Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Blockbuster is one of the words coming out of movies that is most embedded in our everyday language. It refers, of course, to a product that is so widely popular that it results in enormous sales (a blockbuster drug) or, perhaps, information or an event that is so important or newsworthy that it becomes ubiquitous in conversation. Living above an old movie theater helps me appreciate what the term means. When movies are popular enough, people arrive in numbers and early enough to they can be assured of tickets. The line that forms extends past the theater and around the block. Blockbuster lines stop traffic, disrupt neighboring businesses, and become events in themselves. While the Art Theater (the one I live above) doesn't generally book the kinds of movies that become blockbusters, the Virginia Theater just a block away does, and the crowds that have come there for blockbusters are certainly memorable. It's something I like about my neighborhood.

Downtown Champaign is an exception, however. The very movies that made blockbuster common parlance also pushed it beyond its literal meaning. Blockbuster movies like Jaws and Star Wars helped fund the last great round of theater building. The multiplexes they helped birth, with Dolby surround sound and stadium seating, have been located in suburban locales - first on the outlots of shopping malls and now as stand-alones in power centers. These venues are no longer sited on blocks. Because the facilities are separated from neighboring uses and the surrounding community the disruptive effect of blockbuster movies has become, well, less disruptive, and blockbusters lose the 'big event' kind of excitement that they used to generate. At least locally.

A more appropriate word might be lotfiller. Opening weekends for the big movies now help fill the multiplex parking lots that are often mostly empty for all but the peak times. The significant experience in a lotfiller is not the wait but also comraderie of standing in line but rather the anxious tedium of driving down aisles looking for a parking spot. The effect most notable on its surrounding environs is the concentrated traffic loading that happens when the movie lets out. There are three differences between blockbuster and lotfiller. The experience changes from pedestrian to auto-oriented, and the impact and excitement of the crowds are isolated and minimized. More subtly, the term connotes a feeling of 'filling up' rather than 'overflowing', a nuance that may have value in a world of systems built for redunancy and excessive capacity.

Lotfiller: it's a new term. Let's put it to use.

Top Six Picks

Because Josh and Mike both asked me to, here's six songs that are in my car stereo:

1. The Weight : The Band
2. Judy Blue Eyes : Crosby Stills & Nash
3. Seymour Stein : Belle & Sebastian
4. Only in Your Heart : America
5. At The Dark End Of The Street : Clarence Carter
6. Mr. Brightside : The Killers

I'm supposed to get six people to pick the same. You can self-select yourselves.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ron and Suzy

I've been entertaining my parents here for the last couple of days. It's been fun. In other places when people come to visit everyone becomes a tourist, but in Champaign there isn't much to see. We've looked at the university campus, my office, and the local historical museum, which is housed in the oldest building in the county and currently has a quilt exhibit on display. Yesterday we drove to Springfield to see the Dana Thomas House. Afterwards I took them to a Dairy Queen. Mostly it's been like a regular vacation, and we've spent a lot of time sitting around, playing cards, and talking. Dad's a lot more pessimistic about the Yankees season than I am.
Sometimes stuff just doesn't go right. Little things. A habitual editor, I've found myself sending messages before they were finished. I'll send snarky commentary on a funny link, but without the link. I forgot the rent was due. My internal monologue is slightly less attuned to the world than it should be. I'm blaming this on the stuffy summer heat. In grade school my childhood friend used to insist that we not use our brains over summer vacation - "No thinking!" - this because school was out, and because we didn't have to, so that we really shouldn't waste the energy...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Bistro Temple Buell

If you're reading this, you probably find snack packaging as fascinating as I do. A couple of items available in our department vending machines:

1. Foster clued me into the late semester appearance of the "Gourmet Big Az Boston Creme Honey Bun". The packing of this is actually pretty conventional, if plus-sized. But you have to agree that the name is something else. I like the use of the 'z' because it leaves you open to the double meaning of Big Ass and Big as Boston without directly pointing to either. I haven't tried one (yet) but it looks like a conventional honey bun, with no actual Boston Creme.

2. Doritos. The Frito-Lay company is in a tough spot here. They flirted with superlatives a couple of years ago when they changed the name of the nacho chesse flavor Doritos to "Nacho Cheesier Doritos" and the cool ranch flavor to "Cooler Ranch". The next logical step is introducing Nacho Cheesiest, of course. But this presents the company with a conundrum, because it would imply a finality in their ability to innovate (and, concomitantly, raise prices). Instead, this year's packaging update included the uninspiring slogan "Now better tasting!". Remarkably, however, this text is set in a black picture that is clearly meant to be a POWER STRIP. There are cables plugged into it and everything. WTF? Maybe they wanted to go high tech. Yet they took one of the least glamorous images of technology you could find to do it. One other possibility is that the chips are supposed to be supercharged. At any rate, I have bought these new Doritos a couple of times. "Now better tasting!" would be more to the point if it instead said "Now more coloring!". They're not natural.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

God Help Me

when I have to get a day job for real. I was good the first two days this week, but couldn't sleep last night and didn't make it into the office until three today. THREE!

I came in unshaven with big bags under my eyes, and with my trousers hanging a bit because I was never able to get my belt back from Esther. I got predictable ribbing from my temporary coworkers (Late night last night? Miami beach get a little wild? Oye! El esta aqui!). I walked in to see RD working at the conference table/my temporary desk. He wasn't supposed to be in until tomorrow but cut his Hawaii vacation short because 'Hawaii is awful'. We talked about the project for a couple of hours. Fortunately RD was jetlagged, so we were more or less at the same level of coherency.

I couldn't even make it a week getting to the office on time. Ugh.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Miami/Work II

I'm going back to Miami tomorrow to finish stuff for the code book project. Now, I'm a smart guy. I've been doing good work at two good libraries. Still, scanning stuff at the DPZ office is the top priority. For some reason no one else but me can do it.

Haven't they heard of Manpower? It doesn't take a phd to operate a scanner. As far as I can tell they're paying less for my labor than they are for my travel expenses.

One positive: I'll be able to get to the beach this time around.
Another positive: The heat has been stifling in Illinois, and I've been useless. Like a dog that can't be bothered to lift their head. God bless hotel air conditioning.

Friday, June 03, 2005

You can pretty well capture the drawbacks of Champaign by doing a jdate search: there are but six female jdaters between the ages of 22 and 36 who live within sixty miles of Champaign, and only one is an active member. Of course, this search is just as indicative of the low proportion of esthers as it is of the small pool of women overall. If you are open to shiksas, as I am, Champaign would probably look much better. Still, Champaign *is* a small pond.

Will have to start so I can get better data on this...
Lately I've come to realize that I've shed some of the rage and angst that characterized my early years. To wit: I like my program, and I like Champaign. Things are pretty much okay here. Sure the department is a little, er, disorganized, but I'm moving along. And yes, Champaign is both small and flat. But it's not a bad place really. There are things like coffee shops and friends that make it likeable. I'm less of a complainer than I used to be.