Saturday, April 28, 2007

Second Life Paper

Thus my argument is not that you should care about the ogres and elves running around in cyberspace, but that you should care about the fact that there are ogres and elves, millions of them, running around in cyberspace. It’s the phenomenon that deserves interest, not its manifestations per se

Edward Castronova, an associate professor of telecommunications s at Indiana University and author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, from which the above quote was taken, has written extensively about the economics of massively multi-player online role-playing games or MMORPGS as the ogres call it. He's a gifted writer with a nice, subtle sense of humor who spends a good deal of time demonstrating to fellow researchers that MMORPGS and virtual worlds like Second Life are worthy of serious study. He also writes about some very sensible (and ridiculous- but I find I'm more then willing to listen even if I'm not entirely buying it) things along the way. The above quote is one of the more sensible. There really are millions of people running around in these synthetic worlds, spending a lot of time and energy embodying virtual ogres and elves. Or as animated versions of themselves.

The crummy screen shot is of myself and some of my classmates lounging at our bar on Entropy Island (restricted access for now) in Second Life after holding a book chat that briefly descended into a John Updike pileup. When folks can't get down with the Rabbit-man, he's like an itch you just gotta scratch and tell everybody about. Anyway, I'm at the bar, far left and dressed all in black. I have a Grizzly-Adams like beard and a long, flowing lock of a mohawk as my do. I'll post a better picture soon. Once, looking just like this, I spent 15 minutes dancing to Sleazy D's I've Lost Control (still the ultimate acid track) in some lame virtual club I teleported to. I ended up feeling terribly lame for dancing my free, prefabricated dance moves amongst fellow avatar's who had either spent some serious downtime modifying their movements or wheeling and dealing with some dance programming maestro to jack their groove. It was fun for about 15 minutes because of the novelty of hearing Sleazy D, then I got bored. There's potential in that there Second Life, but I think it's at the Atari 2600 stage of development. Some folks are definitely doing some amazing things in Second Life with "user-generated content," for sure, but most of what's been created there passes as an amusing novelty or is simply banal. I'm interested in its potential and will continue to check in but I think I'm okay with letting others advance it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I'd Try It

More from Suketu Mehta's Maximum City:

You can order a masala Coke. This is the same old Coca-Cola you know, the same fizzy brown liquid, but with lemon, rock salt, pepper, and cumin added to it. When the Coke is poured into the glass, which has a couple of teaspoons of masala waiting to attack the liquid from the bottom up, the American drink froths up in astonished anger. The waiter stands at your booth, waiting till the froth dies down, then puts in a little more of the Coke, then waits a moment more, then pours in the rest. And, lo! it has become a Hindu Coke.

I wonder, though- do the insecticides throw off the taste?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Leslie Burger's On the Phone, She's Got A Copy of the Roaches Sophomore Album She'd Like to Donate to Your Library!

Nobody should have to spend 12 hours reading about collection development policies or replying to any scenario where Leslie Burger of the ALA purrs into the phone and asks you to forecast how recent electronic resource initiatives will impact the development and management of library collections over the next five years. And yet, this is is how my day went down. I'd say I was committed to my fate roughly 75% of the time. That other 25% was given over to reading but not comprehending, zoning out, eating tapioca (which I adore) and blowing my nose because Abby and I have been given the gift of phlegm for 8 days and counting.

My independent study for this summer is a go. By early July I'll know all there is to know about public library audio-visual departments. Or not. I'm especially keen to unravel the mystery of why so many public libraries seem to have an inordinate amount of CD's from the likes of The Roaches or Spyro Gyra.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunday Lunch By the Lake

Cathy, Abby and I enjoyed our lunch by the lake yesterday afternoon, grateful to be out and taking advantage of the first 80 degree temperature readings since early October. We (or rather, Cathy) packed a little picnic, put it and Abby in her wagon and walked/rolled our way on over. After eating her share of cheese, grapes and bread Abby felt compelled to give me a hug. My back was soon covered in affectionate crumbs.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Further Adventures in Very Bad Ideas

Have you heard about this?

American military commanders in Baghdad are trying a radical new strategy to quell the widening sectarian violence by building a 12-foot-high, three-mile-long wall separating a historic Sunni enclave from Shiite neighborhoods.

As Anthony Shadid's excellent Night Draws Near makes abundantly clear, for many Iraqis America's presence in their country evokes Israel's record in the Middle East, namely the incendiary issue of Palestine. Not surprising, Maliki ordered that the building of the wall to be stopped today. It reminded people, he said, of "other walls." As the Times article further articulates:

Mr. Maliki did not specify in his remarks what other walls he referred to. However, the separation barrier in the West Bank being erected by Israel, which Israel says is for protection but greatly angers Palestinians, is a particularly delicate issue among Arabs.

The American military isn't giving up hope yet. But honestly, the tactical stupidity, while following in the proud footsteps of over 4 years of tactical stupidity, is truly dumbfounding.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Symbols of Corruption and Greed

Did you know that Tom "The Hammer" Delay, the former House majority leader and author of the memoir No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight (not to be confused with the 1986 Jean-Claude Van Damme film of the same name) has a blog? Neither did I. Recent entries rake the hot coals of the conservative rights odd Rosie hatred and ask the burning question "Who is holding Barbara Walters accountable for Rosie’s offenses?," chastise the recent Supreme Court ruling that the EPA can indeed regulate greenhouse gas emissions and where Tom lets us know that "as a biologist I have always felt that the science behind ‘global warming’ and man-made climate change was absolute hokum," and pelts the United Nations for its tepid response to the recent Iran kidnapping of British soldiers. No real surprises under this hood.

According to a recent Economist article, Delay reminds some Republicans of "the days when the party controlled Congress and the romped over their Democratic colleagues. But most Republicans are keeping their distance, and his book is selling very slowly." Which is to say, Tom isn't exactly being welcomed back into the fold.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fried Dougy Goodness

The picture is from William Swislow's wonderful Interesting Ideas blog, an amazing clearinghouse of links galleries and additional resources committed to spreading the good word about "outsider, vernacular, self-taught and folk art, roadside art and architecture, weird cultural insights and warped politics."

Swislow writes:

Chicago's most vibrant art scene is not to be found in the galleries of River North or Wicker Park, but stretching along the city's longest street, Western Avenue. The work in this spontaneous gallery is unpretentious and, for the most part, unheralded. Its functional purpose does nothing to diminish its creativity or its range, from isolated drawings to full-blown art environments. And though these pages include images from all over Chicago, most of them are from Western Avenue itself -- the world's most artistic street.

Of course, what I like best about this picture is what it says (the warm, soft joy it expresses) about dough rather then its aesthetic merit, fond though I am of its lithe rendering of "Fried" followed by the bold, meaty "Dough." Sadly, Swislow informs us, the "emphasis on fried dough did not sustain this edition of the restaurant at 31st Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway."

(Thanks to Joe and his mighty Liminal for leading me to this doughy goodness.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Is This It?" Carmalla Asks

I'm going to miss The Sopranos something fierce when they close up shop in June. Cathy and I caught the first episode of its final run (Soprano Home Movies, the 78th episode...long may it live in syndication!) last night and among the myriad of things to love about it was its idyllic lake house setting in the Adirondacks. Its director, Tim Van Patten (he's directed 16 episodes of the Sopranos run) was particularly good at challenging the cozy cottage setting (there's even one of those vintage wooden Chris-Craft boats) with camera angles that were intensely ominous. The camera repeatedly cut from intimate close-ups of the characters (Tony and Bobby out fishing, and especially throughout the drunken, fisticuffs inducing Monopoly game scene) to angles that gave the appearance, intentionally, I thought, of the characters being unknowingly observed, perhaps being stalked or under surveillance. I was certain something awful and shattering was going to happen, the final narrative impetus set terribly into motion. I actually cowered behind a throw pillow because I thought Carmella was going to get shot by one of Phil Leotardo's guys. Or something equally outrageous. But it didn't happen, I realized, because David Chase would never capitulate to something so hackneyed.

The only thing I know, or so it's being said, is that it all ends in an ice cream parlor in New Jersey.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The America I Loved Still Exists Between the Pages of a Kurt Vonnegut Book

While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

-Kurt Vonnegut, extracted from A Man Without a Country: A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America

Monday, April 09, 2007

We Are Individually Multiple

The first 48 pages of Suketa Mehta's Maximum City have blown me away. I wish I had more time to read it though I'm happy to have grabbed a half-hour or so before bed the last couple nights. It's a dangerous book to crack when already pressed for extracurricular time.

Mehta was born in Calcutta before his family moved to Bombay for 9 years in the early 70's. From there they moved to Jackson Heights, New York where his father and brother transplanted their families for 8 years as they sought to carve out an even larger niche in the diamond business. Jackson Heights was, as Mehta writes, a "working-class enclave that was steadily being encroached upon by immigrants from darker countries" where he spent his formative teenage years living and pining, as any right-minded teenager should, for his native Bombay and the friends and culture he left behind. Ostracized by his white classmates as a "stinking heathen" who emitted "the foul odors of my native cooking," Mehta describes walking outside the schools "barged-wire-topped gates" on graduation day and kissing the ground in gratitude.

The book is also rich in stunning facts. Like many, I'm fascinated by urban spaces- their people, the energy they exude, their infrastructures both physical and political, the communities they support or deny. I'm especially curious about their population densities. For example, in the 2000 Census, Chicago had a population density of 12, 447 per square mile. Taken by itself, Edgewater, the Chicago neighborhood Cathy, Abby and I live in, had a 2000 density of 36,587. Of Bombay's population density, Mehta writes:

India is not an overpopulated country. Its population density is lower than that of many other countries not thought of as overpopulated. In 1999, Belgium had a population density of 130 people per square mile; the Netherlands, 150; India, under 120. It is the cities of India that are overpopulated. Singapore has a density of 2,535 people per square mile; Berlin, the most crowded European city, has 1,130 people per square mile. The island city of Bombay in 1990 had a density of 17,550 people per square mile. Some parts of central Bombay have a population density of 1 million people per square mile. This is the highest number of individuals massed together at any spot in the world.

1 million people per square mile is intense. How does that work exactly? Mehta has the gift of any great journalistic reporter fervently trying to take the pulse of a kaleidoscope. "All great cities are schizophrenic, " Mehta writes, quoting Victor Hugo. "Bombay has a multiple-personality disorder."

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this one.

Tarpon Springs, Florida

Here's Abby smiling away at my parents breezy townhouse in Tarpon Springs, Florida last weekend. Note the bunny on the table just to her right, an object whose presence sent Abby into occasional paroxysms of delight. Known as neither "bunny" or "rabbit" but as the repeated exclamation "Hop! Hop! Hop!" it, along with a soft yellow duck basket, the moon viewed before bedtime and her grandparents held a special allure.

I should also note that Abby has a new song she's been singing this past week. It's the Applesauce Song. I made it up Wednesday afternoon and she was smitten. The girl loves her applesauce. Not surprisingly, improvisatory songs relating to apples are championed. Here are the lyrics:

Apple, apple, apple, applesauce
Apple, apple, apple, applesauce (repeat as needed)

It's more a chant then song, I suppose and Abby sings it as though it were an incantation, its reciting the surest way to conjure up Fuji slices for squeezing in the palms of each hand.