Junk pile: gone!

Twenty months ago, when we started our plumbing renovation project, we started a junk pile in the back of the house that grew and grew and grew. At times, I made a half-hearted effort to smuggle one small load of junk into the trash can each week, but seeing that it would take months to get rid of the pile that way, I stopped. In the impending crush of visitors likely to come in the next few weeks, it was decided that we needed the extra parking space, so I decided to bite the bullet and hire some junk haulers to come and take the stuff away.

The first company I called–well, internetted–came within two hours of my inquiry, and I had a distinct memory of something my cousin’s boyfriend (the plumber) once told me. He said that occasionally he would get called in to bid on a job that just looked awful. It had awkward space, or unpleasant conditions, or something, and he would overbid so that if they went with him, at least he’d make good money. (As an ironic aside, he said over-bidding almost always meant they would go with him.) The real purpose of the overbidding was to get out of doing the unpleasant work. This is the distinct experience I had when I called the first company.

Despite the fact that I’d indicated the junk pile to be construction debris–plaster, lathe, and some paneling–the two friendly guys who showed up took one look at the pile and got a look on their face like it was manure. Rhinoceros manure. They looked at each other, looked at their truck, and estimated $800 as the cost of the job. Eight hundred fscking dollars. Then one of them said “You didn’t hear this from me, but you could rent a dumpster for $350.” I looked like the guy getting the mechanic’s estimate and told them I’d have to think about it, and I’d call if I wanted to go with them.

Jenny took the lead, looking up another company — The Junk Platoon — who said, from our phone conversation, that it sounded like a $250 or $300 job. I reiterated, twice, that it was a lot of construction debris, and the phone operator said that would be fine. When the two guys showed up, they confirmed that it would take half a truck, “Two-fifty plus nine,” to do the job. I agreed and 35 minutes later was shaking their hands and waving goodbye. I tipped each guy $20 on top of the $259.

The lesson is: get more than one bid. And that I recommend The Junk Platoon most heartily.

Rhet/Comp and New Media

Fellow academics, please do read through (or jump) to the end and pick up the meme if you’re willing — it would be helpful to me.

When I was on the job market, I got three interviews at MLA.  One was a cattle-call interview where the interviewer and I exchanged “Oh, that’s nice” pleasantries with one another, me about the aspects of the school, him about aspects of my CV.  We parted mutual friends but pleasantly sure we’d never meet again.  The second was my interview with Columbia, which was all wine and roses.  The third was a disaster.

I should have been prepared for the question: “How would you teach a graduate seminar to Rhet/Comp scholars?”  I wasn’t.

To be clear, I’m a hybrid guy.  I do computers and writing, but I also do media studies.  I see them as the same thing, most of the time: I do Grammatology.  I wasn’t very good at making the argument for that perspective at the interview.  Here’s a rough transcript:

Lead interviewer: Hi Brendan.  We’re running behind so I’ll be blunt–you’re my candidate.  The rest of the committee thinks you’re too much media studies and not enough rhet/comp for this position.  Prove them wrong.

Me: Um, will do! [I’m sure I wasn’t really that inarticulate, but it would be close.  I proceed to talk a bit about how I teach writing.]

Lead interviewer: Okay, okay, okay.  But how would you teach a graduate seminar, to rhet/comp scholars?  Who would you read?

Me: Uh, McLuhan.  Ulmer.  Johnson-Eilola.  Manovich.  Bolter.  Robert Ray.  Jeff Rice.  [I could see this was getting me nowhere.]

Lead interviewer: Ah, but that isn’t really the field is it?  I guess what we were looking for were people like Cindy and Dicke Selfe, Ann Wysocki, [and I forget the rest.]

We parted with pleasantries about how great my writing sample was and how it got me there.  Then the Lead interviewer urged me not to let the door hit me on my way out.  This would have been a crippling interview had I not had the Columbia one first.

All this came flooding back when a friend emailed and said:

I’d like to assign one student to write a review essay and introduce the class to the topic of computers/new media and composition. I want to assign three or four key articles in this field for them to read/review. Can you suggest some titles that they absolutely should read?

Good Lord, no I can’t.  But I tried anyhow.  Here’s my response, and then a meme for y’all at the end:

I tend to think the fields of new media and media studies are very closely related, and thus MY list of the essential articles would be:

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” _Atlantic Monthly_, July 1945

Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” _Understanding Media_,  1964

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” _Simians, Cyborgs, and Women_, 1985.

Lev Manovich, “What Is New Media?,” _The Language of New Media_, 2001.

Geoffrey Sirc, “Box-Logic,” _Writing New Media_, 2005.

Alas, this is a media-studies approach to new media and rhet comp. There are definitely overlaps, but the Haraway and the Manovich would probably be disputed by some more rhet/compy people.

Hrm.  This is actually a lot harder than I thought it should be.  There are a few names that come to mind as important people in the field, but for these I can think of books more than articles that capture their thinking.  Three important voices whose specific articles I can’t bring to mind are:

Cindy Selfe
Ann Wysocki
Johndan Johnson-Eilola
Gunther Kress

I’ll put a call out on my blog and see what other folks think.


I tried to figure out how to include Ulmer and Rice on those lists, but couldn’t think of anything digestible enough from Ulmer, and I haven’t (sorry JR) been keeping up with Jeff’s stuff as much as I should.  I was also tempted to say the person should just follow my blogroll and then those blogrolls, as the stuff appearing there rings very true to me (especially Digital Digs which has been on an intense, amazing roll lately).  But I’d like to know:

What do YOU think are the four or five essential must-reads for an emerging Rhet/Comp scholar?


Run, boy, run!

A pretty solid b-movie. The development of the characters and the setup work pretty well, the film follows the usual pattern of people getting trapped together, zombies attacking, etc. The stock characters are all there and work like they’re supposed to.

In some ways, the film feels like it was just cobbled together from other zombie scripts, but what good B movie doesn’t feel that way? I noted several of the similarities in my live notes.

There are a lot of people in the movie that look like other people:

  • the CEO looks like Gary Cole; his assistant kinda like Fred Savage.
    That's not Gary Cole, nor Fred Savage
  • the creepy scientist Carter looks a bit like Jimmy Fallon.
    That's not Jimmy Fallon
  • the boss of the crew reminds me of a Ghostbusters -era Ernie Hudson. Not in looks so much, but in attitude and style.
    That's not Ernie Hudson.
  • one of the loggers looks like Steven King with an hilarious beard.
    That's not Steven King.

The film set up two threads that were never picked up again.  First, at one point in the middle of the film, just after Luke has gone missing, we get a first-person zombie cam shot.  I immediately imagined that Luke would become a super zombie and we’d be able to track his progress as he hunted the creepy scientist, much like John Leguizamo in Land of the Dead, or Roger in Dawn of the Dead, or the dad in 28 Weeks Later.

The other thread that starts but never goes anywhere is the attack in the lab, in which one of the lab assistants accidentally infects himself with the zombie goo.  He kills his buddy and then later we see a police crew there taking crime scene photos.  But what happened to the zombies?  I expected the film to end with the girl finding her way to civilization only to find zombies everywhere, ala every zombie movie ever made.

My liveblogging adventure below the fold.

Continue reading Severed

Early Memories of Gaming

game-ism.com has an interesting anecdote about his own drive to play games (and more importantly, to succeed at them). He suggests his readers make a similar self-analysis, so here goes.

I have several early memories of video games.  Most of them involve my father.  Like Game-ism‘s author, my parents divorced when I was a kid (though their divorce happened in second grade, rather than when I was three, and my father stayed around for once-a-week and every-other-weekend visits).   I particularly remember the delight I had when we would go to see movies together and have the luck of arriving early.  Dad would bust out some quarters from a film cannister he always carried in his pocket and we would play whatever games the theaters had in the lobby.  The Eden Prairie theater–where I’d later learn to be a projectionist and meet my buddy Rolfe–had Joust, which dad and I would play endlessly.  When I think of that flying ostrich game, my primary memory is that skanky arcade machine and my Pop.

Blades of Steel: Gloves off!I also remember that my mom had no interest at all.  None.  The only interest she showed was in making sure I didn’t buy games where people got killed.  I remember thinking it was a big victory to talk her into Blades of Steel, which I believe I did by downplaying the “Gloves off!” fighting sequences.

Thus, a psychoanalytic reading of my video game history could suggest that, like Game-ism‘s author, a big part of my delight in gaming comes from its association with a parent, though this would be more like a treasured shared activity than a search for acceptance.

I suppose a third memory I have of games could be seen as completing my Oedipal journey; I specifically remember one week when, in middle school, my dad came over and we spent some time playing Joust on my Atari 2600.  I kicked his ass.  I remember being a little sad about that.

A forceful argument against talking to the police

Boing Boing posts an excellent pair of videos by a law professor and a police officer explaining why you shouldn’t ever talk to the police without a lawyer present.  Ever.  It’s pretty shocking.

And the really scary bit is the question of how police would get their work done if this were the case.  Using this stringent standard, how can I be sure I’m not being questioned as a “person of interest” rather than a witness or whatever.  It’s a scary depiction of the potential minefield the criminal justice apparatus is.

The videos take about 45 minutes to watch, but it’s worth it.

Tunesday (see how I added that extra n?)

  • 1: Outkast – I always feel a small bit of shame that I don’t like this album more. Am I missing some essential appreciation of awesomeness?
  • 1: o-zone: I like this album a lot, though I only bought it so I could have the numa numa song, which is actually called “Dragosta Din Tea.” Perhaps the fact that I enjoy Europop explains why I don’t enjoy Outkast?
  • 1: Paul Oakenfold – a nice, soothing album of blips and boops. Beep!
  • 1: Paul Simon – A former colleague at Columbia did a great literary reading of Graceland, exploring the problematic nature of Simon’s collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African group in South Africa. On one hand, he’s violating the boycott, but on the other hand he’s giving a black South African group crucial exposure outside South Africa, but on the first hand, he’s rejuvenating his flagging career by using their rhythms (it’s the old song to a new tune). Does anyone else find it interesting that the album is called Graceland and thus puts it into conversation with the most successful of the black music thieves? But on the second hand, again, LBM have replied to suggests that Simon was “using” them by saying they were using him. After all, they have worldwide acclaim and audience now; before, they couldn’t get out of South Africa.
  • 2: Pavement – I have two pavement albums, but somehow one of them is missing from my Amarok registry. Annoying. What the world needs now is a missing Pavement album, like I need a hole in my head.
  • 6: Pearl Jam – A cornerstone of my high school experience. Not much to say about ’em, except that while I like their music, I was never quite as big a fan as everyone else was. I like the song “bugs,” though. And I REALLY like “Rearviewmirror.”
  • 1: Peter Gabriel – I’m happy to have just the greatest hits album here. It was interesting to find that I knew most of these songs but wasn’t quite aware that they were Peter Gabriel songs. My favorite moment like that: I heard the phrase “Boom Boom Boom” from “Solsbury Hill” and was sent into my “where have I heard that before” reverie. I figured it out (see below).

House of the Dead 2 & 3

I blast some zombies

So I picked up House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return for the Wii, and am enjoying it immensely.  My favorite arcade games have long been light gun games, since the systems are designed to use the hardware and thus work smoothly.  They’re also not thought-provoking or challenging, intellectually, but just fun to play.

  • HotD is particularly hilarious this way, because its plot is so convoluted, and its pleasures are so many.  The dialog strains credulity, with grammar and pronunciation errors galore.  My favorite so far is the pronunciation of the word Genome as “Geh – nome” (using the G sound from get).   Your avatar also has a pretty cavalier attitude about his buddies.  At one point, a dying friend hands you the keys to his car.  Without waiting a beat, you say “thanks” and turn away, leaving him to die.
  • I’ve mentioned to Jenny that the Wii has the smoothest light-gun system I’ve seen thus far.  This is because, like the arcade games, the system is designed for you to point your cursor at the screen.  There’s no flashing or other annoying bits.  I can’t imagine playing without the reticule on screen though.
  • I purchased one “Wii Zapper,” which works well.  I will probably purchase another so we can have two-player fun, though I might go for one of the wii handgun thingies instead.  They’re lighter and might be more fun.  I haven’t tried playing with just the wiimote yet — I should give that a go.
  • The game has a number of amusing quirks, my favorite thus far being “original” mode, in which you can accrue bonuses to use in future rounds of the game.  Presumably this is how you will get enough credits to beat the viciously hard game.  Unlike many arcade-ports, this game doesn’t give you unlimited credits, but a mere 5.  One of the bonuses I’ve been enjoying is “alternate costume,” in which you play as an aproned, gray-haired matron with a delightful hair bun.
  • The game also gives you regular opportunities to save people by killing zombies quickly.  On one of the early opportunities, a woman you can save urges you to rescue her boyfriend.  If you save both, you get to go to an alternate route through the first level.  If you fail to save the woman, the man never has a chance. Hilariously, if you save the woman but then fail to save the man, you return to her and mutter, “There was nothing we could do.”  There’s a similar opportunity later with a little boy and his father.  I’m going to have to see what happens if you let the father die sometime.
  • Some of the bosses are ridiculously hard.  And I’m not even playing on “hard.”  I lose most of my credits to them.
  • I haven’t even tried House of the Dead 3 yet.

Anyhow, if you come to Chicago and want to try it out, just let me know. 😀

The George Eliot Murders

by Edith Skrom; narrated by Jenny Riley

I enjoyed this book moderately — particularly the technique of having the plot parallel Middlemarch.  The murder story was pretty well concocted, and the characters work well.  I’m not particularly fond of the way the professor’s scholastic life was depicted, but I can’t say why.  It felt caricatured, somehow.

This book also had the satisfying development that the busybody amateur detective never felt like she was putting herself outrageously in danger the way they often do in other books.  I’ve read or seen too many mysteries where the detective gets into hot water following someone or doing something stupid, and it was delightful to read a book where that didn’t happen.

Jenny read the book to me while I worked on cleaning the basement, and I always enjoy it when she reads books.  She doesn’t do voices though.  Oh well.

This is what I want when I play Image Labeler…

Dear Google,

When I’m on break from grading or other “serious” work at my desk, I like to play a couple rounds of Image Labeler to keep my typing fast and help your search engine. I’ve already commented on the things I find annoying about my fellow players, but their faults are not your faults.

What I would like is for my experience with Image labeler to involve:

  • Some fun times identifying images.
  • Several images I haven’t seen (I sometimes go two or three rounds without seeing a new image).
  • A few images with no word limits.
  • A few images that won’t quickly be identified using the words sexy, hot, lady, ladies, woman, boobs, or the always classy tits.

Toward that end, I do not want to encounter images that make me ponder my own mortality and the devastation my early demise would wreak on my family. In other words, no more images like this, please:

Love Letter produced by Supporting Kids.org


Brendan Riley

ps> To my faithful readers, I apologize that I may now have sparked a letter campaign about what you expect to find when you read this blog, and I suspect it also doesn’t involve heartbreaking letters.

pps> The organization this image comes from sounds like a very noble one. Check it out!

Just like me.

Don\'t forget to floss!
Flossing is the key to healthy gums.  Grrr.  Brains!

  1. I had a dental cleaning today.  My wife and I get them three times a year to be sure we avoid cavities and whatnot.  I tend to do really well at one, then poorly at the next.  I commented to Rhonda (my very competent and gentle hygienist) that the fear of a lecture from her was as big a motivator in my flossing as the general knowledge that it will benefit my teeth.

    Anyhow, I was talking about Wii Fit and learned that she and her husband also played the Wii.  Trying to find some common ground, I mentioned Trauma Center (a write up of that is coming soon, right after I save the four-year-old girl) and Cooking Mama, but she hadn’t played those.  Then I mentioned that I thought light-gun games were particularly good on the Wii, and that I’d recently purchased House of the Dead 2 & 3.

    “Oh, we have that,” she said as she dove back in to scrape at my wisdom teeth.  “We used to play that at Dave and Busters, so we bought it for the Wii too.”  Go figure, finally a connection with Rhonda who “doesn’t really watch movies.”  She’s a zombie-slayer just like me (or much better, if you consider that I’ve barely gotten to the second boss in the home version of HotD2).

  2. At the pool today, I sat along the wall while Avery played on the slide/step/water thingy (like a jungle-gym in the water, with spray spouts and a slide).  The weather was nice, and the water was nice, but the temperature and breeze was just such that if you were wet, the air felt pretty darn cold.  While I watched, a burly guy with a Georgetown Bulldog tattoo on one bicep and a flaming alien head on the other followed his 12-18 month-old daughter onto the steps.  As she toddled around on the platform, he rubbed his arms and shivered.

    I couldn’t help but think that if I encountered this man in a casual setting (like a village festival or something), he wouldn’t be the first person I’d be inclined to introduce myself to.  Flaming alien heads interest me, but I suspect that enough indicators would differ that he and I wouldn’t immediately bond.  At the pool with his daughter, though, he’s just a chilly daddy like me.

Organic TV

A thought, not fleshed out.

Entertainment Weekly had an article this week explaining that product placement is up and going to keep going up in television shows.  The newest debacle is Jingles, the reality show in which contestants come up with ad campaigns for real products.  Why don’t they just televise ad agency spitball sessions.  (Aside: why do they call it “spitballing?”)

I’m not categorically opposed, or even uncategorically opposed, to product placement.  If ABC can get some scratch from Apple to feature iMacs in the CSI labs, fine by me.  I’m less happy with the idea of news agencies following suit, but in television I can understand that such revenue streams are part of the game.  But there are some people who have prejudices against such chicanery, which leads me to my idea: certified organic television.

COT would be television devoted to audience alone.  But I’m curious what the lines would be.  Would the rule be “no product placement” or “no advertising of any kind?”  The second would eliminate a lot of revenue streams for television shows, demanding new ones.  And would this really make better art?  How much of the product created by television creators is affected by advertising concerns?  Three thoughts come into play:

  1. Public television works this way already.  The viewers provide the bulk of the funding by which the media support itself.  The “public service” angle of the programming, however, limits the production of cutting edge entertainment to the import of British mysteries.
  2. HBO works this way.  The television shows made for premium cable are often cited as the most innovative and interesting, and these shows are able to be that way by the fact that they’re beholden only to their subscribers, not to advertisers.
  3. Internet television like Dr. Horrible and The Guild, which operates even more directly, the latter raising funds through donations in order to complete further episodes.

So my question is whether this really makes a difference.  Sure, shows that dive into the blatant realm of product placement often seem hackneyed and cheap, but don’t they also usually involve content that’s equally shallow?  The Apprentice would be just as shallow if its contestants were selling fake products.  (Aside: It’s interesting that writing classrooms often embrace similar strategies, valuing the service and/or experience of working on real-world projects instead of the revenue provided by such projects.  It’s classroom product placement!  Note to any corporate readers: I am willing to wear and/or endorse most products in the classroom for minimal fees.  I’m sure Marshall McLuhan would agree that with Sure deodorant, the medium’s message smells great!)

Also, enjoy this relevant clip from State and Main by David Mamet.


The Dark Knight

The Joker

Obviously, this movie is amazing. So here are a few thoughts, along with some spoilerific thoughts below the break.

  • As I watched the film, I decided what a brilliant move it was to save the Joker for the second film. You can’t have the origin of both Batman and the Joker in the same movie. But what will they do for the inevitable sequel? I can’t think of how they could make any of the other more cartoonish villains work in this context.
  • The Chicago Tribune reviewer grumbled that the Harvey Dent coin-flipping had lost some of its lustre after the horrifying Chigurh (sp?) moment in No Country for Old Men. I wanted to smack him when I read that, since Dent’s shtick has been around for much longer. Like in Annie Hall when Woody overhears the woman in line for the movies saying “I like Shakespeare, but his plots are always so cliche.”
  • It occurs to me that there’s really no lead actor in this film. While you could ostensibly assign that role to Bale, he hasn’t got much more screen time than the others.
  • Once again, we learn that in dealing with criminal masterminds, getting into conversation is the last thing you want to do.
  • If you want to refresh your memory on relevant Batman themes, please re-read The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke.
  • The sequence with the Joker in the interrogation room, particularly in his conversation with Gordon, haunts me.

Continue reading The Dark Knight

Second Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

So I finished re-reading the foundation trilogy.  The third book was better than the second, but neither compares to the first, which had all the room it needed to work well.  I liked the multiple layers of action at work in these stories, particularly the bits of narrative considering the relationship between the second foundationers and the people fighting them.

Not too much more to say about this one, I’m afraid, except that I enjoyed it.

I noticed, this time around, how good Asimov is at crafting, quickly and in a short page span, characters you can understand and appreciate.

See also: Foundation, Foundation and Empire


As requested, here are a few pics of my chess sets. You can see the whole run (I’ve still got a few to put up and photograph) on my Flickr Chess photoset.

Chess collection overview 1

Chess collection overview 2

Celtic chess 3

Irish chess set 1

Mexican chess set

The Shrieker

poster for the shriekerAndrew gave me a box of movies from a closeout sale at a video store, and I’ve finally found a spot in my schedule to crack them open. This is the first of what will likely be many wonderful reviews of films unequaled in, well, something.

While Shrieker certainly won’t win any awards, it’s entertainingly bad. The setup is smooth, establishing categories for the characters in much the same way Cube did. The categories make for easy character dynamics, but they all lose their cool when a pig-squealing two-face shows up.

The mix of characters and a couple twists worked well for me, and the monster was fine for a low-end horror movie. I was a bit curious about why a creepy beast with two faces (and thus two mouths) would leave scratches all over its victims, but let’s call that “artistic license.”

Most notable about this film is that it comes from Full Moon films, creators of the execrable The Dead Hate the Living. I consider the fact that this film wasn’t terrible a near miss. That was a close one, Andrew. I’m putting you on notice.

My live-blogging silliness below the fold.

Continue reading The Shrieker