Back to work!

Hello blog. It’s been a while. It’s been a February, really. Between taking care of an infant and keeping up with my class blog, you’ve fallen by the wayside. I am sorry about this, but things are gonna change.

That other blog? Means nothing to me – YOU’RE my one and only. Well, sure I’ll still post there. I mean, it’s my job, baby. You don’t want me to lose my job, do you?

In all seriousness, February functioned as a sort of mental health month in order for me to adapt to the new duties of, you know, having a kid and teaching a blog class. So essentially I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been blogging. But to get back on track, with the blog and things beyond, here’s what’s going to happen in March:

  • Updates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (at least)
  • At least one comics and beer post (each) per week
  • Continued (and hopefully more focused) updates in the realms of social media, visual communication, and infant care in the sterling tones you’ve come to expect. Yes, YOU.

I’m also trying to get my physical act back together, so this March I’ll be running at least a mile every day. Which right now means A mile every day, but I was doing pretty well in 2009 so hopefully I don’t take long to bounce back. Finally, I’m undergoing a strict fast food embargo for the month. Why in March? Because it’s not January.

So that’s what I’m hoping to do. Won’t you join me as I fail in full view of the Internet?

Messin’ with maps

Haven’t been here for a while. It turns out having a kid is hard. More vibrant posting to come this week. For now, though, I’m experimenting with embedding Google Maps in posts, courtesy of a fine walkthrough by my friend Grant.

Since this is hopefully something that will benefit my blogging and interactive journalism class, let’s try it with our own fair Martin Hall here at WVU.

It kind of works! The only thing is, the map that shows up seems to be zoomed out to the maximum level, yet I want it to be zoomed to the downtown campus of WVU. Hm. Let’s see what Grant says about this …

[EDIT: 523p 1/30/10 – It works! Thanks to Grant and Pat for the help. In a nutshell (you can check their words in the comments), I must have zoomed back out before copying the link code. I didn’t think I had, but then, that’s my usual defense for things I’ve forgotten around the house. Playing resumes!]

The further steps he gives allow additional customization that includes layers the reader can turn on and off, but let’s get this bit fixed first. More to come.

Dying snow persons of Morgantown

This December has been an unusual mix of weathers. We had more flurries yesterday, but the snows of the big blizzard of two weeks ago had mostly melted away. For a brief while, things warmed up in Morgantown.

That might seem like a good thing, but it neglects to consider the individual cost to Snowmankind. While you rest in your cozy homes, countless Iced Americans are left to face the elements without adequate shelter.

Witness the horror as, emaciated and starving, they waste away.

Some barely possess enough scraps of fabric to protect them from the elements.

Others are scarcely recognizable, mere shades of what they once were.

Even those who had once gotten fat off the land now wallow in filth and squalor.

And the women … well, as is so often the case, the women put on a brave face through it all.

Please, the next time it warms up … think of the snowchildren.

Three incredibly geeky (and visual!) presents

I took a few days off from blogging for the Christmas holiday. Partly it was because my parents were visiting, and we were all occupied with presents and meals and general socializing. Mostly it was because I didn’t think of it.

But those days are gone now, and we currently are squatting in the gutter betwixt Christmas and New Year’s, waiting for the baby and hoping it splits those holiday uprights. In the meantime, let’s show off the presents. First, from Jessica:

It’s a set of 10 PANTONE color chip mugs! What young man wouldn’t want such a thing? You’ll notice each includes its specific color code.

Two casualties – Purple’s handle had broken off, and Orange had gotten its bottom punched out somehow. Jess is checking with the people at Uncommon Goods to see about replacements (they also make brown sets for tea and espresso!), but even broken they’ll be colossally geeky office shelf additions.

Second is this set from my parents.

Pogo is one of the best comic strips ever made, but it’s pretty much impossible to find collections – Fantagraphics has been promising a new set for years now, but every time the drop date approaches, they push it back (September 28, 2010? Don’t you believe it). Dad managed to find this hardcover edition from the 1960s, “Ten ever-lovin’ blue-eyed years with Pogo,” as well as this swell Pogo figurine.

Not only that, it turns out the book is annotated! So you get a selection of highlight strips from Pogo’s first ten years, and also Walt Kelly’s comments on where those strips came from. I am not going to get any work done, am I?

Finally, from my sister, these outfits from Nerdy Baby:

U is for Urchin, X is for Xenops. Not only the, the words are written upside down – you know, so the baby can read it.

For those with poor vision, “I (heart) any positive integer divisible only by 1 and itself.” Our child will be both awesome and frequently mocked. Also, I want this (from the wrapping):

Math nerd or Lovecraft fan? Only time will tell.

That’s all the gushing for now. It was a good year, and probably the last time Jessica and I will get presents of any significant. Bear, meanwhile, has had it with the holidays for the time being.

I know the feeling.

Braving winter for no good reason

Yesterday we got about eight inches of snow here in Morgantown. That’s not a lot by Upper Midwest standards, but it’s fairly hefty for a hill-and-valley town with lots of ill-maintained streets. The governor even declared it a state of emergency. There was, to put it simply, some snow.

So what did we do? Well, after a 6 a.m. dog walk, Jess and I decided it would be a fantastic idea to drive to the movie theater and see Avatar. Understand first that this was not a fanboy activity. Although we were aware of Avatar, neither of us had given the movie much thought; we would not stand in line to see it. In fact, with the exception of Rifftrax this Wednesday, we haven’t been to see a movie since August, and there have been lots of them I’m much more interested in than Avatar.

Why go drive an ill-equipped Mitsubishi (with admittedly good tires) through unplowed streets in an ongoing blizzard to see a movie we both feel fairly apathetic about? I blame my upbringing. Up in the Frozen North, when you got a snow day it meant something – most people had snow tires, if not chains in the back of the truck, so it was rare that folks in Corry couldn’t make it to school/work.

I fondly remember one snow day because I’d rented A Link to the Past the day before, and the weather was so bad that we couldn’t return it, so I had all day to beat it. This, however, was a rare decision for a snow day. Where I’m from, what usually happens on snow days is everyone decides to get in their cars and drive to the store or the movies. People in snow boots stomping around Walmart, queued up for winter movies, and generally making all major roads even more congested and hazardous.

This kind of lunacy applies to my family just like any other. As with Black Friday, I’m pretty sure we didn’t do it right – snow days are for fun and doing stuff at home, not for driving 30 miles to Erie and seeing a movie you wouldn’t have seen under normal circumstances. Too dangerous to drive, and the state’s recommending you stay off the roads? Let’s go to the mall!

At least the people at the Granville movie theater had a sense of humor about things.

So how was Avatar? Pretty decent. I’ve read a surprising amount of heated opinion on both sides of it, but I thought it was a generally entertaining movie. The visuals are phenomenal – few are gonna argue with that – but about halfway through I started getting distracted by the mundanity of the story. It’s pretty standard fare, even cliched, and that started to wear on me. Also, Jess had to take off the 3D glasses because they were making her sick (but adorable):

As it continued, though, I swung back into the “like” side of things (though I’m curious to read the perspective of military audiences come the Monday overview stories – the Marines don’t exactly come off as noble). Most compelling to me, especially as the fridge brilliance set in, was the question of what it would be like to have an outsider wear the shape of your species. This is the peg upon which the movie hangs, and it gets explored not only with the titular avatars but with the space marines’ own prosthetics and mech suits, especially in the big finish. I wouldn’t have minded even more exploration of this theme, even at the expense of some of the (still fairly trite) plot elements. How would you feel if confronted by an alien wearing a human suit?

It’s a question that deserves some consideration today, when we’re creating multiple online personas. Facebook’s new privacy rules, for example, allow you (if you’re patient enough to make all the changes) to segregate certain content to certain audiences, e.g., friends or business. Some professors I know, like Paul Lester, are even experimenting with teaching classes on Second Life. To what extent does the skin you wear determine who you are, and just how mutable is the “real” person behind it? How liable is one persona for the actions of another?

Regardless of how many online personalities I spawn, though, at the end of the day I’m still a bonehead who likes to drive in the snow. There is not yet an app for that.

Getting carded

We haven’t done Christmas cards in a while. I’m not against the practice, and have even engaged in it in the past, but being a student and living in an apartment can leave you feeling less-than-settled. The sending of festive holiday cards, by contrast, is more that tends to be done by people with a firmer handle on their affairs.

(I say this by way of generalization. I am sure there are many absolute basket cases who send Christmas cards. I mean no offense by my stereotyping.)

Anyway, it’s been a while. But this year I came across some good ones, so they’re goin’ out.

The one on the right depicts the Krampus, the Austrian spirit that torments naughty children. The card itself ($11 for 12, but possibly sold out by now) was designed by Melita “Miss Monster” Curphy, whose site I was pointed to by Krampus Kards – apparently there are people who put together these cards every year, which is FANTASTIC.

On the left is a local product, a blood-spatter analysis card designed and sold by the WVU Forensic Science Club. You can get 5 for $10, which goes toward the club. It’s on nice paper too. Here’s the inside.

They also include a logo inside for the people on your Christmas card list who are wondering just what in the hell you’ve sent them.

Mergy Krampus and a Killer New Year!

Morgantown photo dump

Morgantown is a weird place. This is not a criticism of the city, but rather an observation. Jess and I like Morgantown, but there is the occasional strangeness. One of my favorite things about having a phone is being able to capture these images. Call ’em documentation, call ’em evidence, but here are a few scenes from the week that was.

After Jess’ weekly pregnancy checkup, we headed back to the car. Pictured is the car parked next to us. May I draw your attention to the vicinity of the front tire:

Behold the wonder of Street Pie.

On closer inspection, the pie appeared to be pumpkin. Why does one leave a pie on the ground in a parking lot? This is one of the mysteries even a Ph.D. does not prepare one to answer.

Here is a book I was not aware existed. I present it here without editorial content:

I choose not to speculate about the length of this book. It does bear mentioning, however, that this is the book immediately below it on the shelf:

Good to know there’s a backup plan.

Finally, here’s an odd choice of trend to seize upon:

Surely there is a reason for this, one other than being an epidemic enthusiast, but I’m at a loss.

Why does Farmville hate Christmas?

Hope I’m not stirring up the wingnuts with this, but it got my attention. Farmville players recently received a tree from the game. The tree is initially bare, but you can load it with gifts from friends, which you open on Dec. 24 (me, I’m hoping for chickens).

Due to my compulsion to collect worthless (but visually mesmerizing) strings of 1’s and 0’s, I am thrilled by any new opportunity to gather the meaningless in service of the pointless. Farmville, as always, is only too happy to oblige, and so I’ve been trimming this virtual tree with virtual gifts from my virtual friends. But as I scrolled over the tree today, I noticed this:

While I applaud your bravery in going with the “Holiday Tree” label, Farmville, I’d be curious to hear some of the no doubt calm, rational, and not-at-all-hyperventilated comments you’ve received about this.

For too long, an age-old tradition has been sullied by those who would hide its true name out of some loyalty to what’s popular, or “correct.” Rather than embrace what countless others have found meaningful – the gifts we give, the tree we harvest and decorate, the hams we eat – these individuals have chosen to know the season by a name other than its true one, seeking to hide the true celebration behind it all.

I am referring, of course, to Saturnalia.

Every year, the wife and I travel into the wilderness of Kroger to select the finest $30 Frasier Fir in all the land. We cutteth that tree out of the store, the work of the hands of the workman, with the debit card. We deck it with silver and with gold; we fasten it with nails and with hammers, and one of those green plastic bases, that it move not.

For this day, we allow our slaves to treat us with disrespect.

Come the eve of December 24, the real excitement begins. In the tradition of my Druidic ancestors (on my father’s side), we do then observe the winter solstice with the hanging of our socks (the better to catch falling coins) and lie in eager wait for the coming of Odin All-father astride his great steed Sleipnir. Gifts and punishments are doled out as befit our comportment in the year that was. It is a magickal time for all.

Lo, Saturnalia! And a mergy Krampus to all!

Luke Ravenstahl may not be winning hearts and minds

I like Mayor Luke (okay, he’s not MY mayor, but I’m in Pittsburgh pretty regularly). He’s the youngest mayor in Pittsburgh history, and for a brief stint he essentially changed his name to “Screw the Baltimore Ravens.” He also spent some time at Mercyhurst, and, as everyone knows, people from Erie County love politicians who’ve lived in Erie.

Apparently, though, he’s a little shove-y. And might have borrowed a city SUV to go see Toby Keith – but ya gotta love his defense: “That’s what 27-year-olds do and I shouldn’t be any different.” The guy can’t even go to Steelers games anymore, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your geographical inclination.

So there’s some stuff, sure. But on a recent trip to Craig Street I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like this:

Biting critique, or just a catchy portmanteau? You be the judge.