Saturday, May 31, 2008

Not Quite as Bad as the Chinese Earthquake, but Still Dreadful

Like many people around the country, I was shocked and unsettled to hear that Ted Kennedy's recent seizure was the result of a brain tumor. I've known at least four people who have died of brain tumors in the past twenty years--two in fact were co-workers at the same place.
And, like lots of people, I'm just enough of a hypochondriac that any weird change in my functioning makes me wonder if I've got one (when it isn't some other nasty possibility). Incoherent without drugs or alcohol? Must be a brain tumor. Dropped something yet again? Must be a brain tumor.
I hadn't realized, however, that brain tumors tend to be hard to detect, that there are more of them than there used to be, and that it can be hard to get the real prognosis out of the medical people. Susie Bright's comments (her father died of one) are enlightening.
Note: I wouldn't say I have been exactly obsessing about brain tumors of late, being too busy with my various projects. But it's better to know about these things.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Basil Finds a Home!

That wonderfully lovable character Basil has been adopted! He wasn't at the shelter when I dropped by this afternoon to supply some petting--the rabbit population was down by at least two since my last visit--but I wasn't sure whether he had been adopted or gone to a foster home until I visited his web page.
Of course, Basil is such a gentle and delightful creature that it is no surprise someone felt the need to take him home. I hope that his new human adores him utterly and that they have a long and rapturous life together.
Sophia, meanwhile, was initially shy but decided to be brave and come to the front of the cage for an extremely long petting session. I didn't think she was ever going to lose interest, and since she needs lots of petting, I didn't want to stop until she was ready. All the other rabbits became very restive as it dawned on them that Sophia was getting something like twenty minutes of nonstop petting. Bingo did everything he could think of to get my attention, but since he's a favorite of mine, I thought I should be fair and pet a few others first for fear they might not get any. By the time I got to him, he was almost ready to expire from fear he might not get petted. Unfortunately his cage is in a difficult corner and I have to move his neighbor's cage to open his door, let alone sit with him. But he was very glad to be petted. Bingo's white rex neighbor, an older rabbit who looks as if he's been chewed on, also needed a great deal of petting as he's a very lonely creature, and even Bingo's other neighbor, who is highly territorial, was grateful to get a little attention. The gentle little lionhead rabbit I met last time is pending adoption, but he seemed convinced that the only desirable outcome would be for me to take him home myself. I hope his adoption goes through and provides him with massive amounts of affection.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moving Right Along, Or So We Like to Think

It's that season of the year, I suppose, when various things fall into place, or come to an end, or are cemented, or whatnot. It's apparently the season when some people tell me they're on the verge of completing their dissertations and others announce that they are abandoning theirs, and I can only wish both sets the best of luck about it.
It's now official (although the paperwork has yet to be done) that next year I will be a Visiting Professor in my department. There are two of us, neatly separated into modern and medieval (last year we had modern and American). In the fall I'll teach Intro to Modern Art on Mondays and American Art Tuesday-Thursday. The spring courses are still somewhat negotiable but we have a pretty good idea what they'll be.
In other news, yesterday, while on my way to Radio Shack to replace A CORD SOMEONE HAD YET AGAIN PURPOSEFULLY SAVAGED (Orion, specifically), I happened to run across Sachem, one of the other gamelan students. We chatted while he waited for his bus and he regretted that he won't be able to take gamelan next year due to the rigors of finishing up a double major in music and philosophy. You can listen to his non-gamelan music on MySpace and probably even buy his album there should it strike your fancy.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An Additional Roommate

This morning while I was brushing my teeth, the rabbits settled outside the door in the hallway, as they frequently do when determined to get more petting. I was about to join them when I realized that there was a LARGE BUG in front of Orion (not that this seemed to bother him in the slightest).
I didn't find it ugly, but I had never seen its like, which made me nervous. It was at least an inch long and was multicolored with all sorts of feathery-looking appendages. So, being brought up to attack first and ask questions later, I tried to dispose of it, but as I didn't know whether it would bite, I wasn't very fierce and it ran away into the closet with astounding speed.
It didn't look like any centipede I had ever seen, but a little research indicates that it is in fact the kind of centipede most often found indoors, and that so long as it stays out of your way, it's a very beneficial creature. It eats things like ants and bedbugs. Now I grant that, fortunately, I have no ants or bedbugs or indeed pretty much any other insects in the apartment, but I'd love to make sure that any remaining carpet beetles are exterminated, so I think that the centipede is welcome to continue living in the closet. They do bite, so I hope it stays out of the bedroom.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Biking to the Animal Shelter

Via Kristen, who gives me all my blog ideas these days, I point my readers in the direction of Claudia's bike challenge. The idea is to bike somewhere at least once a week that one would normally drive, although it looks like most of the readers are already avid bikers or don't even own cars in the first place.
It has been so rainy that I doubt many people in Pittsburgh have taken up this challenge with success, but now that we've gotten a little sunshine, I'm on the bike. I don't think my three jaunts to and from school count since I normally take the bus, but today I biked over to the Animal Rescue League and on the way back I bought groceries, so that certainly counts.
While I was at the shelter, I had time to let Bingo and Basil out for exercise (I would have let out another rabbit or two, but it was hard to persuade Bingo and Basil that it was time to go in). Bingo, as usual, was a whirlwind of activity. His hormones haven't had much time to subside, so he promptly sprayed me (Ms. Spots was intrigued to find his scent on my pants when I got home). Basil is quiet only in comparison to Bingo; they both ran around tirelessly, but Bingo is more frenetic. The three does in the bottom cages got all upset when Bingo was out, but Jubilee and Harley were nicer about Basil and mostly didn't try to bite him when he came by. I think they rather like him. Bonnie, aka Babs, hates any rabbit who ventures near her cage, so she tried to bite both of them.
Sophia is in an upper-level cage, so she mostly ignored the excitement below. She remains tentative about me; so long as the cage door is closed, she's interested, but if I open the door, she hides in the corner. She did let me pet her for a few minutes, though, and clearly needs and wants more attention.
Two new rabbits have arrived, and both seem very nice. One is a white rex who was just neutered, and the other is a brown lionhead. Both were very grateful for the petting.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Pittsburgh Deaths Outnumber Births?

Apparently Pittsburgh is joining rural areas in being one of the few urban centers where deaths outnumber births. I suppose the numbers are convincing, but between my neighborhood and the university, the evidence was making me assume we were having a baby boom. I grant that Pittsburgh's student population comes from all over the world, but Highland Park and East Liberty are full of babies and small children.
It's sort of like the Czech Republic, where officials worry about population decline but the visual evidence suggests that babies are taking over.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Life's Little Mysteries

Life is, of course, full of things we don't understand. Things like what's inside black holes, the nature of time, and why toddlers emit ear-splitting shrieks when excited.
At the moment, I am baffled as to why, in late May, Pittsburgh continues to experience such chilly weather. My recollection is that usually Pittsburgh goes from frigid to roasting in the space of about a week, and that this occurs sometime in April. When last I lived here, I concluded that T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts (staples of my wardrobe in Northern California) were nearly useless here because it was always either too hot or too cold for them and you went from turtlenecks and heavy sweaters almost directly to sleeveless tops.
This year, however, is determined to be different. Apart from a few warmer days here and there, we keep having days that start off around 40 and struggle to make it past 60 degrees. Add on the tendency toward rain, and I feel like I'm living in Britain. I'm all for the lush greenery and the flowers, and I don't mind a fair amount of light rain, but I'd like it to warm up just a few degrees and refrain from sprinkling during the times when I might want to bike to and from school.
Another mystery is that of today's email from a former student. I am happy to hear from former students, but I would prefer them to give some explanation why they are contacting me, beyond a vague desire to "keep in touch." I suppose that a simple desire to keep in touch would suffice coming from students I have actually gotten to know very well (or even whom I didn't know that well but who were outstanding students or who I directed to seek counseling) but when all I really remember about the person is his/her name and that they were in a one-credit class I taught around six years ago, and all they say is that they'd like to keep in touch, well, I can't help wondering if they even remember who I am and are confusing me with some other acquaintance in an ancient address book. I mean, why not at least say "I was in your BLANK class in BLANK year. Even though your class was a requirement, I enjoyed it and have fond memories of your (wonderful/stimulating/peculiar) lectures. These days I'm (working/traveling/in jail)." I could then say something like "Nice to hear from you. I enjoyed teaching your class. I'm still in Pittsburgh and getting ready to teach X, Y, and Z. I hope all goes well for you in your work/family life/travels/penal servitude." Of course, the better I know the student, the more personal my response will be. But I know that I could have made a difference even to people I don't remember very well, because there are certainly people who made a difference to me who are unlikely to remember much more than my name or face.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Trends in Farming?

Kristen, who is a more devout cook than I am, and even a more fervent recycler (although I recycle anything I think I can get away with putting into the recycling bags), has been finding some interesting articles on urban and sustainable farming.
As a descendant of farmers, and as a person who is very familiar with the high quality possible in home-grown food, I'm delighted to see more and more mainstream coverage of organic foods on small farms and in gardens. And, as this author suggests, the rising price of oil may prompt more farmers to choose to get away from agribusiness-style farming.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Animal Rescue League Rabbits

My roommates, Calypso Spots and Orion, are endlessly entertaining, and utterly endearing in their passionate attentions to one another. Orion happily grooms Ms. Spots for ten and twenty minutes at a time, and although she isn't as good at returning the favor, she's very snuggly with him. Ms. Spots came to me via the Humane Society, where she was the most enchanting, sweet-natured rabbit in residence. As many of my readers know, she met Orion at the House Rabbit Society, where he was one of the few rabbits to court her rather than sit nervously in the corner wondering if she was going to bite. (Ms. Spots almost never bites. It is not part of her normal repertoire.)
But usually, when I meet shelter rabbits, few of them are happy or well-socialized enough that I have an overwhelming desire to take them home--which is exactly why more of us need to spend time petting and talking to them.
Fortunately, Animal Rescue League, the shelter closest to home, has its own corps of rabbit volunteers who visit on a regular basis to exercise and socialize the rabbits. I think this explains why most of the rabbits there are at least cautiously friendly, and why some of them are so charming that it's simply baffling no one has adopted them yet.
As it turns out, the shelter rabbits at Animal Rescue League even have their own web pages! To give just a few examples:
Basil, who has a most delightful and friendly personality (or maybe he just likes me because I comforted him shortly after he was neutered) even has his own video clip.
Bingo hasn't got a video but he certainly ought to. When down on the floor, he's a whirlwind of activity; otherwise he loves to be petted and talked to.
Sophia is also quite the charmer, although a bit shyer than Basil and Bingo. Her specialty is to wink at me from just out of reach, although if I close the cage door, she may come and sniff my fingers.
I wish I could bring all three of them home. Alas, living in a one-bedroom apartment doesn't really give me space to have foster rabbits; any additional rabbits would have to be adopted and get along with Orion and Ms. Spots. Ms. Spots was deeply fascinated by the smell of Bingo on my pants (Orion was mildly interested), but I couldn't tell whether this affected her more like reading the news, like getting a note from a secret admirer, or like hearing that an ax-murderer might move in. She didn't seem agitated, so she probably didn't regard Bingo as someone to exterminate. Then again, like all does she is territorial, so she would probably object if she found him in the living room. And she is about three times as big as either Bingo or Basil.
Besides, I think two rabbits are really the maximum I can get on the plane as in-cabin pets.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Syllabi and Other Amusements

After a couple of weeks of intensive work on syllabi and class presentations, I think the main thing that can be said is that this sort of project does not incline one to spend much time on a computer for other things. This results in a lack of inclination to blog, although on the plus side I've read more novels lately.
One of my goals for the summer is to accomplish pretty much all the prep for next year's teaching before the fall semester starts, and as I'm not teaching summer school, this should be quite doable. It also provides a nice break from certain other academic projects, which we can only hope will be beneficial to the end product.
I don't, actually, mind working on syllabi and presentations just now. Mentally, it is rather enjoyable. It gives me a chance to root through articles I haven't read in years, in order to decide what might make suitable reading for undergrads. Sometimes this is fun, sometimes it's a little frustrating.
For example, it looks as though in the fall I'll be teaching one section of Intro to Modern Art and one of American Art. I've taught Intro to Modern before and it went well, so there the question is what ought to be improved (Kristen and I are trying to think what would be a particularly good supplementary reading on Russian modernism, and I am unsure which readings on surrealism would be best, as I am too close to the subject).
I've never taught American, but I've had good preparation for it and am basing my syllabus on the one used by our department chair, which is set up in a way I like but requires some shifting around as his areas of expertise are rather different than mine. (Yes, I will be including city planning and public monuments, but I will have more to say on genre painting and early 20th century art.)
On these introductory courses, I like to combine readings from a survey text with readings that are more challenging and specific, so I was delighted to rediscover just how interesting and accessible that essays in two of my American art anthologies were. I managed to find six essays in each one that fit themes we will cover. There are very few more readings to come up with for this class (anyone want to suggest one on the rise of American history painting? a favorite on colonial/early 19th-century women's art and design?), so I am mainly working on my images for this class now.
Um, yes. Images and presentations. We have pretty much switched from slides to digital images, but this isn't to say our slide collection has really been digitized. Some of our slides were, but for the most part it seems as though each instructor is on his/her own hunting down images. We subscribe to ArtStor, so this is somewhat helpful, but for various reasons I am finding it very slow and tedious to assemble my American presentations, and have only gotten as far as (in a rudimentary fashion) early 19th-century landscape. This reminds me how, when I first taught Intro to Modern, I spent a good part of each week hunting for the images for that, which I felt left me little time to think about what I was going to say in lecture. (Fortunately, the sight of the pictures generally cues me on what I want to say about them.) The advantage of the digital presentations is, of course, that once they are made, you have them and can revise them in a leisurely way from year to year, so I am making small changes in my Modern presentations but not having to make them again from scratch. It will be nice once the American presentations reach that stage.
Meanwhile, it is probable that sooner or later I will teach a course on Czech modernism--maybe even as soon as Spring 2009--so that's more gradually underway. The presentations for that are much more fun to craft. As I have gradually been scanning more and more Czech modern art over the past 4-5 years, I have a very usable personal collection of images. While it is strongest on Czech surrealism, there is enough of everything else to get a good start on things. Rather than having to be logged into ArtStor and doing painful searches for Copley and trying to decide which Copleys to use and which photo of each painting is clearest, then downloading them and gradually incorporating them, I tend to think "Ah, Emil Filla needs to be included. These two will work for his Munch-like period, these are early cubist works, and these are examples of his (in my opinion) slavish imitation of Picasso." Or "These five views of one of Chochol's cubist houses will give a very nice idea of the building as seen from the street, so which one will be shown large and which ones will be supplementary?" And I realize that yes, I have enough Špála to show for a class, but that I should scan more because four Špála paintings are not really enough. It would be nice to have some of his controversial illustrations for Babička. And well, much more symbolist and decadent art needs to be scanned, and somewhere I need to come up with some examples of Mánes and Aleš.
This sort of thing easily takes up the whole day and wears out my computer-tolerance.
But, for amusement, I have visited Bingo and the other Animal Rescue League rabbits (there are currently several, not just Bingo, that I would really like to take home--Ms. Spots is deeply interested in the scent left on my pants). And last night our medieval Scandinavian specialist held a party celebrating the Norwegian national holiday syttende mai (Constitution Day) and I am very sorry I didn't take my camera along to photograph the elegantly iced cookies she made in the shape of the Norwegian flag, conifers, and moose. The soundtrack for the evening was a somewhat bizarre mix of Norwegian rap music (it exists and it's really strange to listen to), Norwegian-themed songs, and the occasional bit of ordinary party music. We were transfixed by a peculiar song about going out to plunder... I said I would have to give her my mp3s of Scandinavian traditional music--hardanger fiddle and so on--to round out the collection.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kotěra and Tram Design

After a long day of mostly working on presentations relating to a course in American Art that I expect to teach before long, I think a little more Jan Kotěra design is called for. Not only did Kotěra make his name as a pioneering modernist architect, but he designed a number of rail and tram cars. Those that follow were all designed for the Prague Transit Company.

Luxury four-axle car no. 200, 1899

Two-axle car from 1904-5

Two-axle car no. 193, from 1906

I might note that Kristen tells me that not only are there people who would like to reinstate tram service (streetcars) in Pittsburgh, but that generally speaking, the old rails are still in place and just covered with asphalt. I'm all in favor of bringing back America's streetcars, and I say the sooner the better. And of course putting in more subways.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sitemeter and the Globalized Online World

Sitemeter and other methods we use for tracking visits to websites tell webmasters (or bloggers) an odd collection of facts about the people who come to our sites. Some of it is useful, some not. I, for instance, don't really care that much what the screen resolution is for my readers, but for another type of site that might be vital data. Nor do I care that much whether they use Mac or PC, except in the rare cases where this information actually tells me who visited (my parents and one of my friends use the same provider, but my parents have a PC and my friend a Mac, so I always know which is which).
But I'm seldom identifying actual people, as usually that's impossible and for the most part would be somewhat of a breach of privacy. Rather, I'm always intrigued which pages are popular, a thing which generally has little to do with whether they are among my better posts. Sometimes it becomes clear that a given search engine ranks my offering highly; why else would Japanese web-surfers flock to read my brief remarks on Baden-Powell, or those from Korea be the most interested in my discussion of the EAC software?
It's also fun seeing which countries are represented. This does, of course, give one a sense of where people have the most computers and, to a lesser degree, are able to read English or Czech. The European countries are well represented, but Russia and India are pretty much the only continental Asian countries until the very far east, when Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia pop up. (One of my colleagues tells me that when she was in China, the only way she could access this blog was via our university remote access.) Australia shows up regularly, though pretty much only from servers in Sydney and Melbourne (never anything in Canberra or Townsville, and certainly not anything in the heart of the country). The African continent is mainly represented by South Africa, and the Middle East is pretty much absent. South America is not much to be found, though occasionally I get a visitor from Brazil or Argentina. Mexico is a rarity.
Another thing that can be interesting (we'll leave out the sometimes strange phrasing of search terms) is a sort of evidence of panglobalism. I guess the most striking recent example of that was someone on a German internet provider whose computer was set to Chinese, who searched using the American version of Google and typed in a book title in Czech.
I have to say I was very impressed at that.
Will that kind of linguistic and spatial cosmopolitanism be the norm in a couple of generations, or was my visitor "just" a Chinese grad student studying Czech history in Germany?

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Jan Kotěra

For various reasons, mainly procrastination regarding finishing up my next conference paper, I have been spending the week working on syllabi for the classes I might be teaching next year. There have, however, been some other entertainments. For one thing, the week-long Greek Food Festival at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral (practically next door to the Fine Arts building). And also discovering that the library apparently acquired some new books on Czech art while I was in Prague, like a hefty and gloriously illustrated volume on the early modernist architect Jan Kotěra. I think I could be content living in a Kotěra villa.

Design for the Elbogen Villa, 1905

The Národní dům (National House) in Prostějov, 1905-7--theater entrance

The Sucharda villa

The Sucharda villa, interior

The Sucharda villa, interior

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spring in Pittsburgh

While it's not usually very warm yet (last week we had a lot of temperatures in the 40-degree range), spring has been firmly settled in Pittsburgh for about the past month. And this gives us lots of greenery and blossoms to enjoy, at least in my neighborhood.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Get Your Giant Ant Ashtray Here! Going, Going, Gone!

My Sibling notes that at his building's latest yard sale, he managed to sell an ashtray in the shape of a giant ant for $5.
I'd say that this cements our realization that not all superior salespeople are fast-talking extroverts.
Then again, how often do you get the chance to buy an ashtray shaped like a giant ant? Even nonsmokers might be tempted by an object like that. (One wonders who donated this remarkable item in the first place, and what part of the ant holds the ashes.)