Thursday, February 28, 2013

Google Glass

John Gruber, on Sergey Brin’s claim that Google Glass is a way beyond the antisocial smartphone:

I can see the argument that dicking around with our phones in public is not cool, that we should pay more attention to our companions and surroundings, and less to our computer displays. Strapping a computer display to your face is not the answer.

The front end

Thirty-odd years after I worked in a discount department store, I am happy to learn that the checkout area in such establishments is still called “the front end.” Supermarkets likewise.

Two retail tales
Going on break
Goodbye, Muzak

Wallace Stevens on persimmons

From a November 24, 1941 letter to C. L. Daughtry:

Many thanks for the persimmons. These meant more to me than you can imagine. I have far more things to eat and far more things to drink than are good for me. I indulge in abstemious spells merely to keep my balance.

Wild persimmons make one feel like a hungry man in the woods. As I ate them, I thought of opossums and birds, and the antique Japanese prints in black and white, in which monkeys are eating persimmons in bare trees. There is nothing more desolate than a persimmon tree, with the old ripe fruit hanging on it. As you see, there is such a thing as being a spiritual epicure.

Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson (New York: Library of America, 1997).
[This post is for Craig and Marjorie.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Deborah Rhode on prestige
in academic life

Deborah Rhode says everything I’d want to say about academic life and “the pursuit of prestige”:

Status hierarchies carry special costs in university life. For most faculty, one of the main motivations for choosing an academic career, and one of its main satisfactions, is intellectual freedom. Professors value having control over their own time, agendas, and priorities. Yet that freedom is diminished when the pursuit of prestige becomes controlling. Moreover, because academic recognition is to some extent a relative good, a large percentage of the profession is bound to come up short. . . .

The solutions are obvious in principle and elusive in practice. The fundamental challenge is for academics to stay focused on their own values, and to make the best use of their abilities in the service of goals that they find most meaningful. Rewards can come from many sources, and not all of them register prominently on the conventional pecking order. Harvard philosopher William James once claimed that “to give up pretensions is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified.” Whether or not the satisfactions are truly equivalent, letting go of certain status needs is often far preferable to the alternative.

In Pursuit of Knowledge: Scholars, Status, and Academic Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
It is of course easier to feel free to agree with Rhode if one has tenure.

[I take pleasure in remembering that prestige has its origin in matters of conjuring and illusion.]

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Armory Show

The Art Institute of Chicago has online a virtual trek through the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, the exhibition known as the Armory Show, which introduced American audiences to new directions in painting and sculpture. The museum also has the show’s catalogue and other documents available as free PDFs. Not to be missed: The Cubies’ A B C, a contemporary sendup of Matisse, Picasso, Stein, and others, words by Mary Mills Lyall, illustrations by Earl Harvey Lyall. A sample:

P’s for Picasso, Picabia and Party
    (Who deal in abstractions, distractions and such.)
When, with vision chaotic and expletives hearty,
You beg of a Cubie their sense to impart, he
    Profoundly makes answer: “In little is much.”
—P’s for Picasso, Picabia and Party.

[Making light of Picabia in general and Picasso’s Head of a Woman (Fernande) in particular.]

Did “Picasso, Picabia and Party” inspire “Parker, Pound, or Picasso,” Philip Larkin’s encapsulation of all that he loathed in music, writing, and art? My guess is not likely : Larkin was a thoroughgoing provincial, and capable of derisive alliteration on his own. How provincial? From his 1982 Paris Review interview: “Who is Jorge Luis Borges?”


March 1: The Cubies’ A B C has been reprinted.

[The phrase “Parker, Pound, or Picasso” appears in All What Jazz: A Record Diary (1985). Did you know that the 1913 exhibition traveled to New York, Chicago, and Boston? Me neither.]

Monday, February 25, 2013

Proust in NYC

Two reports on the Morgan Library’s Swann’s Way celebration: The Sweet Troubles of Proust (New York Review of Books), In Search Of Proust, No Cookies (Wall Street Journal).

[Did you know that before madeleine there were biscottes?]

Lines after Marianne Moore

While teaching some Marianne Moore poems, I invited students to write, if they wanted to (and they did), a two-stanza comment on Moore’s “Poetry,” using the stanza form of another Moore poem, “The Fish.” That five-line stanzas of that poem are organized by a rhyme scheme, AABBC, and a syllable count: one, three, nine, six, eight. Why? Because. I think of Moore’s singular designs in relation to William Carlos Williams’s contention that the poet creates “new forms as additions to nature,” marvelous constructions that take their places among the things of the world.

I too wrote two stanzas. My title is the title of Moore’s poem; thus the quotation marks:

Did amphibian inspire quotidian? Or vice versa? There’s no knowing.

Other Marianne Moore posts
A few notes
Marianne Moore magic
Marianne Moore on writing
Q and A

More trouble for Barnes & Noble

The news is not good:

Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest book chain, warned that when it reports fiscal 2013 third-quarter results on Thursday, losses in its Nook Media division — which includes sales of e-books and devices — will be greater than the year before and that the unit’s revenue for all of fiscal 2013 would be far below projections it gave of $3 billion.

The problem was not so much the extent of the losses, but what the losses might signal: that the digital approach that Barnes & Noble has been heavily investing in as its future for the last several years has essentially run its course.
Related posts
Barnes & Noble v. Amazon
Barnes & Noble v. Amazon (2)
Whither Barnes & Noble?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 24, 2013.]

Yes, this post is the third Hi and Lois post in four days. But you know what Dr. Johnson said: “When a man is tired of Hi and Lois, he is tired of life.” Although it is true that he spoke in the earliest years of this long-running strip.

In 2008, I noticed that Trixie was riding in the front seat of the Flagston family car. Ever since I’ve kept an eye out for Hi-Lo incongruities and mishaps. In 2010, Trixie was stashed in the back of the family’s station wagon. So I feel honor-bound to note that today Trixie rides safely in a car seat.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[I know: Lois isn’t wearing a seat belt.]

RU Post-it

A young man is covering the Rutgers University campus with Post-it Notes that bear inspiring words. I like that. Read more:

RU Post-it Anonymous (Rumblr)
RU Post-it Anonymous (Twitter)
Student behind Rutgers’s anonymous Post-it notes comes clean (

I suppose that RU Post-it is a twenty-first use for a Post-it Note. Thanks, Rob, for passing on this story.

A pencil-sharpener problem

It’s not what you might expect though.

This Google search — write a story problem: 7,241 broken pencil sharpeners — brought a wayfaring stranger to the shores of Orange Crate Art. Her or his wish is my command. Here goes:

There are 7,241 broken pencil sharpeners in the town of Point Pleasant. If the town has 557 repair centers, can they divide the repairs equally? Show your work.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kentile Floors

Brooklyn wouldn’t be Brooklyn without Kentile Floors.


February 24: As Pete Lit points out in a comment, there’s a Kentile sign in Chicago. Who knew? Not me.

TAL at Harper High School

Chicago’s Harper High School is the subject of two episodes of This American Life. The toll of gun violence from the 2011–2012 school year: twenty-nine current and former students shot; twenty-one wounded, eight killed.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Recently updated

Separated at birth? Ted Cruz’s resemblance to Joseph McCarthy deepens. Now with allegations of Communists at Harvard Law School.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 22, 2013.]

If I were one of those people who think that their radios and televisions are sending them secret messages, I would wonder what’s going on here. But I’m not, and I don’t. Far right, that’s a Led Zeppelin poster, nothing more, nothing less. It has nothing to do with Leddy. Still, you gotta wonder.¹

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

¹No, you don’t, not really.

[By the way: what is that stuff in the bottom-left corner?]

Hats off to Allaway

[Life, April 24, 1950.]

I’d like to know something about the hand that made this lovely piece of commercial art. It appears under the heading “A Chorus of Praise” in an advertisement for AC Spark Plugs. The tiny lettering in the lower left corner appears to be the artist’s name, Allaway. It took two trips to the library, the second with a loupe, to figure that out. Thanks, library. Thanks, loupe. I’ve been unable though to find out anything about the artist.

How many hat-and-glove pairings in this picture signify specific occupations? I see nine before starting to guess. You?

[Post title inspired by an old song.]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creeping credentialism

Here’s a law firm that won’t hire anyone, for any position, who doesn’t have a college degree. Even the $10-an-hour courier has a bachelor’s.

Says one of the firm’s employees, a receptionist with $100,000 in student loans, “I will probably never see the end of that bill, but I’m not really thinking about it right now . . . . You know, this is a really great place to work.”

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 21, 2013.]

In the Flagston household, as in Washington, there are Cabinet (or cabinet) changes. But in the Flagston household, they’re all in a day’s work.


Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)
Flagston refrigerator trouble
More refrigerator trouble


[Late 20th century CE.]

This label fragment, bearing my daughter Rachel’s inscription, at long last fell away from the videotape it once identified as KIDSONGS. Now this fragment lives on my desk, a scrap of fambly papyrus.

More early writing
Blue crayon

Marianne Moore on writing

“A writer is unfair to himself when he is unable to be hard on himself”: Marianne Moore, in a 1961 Paris Review interview.

Other Marianne Moore posts
A few notes
Marianne Moore magic
Q and A

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Orange manual art

[Click for a larger, oranger view.]

“This site is dedicated to serve as an archival record of a first edition NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual designed by Massimo Vignelli of Unimark International.The manual was found in a locker beneath old gym clothes”: New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (via Coudal).

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange flag art : Orange mug art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange stem art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

A Mel Tormé story

Show biz:

One night, at a party at Jack Lemmon’s house, Gene Kelly walked over to me and inquired if I knew where he could get a print of Singin’ in the Rain. He wanted to run the film for one of his kids who had never seen it.

“Gene,” I said, “Films Incorporated has a rental print listed in their catalog. But I simply can’t believe you’re asking me about this. You were the king of the MGM lot. You mean to tell me you don’t have a print of every movie you ever made?”

He smiled sadly. “No, I don’t. Not one of them. You see, Mel, in those days, I would call for a projection room, invite thirty–forty people, and run anything I pleased. Seven nights a week. Any movie I wanted to see. From any studio. And you know,” he concluded, with a catch in his voice, “we thought it would never end.”

Mel Tormé, It Wasn’t All Velvet (New York: Viking, 1988).
My dad put me onto this book. He suspects that I am becoming a Tormé fan. Could be.

Recently updated

Presto change-o, Tazo Has Tazo changed its Awake tea? Now with an answer by e-mail.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to improve writing (no. 42)

The words that began episodes of The Paper Chase, as spoken by Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. (John Houseman):

“The study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you — unlike any other schooling that you have ever known before.”
Something new = new. New = unfamiliar. Any other schooling = any schooling. Ever known before = known. Like they say, omit needless words. Thus:
“The study of law is new to most of you — unlike any schooling you have known.”
I’m not sure whether removing the curlicues makes the statement more Kingsfieldian, or less so. What do you think? Yes, Mr. Hart?

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[Why “most of you“? Perhaps some of the students have previously tried law school, left, and returned. This post is no. 42 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

On PBS tonight

On Frontline: Raising Adam Lanza. See also this story from the Hartford Courant.

Proust at the Morgan Library

At the Morgan Library & Museum, a celebration of Marcel Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann, a century old this year. Here’s a New York Times review.

I wish I could go. But I’m grateful beyond words to have had this experience a few years ago.

Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Presto change-o, Tazo

Tazo Awake was an esteemed brand in our chambers (read kitchen, living room, study). The tea was recently repackaged as Tazo Awake English Breakfast, or as the box would have it, “awake english breakfast.” The 2.0 packaging lacks the Indian design elements and dowdy typography of the old, but it’s acceptable. The problem is that what’s inside has changed. Awake English Breakfast is not Awake.

I’m offering that assertion as a fact, even after calling Tazo and hearing a friendly fellow tell me — after putting me on hold to check — that the Awake blend has remained the same. It hasn’t. The old Awake was a distinctive tea: its instantly recognizable flavor came from a blend of Assam and Ceylon leaves. Awake English Breakfast tastes like any other English Breakfast tea. It’s an adequate black tea. But there’s nothing distinctive about it, and there’s no reason to continue to pay more for it.

My tea-drinking wife Elaine also notices the difference. And we are not alone: of the thirteen reviews on this Tazo page, eleven note that the tea has changed for the worse. As for the other two reviews, one appears to be of the old Awake, and one appears to be from a tea-drinker who is unaware of the change.

Tazo, if you’re reading, please bring back the old Awake. If Coca-Cola can own up to a mistake, you can too.


February 20: An e-mail from Tazo says that the blend remains unchanged. But it just ain’t so.

Related reading
All tea posts (Pinboard)

“Love Is All Around”

Have you ever heard the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show in its entirety? Here, listen. That second verse: sheesh. So much for women’s rights.

Related posts
Hazel Fredrick
I envy Mary Richards

Zippy and Hi and Lois

[Zippy, February 18, 2013.]

Bill Griffith’s affection for Bil Keane’s The Family Circus is well known. Since the residents of Dingburg’s “humorless enclave” recoil in horror from that strip, it would seem that Griffith must like Hi and Lois too.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)
“Bushmiller Country”
Hommage à Ernie Bushmiller
Landscape with some rocks
Nancy + Sluggo = Perfection
Zippy and Bukowski

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Word of the evening: flip

Another bit of language from tonight’s Downton Abbey: Mrs. Patmore spoke of how her suitor, Mr. Tufton, was only interested in her for her cooking. He would go on and on, she said, about how he liked his pancakes flipped. No double entendres here: Mrs. Patmore was speaking literally.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces pancake back to approximately 1400. But this use of flip is a fairly new arrival:

trans. orig. and chiefly U.S. To cook by turning over on a hotplate, grill, or griddle, esp. as a job in a fast-food restaurant. Chiefly in to flip burgers.
The OED’s first citation is from the Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1913: “Unknown celebrities . . . The artist with a heart tattooed on his arm, who flips flapjacks in the window of Childs’ restaurant.”

As with last week’s stuff, American English leads the way.

Other Downton Abbey words

Separated at birth?

[Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls.]

I hadn’t planned to make two such posts in one day. Elaine and I thought that had to be Harriet Sansom Harris (Frasier Crane’s crafty agent Bebe Glazer on Frasier) playing Susan MacClare, Marchioness of Flintshire, in tonight’s Downton Abbey. But no.

Tonight’s show was a Christmas Special. Some Special. I have come to think of Julian Fellowes’s screenplays as bowling balls. The characters are the pins.

Related posts
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
Steve Buscemi and John Davis Chandler
Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt
Ted Cruz and Joseph McCarthy
Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov
Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks

[Have these women met? And would they see a resemblance?]

Separated at birth?

[Senators Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz.]

The resemblance of junior senator to junior senator is more than rhetorical. It’s the curling lower lip that does it.


February 22: The New Yorker reports on Cruz’s claim that when he was a student at Harvard Law School, twelve Harvard law professors believed, in Cruz’s words, “in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

Related posts
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
Steve Buscemi and John Davis Chandler
Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt
Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov
Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A heads-up about comments

I’ve noticed lately that many readers are leaving two or three versions of a comment. The second and third tries don’t seem to be matters of rethinking things: rather, they suggest that the commenter is uncertain about whether a comment has gone through, or stuck, or whatever the appropriate metaphor might be.

I moderate comments to keep spam and other kinds of unpleasantness from appearing on my blog, which means that comments don’t appear immediately. Not long ago, I added a paragraph to my minimalist comment policy (you see it when you click on a link for comments):

Notice the (easy-to-miss) text that appears at the top of the page after you leave a comment: “Your comment has been saved and will be visible after blog owner approval.” Comments don’t disappear; there’s no need to repost them.
I suppose that this paragraph, like Blogger’s message, is also easily missed.

Reader, keep the comments coming, please. But you can save yourself some tedium if you remember: once is enough.

Minimal talking

Strange to attend a concert and be exhorted from the stage to “keep your talking to a minimum.” I was prepared to sit and listen and not talk at all. Which I did anyway.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A few notes

From a page I made to accompany Marianne Moore’s poem “The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing.” I hope you agree that this paragraph is more fun than an anthology’s footnotes.

Other Marianne Moore posts
Marianne Moore magic
Q and A

[Nothing is certain but death and parataxis.]

Recently updated

C+ lawsuit continues It’s over.

Saving the post office Now with a link to a Washington Post piece on social media and the mail.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Saving the post office

“If they don’t find a way to make the postal system more essential to people’s lives, there is only one direction this thing can go”: Tucker Nichols explains why he is campaigning to save the post office.


February 15: From the Washington Post: Will social media help save the Postal Service and Saturday delivery?

C+ lawsuit continues

Says the judge, “I remain unconvinced the judiciary should be injecting itself in the academic process.” But the case goes on.


February 15: It’s over.

A related post
Suing in academia

An on-screen desk

At Submitted for Your Perusal, Matt Thomas writes about the on-screen representation of “what is often referred to as knowledge work”: Zoe’s Desk.

For Valentine's Day

“Seventy years later I’m still in a daze”: cdza presents Our Wedding Song, four couples and their songs. Take a tissue or two.

[My daughter Rachel deems this “the PERFECT video for Valentine’s day.”]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From Naked City

O dialogue of television past:

“All he does when he gets home is drink beer and look at Old Rabbit Ears — that’s what I call his portable TV.”
That’s from the Naked City episode “Go Fight City Hall,” first aired October 31, 1962.

Forty episodes from the series (though not this one) are now available in a ten-DVD set. Amazon has it for $24.99.

Other Naked City posts
Poetry and Naked City
A telephone exchange name: GRamercy
MUrray Hill
Another MUrray Hill
TWilight? TWinbrook? TWinoaks? TWining?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Suing in academia

A former graduate student is suing the school where she received a C+ in a class. The damages asked: $1.3 million. And here’s more.

In other news, the Edwin Mellen Press and its founder are suing a blogging librarian and the university that employs him. The damages asked: $4.55 million. This news is sure to endear the Edwin Mellen Press to university librarians everywhere.

Thanks, Sara, for the C+ story.

Downton Abbey stuff

Elaine and I watched Episode 6 of you-know-what last night and noticed three little flurries of stuff:

Lady Edith Crawley: “Oh, just family stuff — an errand for my grandmother.”

Lady Mary Crawley: “Nothing. Women’s stuff.”

Matthew Crawley: “Nonsense, you had stuff to see to.”
Stuff is an old, old noun. But the three young Crawleys are using the word in a new way. The Oxford English Dictionary has it:
Used loosely to denote any collection of things about which one is not able or willing to particularize . . . ; material, matter, business. colloq.
The young Crawleys are a colloquial avant-garde. The OED’s first citation for this use of stuff is from 1922, from an American source, Radio News:
Take a look at S. M. Brown, Chief on the Mauretania, “doing his stuff” in the saloon.
I can’t imagine that the influx of stuff in this episode is just coincidence: it’s one sign among many that the world is changing.

A related post
Word of the evening: hobbledehoy

[Other signs of change in this episode: new techniques in land-management, new roles for women, and jazz.]

How to succeed in college
without really trying

More specifically, how to get a perfect score on a final examination without taking it (Inside Higher Ed).

I’ll say what no one commenting on the article has said: the organizers should be ashamed of themselves, as should those who went along.


Here’s a later post that explains why these students should not have received 100s.

Truman Capote?

In this scene from Mad Dog Coll (dir. Burt Balaban, 1961), who’s that walking down the hallway? Is it Truman Capote?

[Click each image for a larger view.]

Well, is it? Several IMDb readers also have wondered about the identity of this passerby. Jerry Orbach, John Davis Chandler, and Neil Nephew look like they’re wondering too.

A related post
John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi

Monday, February 11, 2013

Eberhard Faber’s Diamond Star

At Contrapuntalism, Sean penetrates the mystery of Eberhard Faber’s Diamond Star logo: Just what does the Diamond Star logo mean?

I too have wondered about that Diamond Star.

DFW Kenyon discrepancies

And while I’m thinking about David Foster Wallace’s commencement address:

There are at least three significant discrepancies between the audio and print versions of the 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. The second sentence of this passage, present in Audible’s audio version, is missing from the print version:

It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in . . . the head. They shoot the terrible master. [Ellipsis in the original.]
And the second sentence of this passage, present in the print version, is missing from the audio:
The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe even fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.
The absence of the “terrible master” sentence has been widely understood as an attempt to moderate the tone of a passage that seems to point to Wallace’s suicide. But there is a less conspiracy-minded explanation: Wallace’s publisher used the written text of the address, which would seem to mean that the missing-from-print sentence was an impromptu addition. The missing-from-audio sentence would seem then an impromptu deletion from the written text.

A third discrepancy: some of the details of the end-of-day trip to the supermarket are missing from the audio version. At Kenyon, Wallace skipped this print passage:
and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by
and replaced it with
et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony.
Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[The print version: This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (New York: Little, Brown, 2009). A handful of words per page, to make a 144-page book. I can’t imagine that Wallace would have been happy about that.]

DFW, Kenyon, and the Internet

Elizabeth Lopatto explains how David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement address became an Internet sensation: Everlasting Speech.

You can still find a transcription of the speech online — here, for instance.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

John E. Karlin (1918–2013)

The New York Times reports that John E. Karlin, whose work helped to bring about all-digit dialing, has died:

By the postwar period, telephone exchanges that spelled pronounceable words were starting to be exhausted. All-digit dialing would create a cache of new phone numbers, but whether users could memorize the seven digits it entailed was an open question.

Mr. Karlin’s experimental research, reported in the popular press, showed that they could. As a result, PEnnsylvania and BUtterfield — the stuff of song and story — began to slip away. By the 1960s, those exchanges, along with DRexel, FLeetwood, SWinburne and scores of others just as evocative, had all but disappeared.
Here at Orange Crate Art, telephone exchange names are a minor but, it appears, permanent preoccupation. Thus this post.

Related reading
All telephone posts (Pinboard)
The Anti-Digit Dialing League
Phones Are For People (1962 pamphlet mainfesto from the Anti-Digit Dialing League, disputing the looming number shortage)

Paul Tanner (1917–2013)

From the New York Times:

Paul Tanner, a former trombonist for the Glenn Miller Ochestra who played an unlikely role in the history of rock ’n’ roll when, using a device he helped invent, he performed the famous electronic accompaniment on the Beach Boys’ signature recording “Good Vibrations,” died on Tuesday in Carlsbad, Calif.
The Beach Boys’ Mike Love called that device, the Electro-Theremin, a “woo-woo machine.” But it is better known as the Tannerin.

Correction, thanks to Andrew Hickey: Mike Love played a synthesizer, not a Tannerin.

[Mike Love at Michigan State University, October 26, 1966: “Hey man, they expect me to play this woo-woo machine.”]

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mac Dictation

OS X’s Dictation service is for me both boon and bane. It makes the work of transcribing passages from books wonderfully easy. But the ease is illusory, for improbable, unforeseeable mistakes creep in. And because I cannot anticipate my Mac’s mishearings, the products of Dictation require more careful proofreading than typed text.

Making a page to go with Langston Hughes’s 1951 poem Montage of a Dream Deferred, I tried to get Dictation to recognize boogie-woogie. Some results: boogie-boogie, boogie-looking, boogie-wiki, boogie-Woodkey, Boogie-Woody (almost a Beach Boys title), Boogie-Wookie, okay-Wookie, the de-wiki. Yes, I kept trying out of curiosity. My favorite: boogie-what.

The trick to getting it right: not speaking the hyphen. Dictation might be smarter than I thought.

A helpful page for anyone working with Dictation: Mac Basics: Dictation.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Same time, next year (plagiarism)

From Businessweek:

Sixty-three MBA applicants at Penn State and UCLA have been rejected after admissions officials discovered they had plagiarized parts of their admissions essays, a number that the schools say is likely to increase in subsequent application rounds.
In February 2011, twenty-nine applicants to Penn State’s MBA program were found to have plagiarized in their application essays. In February 2012, a dozen applicants to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management were found to have done the same.

MBA programs could do our culture and economy a favor by sharing miscreants’ names across institutions. Students who cheat when the stakes are so high have, I would say, no business getting MBAs (or any other professional degrees). Think of the disregard for integrity such students would carry into their careers.

[Re: some of the cases: I’m not persuaded that plagiarism can be excused by an appeal to differing cultural attitudes about the use of source material. There is much to suggest that assertions of such differences are part of the folklore of teaching.]

Goodbye, Muzak

I missed this one: the venerable name Muzak will give way to Mood. Thanks, Adair, for passing on the news.

In my college years, I absorbed thousands of hours of Muzak while working as a stock clerk in a Two Guys discount department store. Yes, I had the Muzak in me. What I remember of it: trombones. Every song seemed to have a trombone front and center. The programming intensified the loneliness of our shabby housewares department. Slow stuff: it fit. Peppy stuff: ah, ironic.

Listening to Muzak, late on, say, a Friday night, straightening up a badly-lit, customer-free aisle of ironing boards and clothespins and clothespin bags: no wonder I fancied myself an existentialist.

A related post
Going on break (at Two Guys)

[I hadn’t thought of that song in years.]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

“Everybody's trusted friend”

[Life, April 2, 1956. Illustration by William A. Smith. Click for a larger view.]

The text, if you’d rather not squint:

He is everybody’s trusted friend . . .

Most of the time you see him coming up the walk in a blue-gray suit with a leather bag slung over his shoulder. But you may remember him also in army fatigues or navy blues, when his familiar cry of “Mail!” was the most welcome sound in all the world. And there was a time when he wore a buckskin jerkin and rode fast ponies over dangerous trails few others dared to travel.

You call him the Postman or Mailman . . . and every day he is waited for and watched for by millions of people whose hearts beat faster when they see him coming.

He is the link that unites scattered families, the bearer of precious letters from absent sons and daughters. He is a bringer of hopes and joys and Yuletide spirit. He is the eternal consolation of separated lovers.

Once the bearer of dispatches was the exclusive emissary of kings and princes and powerful lords. In America he is everybody’s ambassador . . . and everybody’s trusted friend.

He stands for something pretty big. A kind of integrity so sure and unquestioned that you take it for granted as one of the verities of life. He comes like day and night — in rain or sleet or snow — when the pavements are cold enough to numb his feet or hot enough to fry an egg. Today there are 130,000 Postmen serving our needs, and to every one of them your sealed letters are “top secret.”

Without the Postman all of us would live in a lonelier world.
Reader, do you know your mail carrier’s full name?

Related reading
All mail posts (Pinboard)

[We know our carrier’s name: how else could we write a check for him at Christmas?]

Playing post office

[“Model post office a teacher set up in the classroom for the children to learn about the mail system.” Photograph by Nina Leen. Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1948. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All mail posts (Pinboard)
From the Life Photo Archive (a Leen photo)
Maeve Brennan, The Long-Winded Lady (and one more)

Goodbye, Saturday mail

From the New York Times:

The Postal Service is expected to announce on Wednesday morning that it will stop delivering letters and other mail on Saturdays, but continue to handle packages, a move the financially struggling agency said would save about $2 billion annually as it looks for ways to cut cost.
As Utnapishtim said, “There is no permanence.” This change feels to me like a very big deal, but I imagine that I will adjust in no time.

Food for thought

Michael Apted, director of the Up series, interviewed by Terry Gross:

What did surprise you about 56 Up?

Well, that people seemed happy. I mean, I thought they’d be getting depressed, worried about age, very worried about the economic climate, looking back on their lives, maybe sometimes with regret. But no, I mean, what was so interesting to me was that, you know, that a lot of them had found real kind of comfort in their families and their extended families.

I was of the belief in my life that you can’t have everything, you know, that I have pursued a career, I was ambitious, and I paid a price for it. I wasn’t as good a father or a husband as I should have been. And sometimes I thought, well, maybe that’s my way, and maybe that’s the right way. But then I saw the payoff, that people who’d put their energies into their families and their loyalties into their families, that at this age, in their mid-fifties, you know, they’ve got real pleasure and power from it.
Pleasure and power? I don’t really know what that means. Pleasure and sustenance? Yes. Gross goes on to ask whether the film’s subjects are really happy or just saying so for the camera. Sigh.

A related post

[My transcription.]

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How to improve writing (no. 41)

Here (and why not?) is the evolution of a sentence from yesterday’s post on Palomino Blackwing non-users. My first effort:

There is a reference to “boxes of Blackwing pencils” from White’s office in Martha White’s introduction to In the Words of E. B. White (2011).
That’s one ungainly sentence. Notice the long chain of prepositional phrases: to boxes, of Blackwing pencils, from White’s office, in Martha White’s introduction. The sequence from White’s office in Martha White’s introduction is especially clumsy. (It must have been a small office.) Embedding the book title’s two prepositional phrases in yet another prepositional phrase adds a final awkward touch. What I think happened here: having taken a quick look at the book, I was concerned more with getting the data in one place — the quotation, the writer’s name, the book’s part and title, the date of publication — than with writing a good sentence.

I saw right away that I needed to rethink the sequence of elements in the sentence: it’s appropriate to put what’s most important at the end, right? So here’s an improvement:
In Martha White’s introduction to In the Words of E. B. White (2011), there is a reference to “boxes of Blackwing pencils” from White’s office.
Better, yes. And notice that the three references to Whites are better distributed in the sentence. But look at “There is a reference.” It should be easy to make the sentence shorter and livelier by cutting the verb to be and the nominalization reference and adding a transitive verb in the active voice:
Martha White’s introduction to In the Words of E. B. White (2011) mentions “boxes of Blackwing pencils” from White’s office.
Much better. Notice that dropping is and a reference means fewer prepositional phrases. Minus the two of the title, the sentence drops from five to three, and from twenty-five words to twenty.

This rewriting stuff, it really works.

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 41 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. This post is the first to improve my writing. Many guides to writing suggest replacing to be (when appropriate) with a transitive verb in the active voice. The advice appears in The Elements of Style, or “Strunk and White”: “Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is or could be heard.”]

Monday, February 4, 2013

Anselm Hollo (1934–2013)

Related reading
Anselm Hollo (Wikipedia article)
Anselm Hollo: Poet, translator and teacher (The Independent)
In Memory of Anselm Hollo (Coffee House Press)

Palomino Blackwing non-users

[Egg on face: I’d forgotten that Blackwing Pages called attention to Levenger’s advertising copy last year, in one of the very posts I link to below: Facts, Fiction, and the Palomino “Blackwing Experience.” E. B. White though is a new addition to the chorus of Palomino praise-singers.]

From the Levenger website:

I’m reminded of the Dashiell Hammett story in which the Continental Op looks at a sign in a bar — “ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE” — and begins to count the lies. No, Steinbeck, White, and Wolfe never sang the praises of the Palomino Blackwing, because they lived and died before that pencil came into production. To claim that these writers sang the praises of a Palomino product is equivalent to claiming that Blind Boy Fuller sang the praises of my National guitar. No, because my guitar is a replica. And so is the Palomino Blackwing.

California Cedar has chosen, again and again, to promote its products by invoking the names of prominent people, among them Duke Ellington, John Lennon, and Frank Lloyd Wright, all of whom lived and died before the Palomino Blackwing and thus could never have used that pencil. What’s more, there is no evidence that Ellington or Lennon or Wright had any particular allegiance to the original Blackwing. (Nor to my knowledge is there evidence that White sang the praises of the original Blackwing.) Facts are stubborn things, as someone once said.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwings, and aspirational branding
The Palomino Blackwing pencil and truth in advertising

And from Blackwing Pages
Facts, Fiction, and the Palomino “Blackwing Experience”
Wright or Wrong?

And from pencil talk
California Cedar: What’s going on?

[I’ve invoked the Op before, when writing about an “old-fashioned recipe” for lemonade. Martha White’s introduction to In the Words of E. B. White (2011) mentions “boxes of Blackwing pencils” from White’s office. Well-known photographs show White composing at the typewriter. Roger Angell’s foreword to the fourth edition of The Elements of Style describes White composing at the typewriter “in hesitant bursts, with long silences in between.”]

Rosa Parks stamp

The United States Postal Service honors Rosa Parks, born February 4, 1913. Also in the news: because of a conflict between relatives and executors, Parks’s archives sit in a Manhattan warehouse, unavailable to scholars: The Rosa Parks Papers (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly).

Related reading
Rosa Parks materials (Library of Congress)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

“Minds, not memories”

Professor Charles Kingsfield, explaining why his midterm examination will not focus on landmark cases and may instead include landmark cases, obscure cases, and hypothetical cases:

“I intend to test minds, not memories.”

[From The Paper Chase, “An Act of Desperation,” first aired December 19, 1978. Elaine and I are watching episodes of the show on DVD. We both like the goofy warmheartedness. Think of it: a television series about people studying. And no study guides.]

Friday, February 1, 2013

Separated at birth?

[John Davis Chandler (as Vincent Coll) and Steve Buscemi.]

Mad Dog Coll (dir. Burt Balaban, 1961) is a magnificently lurid crime story. Abusive father: check. Sexual inadequacy: check. Phallic weaponry: check. (Mad Dog carries a machine gun as you or I might carry a wallet.) Unattainable woman with some class: check. (She plays the violin.) Available woman with less class: check. (She’s a, uh, dancer.) Increasingly bold and dangerous criminal schemes: check, and checkmate. With Brooke Hayward, Jerry Orbach, Telly Savalas, and Vincent Gardenia as Dutch Schultz.

A special treat: seeing James Greene (Davey McQuinn of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Councilman Milton of Parks and Recreation) as a hit man. Good call, Elaine.

Related posts
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt
Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov
Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks

Bad metaphor of the day

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning, Joe Scarborough made reference to “all sides of the political spectrum.”

Related reading
All metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[I think it’s seven sides: Roy G. Biv.]