Road Notes

August 29th, 2005

So, Chuck, what was it like to drive around the Midwest and East Coast? I really enjoyed my road trip, thank you. Here are some observations:

* - Total mileage of the trip: 2724 miles. Total gallons of gas used: 90.7. Average gas mileage: 30 mpg. Cheapest gas prices: Kansas City - $2.45 and St. Louis - $2.44. Most expensive? Downtown Chicago at $2.95 and $2.99. Gas prices in eastern Ohio, West Virginia and western Maryland were lower than other places. Running the air conditioning improved gas mileage as did driving around 65 mph.

* - Driving is fun, even if much of it is on boring interstates. If I had more time and money for hotels, it would have been nice to take more two-lane “blue” highways. Some people were amazed that I could drive solo for 9 or 11 hours (Indy to DC and back) a day. If you are well-rested and make frequent stops, the driving doesn’t get that tedious (except in Illinois). I also concluded that having other people in the car would have tired me out faster. There is something about people talking to you and asking for stops that wears one out faster than driving alone.

* - Holy fucking shit! Can we ban the “Classic Rock” format from the FM dial? I thought I’d have to listen to country stations, but classic cock rock dominates the airwaves in the Midwest. I did find some interesting stations, including several using the new “mix” format (exploiting the podcasting and ipod fads). One of the stations in Madison was running Air America. I was also able to listen to a Royals game being broadcast out of Kansas City for 350 miles on the first day.

* - It could be said that Americans have a diet based on meat. It’s more accurate to say that we have a corn-based diet. I drove past hundreds of miles of corn. Almost all of that corn will be fed to animals to create meat and the rest is turned into corn syrup which goes into soft drinks and processed food.

* - Note to animal rights activists: There are two ginormous animal factory farms along the interstate between Chicago and Indianapolis. You can see and smell these places. One houses thousands, if not millions, of chickens and the other one imprisons thousands of hogs.

* - There are more vegetarian fast food options along the interstate than ever before. There are plenty of Burger Kings, of course. You can find big city chains like Quizno’s if you keep an eye out for new mega-developments that include a Target, Wal-Mart, or Home Depot. If you want to get food from a grocery store, one thing I did before my trip was to use Google Maps to search for grocery store locations in two cities in Iowa. I actually ended up visiting a Hy-Vee in Ames, Iowa, but I opted for my potato bagel-tomato-cucumber sandwich which I had prepared in Kansas City.

* - Police? I had several near encounters with speed traps, but I continued my luck of never getting a speeding ticket in my life. Of course, I was driving below the speed limit on the first few days, mostly because the tips were shorter and fuel efficiency was a goal. Several times I was driving a bit over the speed limit and cops came up behind me and passed on their way to do whatever. The thing that almost always cuts it close is when I pass a truck at a speed of 70 to 75 and space out the cop hiding behind a bridge pillar. Most of the time you just don’t see many cops.

* - Driving in DC is a nightmare. Driving in traffic in Chicago was a breeze for this laid back driver compared to DC. Drivers in DC are either too timid or too aggressive. The timid drivers will drive too slowly in the middle lanes and the aggressive ones will pass too closely, or come up quckly, or won’t let you merge, or they just won’t use turn signals. I can be an assertive driver when I want to be, but the drivers in Washington are just crazy and unpredictable.

* - The roads in D.C. are worse than Missouri.

* - Missouri is the headquarters for religious hypocrisy. The moral zealots in Missouri want people to believe that all of the adult businesses along I-70 are only patronized by truckers. If that’s the case, why don’t you see as many adult “superstores” along the interstate in other states? Is it because truckers get horny as soon as they drive into Missouri? Come on, Missouri, admit that you church-going hypocrites are the people keeping the mega-XXX-adult superstore on the interstate in business.

* - I don’t have a laptop with WiFi, but many truckstops and restaurants along the highways in the Midwest promote WiFi access. I think several rest stops have WiFi access.

* - Lastly, somewhere along the eastbound lanes of U.S. 20 in northern Iowa–perhaps 20 to 30 miles west of Waterloo–there is this big boulder on the side of the highway. An American flag flies from the top of this boulder and the rock is spraypainted with this slogan: WE AIN’T AFRAID. Two free pizzas and a twelve pack of good beer await any clever adbuster who can change this patriotic shrine into something more interesting (photo documentation is required).

Current TV

August 29th, 2005

Spent the past weekend petsitting for a relative. One the of the perks involved in doing this favor is that I have access to all of the satellite TV channels they subscribe to. Typically I plop myself down and watch the movie channels. This time I was able to catch Ray (4 out of 4 stars), Elf (3.5) and part of a cute movie on gay teens titled “But I’m a Cheerleader”. The plot revolves around some queer teens who are sent to “straight camp” by their narrow-minded parents.

Flipping around the hundreds of channels I caught the new cable TV channel launched by Al Gore & Co. Current TV is interesting for several reasons. One reason is that it is very much the “unchannel”. The channel doesn’t feature any shows per se, but features short videos and content, mostly submitted by independent video producers. In other words, the channel is like a video blog corssed with MTV and Bllomberg news channel. One of the videos being featured covers the recent removal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank. Another interesting feature of Current TV is its partnership with Google. I’ve blogged before about my prediction that Google wants to become THE Internet (see the recent story on Google buying up dark fiber), so this partnership with TV is worth following. Google Current is like a new take on factoid media–the segment features what people are searching for on the Google search engine. When I was watching Google Current listed the top five searches on “Martin Scorcese films.”

What I’m really looking at when I watch something like Current TV is how they present information in a new way. I’m interested in borowing ideas and incorporating them into the Infoshop.org website. I’d really like to see Infoshop evolve away from the traditional website look into a mainstream news and information portal with a fresh look and anarchist editors and creators at the controls. I pretty much agree with one of my anarchist friends who doesn’t independent media that our goal as anarchist media people is to create projects that are aimed at the mainstream, not the anarchist or activist ghetto. I’m not sure if I got any specific ideas from Current TV, but it gave me some food for thought.

Back!

August 26th, 2005

I got back from my road trip last night (Thursday). Found that Kansas City has been deluged with rain since I left. I had a kick ass trip and saw many new and old friends. The driving was uneventful except for an incident yesterday when one of my crowns popped out while chewing on Starbursts while driving through a boring part of Illinois. I’ve already been to the dentist today to get the problem fixed.

The trip was extended a day so I could go to Kings Dominion theme park in Virginia with friends. We had a great time. I think I rode on 9 different rollercoasters. The old wooden ones actually are as much or more fun than the fancy 21st century stuff like the launched coasters.

I will relate more stories about my trip this weekend and I’ll post photos later next week.

Washington, D.C.

August 19th, 2005

Finally made it to D.C. after two uneventful days of driving. I stayed in Indianapolis with a relative on Wednesday night. There was actually enough time that night to go get dinner after a short drive from Madison. I had stopped in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood to have lunch with Infoshop writer/reporter Kari Lydersen. Pilsen has changed a bunch since I last saw it back in 1986. Lots of gentrification and development going on–it looked very little like the working class neighborhood I almost was arrested in during a May Day march in 1986. In fact, I think I even parked my car a block from the intersection where the cops stopped the march. They arrested two anarchists and our crowd ended up unarresting them. It’s a shame that–from what I could see–the yuppie development has destroyed much of the neighborhood’s character.

One thing that I’ve concluded after driving for three days across the U.S. is that there is a urgent need to wipe “Classic Rock” radio from the airwaves. Even in rural areas where I expected lots of country stations, classic rock filled the dial. And Christian nutcase preachers.

I saw many hundreds of miles of corn fields. Lots of corn out there in the Midwest. I also spotted, or, smelled, two massive factory farms along the interstate between Chicago and Indianapolis. One was dedicated to chickens and the other to hogs. Pretty sad.

I will be in Washington through the weekend and may extend the stay through Tuesday if we decide to go to Kings Dominion.

Day 2 - Madison

August 16th, 2005

So I spent my second day of the trip (Monday) here in Madison, hanging out with some friends. They drove me around town so I could see all of the changes, especially out on the west side. Capitalism and liberal yuppies continue to run amuck here in Madison and surrounding burbs. I did see one development that impressed me–a housing development in Middleton which featured old-fashioned style houses that sit close together. Kind of like “new urbanism” but with that Wisconsin twist.

Went on two small hikes yesterday, one in the woods around Lake Wingra and another on the rail-to-trail path here in the neighborhood I’m staying in. Got some lunch yesterday at the Hubbard Street Cafe in Middleton. I had a veggie rueben which featured tofu instead of tempeh (tempeh is more appropriate) and finished things off with an outstanding piece of Mocha Cream pie.

Mmmmmmmmmmm, pie.

This afternoon I’m going to take in State Street and the Rainbow Bookstore. I’m also hoping to see Madison’s infoshop. Tomorrow I’ll be driving to Chicago and then to Indianapolis.

Day 1: Lots of corn and sunflowers

August 15th, 2005

If one obvious thing can be said aboput my home state of Iowa, it’s that they grow lots of corn there. At this time of year, even despite some dry weather, the corn is at least six feet tall and awaits fall harvesting. This is also a good time of year to eat sweet corn. My favorite variety is “peaches and cream” or whatever the variety is called that has white and yellow kernals on each ear. Needless to say, after driving through Iowa yesterday, I’m not interested in eating corn right now.

I left Kansas City around 10 am on Sunday morning and made it to Madison by 7 pm. Kansas City had gotten around 3 inches of rain over the weekend, disrupting the start of another drought. Everybody wanted to see some rain, including the dreadful K.C. Royals, who saw their losing streak delayed for a few more days. The great thing about starting on a trip on Sunday is that there is no traffic–certainly not in northern Missouri or anywhere in Iowa. Most of this 500-mile leg involved steering, as I could use cruise control most of the way, set at 69 mph to save fuel. I managed to get to Dyersville, Iowa, home of that “Field of Dreams,” on one tank of gas (around 400 miles).

The gas prices in Kansas City were $2.45 when I left and they are $2.59 here in Madison right now.

The weather was just perfect for a drive across Iowa to Wisconsin. The sun came out just as soon as I entered Iowa. There were scattered puffy clouds high in the big sky that didn’t move. Everything was relatively green and the traffic was light. I made a long stop in Ames, Iowa, mostly to take a look at the Iowa State campus. I had my lunch in the parking lot of a Hy-Vee: tomato and cucumber slices from my garden with veggie cream chees on a potato bagel. Ames is a pretty typical prairie college town. It reminds me of Bowling Green, Ohio, although with more chain stores and industry. There is a huge Barilla pasta plant outside of Ames on Interstate 35.

For most of my life, trips across Iowa–which our family often makes because we have relatives and friends in Wisconsin–have taken the busy Interstate 80. The good thing about this route is that it has plenty of services. The bad thing is that it has lots of trucks and traffic. So on this trip, I took U.S. 20 across northern Iowa. This is a divided highway which is in excellent condition and has no traffic. There aren’t many services along this route, but otherwise it is a lovely drive on a nice day. About half of the traffic I did encounter was locals driving their antique and sports cars.

Last night I got to Madison right around the time I expected. Got to tour my friends new house, which has a garden instead of a yard. Lots of perennials and sunflowers. This morning, the gold finches outside woke me up.

Replying to a few comments

August 11th, 2005

First of all, the good news. The Flag server has more RAM, which hopefully will improve performance and reduce downtime. Comments to previous posts tend to get buried, so in this entry I’m going to highlight several recent comments and respond to them.

Y writes: “Dave said as much in that RAM thread on flag, he said that he had muffed up some of the firewall variables. I’m sure more tweaking is possible, but I believe he’s a busy man. Perhaps he needs to let others (alank as an example) have some privledges on flag to do tweaking and such. I agree with Alan’s other assertions that more RAM could disguise inefficiency or misconfiguation problems. Though the significant ones would still show up. “

That may be the case, that there is more tweaking that can be done. I don’t know what Dave thinks about more people being involved in sysadmin. We both agree that the next big project is to install a new drive in the server which would be dedicated to the MySQL database. I recently posted my tech to-do list, which I plan to work on when I get back from vacation. I’d like to get everything that is down back up, upgrade software, install some new software, and get Squid set up.

Zg00sh writes: “You guys should spent more time with CSS/XHTML books… you site look completely diffrent in Opera - IE - Firefox
coffee maker nah!”

Interesting point. I’ve learned some CSS/XHTML and have implemented it on Infoshop.org. I’ve tweaked the style sheets for this blog. What exactly looks different for you? I’d like to learn more about CSS and do more design work, but there are so many hours in the day. I’ve also thought about doing a complete re-design of Infoshop.org later this year, but I’d like to find somebody who is a kick ass designer and pay them. Otherwise, I’m the big cojone designer around here. ;-)

Update road trip itinerary

August 10th, 2005

Brother, could you spare some gas?

  • Sunday, August 14: Kansas City to Madison
  • Monday, August 15: Madison
  • Tuesday, August 16: Madison
  • Wednesday, August 17: Madison to Indianapolis (lunch in Chicago)
  • Thursday, August 18: Indy to Washington, DC
  • Friday, August 19: Washington, DC
  • Saturday, August 20: Washington, DC
  • Monday, August 21: Washington, DC
  • Tuesday, August 22: Washington, DC to Indianapolis
  • Next Day: Indianapolis to Bloomington/Normal to St. Louis
  • Final day: St. Louis to Kansas City

Infoshop updates

August 7th, 2005

If you haven’t read it yet, I urge folks to read Kari Lydersen’s August article for Infoshop News: TeleSur Takes to the Airwaves.

The website is working a bit better this weekend than it has been. I believe that Dave visited the server and made a few tweaks. The server has been overloaded again this afternoon, which reflects the fact that Dave hasn’t gotten the memory upgrade yet and installed. I know that he ordered it last week, so we are talking about a few more days of problems. In the meantime, I’ve been updating the website and troubleshooting long-standing problems from the server move.

White supremacy and young Republicans

August 7th, 2005

Has anybody else noticed on C-SPAN that whenever they show a conference of young conservatives that all of the attendees are young white people?

Road trip itinerary

August 6th, 2005

It looks like my road trip itinerary is finally falling into place. If you live in any of the towns and cities I’ll be visiting and would like to get together with me, please send me an email.

  • Sunday, August 14: Kansas City to Madison
  • Monday, August 15: Madison
  • Tuesday, August 16: Madison
  • Wednesday, August 17: Madison to Indianapolis or Ann Arbor/ Detroit (lunch in Chicago)
  • Thursday, August 18: Indy to Washington, DC
  • Friday, August 19: Washington, DC
  • Saturday, August 20: Washington, DC
  • Monday, August 21: Washington, DC
  • Tuesday, August 22: Washington, DC or start trip back to KC
  • Next Day: Indianapolis or Louisville
  • Final day: Back to Kansas City

Critique of new NYC IMC redesign

August 6th, 2005

The folks involved with the New York City Indymedia project have unveiled a new website design. The design is very fresh and will probably serve their project well. I like the fact that the page has more white space and is free of all the cruft that frequently clutters most Indymedia websites. The color scheme is muted and sensible. The choice of typography generally works, except for the clunky menu bar along the top of the page. The typography for the masthead could be jazzier, but it looks fine. I like how they use a photograph of local buildings to give the website a local feel. I’ve been critical for many years of Indymedia websites which rely on famous capitalist landmarks to give their websites a brand identity.

What’s bad? The first problem is the center column, which departs from the traditional Indymedia center columns that features stories promoted from the newswire. The NYC IMC redesign reflects the bad design adopted by San Francisco Indymedia, which focuses on presenting links instead of the more democratic features of writing and reporting from the newswire. In a way, it’s not surprising that NYC Indymedia made this decision, as members of that project have been moving towards an uncritical professionalism for several years. They explain that the center column has been redesigned to give the front page a “newspaper” feel. This is a dumb reason for presenting information this way for several reasons: 1) a news website is NOT a newspaper; 2) this breaks with the democratic spirit of Indymedia to the point where a writer can only hope to get the title of their story on the front page, not the title and a brief summary; 3) the tech savvy people at NYC IMC should understand that they have an opportunity to create a useable website, not something which apes Old Media.

Other problems? The most serious problem with the front page is the truncation of the list of IMCs around the world. At least this new design provides some links to a few IMCs under each region, but otherwise this design is a step backward in usability. San Francisco Indymedia was one of the first IMC websites to relegate the list of global IMCs to the bottom of the page. This is just a poor design decision. Most IMCs have the *full list* of global IMCs in the left hand column of the front page. This is an important part of the Indymedia network which enables the network to be a network. How can people discover other IMCs–possibly one in their own city– if Indymedia websites adopt designs which hide the other IMCs? Another problem with this departure from the “city list” standardization is that it makes it more difficult for users such as myself to move between IMCs. This discourages me from reading the news on different sites and it discourages me from reposting local IMC material to Infoshop News.

Other annoyances? They’ve moved to Mir software, which I can’t stand. Mir has a habit of breaking frequently and as usual, I found that I couldn’t post comments. Mir also sends a stupid message to yur computer if you want to post an article or comment. Lastly, I tried to post a question about who was responsible for the redesign. The folks who did this redesign did a good job (for the most part) and should get some kind of credit.

Infoshop/Flag update

August 1st, 2005

It appears that the Infoshop website has become pretty much unreachable in the past few days. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Dave tells me that he is ordering two gigabytes of RAM to put into the server. He is having the parts rush shipped so he can install them this week. This should make the server accessible again, but we still have some more projects to implement to improve the server and reduce downtime.

So far this summer we’ve set up a new server with more bandwidth. The server was working and our next step should solve the memory problem. Dave is also planning to set up a PayPal account so people can donate for hardware/connection costs.

Sorry for the delays and inconvenience!

To blog, or not to blog…

July 31st, 2005

Regular readers of this here blog may remember that back in June I announced that I would be doing less blogging. Well, I haven’t been blogging much, but it looks like I’ll be doing more blogging than I thought. My main priority right now is working on my books and other projects, but I always have things to say which are best said on this blog. I’ve been wanting to write at length about several topics, but I’ve been so busy in the past week that I haven’t had much time to sit in front of the computer. So this week, look for new entries from me about the recent anti-globalization protests in Scotland, that recent article on Indymedia, and some stuff I’ve already forgotten about which I wanted to adress. Oh well.

Fringe Festival

July 31st, 2005

The very first Fringe Festival was held this past weekend in Kansas City. The festival is modeled on similar arts festivals in other cities, most notably the one in Edinburgh, Scotland. The website informs that the festival is “a three-day event packed with live theatre, dance, performance art, visual art, spoken word, puppetry, storytelling, film and fashion.” The venues were scattered around the Crossroads Arts District, the downtown Loop, and a few other places. When I went down to my usual haunts last night, I discovered that Locust Street had been blocked off between 18th and 19th (for you out-of-towners, this is around the corner from our old infoshop). Stretch and other folks (most of the shit work done by the latter) has sectioned off the sculpture courtyard with the stage and some tents providing a mini-festival atmosphere.

Now when I went downtown to the Fringe Festival last night, I was not interested in hanging around on Stretch’s block. My goal was to go to the Next Space to see the one-woman burlesque show called “Sugar Puppy and the Lovely Dumplings.” Emily Lauren had put together this show which features burlesque, dance, puppetry, and lots of humor. I had met Emily several times when she had conducted her Communiversity burlesque class at the Crossroads Infoshop this spring. She played to a packed audience which really enjoyed the show. It was interesting, sexy and funny. And much better than performance art, which I really hate. I believe that Emily Lauren is doing her show again on August 3rd with some other acts. If you are interested, email me and I’ll dig out the flyer.