to understand computers. After spending Friday morning happily (if somewhat frantically) slaving away at perfecting Chapter 1 (since the first and last chapters of a dissertation generally get whipped into shape last), my advisor indicated that the weekend would be a fine time for me to stuff chapters under her office door, as she'll be in there freezing anyway--I suppose scanning more images for next week's classes. I went off to look things over over lunch and prepared many more revisions.
Settling in at my carrel to continue work, I was confronted with the laptop refusing to finish booting. The hard drive was very active, but I had no clue what it was up to. Ctrl-Alt-Del had no effect. Neither, it seemed, did hitting the off switch. I had never heard of such a thing--manually shutting off a computer is always supposed to work, isn't it? After ten or fifteen minutes of this, I opted to unplug the laptop and let it run down the battery. After about an hour, during which I leafed through several library books and decided they could be returned, the laptop shut down in a very slow version of the normal shutdown.
I let it sit for another ten minutes or so, then plugged it in and started it up. Since all of this just seemed strange beyond words, I decided to do a full antivirus scan.
This kept the laptop busy until 6:00. I was astonished to see that the screen looked perfectly normal the whole time, and wanted to know why it had to be all dim and blurry when I was working but vibrantly clear while the antivirus program was running and I was reading library books and editing on paper.
No viruses were detected.
The screen has been beautiful ever since (although it might, of course, die as soon as I write this). I thought we had a hardware problem here, not a software issue. Are we simply dealing with some sort of divine joke?
Ah well, I will continue to work until 3:00, when we have a gamelan rehearsal in preparation for tonight's concert in the neighboring metropolis of Greensburg. With luck, I will not be the embarrassment of the ensemble.

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