Garlic Festival: It's On

Have you noticed that people rarely really take advantage of the neat crap there is to do in their area? As soon as we were certain that we were moving to Santa Cruz, Becky and I were intent on doing as much central coast neat crap as possible. Today, we fulfilled a major goal: we went to the Gilroy Garlic Festival (with our homies K and L) and had garlic ice cream. It was a triumph:

The ice cream itself was really good; kind of like vanilla with a nice strong garlic zing.

(Note to Tweak and Goat: Gilroy was everything we dreamed it would be. Whether it's buying a McMansion for 800,000 dollars in a piece of desert or getting some hot new prep gear at the outlet stores, Gilroy has it all.)

Also, please to be noting that I have updated my flickr page with some additional shots from the mighty voyage to the northwest.



Ok...watch this:


(This was brought to my attention by one of my classmates last term.)

To me, this commercial is a brilliant, accidentally-ironic critique on the information economy. We make everything faster and better-connected, but with every increase in efficiency, we undermine the necessity of there being people there to work in the first place.

It's been on my mind lately because of, well, how utterly, desperately bored I've been at work for all the years I had computer jobs. It was either a crisis or a long stretch of utter tedium at any given moment.* My current position is less of that, but there are still a lot of slow hours during which I sit at my desk feeling guilty enough to make a half-assed attempt to look like I'm working.** I don't have much in the way of insight about this, but I do think it suggests that the American obsession with working hard all the time is not only a stupid waste of your life, but is ultimately counter-productive.

It's a horrible, repugnant fact that there are over a billion people alive who are extraneous to the global economy.*** Following Marx (this is one of the things I think he got right), the goal of any given capitalist is, and in a sense has to be in a competitive economy, to reduce his need for his own workers. Thus, in a way, we do ourselves a favor by not working hard all the time: we perpetuate the need for there to be workers at all.

Clumsily phrased, I realize, but do you guys buy it?

* This is a condition really endemic to IT. It's like being a fireman waiting for fires to put out, only unlike firemen, management frowns on IT guys hanging out and playing video games when there aren't any fires.
** Because I'm still so friggin' grateful to have the job in the first place.
*** I base this on Mike Davis's Planet of Slums, which made a big impression on me.


Home State Blues

Much to my delight, it rained almost the whole time we were in Oregon and Washington. A few beers in, my homie L* and I were standing in the muddy parking lot during BF-G's wedding reception laughing about how people from the Pac Northwest rarely own things like proper boots, rain jackets, or umbrellas. We just pull on sneakers and sweaters and stand around in the rain. Drunk.

So here's my dilemma: I had too good a time in Oregon. 90% of the people I really love are in the same 100-something mile stretch off of I-5 up and down the Willamette Valley. As we all get older, more and more of my formerly nomadic friends congregate in Portland, which remains the Best City on Earth. The grit, the cold wind, the beautiful bridges over the Willamette, karaoke bars and cool apartments for 650/month, all of it makes me really, truly homesick. Now both of Becky's brothers have moved to Portland, which means that most of both of our immediate families is up there, compounding the whole issue.

That all said, I've always been snotty about people who never leave their hometown. How the hell can you accurately judge things if you just stew in your old familiar surroundings your whole life, vacations and trips notwithstanding? My attitude is particularly acute because of growing up in Eugene, where so many people try to move away but just end up slumping back a few months or years later, feeling defeated.** So, basically, I feel like a wimpy sellout wanting to go back, that I should stick to my guns and live all over the place.

That said, I think one of the most wonderful things about getting older is giving less and less of a shit about proving yourself. I've spent my whole adult life trying to live up to some imagined standard of ambition and achievement***; what perverse principle makes me think that living in my favorite place with my favorite people is a Bad Thing just because it happens to be where I grew up?

So: Santa Cruz. Love it. Great little town full of attractive, brilliant historians-in-training. Academia: still into it. I doubt that I have the pedigree to succeed, but I'm going to get my PHD and play the job game regardless, at least one time through. But the way Becky and I are feeling these days, unless some kind of blessed arrangement drops out of the clouds ("Dr. KFR, we'd like to offer you our special 'Real Ultimate Power' tenured chair in intellectual history...") when I'm done with this, we're going back to the Beaver State.

* Or "Ol' Elephant Ears," as we like to call her.
** I called Eugene "The Vortex" growing up. It's impossible to escape.
*** One with zero financial benefit, I might add. Good job, me.


2120 Miles

We totally made it back. Huzzah!

P.S. Nothing could make me more nostalgic for Oregon than that trip, but I have to say: Cali has really nice rest stops, while Oregon's are just terrible.


OK, Fine, Not Immune to Jinxing

Full post to follow with exciting, even titillating, details of our Odyssian journey when/if we make it home and I get more than five hours of sleep.* In the meantime, here's me in a rainy parking lot outside of a Sears auto place in Lynnwood, WA, after our right rear tire took itself out on I-5:

Here are some fun facts:
  • Tire places aren't open on Sundays, so if you get a flat, you have to go to a mall and hope they have a department store with a car shop.
  • If you're lucky, nice people at the customer service booth in a completely different store across town might help you find one.
  • I made it almost 29 years without having to change a flat tire. It would have been pretty ugly if Becky hadn't been there.
  • If it sounds like a helicopter is landing on your car when you're driving down the highway, it's probably your tire.** Keep that in mind.
So...I don't know. We're officially jinxed. We took off this morning like clockwork, packing everything up and getting on the road by 7:00am. What was supposed to be about a 7 hour drive and an afternoon in Eugene became a long morning at a mall in a suburb***, reconfirmation that Washingtonians are god-awful drivers (but, I'm sure, very nice people), and utter, blithering exhaustion. Theoretically, we'll be back in Santa Cruz tomorrow night after another 600-something mile drive.

* It was totally awesome. Portland: awesome. BF's wedding: awesome.
** Unless it's a helicopter landing on your car.
*** We totally went mall walking.


Actual Vacations

Actual vacations result in feeling considerably more tired and battered by the time you get home than you did when you left. That's a sure sign of successful out-hanging with your homies.

This picture bears comment:

My brother in-law, with whom we stayed in Oregon City, has two rambunctious wee childrens who demand 100% attention, 100% of the time. In order to be able to work (he telecommutes) from their new place, he has "converted" the tool shed in the back yard to be his "office." If by "converted," you mean "has a phone and a laptop in there."

The trip has been pretty awesome so far. A lot of croquet and food-eating went down in Eugene, then we had a very fun visit with the kids-who-never-get-tired and their folks in Oregon City. I discovered that my 5 year-old niece is a badminton prodigy. Then, yesterday, we arrived in PDX and joined our beloved homies Br+Cr at La Maison des Pantalons. After B took off to hang out with her brother, an elite cadre of kids was assembled for purposes of karaoke. I was dumb and forgot my camera, but rest assured: I sang a Human League song with Ransom and we all drank our weight in beverages.*

Despite the slightly damp conditions in Portland this morning, the party continues!

*Not unlike hummingbirds who happen to live on beer.


Flickr: About Damn Time...

A quick one: I finally set up a Flickr account. If you're on there and you're pretty,* add me as a contact and we will take over the internet TOGETHER.

*Remember, I only spend time with pretty people. So, ipso factso quid pro gravitas decorerum, if we're friends, you're pretty.

Edit: Right now I'm just uploading pictures I'm taking while in Oregon + Washington. I'm not sure if I'll go back and upload albums of earlier stuff or not when I get home. Knowing how much I enjoy futzing around with my computer: probably.


Beaver State Redux

The last time I got seriously choked-up was when I was in the Uhaul about a year ago and I drove past the "thanks for visiting Oregon" sign and officially became a Californian. I had been so worried about being a lo-fidelity truck driver and dealing with all of the logistical headaches of the three moves in two months that I hadn't anticipated what it would be like to leave behind my home state, a place for which I have some pretty fierce pride and affection.

Anyway, here's a shot of how the visit has gone so far:

Not bad.

A few highlights and thoughts:
  • Eureka, CA, is a shithole. We've decided never to stop there again when we're driving up. On the wall of the gas station restroom: "Die, Towle-head, Die!" In my book, when your bigots are that illiterate, you lose your incorporated status.
  • Becky purchased a rather fetching black polo-style shirt at the Target Boutique yesterday. She will sexy-up the joint when we get to Portland in two days.
  • My mom: croquet champion.
  • Still to come: eating lots of food with Good People.
I'm already sad that each stage of this trip is only about two days long, but two days beats the crap out of zero.


Just Relax (?!)

As I've mentioned, this summer I've been working at the UCO/Lick Observatory, which is a network of astronomers who work with and for the UC system. I walked to my building this morning with one of the astrophysics postdocs, who takes the same bus I do. As part of my lifelong quest to make conversation,* I mentioned that he and the other astro people I've met seem incredibly relaxed compared to the history and lit kids I'm more familiar with. Here's what I learned:
  • We need to relax.
  • We should just be able to work on our projects and not get so worried.
  • If you've got a good project, it doesn't matter if it's done tomorrow or in two months, so why sweat the details?

Here's what I think:
  • Scientists know they're going to get jobs when they're done spending their six or seven years getting a doctorate. (Thanks for pointing that out, Tweak). We sure as shit don't.
  • Scientists have a huge number of unanswered questions. Historians have to invent a question that might be of interest to other historians (and, occasionally, other human beings besides historians) before they can even start working on answering the bloody thing.
  • Scientists, even grad students, have access to a lot of grant money. Historians have access to a whole hell of a lot less grant money.
I'm not at all bitter about any of this. As much as I like being a humanities guy, the smart money's on scientists being more useful, in most senses of the word. Their work requires more hard-and-fast resources (i.e. computers, labs, etc.), and thus requires the existence of larger bodies to fund them. And until we know exactly how everything in the entire universe works, it's only fair and logical that they have an easier time finding interesting things to study.

That said, it's absurd to tell grads in the humanities to just kick back and let the good times roll. We can't. We're dead broke and we have to spend as much time trying to figure out what to study as we do actually studying. Once in a while, a historian or a student of literature or philosophy publishes something important that reveals something important, but the chances of being one of those lucky writers is even lower than of being a scientist who makes a real, earth-shaking discovery.

So: my former advisor was very, very right in warning me, as I completed by BA and asked him about grad school prospects, that I shouldn't do it unless I felt like I had to. I wonder why I didn't feel like I had to take advantage of being a first-world citizen instead? Doh.

* This is, perhaps, the very root of my interpersonal conduct.

P.S. We leave for the scenic Pacific Northwest tomorrow evening. I'm bringing my laptop, so I'll probably update at least once while I'm up there. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing everyone I get to see and I apologize in advance to everyone I miss. Stay up, players.


Tiny Pocket of Non-Burnination

What the crap did Blogger do to its interface? There's a hellacious delay between typing and seeing what I've typed, at least on PCs running Linux or Windows. It's not as bad on my laptop, so here I sit, tapping away on the trusty old iBook.

(side note: I do not want an iPhone. They scare me. I think they will cause cancer of the sternum or one of the various gold-rush-era diseases.)

Anyway, Santa Cruz is the one place in the entire nation that isn't ridiculously hot right now.* It's been cloudy, cool, breezy, even a little misty, for the last few days. The Oregon trip is right around the corner and I expect that we'll be completely unprepared for the hot hot heat. I've been successful so far this summer hiding in dark little rooms on hills and/or in dark little rooms near water, but it's absolutely necessary to head up to the beaver state and see the kids.

Because, the thing is, one of the reasons they've been shattering heat records for the last few days is the number of HOT HOT KIDS up there.

* Technically, this pocket extends from San Francisco through to Monterey. Who lives in the middle of that span? ME!

Edit: This is just another reason that Oregonians are justly famous for sex-appeal.


Google: Sin of Lust

Is anyone else a little freaked-out by how seductive everything google does is? Microsoft was (and remains) always this kind of blundering behemoth, clinging to its early lead by forcing people to use newer versions of Windows and Office while desperately trying to convince them to use their other products, most of which are completely B- or C-list (the Zune, the Xbox, MSN, etc.)* They're kind of like a bully that has the computing world in a full-nelson, drooling into everyone's ears. For their entire corporate history, the only product lines they have that have made money are precisely Windows + Office, and those hold on only because it would be too expensive or difficult for most people and companies to ditch them.

Then there's google: everything google does for normal home-users is free, and it's all beautiful, polished, and compatible with whatever computing platform you want to use (Windows, OSX, Linux, whatever.) Google maps now has a drag-and-drop route planner and shows real-time traffic info. Blogger is free and does most of what other non-free blog sites (I'm thinking Typepad) do. Google Calendar is easy, pretty, and accessible from whatever computer you happen to be in front of. And, of course, Gmail is simply the best free e-mail provider out there, hands-down.

What makes me wary about all of this is that where MS's sins were pride and gluttony, google's is lust. You want to use google stuff. You want to put all of your personal information online in your calendar, send everything through gmail, check your trips on google maps, etc. I haven't used it, but I understand that the documents + spreadsheets thing they have online is just as sexy. As it comes out that google is holding on to all of this information for undisclosed periods, the question becomes how much of your life do you want to upload to one company, even one as seemingly benign as google?**

Recently, UCSC announced that it's considering outsourcing its e-mail system to google, which would provide a campus gmail system for free just to get the chance at branding e-mail for thousands of future money-making college students. Technical issues aside (i.e. it's pitiful that UCSC's IT structure can't handle something as bone-head simple as running an e-mail system), this strikes me as an iconic example of google-as-seductive-big-brother.

Just thinking outloud is all....

*Yes, I know that the Xbox is popular, but two things to ponder: MS continues to take huge losses on Xbox sales while trying to make the money back through games, and as of last month the Xbox 360 had cost MS over a billion dollars in repairs since so many of the damn things break.

**I'm well aware that being truly anonymous on the internet is nigh-impossible. I'm just interested in the fact that one company has become the center of so many people's (including my) electronic world.

P.S. Please nobody sue me. Also, no trolls in the comments. For real, though.


Jinxed? No. Cursed? Probably.

I still insist: I cannot be jinxed. That said, we've had a rough run with the car. As you may recall, we dropped some serious bank on it maybe 4 weeks ago and spent a lot of time feeling very clever indeed for having gotten it nice and maintenanced before the big trip up to Oregon. Then, a few days later, the alternator belt crapped out on us while we were trying to have a picnic outing. We got that fixed, for cheap this time, then crossed our fingers that nothing else would happen.

Well, joke's on us. On the way through SF on the way to Novato on Tuesday, we got rear-ended. No major damage, just a loose bumper and a new addition to the collection of scrapes and paint residue, but a pretty lame scenario nonetheless. Fortunately for us, the driver was nice about it and his insurance has been nice so far as well, but neither of us is feeling particularly optimistic about anything, especially anything car-related.

That said, the Novato 4th of July parade was pretty awesome. Sun-burned honkies in funny clothes as far as the eye could see! It was kind of a cross between the parade in True Stories and the celebration in Waiting for Guffman.* Here were my two favorite elements:

The random teenage metal band float! They had signs that said "we need a vocalist!" and a myspace link. They were actually pretty good.

The enormous pack of basset hounds in little outfits! Holy cute puppies on parade, batman!

I'll never be a fan of the 4th, but I've decided that ridiculous municipal parades are probably the best thing about it.

*If you haven't seen either of these movies, you owe it to yourself to do so, pronto.

P.S. Go check out the blog of that one girl I'm married to for a photo essay of the parade that nicely captures its ambience.


I Will Take Over

As of this moment, I have become convinced that most people are like me, and that as a result I will eventually be able to take over the world, with the support of my like-minded masses. Let me explain:

The Fourth of July is the most obnoxious holiday on the calendar. In most places, the weeks preceding and following the 4th are punctuated with explosions and people screaming.* On the 4th itself one generally has three options: spend a couple of hours getting to and from a munipal fireworks show, involving a giant stinky crowd, go to a barbecue and have a private fireworks show, involving significant risk to life and limb coming, going, and igniting, OR...hide. Side note: Fireworks themselves are usually much louder than they are pretty, especially when they're set off by asshole neighbors you wish you didn't have. All in all, the hassle-to-benefit ratio is completely out of whack.

The reason that I think I'm going to take over is that more people stay and hide than take either of options A. or B. There are 56,000 people in Santa Cruz, but only maybe a thousand will be down on the beaches, probably, and only maybe 10 or 15 thousand will be at barbecues. By my airtight math, that leaves about 40,000 SC residents-slash-proto-KFR supporters. If I can just get in touch with those people, imagine the possibilities.

* Most scream "woooooo!" You may remember my policy regarding "woooooo!": kidney stones.


Succinct, Laconic

...sometimes, anyway. Here's a brief summary of the last few days:
  1. A met up with me for 30 minutes on Friday and, at one fell stroke, set me straight on how I might approach dissertation topics. It looks like I'm seriously going to be writing about the failure of the (French) left, but I need to get some critical interlocuters earlier than later if I can.
  2. Becky left for Novato and SF yesterday morning. You know what that means: Kill Bill, Civilization III, and even more coffee. If that's actually humanly possible.
  3. I hung out at Tweak's last night and finally got to meet her fiancé. I'm off to help them move in an hour and change. I believe, yes I believe, in moving karma.
Right now Pesto and I are listening to Turbonegro. She's the head of the Santa Cruz chapter of the BunnyTurboJugend.