Wednesday, February 25, 2009


This is a news story from KCET in Southern California about businesses that do trashouts - the gathering of remaining belongings from foreclosed homes. This video includes sound. It is part of a larger news story.

I was struck by the sentiments of the workers. They are remorseful and respectful of the objects left behind. After all, the workers are reaping the rewards of someone else's misfortune, at least in the short run. In our consumer-driven economy, stuff has been imbued with meaning because we are taught that the accumulation of goods is an expression of our individual sense of self. Pocketbooks, sofas, cars, cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, and shoes are all expensive consumer goods that come in a variety of colors and styles so that we can live with things that truly are an extension of us. Or is it that we are an extension of the stuff?

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I took this at Baltimore Science Center. I captured a little child hypnosis going on in this tiny video. I took the sound out because it was just murmuring children.

By the way, the Baltimore Science Center totally blows. It's the worst science museum ever. First, it's too new to have developed a relationship with the universities, few as they are, in the area. Hopkins really needs to get on board there and DONATE SOME SHIT. Second, they seem to have a fear of presenting written material. It's all interactive game-type stuff for kids. They focus way too much on kids. I don't have a problem with children in museums as long as there are some other interested adults as well. But it's hard to make a case that someone should spend $14.50 to get into this place when there ISN'T EVEN A SKELETON IN THE SECTION ABOUT THE BODY. Third, I have a sneaking suspicion that the whole museum is an excuse for an iMax theater. I could be wrong about this. But please notice that when you start a science museum and fail to develop a relationship with the surrounding academic community, your corporate sponsorship is going to have a lot of say in how the museum presents itself. A substantial scientific base is important so that the museum can set up its expectations for quality, it's patronship, and morality. Starting out with corporate sponsorship at the get-go is a bad idea (the lobby is sponsored by Lockheed Martin) because profit will always be on the brain. Science has never been about profit.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I love Boston's Science Museum. The Mathematica exhibit was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. This is a mobius strip.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I'm trying to write another essay for Smile Hon. It's for their transportation issue.

I don't currently have a car so it has forced me to depend on other modes of transportation to get around the city. A lot of the time, this dependence is on my partner, J, who has a car. But I'm afraid of driving stick shift in the city so I find myself interacting with a lot of strangers when I have to get from point A to point B. It makes for some interesting stories.

1. There are varied reactions to my habit of biking to work when it's not too cold or wet outside. It's a very pleasant, mostly safe two mile ride and I have a nice bike, thanks to a friend. All last year, one of my colleagues asked if I wanted a ride home, as if I would prefer it. My chair thinks it's "just great" that I ride my bike because I'm being environmentally conscious. I guess I am but her comment usually makes me feel like a little kid. Other co-workers think it's cute. I guess either I'm crazy or they are. Is biking something little kids or hippies do, not adults with jobs?

Anyway, when I bike to work, I take the same route every day. I'm pretty religious about it even though it sometimes drives me crazy. Since everyone is slammed up against each other in the city, the ride passes through a different social class just about every time I change gears. There are the maintenance guys across the street as I fasten my helmet, the up and comers at Hopkins, trying to get to class at Homewood or to the hospital for their rotation on the number 3. I pass by the mentally challenged guy, Eddie, always waiting at the same stop at the corner of 39th and Charles. I wave and then try to avoid getting doored while I pass by a high rise of condos built by some famous person I've never heard of and people waiting on the other side of the street to get downtown. Until I get to Guilford. Guilford is chock full of mansions. There's the dog that barks so consistently at me that I'm disappointed if he breaks up the routine. He's held by an electric fence, I gather, but he hates me so much that it feels good. The people in Guilford are always having work done on their property. Watering, weeding, mulching, roofing, painting, siding. The occupants must be so content in their little islands that the maintenance guys are the only ones I ever see outside in this neighborhood. Finally, I pass by Loyola - always the same conversation at that bus stop about wages and schedules of the cafeteria workers. And then, finally, I get to school.

2. The MTA bus situation is a total mess. With Baltimore's extensive trolly system now gone except for a single, lonely light rail line, the city was left with buses to transport its people. The bus system is still costly and time consuming as they compete for space with the other cars on the road. It is vastly underfunded and when a driver doesn't show up to work, that bus doesn't run, leaving people stranded for hours at a time.

The most interesting time is when the bus does finally arrive. Usually the passengers are in a foul mood anyway because waiting for the bus, even if it is on time, is cold and excrutiatingly boring. But when people have been waiting for over an hour, they get downright hostile when they finally get on the bus. In society it is incredibly rare that people actually see a system at fault instead of individuals. Usually we take out our frustration on the first person we see when something goes awry. But blame placement is crystal clear on a late bus. The face of the organization, the driver, just saved your ass! If you ever want to engage in a conversation about the dysfunction of the city, get on a late bus. You are guaranteed to see a lot of pissed off people ready to talk, if not mouthing off about the corruption and misplaced funding of public services. Indeed, a city that can't transport its people is headed for disaster.

The best time I ever took the bus, though, was election night, 2008. I had taken the #27 to a party on Paca and then needed to take it back but up to Hampden. It came early on the way there and 30 minutes late on the way back. Knowing that Obama could win the election, I desperately wanted to get back to the tube and see if he had won Ohio and drink some more. As I waited on Howard by another old, abandoned theater, a homeless guy slept on the bus stop bench. The rats stayed out of my way and the leaves danced with anticipation of the night's finale. When the #27 finally showed up, the bus driver was filling out some sort of report - there had been an incident but I couldn't figure out what, exactly. So we parked several times to get the paperwork done. We then had to give her directions because she didn't know the route. But no one cared because our man could win, and we finally got to the Avenue. A couple $2 Yuenglings made everything all right. The election was called about 30 minutes later to huge roars at the Hon Bar.

3. A consortium of colleges in Baltimore fronts the money for the Collegetown bus. It runs up and down Charles Street several times a day stopping at the different campuses, usually in an old yellow school bus. It's the least glamorous form of transportation I take, but it's free, so I could care less about the aethetics. I pick it up at Hopkins, near where I live, and take it north to my campus or to the mall in Towson when I need some work clothes. There are very few stops so it's faster than the MTA.

The only drawback to the Collegetown bus is that there are, well, college students on it. Which would be fine if they never drank alcohol or talked. But they do both and if it's late at night - any night - they're really yapping it up. This usually makes me feel sort of embarassed and old. But sometimes there's some good material in there. Recently, three girlfriends discussed a night of casual sex. One of them, after a tryst, had shooed her suitor with the reminder that they both had an Italian class early the next day. Got him out by the skin of her teeth! Ciao, baby. I need to spend more time at the mall.

4. I rented a car to travel to North Carolina. I returned the car and was offered a ride. I needed to get to work so one of the employees drove me the two miles up Charles. We talked about the city and its (mostly poor) economy. As I was going on about unemployment rates and the service industry, he summed it up quite easily, "there's no love." He's right.

Okay, that's all I have for now.

Friday, November 07, 2008


An essay of mine (not previously on the blog) has been published in Smile Hon! You're in Baltimore, a local zine that publishes non-fiction stories about Baltimore. Come celebrate the issue's release!


I have begun an experiment: I have banned myself from Facebook. It's been a month since I last logged on. It feels great.

I created a profile on Facebook in Spring of 2007. Initially it was just to socialize with my students and faculty friends. That went well because I knew the level of interaction I wanted, I had a very clear idea of how much privacy I wanted: just about all of it. I enjoyed getting to know my students on-line and staying in touch with former students. I liked the Facebook groups feature a lot.

Then the applications came. Soon, everyone jumped ship from MySpace and hopped on board with Facebook. I was poked so much that it got old. And then Facebook was opened up to non-college affiliated people. I had even more fun getting reacquainted with old friends and reinvigorating relationships with my cousins who live in the midwest. When we moved to Baltimore, Facebook became a way to stay in touch with NC people. And then with the run up to the election, everyone was posting all of these hilarious graphics and great satire and news articles. And everyone started using Facebook email instead of regular email. Plus, I just HAD to know what everyone's status was. I would even refresh the screen. "My name is I Zimbra." "I have a Facebook problem."

In the end, I had to face the facts: Facebook was killing too much of my time. It was my gateway drug to the internet. A meta party that never stopped. I knew that if I quit doing Facebook, I'd still be on the internet and email but a lot less. I wouldn't be directed to read long news stories by Naomi Klein and blog posts by John Hodgman and opinion pieces by Maureen Dowd every single fucking day. (Who I love.) Never in my life have I participated in something that is such a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME as Facebook.

So, I banned myself. I knew it was a good idea because I wasn't happy when I was on Facebook anymore anyway. It was way too much stimulation for me.

Basically, nothing changed when banned myself. But here are the things that did:

1. A week later, one of my students comes to my office. She's got an incredulous look on her face: "Why did you ban yourself from Facebook???" I just laughed. She wasn't fucking kidding.
I didn't know what to say. What came out was: "I needed to get some work done."
This was not a good enough excuse for her, apparently. She reported that there had been sixteen - no - THIRTY replies to my status update about the ban. I said, "yeah right". The next week, she brought to class a print out of the comments - all six of them. I decided she trying to tempt the junkie.

2. I missed a good friend's birthday. When I wrote him the next day, I apologized and asked how he was doing, CC-ing his girlfriend, also a good friend. She wrote back, "well, if you were on Facebook, you'd know it was his birthday!" She was joking, I'm pretty sure, but it's true. Facebook has a good birthday feature but the truth is that getting that information is dependent on checking the site. Whatever, bitch! (just kidding, of course)

3. I have started to write people more, both on email and in letter form. I think Facebook gave me a false sense of being in touch with people. Now that it is gone, I've also noticed that I enjoy personal interaction more, even if it's only on email. When I want to have some human interaction, I don't log into Facebook any more. I do something else - anything else. It makes me a lot happier and I think that's really weird.

4. I feel retardedly guilty about not "confirming friendships" on Facebook. I think this is bizarre. About 5 people have tried to "friend me" in the past month. I can tell because Facebook notifies me via email when somebody tries to add me but I can't confirm without logging in. I'd been toying with the idea of getting J. to log in as me and do it but I'm pretty sure that that's cheating. So I've told the people that friended me about the ban, too. "Sorry I can't friend you back - I've banned myself!" either in person or via email doesn't go over so well, let me tell you. They react with surprise and if in person, a weird look. "Look at the addict!" Ah, maybe I am. This further cements a sort of outsider status for me. A self-proclaimed outcast. It makes me want to go all the way and only communicate by telegram for the rest of my life.

But that's about it. The world has continued to turn. Facebook is one weird animal. I visited with an old friend from high school recently and we talked about it for about an hour. It really is a good thing, I think, because friendships are a type of social history. They help to contextualize yourself, as long as the interaction is genuine (which it is in my opinion). But it is the only time that I have started to really wonder if on-line interaction can be substitutive for me. And then one of the comments from my student's print out made me think I was not the only one. Christina P. had written, "noooooooooo, one defects and the whole system crumbles." And I wonder if there is some truth to that. By virtue of Facebook's great success of getting just about everyone on board, it requires that its members invest in its reality for it to be sustained. This could be a semi-powerful form of social control. The social incentives to stay interacting and updating on Facebook sure are something. By not confirming those new friendships, it tapped an old feeling in me that I hadn't experienced in a while. How dare I ignore someone who wants to be friends with me? I've known how that feels since junior high. But I think that in a larger sense, all of this friendmaking does sort of up the ante. In order to Facebook to be sustained, we have to keep logging in, reading those status updates, and consuming their fucking ads. It's all a little too crazy for me right now. Now that I'm safe on my Facebook-free island, I breathe a nice big sigh of relief.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Here are the things that are particularly different from Chapel Hill:
Baltimore has...
1. more smokers
2. more swearing
3. more labor union members
4. garbage and rats
5. more running red lights
6. less people dressing up
7. a lot more cash only places
8. beer in weird places (not at the grocery store but in the Rite Aid on Howard St? Plus the unforgettable cash and carry + bar combo. I'm still a little confused by that.)
9. little to no basketball (yay!)
10. lacrosse, baseball, and crazed Ravens fans
11. the obvious ones: more drug dealing, Catholics, prostitution, seafood, murders, empty houses, cops, public drunkenness, neighborhood identity, larceny.
13. real diners where they don't want you to linger. I love you, Pete's Grill.
14. those wire basket thingies on wheels - freaking awesome
15. alleys!
16. the Maryland state flag is very common
17. heavy metal and Q92!
18. plexiglass at the counter
19. art students! from MICA - yay
21. smearcase, Natty Boh, Utz, crabcakes (with mustard and crackers), Bergers cookies, and pit beef.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


we lower the bar so you don't have to
We lower the bar so you don't have to!

Listen, I know the Examiner is supposed to be this paper you glimpse at while on public transportation and nothing else. And it may be better than not reading anything at all...

The question remains as to whether the feeling of accomplishment should override the availability of information.