Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Post-apocalyptic worlds

I just finished reading two novels set in post-apocalyptic worlds. I wouldn't ordinarily read two somber books in a row like that without Stephanie Plum stuck between them to make me laugh, but I happened to pick up Cormac McCarthy's The Road and then was given World War Z by Max Brooks as a gift.

I love McCarthy's writing and his ability to elicit pity from the reader for the worst of his characters and to convey with painful beauty what it means to be human. The Road is no exception, and I think it may be my most favorite of all his books. The novel is set in a fiercely grim world in which a father's and son's love for one another is the only relief, and certainly the only beauty, in the ravaged landscape and relentless destruction around them. McCarthy's post-apocalyptic world is utterly believable, as is the relationship between father and son, in this remarkable novel. If you are a pessimist, but hold out a tiny grain of hope for the human spirit, this is a book to read.

Okay, that was just a little too serious, so now we're going to rag on some Zombies! Be prepared to set all belief aside for World War Z. Well, I mean, zombies, duh, yeah! But, completely apart from zombies, be prepared to believe that -- in spite of millions of deaths (and subsequent reanimated zombies) in the U.S. -- the government, the military and the industrial world would continue to function, albiet somewhat badly at first, enough so that it becomes possible to manufacture zombie proof suits and diving equipment for the military, organize an evacuation to move most surviving Americans and their government west of the Rocky Mountains, and stamp out all but small pockets of zombies. (Zombies, it turns out, freeze in northern winters and then thaw and become troublesome in the spring -- and you thought break-up in Fairbanks was ugly!)

Anyway, all of this makes me wonder where Brooks was during Hurricane Katrina, and how he could possible imagine that any infrastructure would survive the body count, ruined cities and general disorder he describes as his post-apocalyptic world. Hah! Not gonna happen. Ironically, I think Brooks meant the book as a vehicle for making fun of the government and military.

Interestingly, Brooks has written this book as a series of oral history interviews, citing Studs Terkel as an influence. But anyone who has ever listened to oral histories, or who has read Terkel and paid attention, knows that people speak with their own distinctive styles. All of the interviewees in the book speak in the same voice, further diminishing the believability of the story.

Anyway, if you are an incurable optimist and hold out a boat load of hope for capitalism, oil reserves, and human nature, and if you're willing to suspend a whole bunch of belief to be entertained, this is the book for you.

Making post-apocalyptic pictures is fun. The above was done from a photograph of a rusted out marine boiler washed up on the shore at Ninilchik, Alaska ca. 1980, and stuck in the creepiest frame layer I could find in Photoshop Elements 5.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Staying connected, part 2

I got a letter in the mail the other day telling me that my cell phone provider wasn't going to support my old cell phone anymore. So yesterday I went to the local company office. I had a new phone all picked out, and I was pretty excited about it. This new phone would not only allow me to call friends and family, it'd also take pictures, play music, and connect wirelessly to all sorts of useful devices. Plus it was red. How cool is that? So when it was my turn to talk to the sales rep, I plunked the new phone's pamphlet down on his desk and said, "This is the phone I want." Well, this thirty-something guy looked at me, looked at the pamphlet and looked back at me. Then he said, "I think this is too much phone for you."

So, anyway, my new phone can take pictures, play music and connect wirelessly to all sorts of useful devices. Plus it's red.

And the sales rep? Yeah, he's red, too.

P.S. The phone picture isn't mine; I found it doing an image search. It's a kick, isn't it? Early '60's, I'm betting.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Staying connected

Originally uploaded by MizMagee

Once upon a time, many years ago (1983, to be exact), I was complaining to a friend about how annoying it was to be in the shower when the phone rang. This was, of course, before answering machines became ubiquitous. So the phone would ring, and there you would be, mid-suds, and you'd have to leap out, grab a towel and leave a trail of wet footprints across the floor only to discover that the person on the other end of the line was interested in selling you a Ginzu knife or a new vacuum. Anyhow, my friend looked sort of bemused and said, "But I just unplug my phone when I don't want to be interrupted."

The ground rumbled beneath my feet, dark clouds parted and golden rays of sun poured down on me! Possibly I heard angels singing. I don't always have to be connected! What a concept!

I've had a lot of fun learning the features of Web 2.0. I'm intrigued by the sociological implications of it all, and impressed by the utility of a few of the things I've looked at. But my mind boggles at the idea of being constantly connected. Apart from the sheer craziness of trying to fit blogging, Twittering, YouTubing, podcasting, text messaging, Rollyoing, and being fed by RSS into a single day and still managing to sleep, eat and be productive, I have to wonder what the impact of all this is on the quality of an individual's life. When are people able to be alone with their thoughts? Isn't that important? How can Twittering stand in for being physically with friends, reading the expressions on their faces, hearing in their voices the day's joys and sorrows? I think always being connected means, oddly enough, becoming disconnected. It means trading depth of experience for number counters and statistics generators.

But, as I've said before, I'm old. Maybe I just don't get what constitutes a meaningful experience in 2007. Here I am blogging, after all, and I'd like to keep doing that now that I've finished Learning 2.0. My pictures are up on Flickr and my books are listed on LibraryThing. Clearly I don't think it's all bad. But, jeez, slap me if I start to Twitter!

The picture (forgive the barrel distortion) is a nice example of an analog communication device, located, happily enough, right outside the front doors of the very library that set me the quest of considering Web 2.0. You don't have to be connected to anything but the ground in front of it in order to use it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Banishing the grump

Huh, well my last two posts might have been just a bit cranky. Only a little, of course, because I'm the queen of cheerful optimism and hearty enthusiasm. Okay, not. But I'm posting this photo, anyhow, because a) houses in Juneau are awesome and b) so are some Web 2.0 features. Just not MySpace.

Anyway, can you see the crazy curtains in this window? (You can click on the picture to make it bigger.) Umbrellas and raindrops in a red, blue and green window. The people in this house totally know how to deal with Juneau's drizzly weather!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


You can access quite a lot in MySpace without having an account. Which is all to the good, because I don't want one. What a bunch of irrelevant nonsense! MySpace is like talk radio; it really, really messes with the fantasy I have that most people are reasonably intelligent. Weirdly, I had the identical feeling I get when walking to my seat at the movie theater -- like my feet were sticking to the glop on the floor. Vapid, inelegant, crushingly stupid. Ick! Enough said.

Google Base, Google Labs, food, personal ads and a walk in the woods

Moss and flowers
Originally uploaded by MizMagee

Okay, it's true, this picture hasn't got much to do with Web 2.0. Well, I mean, I guess you could make some sort of analogy between pretty stuff growing on a dead stump near Juneau and new technology, but, hey, I'll leave that to the more literary and philosophical! I just like this picture because it's stress free and gentle, and it reminds me of a great hike I took near Mendenhall Glacier. Well, um, and because sometimes I need something beautiful to balance the strange and icky stuff lurking out there on the Web. But I'll get to that in a minute.

I ventured into Google Base right before lunch, so, guided by my growling stomach, I pounced on the "recipes" category and found a great recipe for salmon chowder. Emboldened by that success and still influenced by hunger, I searched the "events & activities" category for farmer's markets in the Seattle area. Of course that was a sure thing, so I decided to make it more challenging and changed the location from Seattle to Dubuque. And, hey, there is, indeed, a farmer's market near Dubuque. There's hope for the heartland! Or so I thought, but here's where I went wrong. I decided to add some humor to my day by searching the "personal" category. Google Base preserves the search parameters from your previous search and applies them when you search a new category. Voila! I had the only entry in the "personal" category for Dubuque. A 53 year old male who listed his body type as "other." I should have stopped there, because, god knows, that's pretty funny. But no, like a doofus, I had to click on the link. All I can say is you don't want to go there. Moss and flowers on stumps and hikes through the rain forest: all good. Google Base personal ads: bad, bad, bad.

Anyway, after that adventure, I tried Google Labs, which is Google's playground of possible future sites and features. Honestly, I didn't find much to be excited about, although I did like the possibility of viewing pieces of history on a timeline. On the right hand side of the Google Labs page is a list of former Lab features that have become Google standards, and I added Google Scholar to my browser bookmarks. Somehow I'd missed that Google search engine, and I was impressed with my search results.

Anyhow, I'm off to get becalmed contemplating old stumps. Peace.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Interval Library - more YouTube weirdness

Hey, I'm a librarian and a music lover. Found my bliss!