How to Install a Car Stereo when Your Old One Breaks

The short way: you go to some horrible store and have some guy do it for money.

The longer way: you buy it online and then install it with your father in-law over the course of about three hours in his garage.

B's dad was an engineer for a big corporate entity for many years. He's in the process of building his second plane from the ground up since retiring. The man knows his way around mechanics, electronics, and combinations thereof. Thus, when we need something fixed that isn't a computer*, we go to him.

It turns out that installing and wiring a car stereo isn't that difficult. It's supposed to be based on standard wiring, in which each color wire corresponds to something specific - yellow is always supposed to be the power, black is the ground, etc. The thing is, the '96 Geo Prizm** has its own made-up colors for wiring. So B's dad looked 'em up online. Then, whoever it was that installed our old stereo introduced a middle tier of wiring between the car end and the stereo end. The result, as indicated in the above diagram we generated over about 45 minutes of tracing wires, was general obfuscation.

That said, after a lot of clipping and snipping and splicing, we got the thing hooked up. We fired it up and it worked on the first try. A party of triumph ensued! This morning, B and I picked up a 7-dollar hot pink cable so we can connect our iPods to it. And now, for the first time in months, we have tunes in our car.

Around my apartment, this counts as big news.

* I can still fix those.
** It is a sexy car.


Baby is Nigh

Per B, I was to wait for her blog post before I did mine, and she found a few moments this morning, so here I go...

To everyone who doesn't already know: we are having a kid. Here are the FAQs and their respective answers:
  1. It is due in early May.
  2. Yes, we are going to find out what sex it is. That will happen late Dec. / early Jan.
  3. Yes, we will tell everyone what sex it is once we know.
  4. B's doing well. While the chance of her being laid off for the next budget year is all too high, she's got the job and the concomitant health insurance until after the kiddo is born, so she's getting excellent pre-natal care.
  5. We're doing the midwife thing and will probably have a doula as well. Look that up if you don't know what it is.
  6. Both of us have our H1N1 shots, finally. They were not easy to come by.
  7. I guess it goes without saying that this was thoroughly planned. We're the kind of people who thoroughly plan, like, dinners for a week in advance, so we certainly planned having a baby.
  8. Yes, I am excited.
  9. Yes, I am also completely terrified (and yes, this dramatically increases the pressure on the job hunt.)
  10. B is kind of hoping for a boy, I am hoping for a girl, but we're both cool with whatever happens.
That's all I can think of at the moment. Happy turkey day to everyone; I'll try to blog more often and with more creative / semi-interesting content when I get back from the in-laws'.


Got Me a Suit

I am the proud new owner of a charcoal gray two-button suit from Zara in San Francisco. It was fiendishly expensive by graduate student standards, but quite cheap by nice suit standards (about 250 bucks.) Thanks to the intervention of our homie S, I was also able to buy a really nice white dress shirt for about 30 bucks. I'm still determined to make some of my existing skinny vintage ties work with this ensemble for academic job interviews.

I was going to do a superbad internet fashion show, featuring videos of me hanging out with Tim Gunn, but I am too beat to do so at this time. I will do it soon, though.


The Best Season / Wherefore Art Thou, Gallows Humor

Part I: Let us join together in celebration of this, the best part of the year. November is the very heart of autumn, and as such, it features the maximum chance of true sweater weather. I'm finally not uncomfortably hot as I go about my quotidian rounds. Today, in fact, is supposed to feature a few drops of rain for the first time in weeks and the last time for weeks, so I'm in a better mood than usual.

Of course, the real cause for better moods than usual is that Thanksgiving is imminent. Both of the long-term readers of this blog know how I feel about Thanksgiving: it is the best holiday. Let's review why:
  • Not a holiday for teenagers to scream woooooo!
  • No fireworks.
  • No need to worry about presents.
  • Wine + tryptophan = sleepy.
Last year I managed two Thanksgiving celebrations, one in Paris and the other in Heidelberg. This year I get two yet again, one in San Francisco and one in Novato. Both will be staffed with friends and family and feature awesome stuffing.

Part II: It's been hard to keep up my sense of humor through all of the stress of job apps and future plans. ** It's just...not that funny. I spent the last five years telling myself that it was okay if this whole academic gig didn't work out, but now that I'm at the end of the degree, I would really like a job, please, and preferably one involving teaching history. That said, I am determined to find something funny about it. I'll be sure to let everyone know when I find it.

* Some people call it "dressing." My current theory is that it's stuffing in the bird and/or oven, then becomes dressing once it's on the plate. Or it's just one of those weird American English regional words, like soda / coke / pop. Anyway, I call it stuffing.

** I did make it past the first round of cuts at one of the places I applied to. Hope springs eternal.



Before, regarding the UC protests, I was equivocal. It is, in fact, one of the most pernicious aspects of the neoliberal (i.e. right-wing) shift of the last twenty-odd years that both the federal and state governments have gutted public education. It is, in fact, a bad, bad thing that fees and tuition go up by huge amounts each year even as jobs are slashed, class sizes expand, and so on. But: when you and your scruffy undergrad allies prevent people from coming and going to their jobs and classes, the only people who suffer are precisely the people you claim to represent.

After spending two hours in the car today to pick B up for her doctor appointment, which she missed, eventually getting waived through by some idiot 20 year-old at the west entrance only after he and his idiot friends conferred about whether I was legit, I am officially writing off the protest culture around here as a BUNCH OF FUCKING MORONS.

--end transmission--

Microfilm, PDFs

One of the big problems with writing a dissertation about a journalist is that he wrote a lot of articles. Yesterday I managed to crack a problem that had been hanging me up; I figured out how to download almost all of his articles from the 1960s from an online archive of the major journal he worked for. It's a tedious process, as I have to look through the sommaires one-by-one and then go after the specific pages I need, but it works. The strays are on microfilm, and I've summoned them from the one library in the UC that has them. If I had figured these things out a year ago, I could have done this while I was sitting around in my apartment in France instead of watching Vin Diesel movies on Chinese pirate sites. But then I wouldn't have watched so many Vin Diesel movies, which would be a major loss.

This part of the writing is a real slog. But I'm determined to have a finished draft by somewhere around mid-January, job prospects or no job prospects.


The Things I Hate: A Short New List

  1. When I can't drink any more coffee, because I'm too wired.
  2. When I can't drink any more wine, because I'm too drunk.
  3. When I can't eat any more cheese, because I'm too full.
  4. When I can't write any more diss, because I'm too lazy.
  5. When I can't stay in the apartment, because I'm too bored.
  6. When I can't behave like I'm 22, because I'm too old.
  7. When I can't stay in bed, because it's too late.
You get the picture.


I Sum Me Up

Each of the following pictures describes 50% of me. Combined, I am complete.

The bunny is not Pesto, but another bunny with a pancake on its head. Pesto just turned seven, though, which is awesome. The bottom picture is, of course, Wendy O. Williams of the Plastmatics and Lemmy of Motorhead. I have the mp3 of them performing "stand by your man" together, which is even more awesome than one would think. I wish I had the 7", so I could put it up on the wall somewhere (like, the bunker.)


"Indian" Food

On Sunday evening, homie A joined B + I to meet homies L + B, down from Salem for a long weekend. B is getting his PhD in American history at Davis. He was part of the gang at UO when I was getting my master's. His lovely wife is an architect. When they come down to Cali to check in with B's adviser(s), we line up some fooding, usually in the middle-ground of Berkeley.

We ended up at Ajanta, north of the UCB campus. The food was really good and really interesting; it broke with the usual fare that constitutes "Indian" food in Indian restaurants in the US, with the standard red curry for every dish at varying degrees of heat. Instead, there were a bunch of interesting proteins and veggies (scallops, lamb, these great little veggie ball things) in different kinds of curries that were more brown in color and complex in flavor than most of the standard-issue red curries I've had.

It made me think about what a misnomer the term "Indian food" is, anyway. It would be like having a restaurant that specialized in "European food." Ajanta had each dish listed along with its region of origin, which was neat. It was still a pan-south-Asian approach, but at least it gestured at the fact that there is no unified Indian food any more than there was a unified India before the Brits finished taking over in the mid-19th century.

In conclusion, I'd like to note that I would happily eat naan with every single meal.



Dissertation update time.

I'm in a dissertation reading group this term, sharing duties with three of my fellow UC to the SC history dissertators. One is writing on tourism in China in the early 20th century, one on hydrology in San Diego around the turn of the century, and one on Yellow Fever in New Orleans in the mid-19th century.

We talk about phrasing and organization, we call attention to the little grammar flubs everyone succumbs too once in a while, we discuss framing and argumentation. But the bottom line is that I understand all of their stuff just fine, despite not knowing a damn thing about Late Qing China, water management, or epidemiology. The background assumptions implicit in their respective works are evident to any reasonably well-educated person.

The same cannot, apparently, be said for the background assumptions in my work. For some reason, intellectual history is inherently more difficult for other historians to grasp than are other sub-fields (with the possible exception of economic history.) I write as clearly as possible and I try to announce the issues in the literature. I call attention to context and try to explain the nuances of postwar French history. I do my part for The Cause. All of it still leaves my friends and colleagues fairly baffled.

The problem is, I think that every intellectual historians finds him- or herself justifying the whole enterprise, arguing that in fact the history of ideas in context is a legitimate pursuit within the larger field. Yes, it strays across disciplinary boundaries, but after all these years, isn't that supposed to be (at least in part) a good thing? If I can be in conversation with philosophers and literary scholars, how is that a problem?

There is also the question of how much context is enough vs. how much is too much. If I copy out an entire textbook worth of fun facts about French political, social, and cultural history from 1945 - 2007, I don't think I will be doing my readers any favors, since the point of my project is Andre Gorz, his life and (especially) his thought. I guess I still haven't cracked the code on making this kind of thing transparent to people who aren't already interested in it, but it still begs the question: why is intellectual history more esoteric than other kinds of history?

Anyway, on the up side, I had a good meeting with the adviser yesterday, who suggested I take a thematic approach to Gorz's journalism, since there's just too much to summarize in an interesting way. This means that I'm on track with my finishing plans, at which point I can safely devote all of my energies to finding that barrista job in Fresno, Bakersfield, or Redding.


First to Show, Last to Go

Tonight was accidentally triumphant. Let me break it down for you.

It turns out the bowling alley / karaoke bar wasn't accepting any new songs after 7pm (!) because a live band was showing up to play background music to further would-be karaoke rockstars after 9pm. That's Item A.

Item B: a couple of sunburned scumbag Santa Cruz derelicts got in a serious fistfight at about 8:30pm in the bar, about eight feet from all of us. The little fucker in the orange shirt with the stupid mustache knocked the other guy out in the street, which we all watched in a state of "well, we live here, I suppose" disbelief. They didn't even bother and kick the winner out of the bar for the rest of the night - he ended up doing a perfectly respectable "sweet child of mine" with the band.

Item C: the important thing is that J, the birthday boy, got to do his song (that one Green Day song about being neurotic on the radio while making money) and that I got to mine: We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister. J being the salt-of-the-earth kind of guy he is managed to line it up with the karaoke jockey and it all came together. He: rocked it. I: also did some damage.

Anyway, I was there at 7pm, we closed the bar down after 1am, and now I'm home watching some terrible music video I had on a homemade DVD (I think it's...Rancid? Perchance?) and letting Pesto run around. I'm having some water. Good night.


Sideburns of Festivity '09!!!

Tomorrow features the second outing of the UC to the SC Attractive Historians 2009 - 2010. On tap? Karaoke, karaoke, and the concomitant mixture of triumph and degradation. As Social Czar, how do I prepare? By crafting my meager facial hair into Sideburns of Festivity!!! Check it:

Profile 1: Impassive.

Profile 2: Pensive.

La Visage Meme: Delighted to see you. Available for babysitting.

I'd welcome suggestions as to what I should sing tomorrow, as I want to move beyond Billy Idol or Monkees songs (my mainstays.) Think 80s, think limited vocal range.


Walk Down the Street at Night

This happened to me within two blocks of my apartment at about 6:45pm:
  1. Crazy sweating guy literally ran up behind me and spent four minutes shouting at me about how the full moon brought about bad spirits and strong emotions. This ended with him shouting "do you know about YAHWEH?!" as I used a Jedi mind trick to escape.
  2. Toothless guy shouting at me out of his car, then blocking traffic and demanding directions to "the McDonald's on 17th." I told him which direction to go (i.e. away from me.)
  3. Guy stumbling past, dragging his leg behind him like a zombie in a 70s grindhouse flick. At this point I was laughing out loud, but fortunately he didn't notice.
Later, as I was describing this to my (new) homie N, he interjected "and then someone takes all your money!" I realized, though, that this isn't the problem - I'm never worried that someone wants to rob me here. I just think someone will eventually stab me just because. This state is in the process of breaking off and sliding into the sea.

These days, living in Santa Cruz, I feel like Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Happily, I am not armed.


Nature: It Still Exists, Apparently

This weekend B and I went to Yosemite. It's about 4.5 hours from SC via a whole mess of highways that cut through the south and east bay. We realized on returning today that it's almost a straight shot across California west - east; you start at the Pacific Ocean (four blocks from our apartment) and end up within spitting distance of Nevada (imagine a gross spitting noise at this point in the paragraph.)

Yosemite was very nice. The weather, while banal and stupid in the context of civilization, was welcome in the context of big rocks and meadows - 70 degrees and sunny the whole time. We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge, which has not had updated decor since c. 1988, and got to see all of the essential pretty stuff the park is known for. We also added to our collection of funny cheesy magnets from tourist sites: "Speeding Kills Bears."

I have only two points to make. First, it was nice not being in SC during Halloween, a holiday normally celebrated here by a flurry of stabbings three blocks from our apartment. This time, the cops cleverly spent the evening literally annoying gang members all night (this strikes me as brilliant policing strategy; I would help shut down the local ACLU if it meant the cops could spend every day doing this.) Second, I got kind of choked-up and nostalgic on arriving in the park and seeing how beautiful the Merced River is. I hate that I never get to spend any time in actual natural settings living in California. Nature here is just squared-off little blocks of scrub surrounded on all sides by concrete. I miss the real stuff.