High Fidelitied

I spent some time at @bookmansflag on Sunday, relaxing with a coffee and some browsing of the shelves. On a whim I picked up volume 7 of the Walking Dead and took it to the counter with a couple of other books. What followed was a scene that combines the best of High Fidelity, Clerks and the Comic Book Guy, but with just the enthusiasm for stuff they like and none of the judgmental bits. It made me laugh, and it made me happy.

Dude cashier 1: (holding up the book) Are you … reading the … Whole thing?

Me, casually: No, I mean, I just thought I’d pick it up. 

Dude cashiers 1 and 2 together, ahgast: Duuuude. You have to start at the beginning. 

2: Seriously, it’s SO GOOD

1: Sooo GOOD, dude. (Fanning through the pages, showing some to #2) See, it’s the one…

2: That ends with the…

1: The this…?

1 and 2, looking at the final page: Ooooooh, d00000d!

2: You can not read this. Not YET

I left with the book and guidance on how to pick up the first several volumes, and I promised that I would not, under any circumstances, read ahead, entirely happy with this chance encounter with enthusiastic fans of their store’s product. Thanks, guys! 

Misc & Etc

What’s in the bin this week?

  • your.flowingdata — a personal data aggregator in the same vein as daytum and mycrocosm. Flowing Data is a great site, so this tool has lots of promise. Update activities via Twitter dms.
  • Summertime in Flagstaff is just great. (The Schultz fire is now fully contained and crews are working on flood/mudslide prevention.)

Downtown after dinner

  • I’m still loving the iPad. My Lightroom 3 to iPad gallery workflow has proved to work pretty well for my needs. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of PlainText and have started to daydream about an app or web utility that would facilitate writing markdown, textile, and other markup-formatted text.
  • Shouldn’t people writing fake term papers for sale just expect that they’re going to get ripped off by douchebags?

Flagstaff: Come PhotoWalk with me

Hey Flagstaff-area readers: This year Flagstaff has a slot on the Worldwide Photo Walk. We’ll be strolling from downtown Flagstaff, toward the NAU campus and back again on the evening of July 18.

So come visit the photowalk site, sign up, and join us. No experience necessary — just a desire to meet some friendly neighbors, go for a walk, and take some pictures.

Catching up

In the past 30 days or so, I estimate that I have driven approximately 5,000 miles, between Flagstaff, Tucson, Fort Collins, and Salt Lake City. About 900 of those miles were driven to growing sound of doom from under the hood. Fortunately, while it sounded terrible, the unusual hole in the muffler flange could be welded up at the muffler shop for $90. Alas, not so for the $50 joint at the end of the driveline. That repair involved replacing the entire piece, to the tune of $800. (Sternly-worded letter to Subaru mentally composed; never sent.) Getting hustled to replace my wiper blades at the Quik Loob didn’t bother me so much after that.

The driving season commenced with a trip to Tucson for my dissertation defense. I am happy to say that the defense itself went really well. I have some revisions to make, but am looking forward to carrying them out. Having essentially passed, and with some really constructive feedback shaping what I work on next, is extremely freeing, mentally. It gives me some renewed enthusiasm for a project that was feeling pretty stuck by the time I finished. Also noteworthy is that we dragged the department a little bit further into the Jobs Age, with Kieran sitting in on the defense via iChat. Slick.

I had an interesting conversation, afterwards, (was that with you, Jeff?) about how the department has an odd culture with regard to how these defenses work. It borders on the Fight Club Rule: Don’t Talk About The Dissertation Defense. This may happen everywhere, actually, and it’s likely less a rule than a function of how defenses take place: Students frequently return to town for a day or so (as in my case), do the defense, and then head back to jobs/home/research elsewhere. This doesn’t leave much time afterward for younger students to get a feeling for what the experience is like. It’s a really sharp contrast to the normal workings in a department like mine, where grad students extensively share information and experiences about things like prelims and oral exams. If someone had said to me earlier, “Hey, it will be an interesting and constructive conversation,” I would have been much more pleasant to be around the week before.

The several weeks since have rushed past: Christmas in Fort Collins (where I recommend the Armstrong Hotel, and we ducked in and out between blizzards, but only just and that by cutting a week-long trip to three nights) a few days at home, and a week in Utah. I finished a paper along the way, and have been bunkered back in Flagstaff for the past handful of days, wondering just how cold it can get here. (Several mornings of -12F, so far, suggest the answer is “pretty cold.”)

So what next? Seattle is what’s next. On Friday I trundle a few packages to the post office and then make my way to the airport — which I hope will not be closed in the face of another winter storm headed our way — for a twelve-week excursion to the Pacific Northwest. I’m headed to Redmond, more specifically, where I’ll be an intern at Microsoft’s Community Technologies Group. Doing what? I’m not exactly sure; the research group is involved with all kinds of neat stuff that dovetails nicely with my interests in collective behavior and new forms of organization. But I do know that doing sociology with an assortment of cool tools, data, and diverse colleagues will be great. It will be a very different kind of environment from what I’m used to, and I hope to be both challenged and invigorated by that. And, hey, Seattle is a great place to spend some time, though I hear they’ve had quite a winter, so far. I’m bringing my long underwear.


We didn’t have the ice storm that has left parts of the country without power, but wow, has it been cold the past couple of nights here.



Around the place

My sister thinks this must be a rabbit with little ears.

Fatty McFat Fat Squirrel


And the holiday agave stalk is all decorated:



I’ll make no pretense of open-mindedness about the congressional race brewing in my district here. Every single time I’ve heard Rick Renzi speak about something that I care about, I’ve been thoroughly insulted by him. His campaign has really brought divisive rhetoric to a higher plane lately, though, as he repeatedly slurs his opponent Ellen Simon. It takes a fairly breathtaking level of audacity to tar Simon as having “Nancy Pelosi views” while dodging local debates and hiding from his own constituents.

Renzi shows plenty of contempt for the Constitution by maligning Simon for taking money from an attorney who has represented terrorist suspects in court. Hi, Rick, Sixth Amendment, much? That of course is pretty standard Rove-style water boarding carrying, so it doesn’t really come as any kind of surprise. What I really, truly am surprised by is Renzi’s calling Simon to task for being from the scary midwest:

ACLU President Ellen Simon’s Cleveland values are completely out of touch with the values of rural Arizona, and she ought to be ashamed of her disgraceful record.

Whew knew that Cleveland is the new San Francisco? Cleveland?


A sunny, cloud-free day worked its way in between several days of thunderstorms, so I ventured out to Mt. Humphreys (along with, it seemed, half the valley) for some autumn leaf-peeping yesterday. It was a great day for a walk in the woods, and we made it to somewhere just below the treeline before running out of steam and heading for home.


Coffee shop eavesdropping

From behind the coffee bar: “Boulder’s cool. It’s like a ritzier Flagstaff.” While Boulder is indeed a fine city, I assert that a good chunk of whatever ritzy quality it possesses is outweighed by its disproportionately-high trustafari population.

Notes from the coffee shop #11

Number 1: If you find yourself in Scottsdale, check out the coffee shop whose name I can’t quite remember. Pegasus? Psygnosis? Pergola? Anyway, it’s way up north on Scottsdale Road, north of the 101. In a strip mall with a Walgreens. It’s family-owned, has good coffee, and wifi.

Number 2: On the other hand, Tempe seems to be rather lacking in good options. Google pointed me to one place that was out of business and in a strip mall that seemed to have lost favor to its larger, newer, shiner, down-the-road cousins. I had to retreat to Barnes and Noble.

Number 3: Back in Flagstaff. The upside is that every coffee shop I frequent here now offers free wifi.* The downside is that the one where I am currently sitting has a table undergoing repair, complete with power tools, hammering, and sawdust. Is it that imperative to get the thing fixed before the evening rush? The intermittent power saw is a wee bit distracting.


* In descending order of personal preference: Late for the Train, Macy’s, Campus Coffee Bean.

At the county fair

I’ll remember next time I have the spur-of-the-moment idea of biking to the fairgrounds that it is substantially farther than I estimated yesterday morning. Except for a nervous half mile on highway 89, it’s a nice ride, mostly on Forest Service back roads and even a little singletrack, and by the time you reach the fairgrounds you’ll have earned the funnel cake—and the traffic control guys will congratulate you on avoiding the press of SUVs lining up to pay $3 a pop for parking.


The fair was a pretty good event, and yesterday was a gorgeous day to check it out. Walking past the sheep show building, I was of course reminded of Jeremy. Most of the displays were pretty standard stuff though I noted the fancy Scientology tent staffed by volunteers standing by to offer free stress tests. I had a feeling that everybody scores high on the scale. (Saw a couple of the volunteers also chatting up the young ladies at the airbrush tattoo booth.) I managed to not get hustled by the carney folk into playing ring toss and checked out the model train exhibit, instead.

On the way home I thought we’d try an alternative route back to the house, which turned out to be a bad idea: That hill that’s great fun to bomb down is mercilessly steep to climb and far too cobbly to keep up any speed. The result: A long push uphill in the afternoon sun. For my trouble I got a nice long rest in the back yard, so all in all it turned out to be a fine adventure.

In case of fire, pack car

The Brins fire is really cramping my Northern Arizona style. I live a few miles south of Flagstaff, just about at the northeastern end of the canyon in which the fire is currently sitting. Since Sunday afternoon, the neighborhood has been pretty well socked-in with smoke, enough that we have our very own smoke and ash advisory that includes advice to be prepared for evacuation. The fear is that if the fire fully reaches Oak Creek Canyon, it may burn its way right to our door.

So if you had to leave your house, what would you take with you? The preparedness advisory suggests the essentials: Medicine, clothes to last a few days, important financial and insurance documents, and all the keepsakes that aren’t replaceable. I’d add to that my file drawers of archival dissertation material that’s not yet digitized, the backup hard drives, some photos. But I’m sure that leaves things out: My grandmother’s heirloom lace tablecloth; plenty of books with sentimental value; a couple of antique tools. The thought of losing things that are irreplaceable is not even so much worse—in forethought, anyway—than the thought of having to replace all the things that would be insured.

As if itemizing one’s life and staying out of the smoke wasn’t bad enough, word comes this morning that the Forest Service is closing the entire Coconino National Forest until further notice, in order to reduce the likelihood of further fire. Flagstaff is fully boxed in by the Coconino, so we’re not only cut off from the woods that surround our neighborhood (in which we’ve been doing lots of biking this summer), but in fact just about all the outdoor areas nearby, including the Blue Ridge Reservoir where we planned to kayak today. With the entire forest closed, it’s a pretty long trip to anywhere that we can take the dogs for a good walk. I’m still plenty happy to be out of the Tucson summertime, of course, but I’d like some fresh air soon.


After Lago’s endorsement of the band , I went and saw Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers play at the Orpheum this weekend. The Orpheum was absolutely packed to the gills because the band are Arizona “hometown” favorites. Unlike a lot of performers, Clyne seems to really love the crowd—and the crowd loves him, plying him with shots of tequila throughout the show. This is apparently a tradition for the band. I’m surprised the guy could stand, let alone play the guitar, by the end of the night. Also, I had no idea it would be the kind of concert where women take off their tops. I haven’t seen that since the last Whitesnake video.


Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers


It was a good show: Tremendous energy and southwest-tinged guitar rock that ranged from warm and melodic to simply barn-burning. Lots of fun, so thanks much for the recommendation, Lago.

No account of a nighttime Flagstaff outing would be complete without a photo of the Hotel Monte Vista all lit up:


Hotel Monte Vista


Snow in Flagstaff! Our first measurable snow was actually on Sunday, but that storm hardly counted: 7 of 11 weather stations in the area recorded zero precipitation. Today’s storm, with snow coming down pretty steadily outside my office door, seems much more substantial.


Snowing on the weather widget


It’s exciting to have a bit of real winter here. I hope this snow sticks around for a while (though the forecast, as my weather widget indicates, is for warmer and dry after today).


Update: Lest I again be tarred as a postmodernist, I’ll point out that I did in fact take pictures of the actual snow. But it took a day to get the film back from the, um, photographic lab-o-ratory.

snowing in the pines


When I was in college, I took a poetry writing class. Have no fear, I’m not going to start posting poetry here, at least not my own poetry. How very bloggy that would be. But I unexpectedly found myself thinking of that class this week. It was about this time of year, and my professor exhorted us all to do something, anything to get out of our writing ruts for the next week. Get really drunk, he advised us, spend the night in the wheatfields, rappel from a grain silo—anything to prevent another week of writing more poems about autumn.

We couldn’t help it. There was something about autumn in Walla Walla that I don’t remember experiencing anywhere else that I have lived. Something about the late afternoon light or the sudden early morning cold snap, combined with the rolling fields all around? And it seems that we were all, to a person, writing about the leaves falling, no doubt torturing metaphors about maturation and transformation and hibernation.

Fall in Tucson was sort of a non-event. The temperature doesn’t drop much until late October, and although it eventually gets more comfortable, the scenery doesn’t really change until the winter and spring rains. Somehow it was hard to get excited about pumpkins and the odd changing leaves when the air conditioner was stilll running. So I’m quite happy to be surprised by autumn again, here in Flagstaff. My neighborhood had its first near-frost yesterday morning. It’s blustery and cool, and the shadows of the pines all up and down the street are getting longer and longer. From the highway, one can see the changing colors of the aspen clusters up on the mountain.

It’s almost enough to make one want to write some poetry. But I won’t. There’s other writing to do.

Next on the list

Another reason to love Flagstaff:


Autumn is not a social construct up here.

Photo update

Here at the skeleton house I have the blooming garden to keep me company. We put in this section of landscaping a year ago, and it’s a real treat to see it flower—and flower like crazy, thanks to our wet winter.


And a shot of where I’m headed: The little house on the Plateau.


Moving is always something of an adventure, and this weekend was no different. After packing for what seems like weeks—the packing, at some point, became indistinguishable from the repairing, cleaning, and moving of piles of crap from one location to another that were all involved with the house-selling process—we relocated Heather to her new location at Schussman North. A few notes about the process:

  • Go ahead, make a reservation with U-Haul. It won’t matter. They’ll reserve you a truck at a location 37 miles away, and when you convince them to find you something just a bit closer, that location will lose all record of the reservation by the next morning. While you’re in the lobby of the U-Haul center, nobody will offer to help you find your reservation, but they will let you borrow their phone to call customer service. This is in the lobby of the large building with the “U-Haul” sign, yes. They’ll let you use their phone to call U-Haul. Thanks, guys. Your reservation is now at a location 40 miles away.
  • Phoenix, when judgement day does come, will be eradicated from human memory. It, like my U-Haul reservation, will simply never have existed at all. That’s what it gets for having highway planners who closed not one, but two northbound freeways this weekend. They didn’t just close a couple of lanes; that’s a hassle, but manageable. Instead, they closed the entire highway. And just when I thought I was back on the road again, with nothing between my 24-foot truck and parts north, they did it again. I’m telling you, nagivating a detour on Phoenix surface streets in a mobile blind spot is no fun.
  • We have a great, fantastic, lovely little place to live on the outskirts of Phoenix. It’s up in the pines, a block away from National Forest. There is much to be said for advances in design made since 1947—the master electric box is a wonder to behold. Unfortunately, I don’t get to live there until sometime in May. In the meantime, I’m holding down a skeleton house here in Tucson. I have a plate, a spoon, and an insulated mug. It would be a lot like camping, except I don’t have a sleeping bag; that’s in Flagstaff. It’s really quite empty around here.

So what’s next? I have a bit more than a month until the end of the semester. There’s grading and teaching to finish, and several weeks of dissertation tasks to complete. When all that is done, I’ll make one more move, to join Heather and the dogs up there in the higher country.

Slow burn

Coming up tonight on the news:

You think gas prices are high here in Tucson? Wait until we show you how high they are in Flagstaff!

Oh, ha-hah, we all laughed and laughed at those poor suckers, until I remembered that I’m moving to Flagstaff.


Recall that our last house-hunting trip to Flagstaff was, in general, a miserable disaster. After a discouraging weekend, we thought we finally had found a place to live, but upon consultation found that the neighborhood of our rental-to-be is part of a Department of Justice-initiated rejuvination program. Now, rejuvination is without a doubt something positive, but we had to ask ourselves: Do we want to chose to live in the middle of it? Our unease was compounded by the unfortunate name of the DOJ project: “Weed and Seed.” Seriously, the DOJ’s flagship community involvement effort turns out to share a name with a mixed-quality dime bag. The neighborhood is, in fact, marked at every intersection with special Weed and Seed street signs.

We couldn’t do it, so we turned down the rental, and returned to the stress of looking for a home from four hours away, and this weekend we made another trip to town. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. First off, we met my double-secret cousin (not really a secret at all, but our relation is muddied enough that its precise nature remains a little mysterious; it’s clear that we’re somehow related, however, because her toddler son and I share the Estruth Legacy Chin). We dropped off the dogs to run themselves in circles in her backyard, and trooped off for what we hoped would be a better experience. And holy cow, everything was better: We looked at two houses and two townhouses, and could have very happily lived in three of them; the second townhouse was a bit less our speed, but would have done in a pinch, unlike anything from the last expedition. They were all clean, well-maintained (even brand new in one case), and we could imagine ourselves in every one. Unbelievable. Not a single landlord suggested that we should buy a lawnmower to take care of his yard.

The house we picked seemed charmed. Its location isn’t as ideal as the first house we visited (instead of a ten minute bike ride to downtown, it’s a ten minute drive away from Flagstaff, just a few miles outside of town), but it’s just right for us: Part of a little mountain community, it sits right next to the national forest and is cozy in none of the horrifying ways I outlined last time. So we’re in, and we can now focus on finishing our Tucson work and making the transition. Much still to do, but finding a place to live that we think we’ll really enjoy has lifted a tremendous mental burden.

If it doesn't have a floor, can you call it a bedroom?

Armed with a map and the latest listings from the Daily Sun, we spent the weekend in Flagstaff looking for a place to live. Perhaps more appropriately, we spent the weekend in the car, which was itself primarily in Flagstaff, except for the 250-mile one-way drive, at which time it was on the highway.

Winter doesn’t seem like a very good time to go house-hunting up there. Even the nicest rental—and there are not very many of them, a point to which I will return—is surrounded by mud. And this winter, extraordinarily heavy snow shellacked the trees in most of the neighborhoods we visited, so that piles of dead wood waiting for pickup line every driveway. And, there just aren’t that many listings available in the spring, as most leases run into the summertime.

But what was available was, well, by and large, you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We drove out into the country south of Flagstaff to a couple of smaller mountain communities that a friend recommended we check out. Based on that ill-fated adventure, I have just a bit of Advice to Future Landlords: If the “home” you would like to rent isn’t ready, don’t advertise it, and don’t promise over the phone that you’re “going to fix it up real nice.” Holy hell, this place was miserable: It looked like it was rotting on its foundation, the porch was decrepit, the walls were filthy and peeling, and four crumbling sofas sat in the bedroom—which at least mostly obscured the holes in the floor.

Increasing the price range quite a bit didn’t open up many more options—it just made for hovels with more bedrooms, generally. We developed a handy translation system for making sense of rental ads.

  • Cozy: Apartment is in a basement with six-foot ceilings.
  • Condo: Squalid mud hut
  • Cottage: Studio apartment with six-foot ceilings located in the rear of a mud hut
  • Clean: Cleaned once, when new, since abandoned to entropy and/or badgers
  • Carport: Lean-to currently occupied by a badger
  • Eclectic: Remodeling begun and aborted by at least four different “handymen.” Both closets are “still full of my tools, but you can probably squeeze some of your stuff in there.”
  • Fenced yard: Fifty-degree slope ringed by cyclone fencing and stray dogs

After a trying weekend of driving, calling, and google-mapping (and waiting for something better to come up on HBO; how many times can they show Coneheads in any single two-day period?), we finally found a place that seems like it will do the trick: It’s clean in the conventionally-understood sense, and actually really pretty, inviting, and comfortable. It’s owned and managed by a professional who has taken great care of it, and although it’s perhaps not ideal because of its price, we’re actually really excited about it. It’s in what looks like a nice location, with relatively easy access to downtown and to walking trails for the dogs. However, it wouldn’t hurt to have more options, so now is the time, gentle reader, to call up those old friends living in Flagstaff and mention that you have an internet best buddy who is looking for a place to live, and might they have any more leads?

Welcome to Side Two

A handful of weeks ago we took a trip to Flagstaff. It’s not exactly the Great White North, but it’s north of here, and it was plenty cold up there that night. But I like Flagstaff; it’s smaller than Tucson and is more like my kind of town. [1] So I’m happy that Heather’s organization offered her a new position there, which she decided to accept (turns out she’s really good at those maps). Heather will move there in April, and I’ll follow her after the semester ends.

This will mark Heather’s transition to full-on Sugar Mama status, as I won’t be teaching or working as an RA during this time. (Though I hope to find a fellowship or something to give me a little funding, because although her new job is a step up, Heather is still working for The Non-Profit, so her new salary doesn’t quite make up the difference. I’m looking to avoid accumulating any name tags and/or hair nets during the next year.) Instead, I’ll be focusing full-time on my dissertation. I am a little nervous about the creep of slack that seems inevitably to accompany the away-from-department dissertation process, but since Flagstaff is just a quick four-hour drive from here, I’m planning regular visits back to town so that I can keep in touch with departmental goings-on and keep accountable to my dissertation schedule.

My dissertation seems to be on track: With my ASA paper finished, I’ve returned to working on finding survey respondents, distributing the survey, and collecting additional survey data. The goal? To have major data collection near completion by the end of the semester, so that I can produce some early analyses this summer and impress impress various people with them.

With all that ongoing, my list of non-sociology background tasks just got longer: It’s been a while since we moved, and there’s lots to do.

1 It’s close to the Grand Canyon, for instance—although I know I’m not supposed to think about hiking when I have so much work to do.

About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

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