23 January 2006

- Still Raining -

So my troubles continue. I have a talk tomorrow that required me to author my first DVD. Well, first I produce an elaborate soundtrack in iMovie3. Yes, I know it's hopelessly out of date, but I'm still running 10.2 (more on that later), and since I mostly juist put in fades I've always gotten along with what I have just fine. In any case, let me just say that producing a reasonable soundtrack on iMovie3 is no easy task. First of all you only have two audio tracks to work with; second the editing of individual sounds is very clumsy; third, if you have a large iTunes library, the sound effects are extraordinarly slow to load; and fourth, once you have even a few sounds on the audio tracks (and anyone who has done work building a soundtrack knows how many effects need to be dropped on the audio tracks. I do have Final Cut Pro, but the start up costs for learning anything in that program are very high, so I use it mainly to import video (since the version I have does not recognize macrovision).

Well, I manage to get the soundtrack built but I don't have a DVD burner on my laptop. No sweat, I think. I'll just author it on iDVD and then port it to my computer at school, which has a superdrive. So, I bring it in, tweak the layout. Ahhh, I'm thinking, now I can burn this thing and be done. The disk refuses to burn. Apparently I don't have a superdrive. At least the machine at school won't recognize it as such.

Plan B: I buy a DVD burner. I go to the computer store. I talk with the Mac guy to make sure that the model I'm buying is compatible with a Mac and my system. I'm thinking all is hunky dory. I come home load the software and plug the drive in. Everything seems to be working. Ahhh, I'm thinking, now I can burn this thing and be done. So I go into iDVD, do some tinkering on the layout (as you can see I'm fond of tinkering), and get ready to burn. I push the burn button. Nothing happens. I look at the menu. The "burn disk" is gray. Uh-oh. WtF? So I do some research. Apparently all versions of iDVD prior to iDVD5 can't burn to an external burner. Leave it to Apple...

Plan C: I go to the discussion area of Apple support, which thank goodness has a huge number of people who know what they are doing. In any case, there is a patch that allows iDVD recognize external burners. Ahhh, I'm thinking, now I can burn this thing and be done. So I download the software and install it. I restart the computer, I open iDVD, naturally do some tinkering on the layout, and get ready to burn. Now the burn button won't even open and the "burn disk" remains gray.

Plan D: I go back to the instructions for installing the patch. I realize there is an ambiguity in one bit of the instructions so I try an alternate installation. Ahhh, I', thinking, now I can burn this thing and be done. I open iDVD, do so,e tinkering on the layout, and get ready to burn. And it actually burns! Woohoo!!!

All of that took place this weekend. Now cut to this morning. I have a handout that I need for my presentation, but I can't find a hard copy. Now this is a handout that takes special software to print, and that software resides on an old laptop running system 8 or something. But I decide that instead of turning the house upside down that it would be better to boot-up the old laptop, port it over to Spouse's desktop computer (which has a Zip drive) and print it out from there. Well the laptop starts up just fine (miracle 1), I find the file (miracle 2) and I manage to make a printer file and port it over to Spouse's computer. Yay! I'm thinking, now I'll just print this sucker out. Uh-oh. It prints, but the necessary fonts are missing.

Plan B: Since I don't really want to reboot Spouse's computer into system 9 and install the fonts (which was always tricky business to begin with) I decide to connect the laptop to the printer. Fortunately, the printer predates the laptop, so compatibility isn't an issue. I print and cross my fingers. It works! Yes, yes, yes!

22 January 2006

- When It Rains -

Just finished the first week of classes. The first day of teaching went great—I always try to do something real that day. BUt Thursday was a disaster. Well, it was a disaster before I even got into the class room. I was trying to digitize some clips. Evil macrovision was causing me all sorts of problems—what you have to go through to extract clips for use in class these days is pretty incredible. I've been reduced to dedicating a machine completely isolated from the internet on which to do all of my digitizing. So I have a fancy-schmancy machine taking up half my desk, which I use only occasionally. Irritating does not even begin to describe it. I'm sure iTunes will soon go the same way and we'll no longer be able to burn our purchases to CD for archiving...

In any case beyond the difficulties with digitizing itself, I was having all sorts of other equipment problems. My CD burner wasn't working—that turned out to be a bad batch of CD blanks. A tape got jammed in my VCR. I went into class, and my computer wouldn't connect to the projection TV—a problem when you are teaching a film class and use your computer to show the clips. I then improvised and used the DVD player. But its audio cables were miswired, so I had to diagnose and fix that. Then to top it off the navigation on the DVD is a bit strange. It's designed to be used on a computor where you can skip around the menu fairly easily, but using a machine it's difficult to predict which clip is going to be selected, so I spent a long time figuring that out. I was completely discombulated by all the technological problems that by the time I actually managed to get class started it I was all out of sorts and so had difficulty remembering what points I wanted to emphasize. Since I teach through questioning, I have to have a very good grasp on what it is I want the students to get. That's the only way I've found to keep the discussion going in directions that are productuve. In any case, it got so bad at times that I don't even think we managed to go around in circles.

If all of that wasn't enough, I developed tendonitis in my foot, which has meant I haven't been able to run for weeks; and I injured my right index finger, which has hampered me in all sorts of ways, including making typing a chore. I'm essentially having to type with one finger on the right side of the keyboard.


12 January 2006

- Stare Decisis -

So I've been listening on and off to the Alito hearings and, like the papers, I've noticed that basically none of the senators has anything to say. Of course, you might expect this from the Republicans, who are essentially just playing defense. But what are the Dems up to? At best when the SCOTUS does overturn Roe v Wade, they'll be able to yell "I told you so" for all the good it will do.

The difficulty, I think, is that the Dems have no ground other than ideology to stand on. Once again, the Dems (and, it should be admitted, their activists) have shown little ability to think strategically. They can't even win battles, but that's another issue... In any case, as I said at the time, I thought the Dems were playing the Roberts' hearing all wrong. Instead of using him to set a standard for intellectual competence, voting in support of the nomination with reservations, they voted exclusively on ideological grounds.

As a consequence of the votes on Roberts, we now have a nominee who is more ideological and less competent, and the Dems can bring arguments only against the ideology. But Alito is not so conservative to be a nut case (or even if he is, he has the sense not to come across as one), and with Roberts the Dems established a litmus test, so all the alarm raised about Alito's ideology, though no doubt something to be worried about, is completely unpersuasive. What sort of conservative would the Dems accept? Turn the question around, ask what sort of liberal the Repubs would accept of a Dem nominee, and the problem becomes clear. So I think you have to have some criteria other than just ideology if you want to be politically effective in opposing a nominee. Otherwise, We the People just tune out and chaulk it up to another instance of political posturing.

That criteria might have been competence. Had the Democrats voted for Roberts, they could have been running a constant comparison with Roberts and found Alito lacking. The Republicans would have actually been on the defensive and would not have been able to just phone it in. There also would have been the real danger of important slips (and the slips that have occurred might have gained in import). The stakes for Alito would have just been so much higher and he wouldn't be able to be confirmed simply by sitting there watching the senator stage show play out before him. The hearings would certainly be more interesting and informative. We probably would even have learned something about Alito and his thinking. Now Alito will just come out of the hearing pissed at the Dems, his ideas about liberals all but confirmed. Who believes he won't just join the court to become the third vote for Scalia? And Roberts has no reason to remain particularly flexible as well. Go us.

09 January 2006

- Elvis Everywhere -

It was a beautiful day yesterday, and Family Anbruch celebrated by going to a restaurant on the lake to eat lunch. Little did we know that Elvis was scheduled to perform. In honor of his birthday, the restaurant had invited him. And so he appeared. Did you know that Elvis drives a minivan? Really, I saw it with my own eyes. I just wish I could have gotten the cell phone out of my pocket quickly enough to snap the picture.

And more: it turns out that there are mulitple Elvees—what would the plural of Elvis be—Elvisses, Elvi, Elves? In any case, we saw a schedule of his appearances, and he was supposed to be in two places at the same time. Now that is a great trick. Elvis must really be a god!

04 January 2006

- Road of Escape -

While on our trip, we obviously visited a number of rest areas. I took an interest in the architecture.

Here we have a relatively typical example of the genre. Note the alcove, which bisects the building into two blocks—his side and hers. Sexual difference is inscribed architecturally, representing the cultural power of the difference. Whatever the difference inside the walls of the blocks, however, the external distinction is merely formal: the blocks are equal size. The jutting roof over the entrance joins the two blocks, giving the otherwise utilitarian building a sense of architectural distinction. This distinctiveness is supported literally by the two block buildings, but also figuratively in the sense that distinctiveness appears founded on the difference between the sexes.

Most rest areas include "picnic areas." Though seldom used, their symbolic importance is not to be under- estimated: they help define the space of the rest area as a refuge from the road. The simple, rustic quality of most of picnic shelters reinforces our sense of the road as a means of escape from urban life.

The appearance of multiple architect- urally identical shelters reveals this experience of escape as merely apparent. Not only is our experience of escape shared, it reproduces our place in society. The number of shelters are a sublated sign of the traffic to which we contribute even as we would escape it. The rest area demonstrates that the road of escape offers no escape.

Often set at some distance from the highway, the rustic quality of many shelters evokes the feel of the campground, the commodified space of nature. The vehicles in the background and constant hum of freeway traffic nevertheless undermine the illusion: this refuge is apparent, at best momentary.

With the forest-like setting, this represent- ation of nature seems somewhat more complete. The social regulation of nature here is never- theless enforced by the large block at the front of the shelter—it conceals a trashcan. Even as it seeks to hide its function as a collection point for unwanted signs of social presence, this block dominates the setting. Whereas the shelter itself appears slight, somewhat vulnerable to the forces of nature, this receptacle for social debris is solid, immovable. The social imperative to the individual not to litter the landscape so as to preserve an image of nature not identical to the culture that produced it appears by littering the area with this representation of social force. None of this is to condone littering, of course, but merely to note that the order not to litter is socially produced, that is, part of an ideology that constructs a certain kind of individual.

This is a different sort of design. Modest and suburban, it gives the impression of simple comfort. It recedes comfortably into the landscape, inviting us in, rather than thrusting forward as if to dominate us. While still present, symmetry is not articulated here. If a division of the sexes persists, it is no longer reified in architectural form: the division is housed, its terms negotiated under one roof.

A new fixture of the rest area and one that necessarily reveals its urban character. There is no attempt to disguise the presence of the bars through artistic ironwork or other architectual detailing. The bars simply are, nakedly emphasizing functionality. Their regularity is broken only by places to insert money to feed the the machines, delivering the ideological message that commerce must be protected even at the cost marring the otherwise pastoral image of the rest area.

The bars here have been painted, apparently in an attempt to soften their appearance. At the same time, the grates are completely regular, giving the odd impression of commerce being contained, even jailed. Whereas the previous example seemed to protect commerce from us, this one reverses that appearance: The cage now seems to protect us from commerce. I imagine that the bars—in either form—will not long persist. For their presence denaturalizes capital: this setting does not permit commerce to appear natural.

This is the quint- essential rustic look—a sort of country lodge. As noted above, the deep recess of the alcove is an architectural articulation of the divsion of the sexes. The force of the architecture here, however, is not the representation of power but its naturalization.

This is a detail of the water fountain, which stands out strikingly against the rustic building. As can be seen here its shadow leaves the sign of the cross. Perhaps this shadow is a simple contingency of the design, but its three-tiered design might be read as evoking the trinity. If this religious reading seems somewhat strained, the fountain certainly offers an architecturally prominent sign of refreshment and renewel, which entices us to accept the ideological terms of its nourishment.

Evocative of Frank Lloyd Wright, this design does not present the rest area as natural refuge; but neither does it give into pure functionality. It both sits placidly within the space and stands out monolithically against it, defining a space that is not that of the road without offering the illusion of natural escape. Yet its poignant loneliness, the image of reconcilliation it offers, remains an image, the sign of an unfulfilled promise in an generous interpretation, hopeless nostalgia for a lost age of rugged individualism on the other.