Thursday, August 30, 2007


There are 10 cell phone stores/kiosks in the Vintage Faire mall in Modesto. That's not counting either Radio Shack or Circuit City, which of course both also sell cell phones.

Douglas Adams loved physics, but in the radio series of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy he also explained an economic phenomenon called the Shoe Event Horizon. The Shoe Event Horizon is the tipping point in a civilization's economic development when shoe shops overtake all other production, so that it becomes unviable to build anything but shoe shops. As a result, the economy and civilization collapse and everyone who survives evolves into birds.

Obviously he was right, he just had the wrong product at the center of the theory. But to be fair, cell phones didn't exist when he wrote Hitchhiker's Guide. At the current rate, by 2011 every shop in the mall will be a cell phone store, and all anyone will do is work selling cell phones to one another.

I am not a fan. I don't desire an iPhone, or a camera phone, or a Blackberry. We have a pre-paid cell phone we only use while driving to LA, to report on our progress or the smog level in Bakersfield (on a scale from Totally Obscured By Brown Air to Instant Death). But even I felt like I should have a more up-to-date and snazzier phone, passing all those damn stores - all of them busy, by the way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

hunh? huh? go 'way, I'm tired

Yesterday my loveliest and I got up at 7 and drove to Yosemite, with the express purpose of hiking up to the top of Vernal Falls via the Mist Trail. This is my favorite hike. In the spring the trail is soaked by the water bouncing off the rocks below the falls, but in late summer in a dry year, it looks like this:

Check out that waterfall rainbow.

To get to the falls you hike from the floor of Yosemite Valley up around 1000 feet. At times, this is a steep climb, as for instance on the steps:

A closer look reveals that the tiny dots below us are in fact other hikers. There are 550 steps.

Then, after a long day's driving and hiking, we ate pasta and stayed up until 3 to see the eclipse of the moon, and I took these riveting and lousy pictures.

Earth eating the moon.

Moon eaten. (By the way, this is the best shot I got of the red, shadowed moon, partly due to my inability to stay completely still, but I think also due to the poor quality of our digital camera, a Pixblecch 3000.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

adding to the list

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

78. Lists. I just love 'em. Why, look right here: a list! I have often said there are two kinds of people in the world: people who list and deranged sickospeople who don't. Like the standup comic Rick Reynolds, I put things on my to-do list that I've already done, just to scratch them off. I sometimes also put things on my list that I wouldn't need to remind myself to do, or to give myself credit for being productive because my list looks like this:

- write to do list
- finish Pro Ethics syllabus
- eat lunch
- pick up campus mail
- write blog entry
- play guitar
- play other guitar

See? I'm more than halfway finished with my tasks for the afternoon!

77. Joke mottoes for towns. I just love 'em. Around here, the reference point is usually the visually and olfactorily appalling Tracy, which one could drive through on the way to and from the Bay Area. Once through Tracy, heading east, you hit Manteca, which prompted the Manteca motto: "It's no Tracy." Modesto became "Modesto: At Least It Ain't Stockton" (alternately, "No Me Modesto"). Yesterday we went to Lodi to go to a wedding, prompting the (obvious, I suppose) "Lodi: Oh Lord" (honorable mention to "Lodi: I'm Stuck!"). Then of course there's Sacramento, "The Town So Nice, They Named It Sac."

For years, I've called Turlock "Land of a Thousand Smells," but lately I've realized the city hobnobbers wouldn't go for this, so I'm thinking of proposing "Turlock: Nicer Than Tracy." Which is true, but is also sort of like saying "more enjoyable than having holes drilled in your face."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

dem things, dem dry things

And now a couple more of

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

80. Gin and tonics. I just love 'em. Back in the wild days of my misspent youth, we would gather together for meetings of what we called the PhDC - the Philosophers' Drinking Club - at UNC Charlotte. At some point, for reasons that the ages have made obscure, etched though they are in the firmament, we decided that the official drink of the PhDC was the gin and tonic. This makes sense on a number of levels, not least of which is that, as PhDC co-founder Jim "The Most Optimistic Man In America, And That Includes John McCain" Williams has said, it is the alcoholic salt of the earth.

But don't listen to us. Listen to Douglas Adams, who noted in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that "85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy" have some homophonic drink, whether it be "jynnan tonnyx" or "jinond-o-nicks," or my personal favorite, "gee-N-N-T'N-ix."

Gin and tonics are terrific accompaniments to Macanudo Ascots, and are best served outdoors, in warm weather, with good company.

79. First days of semesters. I just love 'em. I'm also petrified of 'em. There's just under 2 weeks left before the first day of fall classes. Am I ready? Does the Pope shit in the woods?

But that's not the reason I'm petrified. I can do more academic prep work in an afternoon than most people can do in a month. I am the Philosopher-Chef, and I sauté knowledge.

No, I'm petrified in the way you were petrified before the start of 4th grade, when you were aware enough of the whole school politics scene that you knew somehow it mattered if the other kids didn't like you. To this day, having taught now for (holy freakin' Gordie Howe) 15 years in one capacity or another, I still face the first day with that nervous feeling. And it matters so much less for me if my students don't like me, really. We'll be rid of each other in 14 weeks.

But it's fun, too. The jitters are sorta yummy. Everything is fresh, too. I'm trying new things, they haven't heard any of my jokes, I've got new jokes prepped. At Cow State Santa Claus there is an annual start-of-fall General Faculty Meeting, which I'm sure dates back to the days when the university held classes at the county fairgrounds and everybody ate dinner together once a month at somebody's house. New faculty (full-time faculty, that is) are introduced to all the assembled academics, college by college and department by department. It's as corny as Hee-Haw, but I love it. I'm a sucker for pomp, circumstance, and the idea that universities could actually be communities, even at this late date in the irreversible, irrevocable, ineluctable bureaucratization of the social world. Velvet cage, indeed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2 reports from the "what could possibly go wrong?" department

Say you're a large toy "manufacturer," like Hasbro. You find that one of your main costs is labor, and that subcontracting the actual manufacture of your products to another country, say China, reduces your labor cost. By like 90%. You might find this a really attractive option, and hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, they might do things a little differently in China, use lead-based paint for instance. And it might turn out that labor conditions are extremely bad, and someone might eventually point this out, to your possible embarrassment.

Better yet, say you're a bank. You find that as housing prices escalated throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and as income stagnated or dropped in real terms (as it has overall since the early 1970s), fewer and fewer people can afford to buy houses. This is inconvenient, since mortgages are such a solid profit-maker. So you might decide to offer mortgages with unique features to attract customers, like a $400,000 loan with payments starting at $1200 a month. Then, when you've got a deal made, you raise the interest and payments to about $3500 a month. What could possibly go wrong?

On the other hand, if all the other banks do it too, and if nobody's really backing these loans with actual money, you might create a gigantic international mortgage and banking crisis. And you might have to close your own mortgage branch. Oops!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

more things

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

82. Macanudo Ascots. I just love 'em. Yes, from time to time Doc Nagel smokes cigars. This isn't a recommendation. But it's just a nice sensation. I especially like the maduro variety of the little ascots. I associate smoking cigars with being outdoors in good weather, mainly because I have never wanted smoking in my home. This is because I am a non-smoker. I am a non-smoker who smokes. Everybody has contradictions.

81. Pictures of the sky. I just love 'em. Approximately 66% of photographs I take are of the sky. We get a lot of sky hereabouts, too. I took these:

dusk looking like the sky's on fire

a little later, now looking smoky and smoldering

pink and orange clouds!

birfday present!

Wednesday is my birthday, but the gifts are already piling up! Look, here's a pen and pencil set that my sister turned for me:

My sister is cooler than your sister (unless you're Zach).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

things, but so much more than things

(Not that anyone pays much attention to it)

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

84. Letters of appointment. I just love 'em. Yesterday I got mine in the mail: three years, full time, lecturer range B. I get a three year contract because of a strong provision in the CSU-CFA collective bargaining agreement, that awards three-year deals to "temporary" faculty who have 6 years' continuous service in one department, and another three years to follow that, provided the lecturer in question hasn't strangled anybody and actually does the job reasonably well. Ah, collective bargaining.

83. Good blogs about stuff I'm interested in. For instance, The Comics Curmudgeon.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

brief public service announcement

Look out! It's the masked flasher!

I don't know why, but I'm charmed by this idea. I'd never actually do it, but I'm glad he is. Plus I enjoyed the way the story was written.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

them things

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

86. Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls trails. I just love 'em. Yosemite is my favorite place on earth, and my favorite hikes in Yosemite have been up these two continuous trails. In fact, my very favorite hike ever was up to Vernal Falls, leaving at 4:30 in the morning and hiking across the Yosemite Valley floor before making the climb. The round trip of that hike was around 7 miles, I think. It was beautiful. We were just in Yosemite yesterday, up at Glacier Point, looking down on my beloved trails. There's a telescope up at Glacier Point's geology exhibit you can use to spy on hikers at the top of the falls, dipping their tootsies in the pool of water the Merced River makes just prior to dropping off the cliff.

85. Pizza joints that sell by the slice. I just love 'em. This, like most all the items on my list so far, is a timely selection, as we've just returned from such a joint righ-cheer in our very own burg of Turlock (motto: Land of a Thousand Smells). I never really became a habitue of the local slice shop in Pittsburgh (where the term is "cut," not "slice"; they'll correct you and regard you with suspicion of being from out of town), but I always enjoyed the hangout feel and the way people would try to look and sound like tough New Yorkers.

Friday, August 03, 2007

this looks like the set-up for a joke, but I'm not the man to tell it

Just checking my RSS feeds, I saw a headline from the San Francisco Chronic-Ill about an armless man being sentenced for various driving and drug offenses. The start of the first sentence of the story is "A man with no arms and one leg who wouldn't stop driving..." and I immediately thought of those awful "What do you call a man with no arms and legs" jokes.

But read the story. This guy is someone to be reckoned with. Not only did he teach himself to drive with one leg and no arms, but apparently he managed to kick a cop, at least, he's charged with doing so.


Thursday, August 02, 2007


You don't think we should tax . . . ?

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

88. Writing/falling into new tunes. I just love 'em. If I were making a seriously concerted effort to make this list a ranking, this would probably be higher. Instead, it comes in #88 because, no sooner than we finished putting together another disc of our own stuff, but I've started writing or completed a half-dozen or so more tunes. A couple of them have been percolating a while, but two have come into being just in the last couple weeks, both of which are really promising.

I don't think of names or themes first, usually (one notable exception being "Mt. Diablo Windy Day Rag"), so I assign fairly random names to the tunes while I'm piecing them together. This time my working titles may stick, because at least in two cases they bespeak the mood of the tune: "Small Apartments In Large Cities" has a feeling that I associate with same, and is also more or less insanely complicated (there are - lessee - 26 chords in it, as of this writing); and "Working Title: Oasis" has a very satisfying habit of resolving the melody, so it feels like it could be about reaching an oasis.

I'm very nearly entirely untrained as a guitarist. I play what it occurs to me to play. I think that's what folk, rock, and blues music, and every other people's music, is really about, so I feel in good company. I had exactly 3 lessons when I was 17. Otherwise, I've learned things watching other guitarists or, in fact mainly, by spraining my wrist on the fretboard. In truth, I am able to make anything at all happen on a guitar because of three people and one animal: my loveliest, who inspired me to pick the thing up again after 13 years; my friend Jim "The Most Optimistic Man In America" "Talks Trash To Pete Townshend" Williams, from whom I learned how to find a finger-picking pattern and how to play "The Needle And The Damage Done"; my brother Mike, who was the first to show me that it's cool to play; and the cat, Morgan, who inspired an early song and who would always come to hear me play.

87. Mornings. I just love 'em.

I am not a morning person. I regard morning persons with suspicion, if not scorn. Nevertheless, I adore the morning. I love waking up. I love getting out of bed. I love morning light streaming through morning windows as I stumble down morning stairs into the morning kitchen to make ridiculously strong and badly needed coffee. I love every single thing about the morning, up to and including the ritual claw assaults and murder-by-tripping attempts of my beloved cat, Lancelot.

I even like mornings that are sickeningly early, waking to get on the road at 4 am for instance. And at that hour, or really at most any hour, I greet mornings in ill humor, but still, I love 'em.

I almost always get up before Lauren, which I also love, because one of the very finest aspects of mornings is the feeling of being the only one up in the household. Man oh man oh man, is that a great feeling. And it's one, I feel certain, you either get or you don't.