Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Concept: Blue Skies Falling Blog Infiltrated.

On May 15, 2009 my personal website ( was infected by a malware program associated with Martuz .cn that inserted scripts into dynamic and static files at over 1500 distinct sites. The bug is discussed at Evidently the infection isn't the result of any specific action on my part. I was setting up a book review blog through WordPress (using the toughest password I've ever come up with) and this was what the program targeted. The infection caused Google to blacklist my site for viewers' protection, and when Twitter picked up on the Google listing, it suspended my account. So far Facebook has not responded, but to say this is a major headache would be an understatement.

Sam from Forge 22 ( has helped me with these problems -- he's a great guy and a great designer, and you should throw him some business if you can.

Bottom Line:,, and associated sites are safe to visit, but Google has not lifted their warning yet, and I don't know what the timetable on that will be. Until it's lifted, however, there isn't any reason to visit. The damage was extensive and will take time to repair. In the meantime, I suggest you check back from time to time, and I will post an announcement as soon as things are a little bit more normal around here.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

~ Connor

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oculine 30, 31.

"Once there was a tree... and she loved a little boy."
- Who said this?

For a writing project. An examination of the emotion of fear (defined as anxiety and physical response to feelings of physical or metaphysical peril). So:
What are some songs that have inspired you with a sense of fear?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Concept: Just give me a little space, okay?

Check out my nerdy essay on punctuation, spacing, and text-justification at bookish us.

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Event: In support of Soviet-style Central Planning.

My brother sent me a link to this Kunstlercast. Podcast #64 is about the initiative to shrink Flint city limits, and Jim Kunstler spoke against in general terms against mandated shrinking. He said that he wasn't familiar with the specifics of the situation in Flint, but his overall position seemed to be that city should rely on incentives and zoning to shift population. I largely disagreed with this argument, at least as pertains to Flint, and here is part of my (typically long-winded) reply to my brother:

I most disagreed with Jim on the principle of eminent domain. He seemed reluctant to endorse municipal management beyond offering incentives and long-term fixes such as rezoning marginal neighborhoods. He thought that mandated relocation "smacks of central planning" a la the Soviet Union. He talks about eliminating municipal restrictions and bureaucratic red-tape. This half-engaged approach fails to take two things into consideration.

The first consideration is the extent of demographic realignment. Flint's population has dropped from almost 200,000 fifty years ago to 110,000 today, and Genesee County's has decreased slightly since 1980. Industry and capital investment is shrinking. This means that short-term growth in any part of the area is only going to happen at the expense of somewhere else. In Flint long-term strategy has to proceed from short-term strategy because the city is caught in a vicious cycle of disinvestment. In fact, the city and city employers have long offered a number of incentives to repopulate the inner-city, including restricted-tax Renaissance zones. It's not enough to make the necessary difference. If our goal is a smaller, healthier, and more stable Flint, we are unlikely to achieve this without large-scale governmental intervention.

The second consideration is the extent of economic distress. Jim is worried about the abuse of eminent domain. Ordinarily, this is a fine thing to worry about, but the standard of living in the marginal parts of Flint is really wretched. These neighborhoods sometimes have around a 60%-70% residency rate, meaning that 1 out of 3 houses are vacant (a figure that does not consider the vacant lots left by already-demolished houses). Crime and poverty are rampant, many neighborhoods often do not have a school or a supermarket nearby, and infrastructural degradation is so complete that basic things like safe water access and electricity can be spotty. I remember that when Jess and I lived on the East Side, some areas by the river were virtually undriveable by car. I noticed electrical wires down and in the street for days on end. Not long after we moved, an abandoned house two blocks away from ours blew up because of a gas leak. It is a typically capitalist paradigm that property rights are sacrosanct while things like public health are more negotiable, but what logical reason do we have to prefer the rights of a small group of property owners over the obligation of the city to provide all residents with essential services (water, police and fire protection, etc.)? The money residents pay for those services is just as real as the money someone puts down on a house, and (unlike eminent domain) the money will not be returned just because the services are not delivered.

Finally, one other reason I'm not worried about the effort to shrink Flint. Flint has a political scene long mired in corruption and incompetence, but neighborhood downsizing could be an accurate bellwether of administrative progress. Do you remember Woodrow Stanley's plans to cut down and sell all of the trees on public land, or Don Williamson's city-run factory? Part of the reason these harebrained schemes (thankfully) didn't go any further than they did was the lack of political maturity in those administrations. Neither Stanley or Williamson wanted or cared to compromise with their opponents and government entities. Now shrinking Flint is far-and-away a more feasible and reasonable plan, but there's a slew of logistic hurdles and political liabilities involved. Moving populations, discontinuing service, and wholesale demolition requires the careful coordinated effort of public and private entities, each with their own unions, management, and workforces to answer to. So an incompetent government would not be able to pull this off. Pulling any number of voting homeowners out of the neighborhood, even on favorable terms, is a political liability with risks for officeholders. So a completely corrupt government would have a hard time pulling this off. If Flint is actually able to shrink itself, it's a good sign that residents have put the right people in positions of power; that is likely to make as big a difference as downsizing the city.

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Oculine 25, 31.

Papua New Guinea.

Let's continue this line of inquiry! What's your favorite thing to do in Chicago (or in Sydney)?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oculine 24, 31.


Chicago Reader: Wild Wild Midwest.

This is a wonderful and dense alternative-take on tourism in Detroit; it's really cool. I should also note that if you're not able to visit the Motor City anytime soon, you can probably explore a lot of these places online, via Google Earth or Google Street View.


What's your favorite thing to do in Detroit?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Event: Target store on target for fall 2010, despite lawsuit.

Read my article on Chicago's Wilson Yard development published by the Chi·Town Daily News at Target store on target for fall 2010, despite lawsuit.

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Oculine 23, 31.

The profs of our great university
Display the most striking diversity:
Some wise and some foolish,
Some saintly, some ghoulish,
And some of the utmost perversity.

- Who said this?

Write a limerick.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Concept: Shake Rattle and Read and the Uptown Story.

Read my article on the Uptown book and music store Shake Rattle and Read at Bookish Us: Shake Rattle and Read and the Uptown Story.

This article has also been promoted on the Uptown Update blog.

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Oculine 22, 31.

More tomorrow...

Wikipedia: 2009 Scavhunt Rankings.

Now what?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Event: A Non-GM Future for Pontiac?

Flint Journal: Pontiac not for sale, GM says, despite local dealership's offer to buy.

I would be interested, next time I wanted to buy a car.

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Oculine 18, 31.

The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt

What's your favorite item on the 2009 list?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Body: Youth is not relative, it is only subjective.

A youngun' is anyone who was not old enough to theoretically understand the significance of Kurt Cobain's death in 1994. It doesn't matter whether they actually do know or understand said death... however, they have to have been old enough (say eight or nine) to have had a conversation about this musician who made music that a lot of people liked, and he killed himself, and that's that.

An elder is anyone who was old enough to theoretically understand the significance of James Brown's performance at the Apollo in 1962. It doesn't matter whether they actually do know or understand said performance... however, they have to have been old enough (say nine or ten) to have had a discussion about this musician who electrified an audience with a propensity to boo singers off stange, and brought about a whole new kind of music.

It's interesting to me that the demarcations both result from music, and not from literature, politics, or science. But there it is.

This is what makes someone a youngun' or an elder.


Concept: Ashburn, Chicago.

Today I explored Chicago's Ashburn neighborhood because it's the setting of several plays I am currently revising. That sentence implies a circular paradox. Why wouldn't I have explored the neighborhood before drafting the plays? In a sense, I did.

When I was a First Year at the University of Chicago (in 1997), I chose Ashburn as a setting for a Frankenstein play because the name had a cool sound. Ash + Burn... hmmm... sounds pretty gothic, doesn't it?

According to Wikipedia (and the Trib, if I recall correctly) the name comes from the dumping ground for the city's ashes. In '98 I did have a chance to go out and check the neighborhood out. But I didn't have a car, and I wasn't very familiar with the CTA back then. The trip from Hyde Park would have typically taken ninety minutes, or more. Then, on arrival, Ashburn is a huge neighborhood. I've only been been back there twice, once in 2003, and once in 2005. In the meantime, I have written another play, Raspberry Crush, which I also set in Ashburn.

The neighborhood is young... it didn't take off until after World War II, and during the sixties and seventies, school integration was a hot-button issue here. The neighborhood has gradually integrated, from being predominantly white through the early nineties to a more heterogenous makeup today. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago home ownership remains high, and "racial steeting is not tolerated: 'for sale" signs have been cooperatively banned; lawsuits are filed against realtors who do not comply. In recent years the only signs that have appeared on Ashburn lawns -- en masse -- read: 'We're sold on Ashburn.'" If this seems a little heavy-handed to you, acquaint yourselves with the massive post-World War II sell-offs that devastated much of the South Side.

The neighborhood can be effectively subdivided into three parts. The easternmost part, known as Wrightwood, is now mostly African American, and the housing stock is older than other parts of the area (dating all the way back to the 1950s). The westernmost part, Scottsdale, is still predominantly white, and it is filled with a maze of streets and parish churches and small Chicago-style bungalows.

The central part of the neighborhood, known simply as Ashburn is, you guessed it, the most integrated. It also seems a bit grittier than the other parts, although I suspect this mostly is due to the Southwest Highway (Columbus Ave.), which is a sort of abbreviated industrial corridor that passes through the area on a diagonal, northeast to southwest.

These photos are all from the central, Ashburn section of the neighborhood. They are not fully representative. I was exploring and taking pictures at my leisure. I didn't get any shots of Wrightwood or Scottsdale, or of the myriad churches and parish schools, of Bogan High School or the Richard J Daley College, of Ford City or the strange industrial hinterland just to its east. You can see all these things on Street View though. Strange views sprout from the unlikeliest sources.

And this is an unlikely source...

Excepting its dubious history of racial discord (which, compared to most other areas hereabouts has had a relatively happy ending), Ashburn could be described as one of Chicago's most boring neighborhoods.

I mean that in a good way.

The neighborhood's youth is obvious. The business strips are almost uniformly derelict, and therefore a bit depressing. The residential areas, which take up the most space, are green and tree-lined with prim yards and swept porches and bricks still untarnished by the frost and ice... these spaces are bright and cheerful, and have a slightly suburban feeling.

It's the sort of neighborhood where one would want to raise his kids, and the kind of neighborhood where those kids, as soon as they have access to a car and some friends will probably try desperately to escape. All this gives Ashburn a sort of bittersweet soulfulness; a marriage of youth and maturity and old-age that participates in a basically stable and satisfying life, and yet which is constantly aware of the passage of time.

Of course, all this also begs the question of to what extent we can trust such impressions. We don't know what's happening in the living rooms or the basements (I'd say attics, but most of these houses are single story). It could be black-box theater or political experimentation. It could even be the creation of a Frankenstein monster.

I grew up in a neighborhood much like this, and I find them to be unavoidably poignant places.

They certainly deserve to be the subject of plays and stories.

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Oculine 17, 31.


What is going on here?

What period of history do you wish you understood better?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Oculine 16, 31.

"Annoy, tiny blonde one, annoy like the wind!"
- Who said this?

What's your favorite noir?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oculine 15, 31.

- So I have been singularly inconsistent about posting lately. That's okay, because I've been working very hard on my writing and looking for a job, and spring cleaning and watching the first season of Veronica Mars when I've got time. Although my apartment is not as clean as I would like it to be, and it's hard not to slip behind. Here's the last week.

On Thursday I got up and went to see the endodontist; since I had my tooth removed a couple weeks ago, I had to get a root canal on an adjacent molar. Well the molar was so cracked and tormented that the dentist had to send me to a specialist; she was worried that otherwise the tooth would shatter. It had to be Thursday, because that was the last day of April, and so, the last day I was covered under my plan at Northwestern. The experience went fine, but I can't get a crown until I resume insurance coverage in June. Ever since then my tooth has been hurting so much that I'm popping ibuprofen all day, and the pain wakes me up in the middle of the night each night. I think it has to get better with time, though. I rewarded myself with McDonalds breakfast on the way home, but my lip was too numb to drink the coffee effectively.

On Friday I worked and researched all day, and then met up with Barb to go and see Lisa's play. We walked from my place down to Roscoe... it's such a nice feeling, at this time of year, when Chicago weather officially shifts into warm mode for good. It's been in the fifties and sixties pretty consistently. I don't think it's going to get cold again. After Alas and Lisa's music (she sounds great accompanied by cello, by the way) we went out to Pick Me Up. I knew that there was a scav party down in Hyde Park, but I didn't want to spend ninety minutes on the train after midnight. Too much trouble. I went home and called it a night.

I slept in on Saturday and spent the entire evening finishing up some transcribing I was doing for Jenny. Then, in a fit of consumerism, I went out to the supermarket and got two bags of tortilla chips and two cartons of sherbet ice cream. I was in an odd mood. I tried to start revising Post-Modern Prometheus, but I wasn't focused enough. Maybe this week.

On Sunday I skipped church (bad me!) but worked on Urbantasm, did some spring cleaning out on the back porch, and went out for a wonderful pasta dinner fixed by Reinhardt. It was Barb, her friend Aron, Reinhardt, the wife, and myself. We stopped at the Hopleaf afterwards. It was a late night. We went right to bed. And that is that!

Chicago Sun-Times: Young visitors get scoop on zoos poop.

How was your weekend?