Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Huh. Histories of the Rotary conventions. Looks like the Con has been as big as an average Rotary's for the last four years or so.

Via one of James Lileks' American Motel pages, which are intermittently very funny, when they're not pegging the nostalgia meter up into the mid-eights.
That new set of apartment buildings going up in downtown State College on the old Ambassador Building lot across from the Lutheran church is looking more and more elaborate as they get past concrete-blocks-and-girders to fiddling around with facades and such. When it's done, Beaver Canyon is going to be steeper and more oppressively city-like than ever. The only gap left will be that preposterous ground-level for-pay parking lot in front of the Cinema 5, stuck right in the middle of downtown like a rotted-out socket in the middle of a bright white smile. Multi-story parking deck construction in five, four, three, two...

But seriously, the construction boom in the county has been pretty impressive. I'm kind of surprised that traffic hasn't been worse than it has been. If the owners of the Academy lot & their peers have their way, once the construction companies wrap up their projects in State College, there's still a good chunk of work in the outer county to absorb the surplus labor & workforce. Unless, that is, some sort of credit crunch brings everything to a screeching illiquid halt. We'll see. Given the number of properties for sale around Bellefonte, I'm still wondering who or what the developers expect to fill that new semi-high-rise *with*.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Yesterday was rainy and miserable for most of the day, with a single one-and-a-half-to-two-hour break in the weather, as a trough between fronts ripped the clouds asunder & left Bellefonte basking under an unexpectedly warm winter sun and a clear blue sky. I, like half the town, took advantage of this break in the weather by getting out & walking all over town, prior to stomping out to the strip-mall on Bishop Street to pick up some dinner. I mis-gaged the timing a bit, and got caught in the next front for about a half-mile of wet misery, but was able to scurry back to the apartment in another, brief lull around sun-set.

Strange weather for January. Winter decided to hang out with its Polish cousins on the Ukrainian border this year, I suppose.
Hmmm. The owners of the old Academy property that burned down last year are looking to rebuild. There's a sign out on Spring Street with a picture of a five-story apartment building & promising "high-end condominiums". This is not a tony neighborhood, mind you - the Academy was full of low-income housing rentals, and the rest of the neighborhood isn't in much better shape. In fact, you can find at least two partial ruins within a block of the Academy, partial ruins which look fully occupied. There's been some renovation going on up the hill on Allegheny Street, but it's still about as cracker as you can get on this side of Bald Eagle Mountain. Looks like Lifegate Baptist moved into that stone one-story across the road from the Academy's old driveway. I'm not sure you *can* gentrify that sort of neighborhood, but I suppose it's possible they're trying.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hrm. Just as I started seriously cutting back on my personal spending with an eye towards a radical savings plan last fall, the economy went into the tank in a big way. Er... oops?

h/t Jonah Goldberg @ the Corner.

Update: or... not so much. I'm confused. A drop in governmental military spending is responsible? How mind-warping.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lesson for the night: never play three-handed, no matter how much you don't want to waste a trip out to Patton Township, or how long you've been playing with folks. When your luck is out, your luck is *really* out playing three-handed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OK, I guess I do have something to relate. While I was stomping and sliding around campus Monday night, I marveled at how things change when you're not paying attention. That construction out on the old Lot 80 is wrapping up, and there's much less in the way of parking deck than I really expected. All the big, open spaces of the campus of my memory have been filled in with vaguely modern brick buildings of mysterious purpose and dubious provenance. There's another building where the old parking lot for North Commons used to be. What do students do for parking on campus any more? There aren't nearly enough parking decks to make up for the lost spots, if I'm calculating properly.

Well, I take that bit about all the big open spaces being gone. The big, empty, le Corbusier-ish lot around the bunker-esque Smeal College of Business building is still empty, except for a few straggly little trees which look like they were planted Oct. 2004 at the latest. Is this an expression of the power and influence of the Smeal College of Business, that it can defend its space against the encroachments of endowment-driven hyperconstruction, or a reflection of the disinterest of the said endowing alumni in putting their names on new buildings for the colorless Smeal College of Business?

They haven't started building anything on Old Main's lawn, have they?
Some days you don't have much to say. Except that it's a strange but amusing world.

ht Doktor Frank, INDCJournal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Holy shit! A blog commenter and an alert librarian uncovered a hobbyist jihadi planning on branching into actual terrorism in Dayton. The librarian reported the jihadi's browsing patterns, and the commenter was recruited via fora messages & email by the jihadi, who thought he was a fellow would-be maniac. Just some random cashier in a podunk town in the Western Reserve.
Went out again before color-up at Bar Bleu - Monday nights just aren't clicking for me, looks like. Oh, well, at least it isn't a cash game. I went walking on campus afterwards to kill time, and found ten guys playing a half-dollar ante game up in Findlay Commons in East Halls - fifty dollar minimum buy-in. I don't suck, but that's about five times over my current comfort-level, and I definitely don't have the confidence to blow fifty or sixty bucks on a single sitting. While I was on campus - I had promised to pick someone up off the last flight into University Park, and had hours to kill - I took the opportunity to get a new "Resident PA" library card at Pattee. The circulation desk ladies boggled at my 1990 student ID, then quickly ran through the process of cutting a new card. I guess they've given up on photo IDs. Had time to run back into the stacks and borrow a bunch of books which I'd been looking for in the county library system & not finding - Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil War, McWhiney's Attack and Die, Hennessey's Return to Bull Run, and Cozzens' book on Iuka & Corinth while I was at it. The late fees have gotten truly fearsome - $3.00 a day after the due-date or recall-date.

I had taken a pile of books I've never finished reading & manga I had gone sour on down to Webster's to see if I could get the piles out of my increasingly cramped apartment, & maybe get some extra money. Mostly paperback novels, crap trade paperback histories, and old manga like flipped Peach Girl, Battle Royale, Eden, Here is Greenwood, and random detrius like a Grisham novel or two or an extra volume of Parasyte that I accidentally double-ordered. I would have been happy with $100, cash, & wouldn't have bothered taking back anything at $50. They gave me a cheque for $250. No wonder used books are so pricey these days. It's all going towards buying inventory!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I'm here at the Con's yearly January committee-conference, aka "ComCon". It's a great SMOFfy retreat-type kind of event, and I'm enjoying myself immensely this year. The game show folks get in some practice Friday night by running a version of the game show they put on for last summer's convention proper, and I ended up being one of the participants. I don't know if the questions have gotten easier recently, or if I'm more alert these days, but I got a lot of mockery from the crowd for claiming at first that I wasn't good at trivia, and then winning by a good margin. The questions are (mostly) multiple-choice, and I've always tested well on multiple choice.

Managed to scrape together a pretty good fifty-cent cash game in one of the free suites, ran until 3:30 AM. I guess the exercise-and-diet regimen is working, because I had tons of energy & could have gone until six. I did pretty well, too - I may not be a good poker player yet, but I'm approaching fair-to-middling, which is good enough for the level I'm playing at, I think.

Oh, the work? My department is running on rails these days; I just have to talk to the comptroller about supply orders, and maybe check in on the membership cap discussion, and maybe talk to the chief of staff about replacement staff for the folks who inevitably get bored with the work. Lots of turnover in Registration.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ye gods, Red River is just so damned old-fashioned. It was published in the mid-Nineties, but it looks and reads like something from the late Sixties, complete with constant over-the-top gape-jawed reaction-shots ala Speed Racer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dude! Cool article about a pristine meteor crater site, known as "Wabar", deep in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, which Beduin lore holds (falsely!) to be the divinely-destroyed city of Ubar. Why falsely? Apparently because the site post-dates the Koranic story of Ubar by at least nine hundred years, and it might be less than two hundred years old. That, and they've found the actual site of Ubar hundreds of miles away. But the crater site itself is apparently a deeply cool place in and of itself, regardless of the lore. The details of just how inhospitable the location is - "On our weeklong third expedition, furious sandstorms destroyed our camp twice, and the temperature never dropped below 40 degrees C, even at night" - sound almost like tall tales.

Link via Rantburg.
Damnit, where has Chizumatic disappeared to, now? He said something about moving servers, but I thought there'd be a pointer to the new address for at least a few days in between, so's I could transfer my blogroll link over at my leisure. " Where have you gone, Steven Den Beste? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you."
The list of classic science fiction which I've never read is about as long as your arm. Among those lacunae is the original War of the Worlds, although I seem to have some childhood memory of reading a kidification of it once, or possibly just fragments which I was too young to really retain at the time, like those copies of Gulliver's Travels and the Travels of Marco Polo which I stumbled through uncomprehending at too young an age while staying at my grandparents' farmhouse for the Christmas season.

Anyways, a friend surprised me with the gift of a collection of H.G. Wells stories "as originally published", so I cracked it open & read the War of the Worlds in between doing my mid-week laundry. It's much better-written than I really expected of H.G. Wells, whom I mostly knew from his technocratic enthusiasms, weak-minded secular socialism, and credulous fellow-traveling endorsement of the Bolsheviks. The story is full of atmospheric detail, never treats the human interest as wall-paper or a distraction, and is strikingly well-paced and active for what, in my ignorance, I had thought of as a "literary" book. The ending was surprisingly affecting, and aside from some rhetorical and structural details which betray the book's pre-modernist origins, it holds up remarkably well for a book which is well into its second century. It's by far a better story than any of the cinematic or radio adaptations made of it over the years. Although the latest Spielberg version was as close an adaptation as I had been told it had been, the original novel was still much better-paced, less sentimental, and more honest in its plotting and action.

The one glaring fault of the book is something that I suspect gets regularly purged from more modern versions of the novel, part of that whole "as originally published" deal, I suppose. There's a nasty and harsh episode of anti-Semitism square in the middle of the book, as we join a small group of refugees attempting to cross the North Road in full London-evacuation-panic, and the protagonist's brother attempts to save a "Jew" from being crushed under the wheels of what seems like a half-dozen carts across the course of three pages. The "wretch" in question is depicted as a wild animal, crazed and grasping after his gold even after his back is broken & he lies dying in the panicked highway, and bites the hand of his would-be saviour. I mean, this is some of the rawest prejudicial bigotry you can get without descending into actual hate. The book was published at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, and I can't help but wonder what the politics are of such a leftist as Wells indulging in this sort of rank Jew-baiting at the very moment when Western political anti-Semitism was at its peak on the Right.

Pretty good essay on the book here, btw. Says a lot about Wells' use of geography and rhetoric to slowly build an effect which multiplies the impact of the action of the story, better than I could explain it, I think.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Nothing quite like walking into a restaurant and getting stared at by the entire wait staff in a row, like you're some kind of freakjob for wanting to *eat* on a Sunday. When asked what was going on, one of them, with a "duh!" expression, said "why aren't you watching the game?" Turned around, and the TV by the entrance was playing the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game. Whoops, forgot it was on.

Oh, BTW? Don't order a burger at Outback assuming that it'll be lighter than the other monster meals. It isn't; in fact, it might be a heavier meal than the twice-as-expensive steaks or pasta meals. Enormous burger, and way, way too many fries. Pretty good, though. Dave yelled at me to stop closing my eyes while eating, and I told him I was just enjoying the calories.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I just spent a few minutes checking out tax filing status on gambling winnings. Why? Because I had a better night than usual at HiWay Pizza, and it was the championship night for the series. Apparently they weren't kidding about a serious prize for the final winner. Having read over the W-2G instructions, it looks like my winnings are not *quite* serious enough to qualify for filing. Please correct me if I'm mis-reading that webpage, but it *looks* like the minimum reporting amount is $600 per wager. Now, this is an insanely high minimum reporting requirement, and it totally excludes the professional poker players who make their living at the $10-$25 tables in the real casinos, but if it means that I don't have to do the paperwork on my (by IRS standards, modest) one-time free-tournament windfall, I'm all for it. Meanwhile, this sucker is going straight into savings, you betcha.

Oh, yes: WAAHOO! What a night to catch fire!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Huh. There's noise to the effect that Suncoast Video is deep-sixing its manga section, due partly to the termination of their relationship with book distributor Ingram, and partly to a serious downsizing of Suncoast/Mediaplay itself. I guess it was fortuitous that I chose this month to shift heavily to pre-ordering through my local comics shop, wasn't it?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Nooo! Damn you, reviewer-pirated spoiler-mines! Every year, one of the shows I follow gets the first four episodes of the season shipped out to the critics, and every year, some nameless toad passes his or her set to the peer-to-peer types, and suddenly the intarweb is alight with universally-known spoilers three episodes ahead of what I've seen. This time, it's Battlestar Galactica. I didn't need to know that I will not spoil anyone else, go elsewhere for your fix!
Oh, man, it's beautiful outside today. That mass of warm air over north Texas I was just looking at on the Jan. 7 QC charts is blowing overhead right now, with sunlight, warm temperatures, and seriously blustery winds. I nearly got blown over while walking around the lower industrial park a few minutes ago. It's more like late March than mid-January out there.
I fear that I'll be even more gnomic and inaccessible in the next year, as I pare back my presence in the world with an eye towards Scroogedom. I spent the weekend watching old anime & reading a book which the rest of the blogsphere was talking about four years ago - Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million.

Koba the Dread is more valuable as a literary tract than true history - it's not really scholarly in the accepted sense. But Amis, as a novelist of stature and talent, knows how to turn a phrase, and does a rapping good job at manipulating & magnifying the metaphors & similes of the various scholars which he summarizes - Conquest, Tucker, Solzhenitsyn, Shalamov, etc. I have to admit that I've never read the Gulag Archipelago, or any of the other primary or secondary works on the Russian catastrophe, so I'm not exactly the best of audiences for this sort of thing.

But I teared up at the end, when Amis discusses how his infant daughter, in a fit of terrifying tears, was nick-named by his household after a Russian prison, and that nickname stuck throughout her childhood: Clio, named after the muse of history, became Butryka, the least of the Soviet hells. Ahh, I'd have to quote a dozen paragraphs to reproduce the effect. I've seen Amis quoted enough as it is. If you're curious, read the book.

Friday, January 06, 2006

I put in a three-month order for over two dozen manga volumes at the 'Swap last night. This is something in the way of a test of their discounting and ordering service. What I'm hoping for is that this will result in fewer fruitless drives around the county looking for manga, and a slightly cheaper per-volume cost. What I'm fearing is an increase in delays and general irritation. What really sticks with me, once I listed off everything I was planning on getting for a three-month period, and laid it all down next to each other on a sheet of paper, is how large of a fraction of my income goes to this sort of thing. It's essentially eaten up the overwhelming majority of my entertainment budget.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

While ambling through the SuperWalMart on North Atherton yesterday evening (having waxed greatly wroth upon finding that the Comic Swap had closed early on their alleged new-comics-day for the third week in two months - #$%!, and thus possessed of a sudden and unwelcome surfeit of free time prior to the night's poker session), I came upon this. How mind-warping!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Witold Rybczynski's taste in McMansions is not quite perfectly wrongheaded. The seventh slide in his presentation, of a pseudo-Queen Anne house from Pacific Heights, CA, shows a house which is not totally repulsive, and he's got it properly included in his set of four "good McMansions". But of the other three, and the four McMansions he cites as offensive to the eye - my god, what have they been putting in his pinot noir?

The fifth slide, the first of the "good McMansions", shows a sprawling, psychotic white mess of a house, with an overbearing centre-line and a frightening overbite, as if the facade was shifting forward in preparation of an impending collapse, or as if a recent earthquake had pancaked a missing second floor in between the oversize gables and the compressed, hunched first floor. The sixth slide is of a melange that rather looks like an A-frame molesting a mock-Tudor. The eighth slide, of a pseudo-Georgian misfire with a disturbing roofline which looks as if someone had hacked holes in roof on either side of the central building, is not quite as horrifying as the other two, but still! Yet, in each case, his commentary is laudatory and admiring. Incomprehensible.

Now, I'm not saying that his four "bad McMansion" examples are much of anything one way or the other, but in comparison with his favorites, they're models of balance, proportion and calm. The fourth slide, with the house with a brick facade and a vinyl side, is a bit of an aesthetic bodge, yes, but in comparison with House Overbite? I think not!

The whole line of argument - that the oversized houseness of the McMansion is inherently bad in aesthetic terms - is, I think, a particularly foul case of class snobbery hiding within the cloak of "good taste". Rybczynski complains quite a lot about the lack of coherent "style" in his "bad McMansions", but why should new buildings be perfect photocopies of decades-old or centuries-old housing styles? The houses he savages are well-proportioned and to scale. The houses he prefers are monstrous and alienating. I rather suspect that Rybczynski prefers that the inhabitants of designed buildings be alienated from their domiciles. Well, nuts to that!
Sigh. You know, my great-grandfather died in a coal-mining accident. Crushed by a runaway coal car, my grandmother said. He had gone back to the mine after letting his sons take over the family farm in West Newton.
I bought Lincoln's Wrath on a whim on the way down to Florida last month. I'm kind of regretting that impulse buy, and not only because I paid retail for something Amazon's selling at over a 30% discount. It looked interesting because I've not read as much about Civil War civilian politics as I would like, and the book's emphasis on the interaction of newspapers and politics in the Civil War and the antebellum really grabbed my attention, despite the rabble-rousing histrionics of its subtitle, "Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels, and a President's Mission to Destroy the Press".

It's been a tough slog. I've started the book twice so far. The book covers a lot of angles which are novel to me - the exact nature of the publishing contracts which represented the financial connection between the era's publishers and their client-politicians, the economics of the printing trade, some of the alliances between politicians and publishers other than Seward and Weed - and that's all fine and great, and highly welcome. What's not so welcome is the quality of the prose, or rather, the appalling lack thereof.

I'm not sure whether years of exposure to the rather minimal writing abilities of the small-town editors and publishers who produced their research material have stunted the authors' sensibilities, or whether the authors' inherent indifference to the rhetorical proprieties rendered them more likely to survive a long term of exposure to the subject matter and emerge on the other side of the ordeal with the raw material for a book-length treatment. One rather fancifully imagines the project beginning with one writer, driven mad and incoherent by his extended exposure to the non-Websterian horrors of small-town Democratic partisan prose, and a much-put-upon publisher attempting to salvage the project by inserting a (presumably) sane collaborator to shape the mess into a publishable manuscript, only to have that academic ringer driven mad in turn by his secondary exposure to the figurative necronomicon of the commonwealth's own mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, John Hodgson and his Jeffersonian.

I guess I'll keep cracking away at it, but this is history in a rawer form than I'm really comfortable with.
Budgeting for the next few months of manga purchases, taking into account the new manga club promotion of the Comic Swap of State College... boy, do I spend a hell of a lot on comics. Enough so that if I want to keep to an overall budget, I'm going to have to essentially cut out my DVD and book purchases, or at least cut them to a bare minimum.

BTW - the deal from the 'Swap is a straight one-free-for-ten-purchased stamp-card offer. Apparently they're leery of another storefront-and-a-Diamond-wholesale-discount competitor springing up in the county. It's enough of a benefit that I'm planning to shift the vast majority of my purchases to them for three months & seeing how it works out.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

If I understand the substance of this argument, then they're saying that because advertisers chase page real estate instead of advertising transactions, that online advertising will capture at best half the business which once went to the periodical market. It sounds like they're confusing method with goal, but what do I know? I would just assume that in a scarce market, more dollars thrown at less real-estate would result in more expensive real estate. I suppose it's possible that advertising isn't subject to the laws of supply and demand, but really, I'm stupid enough that I'd naturally assume that the object of supply scarcity in this equation would be attention, not the ads themselves.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I just finished doing two things: signing a lease with the new landlady, and plotting out a two-year budget that takes that new lease into account. Man, I usually don't indulge in that sort of wishful thinking. $200/month in food costs for the foreseeable future? Well, I guess it's a goal...