Christians get in on the Halloween act with “Hell Houses”/I just want to get rid of the candy….

From a blog I read once in a while in my “official” blogging/teaching role comes this entry about conservative Christian churches sponsoring “Hell Houses.” Basically, some conservative Christian churches in places like South Carolina (where else?!) have been setting up these elaborate haunted houses –er, “Hell Houses” that are a lot like haunted houses in their churches. With one big difference:

Welcome to the creepiest stop in the afterlife — complete with real fire, demonic characters, a heavy metal soundtrack and unfortunate souls bound by clanking chains. In the knick of time, visitors are whisked away to a heavenly realm of redemption.

Under 15,000 feet of black plastic sheeting, the church has been transformed into a dark, twisting maze where visitors can witness scenes of death and destruction — from the living room of a Hurricane Katrina victim to the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq. Then, there’s the judgment scene where Christ invites Christians into heaven and banishes others to hell.

Personally, I think this is the kind of thing that is likely to backfire on these folks. Anyone who has ever read things like Pardise Lost or The Divine Comedy know that hell and the devil are the most interesting parts of the story.

Anyway, we’re all getting ready for the old-fashioned candy ‘n costumes sort of Halloween celebration around here tonight. This year’s celebration has been quite similar to last year’s: we went to a “Day of the Dead” party this past weekend, Will is wearing his knight costume again (check out the picture from last year to see what I mean), and I will be wearing my “This is my costume” T-shirt while passing out candy.

I want to be rid of all of this candy, too. Basically, when it comes to sneaking and eating candy, even though it really is pretty crappy candy all in all, I seemingly have no self-control. I feel like I’ve gained 20 pounds in the last two weeks just from tootsie rolls. Well, it needs to be outta here tonight, and Will will need to guard his candy haul carefully from me.

And I need to get back to the gym, too.

The Elements of Style Opera Reviewed (sorta)

Via boing-boing, I came across this MSNBC article about the recent opera of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Here is but one of the funny little quotes from the piece:

Unfortunately, the operatic style of the piece rendered the lyrics all but unintelligible to this listener—in ironic contrast to the simplifying ethos of “Elements”—though that may be more the fault of the acoustics of the library venue, which was, after all, designed for silence.

Not that any of this prevented the piece from garnering titters of appreciation capped by a standing ovation from the high-tone crowd in attendance. Although the piece may have violated E. B. White’s advice to “Prefer the standard to the offbeat,” it was more than effective in fulfilling another edict: “Be obscure clearly.”

Oh, the culture I miss not being in NYC….

TWITs / Amateur Podcasts (Who Listens to These?) / And Who is Watching These Things??

This is kind a “three-fer” blog posting about podcasting and the next wave, videocasting:

  • You might want to take a listen to the “This Week in Technology” podcast show; last week’s episode included Larry Lessig on the panel. It was a pretty interesting conversation, making accessible a lot of the rather complicated issues of copyright in the digital age. As Lessig pointed out, almost everybody– especially young people– violates the letter and/or the spirit of copyright law nowadays with the way that they download music from bit torrent technologies and the like, and that’s a bad thing.

    It was interesting to me because I listened to this show the day after I had had a conversation with students in my Thursday night class about copyright issues and Internet downloads. They seemed to be either apathetic or unaware that downloading music for free and without permission is explicitly against the law. This “criminialization” of a pretty common behavior is in and of itself a problem, and Lessig made a compelling argument in this podcast.

    Having said all that, much of this show and other TWITs episodes (I’ve listened to parts of a couple) really amount to listening to some smart guys sitting around in a bar talking about computer geek stuff. It works here because all of these guys are experienced in the media– the leader of the pack is Leo Laport, and while he and the rest of them might say they’re computer geeks and they kind of are, really, these guys are all old pros from radio and TV– and because they have some pretty high production values. Which brings me to my next point…

  • Who listens to these things? I’m not talking about TWITs or all the NPR and other network news sorts of things that are available as podcasts nowadays through iTunes; I’m talking about the complete amateur stuff. As I look through the iTunes “top 100,” I can see that most people are agreeing with me since most of what’s there is coming out from “the pros;” but take, for example, The Dawn and Drew Show, which is a couple in Wisconsin talking about stuff. I have been told it is “hillarious.” I dunno about that. Maybe I just don’t have the right gene for appreciating things like this kind of podcasting, the same way I just don’t “get” public access television.

    As I have written about here numerous times, I’ve been including audio for my online class this term and I am going to be doing so podcasting for my online (and not online) classes next semester. Based on what students have told me, these audio files (more or less “mini lectures” about some of the readings) have been a success for these classes. In the winter term, I’m going to do some podcasting of “shows” that sort of provide a wrap-up of my classes for the week. I think; I’m still trying to decide. And, like I said in a post about a week ago, I figured out how to do a podcast that can be listed with iTunes (and presumably other syndication services) with nothing more than an blogger account, an RSS 2.0 feed (via feedburner), and a cell phone.

    However, I am under no illusion that anyone other than my students would be at all interested in listening to these podcasts– and it is kind of up in the air that my students are even that interested. So who the heck is listening to all of these random podcasts listed on iTunes? Anyone?

    And I know what you’re thinking– “Oh yeah? What makes you think that anyone is actually reading this thing, anyway?” Good point. But I keep a blog in part as a selfish note-taking device, it’s a lot easier (and less time-consuming) to skim through some blogs (especially with an RSS feed reader of some sort) than it is to “skim” through some podcasts, and I guess I’m just more willing to read “random thoughts” than I am to listen to them. Maybe that’s just me.

  • Just to make matters worse, it looks like we might soon move beyond not so interesting audio blogs to not so interesting video blogs. Via boing-boing this morning (so I guess somebody is watching), I came across Drive Time, which is a weekly (or so) video blog about a guy’s commute into work in the Boston area. The camera is somehow mounted on his dashboard and what we see is him driving and chatting with passengers– in the episode I sorta watched, his wife and then, later on, some other person he picked up. (Deep sigh…)

    Look, I’m not saying there is no potential to this stuff– far from it. But right now, I think we’re at a phase of the technology in which “success” is being marked by only the ability to pull it off, and, as anyone who has sat through a painful video/slide show with some family member can telly you, the ownership of a video/still camera does not necessarily translate into “art.”

  • Enough of that for now. I need to go record some more audio for my class, maybe experiment with an “unofficial” podcast for my unofficial blog, and then maybe price some cheap digital video cameras….

Harriet Miers Blog? And What About Patrick Fitzgerald?

I’m listening to NPR this morning, and they had a story just now about the role of the so-called “blogosphere” and the Miers SCOTUS debacle. Not much of a story, but it turns out there’s a pretty funny parody blog out there, Harriet Mier’s Blog.

Oh, and from this blog, I found “From the Desk of Patrick J. Fitzgerald,” which is likely to get a lot more interesting in the next few days as (fingers crossed) Turd-blossom and Scooter get indicted.

This one goes out for the literary geeks…

I teach on Thursday nights, and I always end up watching late night TV after class because I can never get to sleep early. Tonight (really, last night now) I ended up channel-surfing between a couple of different things, including Charlie Rose, and the guest for the second half of his show was Harold Bloom. “Who is Harold Bloom,” you ask? Clearly, you are not an English geek. In the nutshell, Bloom is a big name (one of the biggest names in the U.S. right now) literary critic. He was on Charlie Rose talking about a wide range of issues, mostly having to do with a new book he has coming out.

In many ways, Bloom represents the kind of literary critic that irritates me to no end– on paper. But I have to say that on the Rose show, Bloom was a charming (albeit scruffy) commentator. It helped that he spoke frequently of the evil that was George W. Bush (and it was pretty amusing to watch Charlie Rose trying to skate around that one), but I just liked what Bloom had to say on a wide range of literary figures.

Who is the most important writer in American letters, according to Bloom? Whitman. I kinda-sorta agree with that one, actually.

"The Google Print Controversy: A Bibliography"

Via what looks like a library-oriented blog called DigitalKoans comes this bibliography about Google and publishing. Nice– I always like it when someone does the work for me. In any event, as I think about Computers and Writing for the winter in the back of my mind, I am thinking more and more about how I really need to have a unit on Google or electronic publishing or maybe both or together.

Pumpkin Carnage

The Carvers

Originally uploaded by steven_d_krause.

Will and I had our annual pumpkin hunting outting this past weekend. For the last three or four years, we’ve been going to this one particular pumpkin patch sort of on the way to the Plymouth-Canton area. I always get lost on the way out there because I always think it is on Plymouth-Ann Arbor Road, but it’s really on Ford Road (or highway, whatever it is). Anyway, it is a “U-Pick-Em” kinda place that is quite a bit cheaper than buying at the grocery store and it makes for an adventure.

Our carvings, while attractive and the like, are sort of “middle of the road,” really. Here’s some pictures of the finished products:

Pumpkins #1
Two things to mention here: with the pumpkin on the right, I was going for that “translucent” kinda look where the glow of the light in the pumpkin shines through. This hasn’t worked yet; I think I have to carve more away first. Second, the red splotches you might be able to see in the picture are actually hot sauce, which I am hoping will keep away the damn squirrels from last year.

Pumpkins #2
Here’s a better/more dramatic picture of the other two pumpkins. Pretty cool, huh?

Still, I have to hand it to the folks who have some pictures posted at As Will gets a little older and capable of handling the carving knife himself (as opposed to the spoon to scoop the junk out), I think we might have to try some of these versions of pumpkin carving to make it more interesting.