Sunday, January 27, 2008

flowers and coffee

This morning, while visiting her family in Encinitas, Katy and I went on a strange dual errand, for a small flower arrangement (portrait session-Katy) and a coffee (internet fuel-me). After an unsuccessful attempt at one-stop-shopping at a nearby grocery store, which had only bad coffee and bad flowers, Katy realized that there was the perfect combination across the street:

Encinitas often feels to me like some sort of alternate suburban utopia, as if it is somehow immune to the blandness and impartiality that I'm used to seeing in the outer reaches. This is a prime example. These local businesses aren't protected by neo-marxist community law, tourist flow, high property prices, or even a walkable neighborhood. The coffee shop is drive-by only (although I walked up to the window, which may have precipitated a free size upgrade). There are plenty of Ralphs, Starbucks, and Targets down the street. And yet the area is almost choked with small businesses and restaurants co-existing peacefully beside their corporate counterparts. Every time we drive down I try to figure out why it works.

It might be as simple as the ocean, a mile away and a constant presence in this linear city. The Pacific is a social aggregator for these towns, providing lots of recreation and chance contact, and keeping house prices elevated (although, at least this far north, not ridiculous). This, combined with the topography and preexisting older neighborhoods, keeps developments, and their constituent lots, small and packed together. Most of the side effects are seen between the 5 freeway and the beach, in a string of cute, well-preserved main streets and boardwalks. But a secondary (and for me, more powerful) benefit is in the thriving tiny businesses in the second floors and back lot pads of strip centers over the hills. There is an addictive combination of jerry-rigged, frugal atmosphere with surprisingly high quality that is endemic in the burrito stands, haircut stores, sewing emporia, and, yes, flower shops you find scattered along this stretch of North County.

So I got my coffee and Katy got her flowers:

And we both went home happy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

shaken to sleep

We saw Cloverfield this weekend and I had such a negative reaction to the movie I thought I should share. Like most people in the theater, I left jumpy, disturbed, and vaguely nauseous (someone actually left an acidic gift for everyone in the hallway before the film was over). This was mostly explained away as a consequence of 80 minutes of deep booming noises, shaky camera work, and a few exploding people. Feeling shocked after a movie is not a new experience. What was new was the black mood that set in almost immediately thereafter, which I could not shake for a full day. That, I believe is the consequence of what was missing, not what was actually there.

Cloverfield is a unique film in that it is almost completely absent of exposition, character development, and basic plot. What is left is a bunch of loud noises, grisly visuals, and the slow and steady revelation of what "Cloverfield" looks like, which reaches a somewhat disappointing climax in the final 10 minutes. To me, the lack of any explanation, greater story, or emotional attachment makes this something less than a film. As an experience it lies somewhere between a circus slideshow and being taped into a cardboard box and pushed down a flight of stairs.

Without the context provided by basic story elements, the 80 minutes of loud noises and visual shocks couldn't be processed as anything external to my own experience. So instead of spending my time after the film thinking about it as a piece of dramatic art, I instead just coped with a mild case of post-traumatic stress. Not my idea of a good time.

PS- There is something seriously wrong with our national culture that this movie is PG-13, but if I'd seen a nipple it would have been rated R.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

GM-C and cityofsound, too

#1: Gordon Matta-Clark at Ubuweb.

#2: Great (and I mean great) city of sound presentation on possible parametric/sustainable futures.

#1: Watch these videos and marvel at how much they look like Snohetta projects.

#2: Shoot in a comment to let Mr. Sound know what the future will really be like (besides shiny and warm).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Open Letter : Dinos Chapman

The other day I decided to spend my morning drinking half a pot of coffee and letting my eyes vibrate across the 159 fantastic pages of the new Bibliodyssey book. In front of all of the crazy imagery was a foreword by artist Dinos Chapman. The forward was actually declared a 'forewarning' about the internet in general, which Chapman describes as a "treacherous minefield to be trodden with trepidation if it is to be used for anything other than a purient delve into the seamier side of human frailty." Mr. Chapman's was certainly being deliberately crass and provocative, but I feel the need to comment on it anyway (there's a wonderful symmetry in giving sober reflection on the internet to a crass and provocative printed page, for one.)

The essay seems intent on disproving what the book itself seems to suggest, that the internet contains unearthed hidden treasures and knowledge free and waiting for discovery. Chapman writes that digital life has "been dragged down to its lowest common denominator, a labour-saving device of the most crass order: a less than useless tool for ordering cold inedible pizza from around the corner, a plain cover wrapper for pornography, the discrete purchase of Viagra, the sending of virtual birthday cards..." To me, the entire two pages seems more like a personal expose or confessional than a true piece of analysis, a man attempting to hijack this deeply considered and well curated book with a strange kind of literary exhibitionism. The foreword to this book could have taken any number of tacks-- the issues with digital archiving, copyright and originality, visual culture, a nice short story-- instead all I got was a person I care little about telling me that he spends a lot of time at, and lecturing me about how by spending time on my computer every morning I am a lonely, distracted hermit in search of ever more esoteric forms of titillation. Thanks, Chap.

What is the best future scenario for this kind of outlook? A return to salon culture? Post-apocalyptic hunting and gathering? One of the more obnoxious things about the foreword is that it tries to cast in internet as both banal marginalia and all-encompassing dystopia. In other words, a shrill prophesy of the inevitable decline of (post)modern culture.

Please, Mr. Chapman. The kids are alright.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

obsolete but still funny

Now that Hilary's had her day maybe it's time to look back, back to five days ago when everyone was surprised. The Huckaboom and the Obamawagon is a hi-styrical romp by Kevin Gilfoile and John Warner in the Morning News (maybe the most attractive internet news source available). These letters back and forth are sprinkled with nuggets of joy such as "Fred Thompson is running for president with the enthusiasm of a nine-year-old shopping for Sunday pants," and "The Giuliani campaign is the result of the same delusional miscalculation that’s causing Amy Fisher to market a sex tape. Amy Fisher isn’t famous for being sexy. She’s famous for being a bad shot."

But my favorite bit is at the end, when Kevin dissects a latent national (or maybe just personal) desire to pick one's president by "identifying the person I want representing this country to the world." For me, I didn't realize this desire until I had eight years of bumbling speechies coupled with headstrong assholeocity. So, unfortunately, right now what drives me most election-wise is the prospect of being envied by Europeans, and maybe some Russians. Or, if that's unattainable, only being embarrassed for my nation once a month, tops.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Ok, I promise I have a post of real substance coming down the pipe, but as it is I'm tired and the bed is warm, so what you get is this:

Maybe it's just nascent music snobbery, but Rolling Stone is the last place I expected to find a comprehensive, well explained primer to the problems plaguing contemporary pop music production. It's called "The Death of High Fidelity" and it explains in exacting detail why your new music is so much less exciting than the old (sorry, blanket statement, I know). The quick answer: digital compression is the devil incarnate. Somewhere around 10 years ago they found a way to completely eliminate dynamic variation, creating a literal "wall of sound" that catches attention immediately but can't sustain it. Add in a host of local compression devices in everything from itunes to your car stereo and you get some serious one-dimensional shit. And that's all before you even get to the generally low quality of most downloaded MP3s. It's pretty ironic that while the fidelity of the average home stereo system is rising (excepting those shitty ipod earbuds), recording quality is tanking like there's no tomorrow.

My favorite moment in the article are these captioned waveforms:

"Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Arctic Monkeys
"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"

Good job, Rolling Stone. Let's get some space in those there songs.

***Addendum: looking around I found via me-fi another great article with a more in-depth history. Also, this YouTube video.

Friday, January 04, 2008

merry xmas from the marshall islands

I was reading PK's fantastic new post at Bibliodyssey this morning and caught a reference to atomic blast Christmas cards existing somewhere in the Scripps Oceanic Research Digital Archives. A quick search and here it is:

Makes me wish I knew more physicists come holiday time.