Beyond the rocks

I went with a friend to the free Saturday night movie on campus. Tonight was silent movie night, and they screened a film on DVD that had been thought lost for decades and only recently recovered: “Beyond the rocks”, starring Rudolf Valentino and Gloria Swanson.

I often don’t care for old movies, let alone silent old movies, but this was pretty good. This is the first time I really paid attention to one. The story was good enough that it wasn’t that hard to. Also, even though the film had a new score to go with it, a local jazz pianist played the score live and did an excellent job.

I really paid attention to the mechanics of silent film. The intertitles are used sparingly and the actors talk a fair amount on screen, but it’s all about body language and facial expressions. Valentino was great with subtle glances and sly looks, Swanson showed a lot of emotion without overdoing it.

The found copy was a “nitrate print”. It was a black-and-yellow movie instead of black-and-white. The film quality was very sharp (there was a great sense of depth to the photography) except for some short deteriorated parts.

This was the first movie I’ve been to in Iowa. It was nice to get some culture this time out.


A team of cyclists on the road in Iowa City approaches an intersection. One guy is waving to me.Today is the seventh day of the Register‘s Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). The bicyclists start at the Missouri River on Iowa’s western border and finish seven days later at the Mississippi River on Iowa’s eastern border.

They follow different routes every year. This year they happen to be going through Iowa City and West Branch. As it happens, I didn’t have to work today, so I’m missing out on some excitement there. But I’d like a two-day weekend, as they’ve been few and far between.

A team of bicyclists departs from an intersection in Iowa City on their way to West Branch.I did ride along the route near my home in Iowa City, but started a little too late to get any good photos; most of the 15,000 cyclists had already departed from Coralville and passed through Iowa City. Ya snooze, ya lose.


I have to return Kafka: the complete stories to the library soon. I only read a couple of them, including “The metamorphosis” and “In the penal colony”.

Both seemed to be about the futility of believing in anything because things don’t work out the way you want them to. In “The metamorphosis”, when Gregor Samsa turns into a beetle he throws his family’s life into chaos. Since he is the main breadwinner his incapacitation threatens the Samsas’ economic stability. But they turn out to be better off for it, since it forces them to all start working and finding solutions for maintaining their middle-class status. The random transformation makes Gregor’s pride and ambitions completely worthless.

“In the penal colony” is similar. A zealous young officer is the last adherent of the colony’s disciplinary regime and its odd punishment machine, but he succumbs to the logic of its injustice and is accordingly the last punished under its cruel system. Not only that, but the wretched and neglected condition of the machine denies him the chance to experience of the beauty that he saw in the torment it caused.

Both Gregor and the officer become vicitms of and martyrs in their own one-man causes: devotion will get you nowhere else.


The landlady stopped by today. She said the clean-up has begun upstairs. “The body fluids have been cleaned up,” as she put it. They’re using solvents and some sort of ozone machine to cleanse the apartment. She told me to tell her if I had any problems with the ceiling.

That’s good because I was wondering what was going on up there.

Hooverball season

Green fields of corn and soybeans with a red barn in the distance.I played Hooverball today. It’s like volleyball played with a six-pound medicine ball and scored like tennis. Hoover’s doctor devised it for him so he could lose weight. There’s a tournament every August at Hooverfest and some of the local players were practicing. I won’t be able to play at Hooverfest since I’ll be working. It’s pretty hard heaving that thing over a volleyball net. Unlike volleyball or tennis, once you catch the ball you can take your time heaving it back. “It’s a gentleman’s game,” one of the veteran players told me.

The corn is flowering, or tasseling, as they say around here. I took some farm photos on my way home from Hooverball.

Dead man upstairs

So I’ve been away for most of a week. In between Colorado and Missouri, I stopped at home for about 15 minutes on Monday. In the hallway of the building it smelled like someone hadn’t thrown out garbage in a while. I checked to make sure there wasn’t any garbage in my apartment.

But when I got back home tonight: same smell but worse. It had creeped into my apartment a little. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, though. I was thinking about calling the landlady anyway. When I left the apartment to get something to eat, I saw cops and firefighters setting up a fan in the hallway. Turns out the guy upstairs from me died. His name was Rick.

A couple of the neighbors were outside and I talked to them about it. One said she finally called the police after noticing his mail piling up and that the TV was on day and night. He was not old–fortyish, and a recluse who had some mental problems. She guessed it was suicide. He was a poet but didn’t work. I met him once when I first moved in. We chatted briefly. I never saw him after that.

You know, I had assumed that a dead body would smell unmistakably bad, especially given the recent heat wave; but I guess it just smells like old garbage. This poor guy was so alone in the world that he was dead for at least four days and nobody noticed. I feel kind of bad about that.

Heat and travel

I’m back in town after a couple of short trips. I spent the weekend in Colorado with my family, then came back to Iowa and drove to Springfield, Mo. for a workshop.

My flight out of Colorado was cancelled Sunday night, making Monday a near-sleepless marathon of travel from Denver to Dallas to Cedar Rapids via airplane (with more delays) and then the eight hour drive from Iowa to Springfield. The weather was 100 degrees at all destinations, but a little cooler (90s) back home in Iowa.

Adam on horseback

The author, wearing jeans, a blue flannel shirt, and a riding helmet, riding English-style on the back of a brown horse. I’m in Colorado visiting my family for the weekend. My dad, brother, uncle, and I went for a horseback ride yesterday evening. It was my first time on a horse. I got a hang of it pretty quick. The horse’s name was Christie, and she was a little tired after a day of riding so she was a little ornery.

My dad, “Colorado Red”, has taken up horseback riding in his retirement and is pretty into it. Brother is pretty good at it too. He took lessons in college. So I’m joining the proud tradition of Pratos on horseback.

Deficit blues

I’ve been listening to the president and his buddies talk about what a great job they’ve done of reducing the budget deficit.

They created the deficit! There wasn’t a deficit when the got there. They can’t take credit for creating a smaller one!

That’s like burning down someone’s house and then taking credit for saving the patio.

I wish those bastards would just go away.

Web bastard

I’ve been smashing ass at work, working on the website there. The entire park system is undergoing a major web site overhaul. The new system is supposed to go public in August; the first deadline for the individual park webmasters is at the end of this month, so I’ve been making some headway the last couple of days.

I don’t care for the new CMS (content management system) the agency is using. It’s a little clunky and involves three mouse clicks for every single function.

Then I come home and work on my own web site. I’ve struggled lately with free, open source photo gallery programs. For the last week or so I’ve been wrangling with Gallery, which must be the buggiest software I’ve ever used. It is much more trouble than it is worth (and probably too sophisticated for my purposes).

Tonight I messed with another system, Coppermine. What I don’t like about it is that is uses HTML tables for layout, which violates the accessibility guidelines I follow (tables should be used for tabluar data only, not layout; layout should be controlled with layout tags). I could change the template to use tags instead, but upon further inspection the table markup is embedded deep in the guts of the program’s code. So…

I found a much simpler program that appears to not use table markup for presentation at all. But time is up. I am going to Colorado this weekend and so I am going to take a break from all of this enriching professional and recreational web development.

Someday I will have photo galleries on this site, but not today.

Independence Day

I watched “A Capital Fourth”, the celebration on the National Mall broadcast on PBS. It featured the odd spectacle of Jason Alexander singing a gospel song. Vanessa Williams was there, and Michael Bolton too. Didn’t Vanessa Williams pose nude for Playboy once?

Jason Alexander made a comment about the War of Independence; something to the effect of protecting against aggression from other countries. I thought it might be a veiled comment on the Iraq War.

I think about all the good things about this country and I can’t help but at the same time think about all of the extremists who are trying to pervert it.

Don’t get me started.