Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Store-brand cereals and their mascots

My friend Sara meditates on store-brand cereals and their mascots: “They’re A-Okay.”

Recently updated

The Old Reader, about to disappear Maybe not yet.

Hi and Lois watch


[Hi and Lois, July 31, 2013.]

Says Hi, “Housewives used to dress up to greet their husbands when they came home from work.”

Yes, and houses used to have their kitchens not in the living room. See the three little windows? You can’t tell me that that door isn’t front. It’s possible that Hi has walked around the house and entered through the kitchen — which would make him a back-door man in his own damn house. But that’s still a front door. And yes, there aren’t enough chairs.

And why is Hi under the impression that Lois is a “housewife”? Wake up, Mr. Flagston: your wife has been working since 1980. A 1984 chart tracking the strip’s history marks the event: “Lois Joins the Women’s Movement and Gets a Job Selling Real Estate” — aka Etatse Laer.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[The chart appears in Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s The Best of Hi and Lois (1986).]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Antique music, antique phonographs

From WFMU, a podcast worth your attention: Michael Cumella’s The Antique Phonograph Music Program, old music played on old machines. Try the July 16 show, which explores the differences between acoustical and electrical recording, with back-to-back records for comparison.

I like this podcast for the expertise of its host, for the unfamiliarity of (most of) the music, and for the chance to think about what people not that long ago found entertaining. And guess what — much of it is still entertaining.

A discovery by way of this podcast and YouTube: the Bratislava Hot Serenaders. Try “Crazy Rhythm” (after Ben Bernie) and “Happy Feet” (after Paul Whiteman). Hot indeed.

Thanks to Mike at Brown Studies for recommending this podcast.

Domestic comedy

“Isn’t that pretty?”

[Rolls eyes for comedic effect .] “Beautiful. Put it on Pinterest.”

“I found it on Pinterest.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard, not Pinterest)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Populaire

Coming this fall, a new film with Bérénice Bejo and cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman:

Populaire takes place in the late 1950s and tells the story of Rose (played by Déborah François), a clumsy country girl who moves to a small city in the hope of becoming a secretary. She is hired by Louis (Romain Duris), an insurance agent, for her typing skills. As their relationship develops, Louis enters Rose into a regional speed-typing competition, becoming her coach and trainer with dreams of winning the world title.

Ms. Bejo stars as Louis’s childhood friend and former lover who champions Rose’s romantic interest in her boss.

Weinstein Co. Will Release a Movie Focused on a Speed-Typing Competition (Wall Street Journal)
It sounds wonderful.

Related posts
The Artist and typography
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
OSS 117: Lost in Rio

Life Without Reader

Searching for a satisfactory replacement for Google Reader (GR) has prompted me to rethink my online reading habits, in two ways:

Do I want to depend on RSS for my reading? No. That’s become clear to me as every GR substitute I’ve tried has turned out to have one or more problems: delays, downtime, missing posts, botched formatting.

Do I need to check most sites on a several-times-a-day basis? No. But that is, in effect, what I’m doing by checking a reader throughout the day.

So I’m trying Life Without Reader, any reader. I’ve created a Pinboard bookmark to hold the URLs for sites I’ve been following in GR and replacement readers. I will visit these sites on a regular basis, not daily but two or three times a week. Thus I’ll be able to read what people have written as they’ve chosen to present it, with distinctive typography, sidebars, the works. (How much one misses out on with RSS — comments too.) That I won’t be seeing posts in the timeliest way is of minor concern to me: very little of what I read is in any danger of turning into yesterday’s news a day or two after publication.

Life Without Reader is my suggestion for greater engagement with those whom one reads online. I’d like to see it catch on.

The Old Reader, about to disappear

The Old Reader, one of the more appealing substitutes for Google Reader, is closing the doors to most users. Details and further explanation here.

*

July 31: “We have received a number of proposals that we are discussing right now. Chances are high that public The Old Reader will live after all.”

A banner in TOR announced the service’s imminent closing. It would have been helpful to see this new development in a banner as well. Instead, the news appears as an update on TOR’s blog. The Old Reader is an amateur effort, in the best and worst ways.

Earl “Fatha” Hines on film

At Vimeo: Earl “Fatha” Hines, a 1975 documentary filmed at Blues Alley in Washington, D. C. This film is a great depiction of a musician off the bandstand, playing and talking in the afternoon hours before a night’s performance. I waited years to see this film again.

[Why “Fatha”? Because Earl Hines is considered the father of modern jazz piano. I have fifty-one Hines LPs.]

A Route 66 mystery guest



Can you identify this actress? Leave your best guess in the comments.

*

8:58 a.m.: The answer’s now in the comments.

Related reading
A Route 66 mystery guest
Another Route 66 mystery guest
One more Route 66 mystery guest

All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy birthday, Dad

I went out to look for a birthday card for my dad a few weeks ago and came away empty-handed. The not-from-a-kid son-to-father cards ran to beer, cuss words, hammocks, and bad poetry, none of which fit my dad. So I made a card: I found a hexagonal grid online, sized and printed it, and turned it into a tile floor with an 85 set in hexagons. Something like this, old-school.

My dad turns 85, or eighty-five, today. He worked as a tileman in northern New Jersey, Leddy Ceramic Tile, and he’s made many beautiful cards for birthdays and holidays. Thus my card, a second-generation effort.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Some art by James Leddy
Abe’s shades : Boo! : Happy holidays : Hardy mums : Thanks!

[The cuss card offered thanks for teaching the card-giver to talk like the card-recipient. Sheesh. I like to spell numbers up to one hundred, but not on a tile floor, not even a virtual tile floor. My wife Elaine thinks that “I like to spell numbers” means that I have a strange hobby, so I’ll rephrase: I prefer to write out numbers up to one hundred.]

Saturday, July 27, 2013

VDP on NPR

Van Dyke Parks interviewed on NPR: Van Dyke Parks Lights Up Songs from Inside.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

A bookstore opening and closing

J. L. Sathre, January 2012: 25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore.

J. L. Sathre, May 2013: 25 Things I’m Learning From Closing a Bookstore.

The store had a seven-year run.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chris Matthews on sex

Chris Matthews, in an MSNBC Hardball discussion of the Anthony Weiner scandal, June 17, 2011:

“Sex is generally between two people in private, you know, in some room somewhere.”
Chris Matthews, in an MSNBC Hardball discussion of the Anthony Weiner scandal, July 25, 2013:
“This isn’t meeting in some hotel somewhere with somebody you’ve known a while or anything like that.”
The first rule of sex: Get a room!

You can watch yesterday’s discussion here, or somewhere.

[It’s fun watching Chris Matthews attempt to talk about sex, and there should be more opportunities in the days ahead.]

SMITH BUILDING


[A store entryway, somewhere in downstate Illinois. Click for a larger view.]

Words from hexagons: a beautiful feature of the dowdy world.

I once lived in a Boston apartment building with “THE GRESHAM” tiled into the entryway floor. How come I never took a photograph?

Another tile-centric post
96th and Lexington

[Dad, I saw this floor after I made your card.]

“What once seemed ours forever”

From J. L. Carr’s 1980 novella A Month in the Country :

We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours forever — the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
A Month in the Country is best read in summer, especially when fall begins to loom — as I suppose it always does.

Another passage from A Month in the Country
“Creatures of hope”

[The novella has been reissued by New York Review Books (2000).]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

WCW for young readers

When my children were younger, we found a reliable source of family fun in William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens
Make up substitutes for the nouns — oh, say, dinosaur, poop, umbrellas — and you too can play.

Too late for my family to make use of, A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008), is the work of a writer and an artist with a genuine feeling for Williams’s work. Bryant presents Willie Williams as a boy strongly attuned to the natural world, who looks, listens, writes, and abandons lofty poeticality for the language of everyday things. The book’s pages are often beautifully collaged, though nothing is said about Williams’s interest in visual art. One disappointment: Williams’s mature poetry is presented as the work of the boy Willie, a choice that takes us (no doubt unintentionally) too close to my-kid-could-have-written-that territory. Then again, thinking that a kid wrote those poems might be all some other kid needs to feel inspired about writing.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a young reader.

Related reading
All Willam Carlos Williams posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A grammar infographic

I receive occasional e-mail pitches for snazzy infographics, none of which have made it to the pages of Orange Crate Art. These poster-like creations teem with statements that I have no way to verify. And infographics tend to be the work of, let’s say, interested parties. A recent infographic that purported to trace the history of the United States Postal Service was a thinly disguised pitch for an online stamp dealer — which helped to explain why most of the poster was about rare stamps and $$$.

Here is an infographic that I noticed circulating online today. The source is grammar.net, a website offering online grammar- and spell-checking (and offline software). Of the ten tips on this skeuomorphic page, five have problems:


[Click for a larger view.]

“Mind apostrophes”: The explanation and examples are, at best, confusing. A clearer explanation: “Check whether the word is a contraction or a possessive pronoun. Only a contraction takes an apostrophe.” Keeping the examples in a consistent sequence — it’s /its , they’re /their — would help too. A less obvious problem: possessive case is a dubious term. The Chicago Manual of Style (5.19) and Huddleston and Pullum’s A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (9.1) recommend genitive case. But why bring in the category of case at all? Possessive pronoun works.

“Always use a comma after an introductory or prepositional phrase”: Introductory and prepositional are not contrasting terms. Better advice: “Always use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.”

“Memorise homophones and endings”: the -able /-ible rule has many exceptions. To offer this rule without qualification is unconscionable. One must be flexible.

“Appositives: these dependent clauses modify the subject and often add non-essential information – offset with commas”: Lynne Truss must have helped punctuate that sentence. But more to the point: an appositive is a word or phrase, not a dependent clause. An appositive may modify any noun or pronoun. The sample sentences contain appositives (Brian O’Brien, the popular sitcom), not dependent clauses.

“Countable and non-countable nouns”: Few works with countable nouns, not non-countable nouns. Few dresses , houses , cars ? Yes. Few money , snow , or time ? No. No!

Go in fear of infographics.

Related reading
All grammar posts (Pinboard)

[I can’t insist on the that / which  distinction. Notice though that tip no. 6 seems to imply that that can introduce a non-restrictive clause. And I won’t argue for a larger point: that most of these tips concern punctuation, spelling, and usage, not grammar.]

Beckett and Bushmiller


[“Oh this is a happy day!”]

George Bodmer, who draws Oscar’s Day, asked if I knew anything about this: The Beckett/Bushmiller Letters. Now I do.

Thanks, George.

Related reading
All Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Page Morton Black (1915–2013)

From the New York Times obituary: “For Gothamites of a certain vintage, it was as much a part of life as BUtterfield, ALgonquin and Horn & Hardart — a jaunty little waltz, its lyrics connoting warmth, fiscal security and celestial reward.”

Paige Morton Black sang the Chock Full o’Nuts jingle.

Related posts
Chock Full o’Nuts
Chock Full o’Nuts lunch hour
New York, 1964: Chock Full o’Nuts

Mark Trail recycles


[Mark Trail, July 22 and 23, 2013.]

Frankie is a valued member of the poaching team at Big Mike Morrison’s hunting lodge. He’s steady, that Frankie, day after day. Guy’s consistent. Once in a while he puts down his magazine and shifts his eyes. And then different words materialize in his speech balloon.

Mark Trail offered a grand display of recycling in May with Wes Thompson, Wes Thompson.

Related reading
All Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Frankie looks a lot like a Mark Trail with sideburns and a silly hat. Perhaps there’s deeper recycling at work here.]

Charles Hartman on plagiarism

Charles Hartman writes about being plagiarized: “Defining plagiarism is trickier than you might think, but most of the time we distinguish it from other kinds of copying (allusion, quotation) fairly easily: it’s plagiarism if the copyist hopes no one will notice.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

VDP in TNYT

“I believe that anything worth its salt in the arts must create a wobble. We are not polestars.” Van Dyke Parks talks with The New York Times.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Study = hard work

From a used-book find:

The story is told of an Egyptian prince who went to the library at Alexandria to learn geometry from Ptolemy, the great mathematician. The prince explained to Ptolemy that he had only a little time between hunting and military activities to devote to study so he wanted to learn geometry very quickly and very easily. Ptolemy sent him away with the statement: “There are many royal roads, but there is no royal road to learning.” The statement is still true. The road to learning is study, and it is a hard, steep, rough road. It takes longer to learn fifty Latin words than it takes to dig a ditch one foot deep, one foot wide, and fifty feet long. There was a college professor in Pittsburgh who spent his summers working as a section laborer on a railroad in northern Michigan, because it was a restful business to lift railroad ties after a year’s hard study. Yes, study is hard work.

William H. Armstrong, Study Is Hard Work (David R. Godine, 1995).
[Royal road: “a way of attaining or reaching something without trouble” (New Oxford American Dictionary).]

Route 66 notebook sighting


[“I write everything in here. I write questions, and answers — everything.” Click for a larger view.]

Rod Steiger plays notebook user and escaped convict Justin Lezama in the Route 66 episode “Welcome to the Wedding” (November 8, 1962).

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

And more notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : The Woman in the Window

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie recommendation: Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing — now there’s a string of words I never thought I’d type.

Start again: Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a delightful adaptation. The film is in the spirit of Michael Almereyda’s 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, with the players speaking Shakespeare’s language in a contemporary setting. Beatrice and Benedick (Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof) are plausible and appealing, and there are many inventive and hilarious bits of business along the way, particularly from Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and the security detail. Whedon’s black-and-white film evokes both 1930s screwball comedy and Woody Allen’s comedy of manners, both of which themselves owe something to the Shake. I watched this film on spec, so to speak: I had no idea what to expect. What I got was something magical.

You can find out more at the film’s website.

[Two excellent new movies in three weeks. The other: Stories We Tell.]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Recently updated

This American like Now with more details of the like s in the latest This American Life.

[It’s pouring outside.]

Charlie Rose, The Week

Charlie Rose’s new show The Week premiered last night on PBS. The show seems to be another PBS effort to engage younger audiences, certain to be sitting at home of a Friday night watching TV. One odd moment: a quick compendium “if you’re looking for something to do this weekend.” It includes Kanye West’s Yeezus as Album of the Week. Yeezus!

Two more odd moments. At the beginning, an address to the viewer:

“For more than twenty years, you have sat with me every weeknight at my table, the one you see behind me. You’ve eavesdropped as we talked to the most interesting people in the world.”
No, I haven’t sat at my own table every weeknight, much less Charlie Rose’s. But the metaphors here don’t add up: I sit at the table, but I eavesdrop as “we” talk? Sitting at the table ought to make one a participant in the conversation, no? A more appropriate intro might say:
“For more than twenty years, you have stood every weeknight back somewhere in the shadows, somewhere back there in the dark somewhere, at a distance from my table, the one you see behind me. You’ve eavesdropped as I, and I alone, talked to the most interesting people in the world.”
Another odd moment: at the end of the show, Rose speaks of “the debate we must have” about “how we treat women and how we treat minorities.” (Who are we ?) The debate must include everyone, Rose says, and he runs through a set of from-to pairs to suggest the range. My favorite: “from the famous to the less famous.” Did Rose write that? Or does someone on his staff have a degree in Snark?

As you might guess, The Week includes copious clips from Charlie Rose. Last night’s show seems to be intermittently available from Hulu.

Related reading
Charlie Rose and David Foster Wallace

[Malcolm X understood that sitting at a table does not make one a participant: “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate.” From the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet, ” April 3, 1964.]

Friday, July 19, 2013

This American like

I greatly admire This American Life . I listen every week, and I’ve used episodes or parts of episodes with great success in my teaching. But I didn’t like the show’s the most recent episode, the five-hundredth, partly because of the general air of self-congratulation. But also: because I don’t like like .

From WBEZ Chicago, it’s This American Life , distributed by Public Radio International. I’m Ira Glass, and this is our 500th episode. And what does that feel like? Well, it feels like both a milestone and it feels like nothing. It feels like an odometer clicking over.
It also feels like like :
And like, first of all, should we mark it at all? You know what I mean? Like 500 shows on the radio actually isn’t that big of a deal for most programs. Like Terry Gross, she knocks through 500 shows like every two years. Doesn’t even notice.
I did. Noticed the like s, that is. Elaine did too. All through the show. We listened while driving, and every like, well, it like hung in the air in the car, and we couldn’t even open the windows because it was so hot outside. I mean like seriously, seriously hot.

You can read a transcript of the show and count the like s, if you like.

*

July 20: Reading through the transcript with the help of ⌘-F, I count fifty-three meaningless like s in the celebratory 2013 conversations between Ira Glass and contributors. The heaviest flurry follows:
Sarah Koenig: It’s so personal. And I feel like it’s really — I don’t know. Like I’ve known you for 10 years now, right? And I heard you say that. I was like, oh, right. That’s right. Because I was like, I know there’s a lot of times in interviews where I’ve just been listening in, and you’ll reveal this thing, and I’m always just like, that’s ballsy.

Ira Glass: To me that’s just so obvious that you would do that if you have something like that to do, because it’s good tape. Like your job is to make good tape. You know what I mean? Like that’s our job, is to make good tape.

Sarah Koenig: I know, but I feel like that’s the thing that’s different, right? Like you’re willing to kind of exploit anything you’ve got in there. And I think a lot of people, for a lot of people, that stuff is just off-limits.
[If you teach Hamlet , you should listen to episode 218.]

Department-store Shakespeare



I have been thinking about the world this receipt represents, or the world that I think this receipt represents. I found the receipt in an Anchor Doubleday paperback reprint of Mark Van Doren’s Shakespeare, a book first published in 1939. The paperback price is ninety-five cents. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the receipt goes with the book, which belonged to Jim Doyle and bears his name. Van Doren’s book is one of at least a dozen that I have from Jim, who was my professor for three classes at Fordham College in the late 1970s.

Jordan Marsh was a celebrated Boston department store that grew into a New England chain. Its Malden store opened in 1954. Jim Doyle grew up in Cambridge, a few miles from Malden, and attended Malden Catholic High School. In 1965, Jim would have been a student at Providence College in Rhode Island. His twenty-first birthday was on April 9, 1965. Was he home for the occasion and spending some birthday money? I would like to think so, but it’s just as likely that he bought the book used, perhaps years later, with the original receipt still tucked between pages.

Here’s what boggles my mind (assuming again that the receipt goes with the book): in 1965, a suburban department store’s book department carried at least one work of Shakespearean criticism.

Other Jim Doyle posts
Doyle and French
From the Doyle edition
Jim Doyle (1944–2005)
A Jim Doyle story
Teaching, sitting, standing

[The Department Store Museum is an excellent source for background on Jordan Marsh. That’s where I found the 1954 date. My guess that Jim was home from college for a long Easter break (Providence cancels classes for Easter Monday) fell through: in 1965, Easter fell on April 18. (There’s a website). Mark Van Doren’s Shakespeare is still available from New York Review Books.]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blog typography

Tommi Kaikkonen’s Interactive Guide to Blog Typography is worth reading. Especially useful are the recommendations about line length and font color.

I seem to be following all but three of Kaikkonen’s recommendations: I don’t indent paragraphs; I don’t mess with small caps; and I use fonts that are similar (Lucida Sans and Trebuchet) not contrasting. I use Trebuchet for all-caps elements, such as the ORANGE CRATE ART at the top of this page and the headings in the sidebar. (If you’re reading in a reader, you never see those.)

Related reading
All typography posts (Pinboard)

[I hear the people of the future: “Blogging? That’s so early-twenty-first century.”]

The Art of Handwriting

From the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art: The Art of Handwriting. The online version of the exhibit has handwritten letters and postcards from thirty-nine artists. My favorites: Carl Andre’s block capitals, Winslow Homer’s shorthand-like cursive, Ad Reinhardt’s lower- and uppercase italics, and Saul Steinberg’s parodic calligraphy. Clicking on each image takes you to a page with a larger version and more to read.

Related reading
All handwriting posts (Pinboard)

[Orange Crate Art is a handwriting-friendly zone.]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Misread

From a shopping list:

feet

Janis
No. That would be felt and tonic (as in gin and). I wish I could say that I can always trust my handwriting.

Related reading
Illegibility and shopping
Signage, misread

Domestic comedy

“It’s not like that apple I ate in the Garden of Eden — I mean, Los Angeles.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[To be specific, a farmers’ market in Silver Lake.]

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bob and Ray and Komodo dragons

News of a new Komodo dragon exhibit at the Bronx Zoo made me think of Bob and Ray.

[From 1973 to 1976, Bob and Ray were on New York’s WOR for four hours every weekday. I was a regular listener.]

Foxtrot and representation


[Foxtrot, November 3, 2002. Click for a larger view.]

I just found a print copy of this Foxtrot strip in a box of odds and ends. The joke reminds me of Alain’s 1955 New Yorker cartoon of an Egyptian life class: there too the idea of codes or conventions of representation gets turned on its head, with artists depicting reality as it really is. I must have clipped this Foxtrot to use in teaching.

The little window on the fourth apple is a near-lucaflect. If it were a four-pane window, Paige’s drawing would really, really look like a photograph.

[Bill Amend’s fair-use policy is a model of generosity and sanity: “For non-commercial websites, I’m generally okay with people reposting a strip now and then, so long as you include a link back to foxtrot.com.” This strip is available online. Alain’s cartoon is the opening exhibit in Ernst Gombrich’s Art and Illusion (1960).]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Queen Elizabeth exclaims

From The Sea Hawk (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1940):

“Fleet! Fleet! Must I listen to that from you too?”

Yes, Queen Elizabeth, you must. The Spanish are coming! The Spanish are coming!

The Sea Hawk is a swashbuckling story starring Errol Flynn. I mistook The Sea Hawk for The Sea Wolf, a 1941 Curtiz film starring Edward G. Robinson. Let the record show, however, that I was not mistaking Errol Flynn for Edward G. Robinson.

[Swash: “ flamboyantly swagger about or wield a sword.” Buckle: “a small, round shield held by a handle or worn on the forearm.” Thanks, New Oxford American Dictionary.]

Route 66 conference call



They’re planning a comeback. From the Route 66 episode “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing,” (October 26, 1962), with Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff as themselves. This episode is one of several splendid examples of Route 66 making room for surreal, zany comedy.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, Chaney’s wearing makeup. The split-screen is in the show, not the result of my cutting and pasting.]

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The old Gmail inbox



Ta-da.

I’m not sure how quickly Google is “rolling out” (like a barrel?) the new Gmail inbox. I prefer to have the postal service deliver my Gmail the old-fashioned way. For now at least, that’s still possible.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bear in/on tree


[Yipes. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

It’s a plastic yard ornament, perhaps seven feet from the ground. I pass this bear almost every day when I’m out walking. It spooked me the first time. It spooks me still. Here is a cute version, which also spooks me. I am easily spooked.

In the past week or so, I’ve also seen two deer running through the yard twenty yards from where I mowed, another deer standing ten feet from our front door, a fox sunning itself in our driveway, a raccoon glaring at me from the end of our breezeway, and a turkey vulture taking flight with a dead squirrel in its mouth. That’s enough nature.

[I’ve seen real bears in the wild once: a mother and children crossing a road early one morning in the Berkshires. I brake for bears.]

Toshi Seeger (1922–2013)

“Mrs. Seeger helped produce thousands of her husband’s concerts. When he hosted Rainbow Quest, a television show devoted to folk music, in 1965 and 1966, she directed it — although her official credit was ‘Chief Cook and Bottle Washer’”: Toshi Seeger, Wife of Folk-Singing Legend, Dies (The New York Times).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Peppers and eggs



It’s called peppers and eggs, but as I prepare the dish, it might better be called eggs and peppers. Or eggs and pepper. Or eggs and pep. In other words, the pepper is a small part of the whole. It’s easy to make:

Cut half an Italian pepper into short, thin strips. If you cannot get an Italian pepper, use a green pepper. You must make do.

Beat two eggs in a bowl.

Add some olive oil to a pan. Cook peppers until they begin to brown. (Notice: pieces of a single pepper become peppers when they hit the pan.)

Add eggs and lower the heat after a bit. Cook until done.

Serve on two pieces of buttered bread. (I prefer Earth Balance to butter.) Add pepper to taste, and salt if you must.
The appropriate beverage to accompany peppers and eggs: chocolate milk. Really. That’s the way I did things as a kid (and still do). Back then: cow’s milk and Carnation Chocolate Malted Milk. Today: Silk and Hershey’s Syrup. The combination of peppers and eggs and chocolate milk is for me a powerful madeleine. Only liverwurst has greater Proustian power.

[Yesterday was Marcel Proust’s birthday.]

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Joyeux anniversaire, M. Proust

Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871. From a 1913 interview:

“Style is not at all an embellishment as certain people think, it is not even a matter of technique, it is — like colour with painters — the quality of vision, the revelation of the private universe that each one of us can see and which others cannot see. The pleasure an artist affords us is to introduce us to one universe the more.”

Swann Explained by Proust,” in Days of Reading, translated by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 2008).
A similar passage from the last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu:
[S]tyle for a writer, like colour for a painter, is a question not of technique but of vision. It is the revelation, which would be impossible by direct or conscious means, of the qualitative difference in the ways we perceive the world, a difference which, if there were no art, would remain the eternal secret of each individual. It is only through art that we can escape from ourselves and know how another person sees a universe which is not the same as our own and whose landscapes would otherwise have remained as unknown as any there may be on the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing only a single world, our own, we see it multiplied, and have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, all more different from one another than those which revolve in infinity and which, centuries after the fire from which their rays emanated has gone out, whether it was called Rembrandt or Vermeer, still send us their special light.

Finding Time Again, translated by Ian Patterson (London: Penguin, 2003).
Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

One of those who is or are

“Don’t be one of those people who mistakenly believe that the word believe earlier in this sentence should have been believes.” Bryan Garner clears up a tricky question of usage: “One of those who are” or “one of those who is”? (LawProse Blog).

“There’s a story if you want to hear it”

An antiques dealer hears a remarkable story:

When I opened a random drawer beside the kitchen sink, the contents startled me. Inside were hundreds of political buttons, and they were an odd mix. The oldest were mostly for Republican candidates, while the newer ones were Democrats.

The man overseeing the estate sale approached me as I sorted through them. Within moments I had bought the contents of the drawer.

“So what”s the story?” I asked. “He was a Republican, she was a Democrat? Not so Green Acres?”

“Not exactly,” my host replied. He appeared to be uneasy about something. “There’s a story if you want to hear it,” he said, pausing.
You probably do: Traces of a Man Who Disappeared (The New York Times).

VDP on the right to fail

Van Dyke Parks, talking in New York recently:

“Just as a personal aside, something that I think is very important to say: You must reserve the right to fail if you’re going to get anything done. You must continue aggressively to reserve the right to fail. You must keep learning from your failures. I see that — I see how shy I was, when I could afford to be shy, because I was a brunet, and I had time to be shy. But soon you’ll tire of being shy, if you are shy at all, if you’re that victimized by the degree of self-loathing coming from your last failure. But you must continue to forgive yourself, and reserve the right to fail.”
Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)
John Holt on learning and difficulty
Learning, failure, and character

[Merriam-Webster: “spelled brunet when used of a boy or man and usually brunette when used of a girl or woman.”]

DFW book from Madras Press

Straight out of Newton, Massachusetts: Sumanth Prabhaker’s Madras Press has published a section of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King as a five-inches-square book: The Awakening of My Interest in Advanced Tax. It’s a conversion narrative, the long first-person story of “Irrelevant” Chris Fogle, a drug-taking “wastoid” who walks into the wrong college classroom and finds his life changed by a lecture on the heroism of accountancy. The Fogle story may be the best thing in the The Pale King.

Madras Press books are available from select bookstores and by mail from the publisher. All proceeds go to charitable organizations. The beneficiary for this book is Granada House, where, in 1989, Wallace began living in sobriety. Take a look at the Granada House website: “An Ex-Resident’s Story” is by Wallace.

My visit to Granada House in 2010 (as a DFW reader wanting to make a donation) helped me understand one of the “exotic new facts” in the Infinite Jest catalogue of things one can learn in a halfway house: “That God — unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both — speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.”

Thanks, Ben, for getting me a copy of this book.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[My link to “An Ex-Resident’s Story” is no revelation: Jason Kottke made the Wallace connection in 2008. I have borrowed most of the sentence describing Chris Fogle’s story from a review of The Pale King that I wrote for World Literature Today.]

W3 online

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is now online. The price — $29.95 a year — seems a bargain. (A year’s subscription to the OED runs $295.)

Do I need the online W3? At home I work about eight paces from a 1986 copy of the real thing, always open on a dictionary stand. A first-edition compact OED is about four paces away. These dictionaries are not exactly of the moment. But there are several more recent dictionaries in the house, a dictionary app on my Mac, and (through my university’s library) the online OED. I think that I want is going to yield to common sense. Besides, the library might be getting W3 online.

A related post
Review: The Story of Ain’t (on W3)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mimeograph duplicator

I found this beautiful ad for an A. B. Dick Mimeograph duplicator while looking for something else:


[Life, July 22, 1940. Click for a larger view.]

I found this beautiful ad for an A. B. Dick Mimeograph duplicator while looking for something else:

I found this beautiful ad for an A. B. Dick Mimeograph duplicator while looking for something else:

See how clean and sharp those copies look? You can barely distinguish them from the original sentence. That’s because I made them with my A. B. Dick Mimeograph duplicator.

The business model put forth in this advertisement would be welcome today: “Honest salesmen, selling honest quality in honest products, made in honest factories, marked at honest prices.” No junk: “One chair that lasts is worth a whole suite that peels and cracks and falls apart.” Yes. “The real economy of the superior,” not “the extravagance of the inferior.” I think about these matters every time I have to buy a tool or household item. It’s cheaper in the long run to buy what will last.

What better way to sell a duplicating machine than with a crisp line drawing of a duplicating machine? Look: the machine and the picture are being wheeled into your workplace as I type:


[You’re almost there, fellows. Push! Push hard!]

If, like me, you fondly recall the fragrant purple ink of schooldays, you’re thinking of the products of the spirit duplicator, not the mimeograph. The two-ply page used with a spirit duplicator was called a “spirit master.” What a strange and wonderful name.

[That dress- or keyhole-like shape in the bottom left corner? I have no idea.]

Sunday, July 7, 2013

“Creatures of hope”

From J. L. Carr’s 1980 novella A Month in the Country :

By nature we are creatures of hope, always ready to be deceived again, caught by the marvel that might be wrapped in the grubbiest brown paper parcel.
The novella has been reissued by New York Review Books (2000).

Other NYRB finds of my acquaintance: William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s The Waste Books, James Schuyler’s Alfred and Guinevere. I’m not sure it’s possible to go wrong looking for NYRB spines in a bookstore.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs

From The New York Times, a report on the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs. Elaine and I saw bit of their show not long ago in the very strange Route 66 episode “The Cruelest Sea of All” (aired April 5, 1963). Very little seems to have changed in fifty years.

“Poindexter barbat”


[Zippy, July 6, 2013.]

“Poindexter barbat”? The linguist Arnold Zwicky has a plausible explanation.

Related reading
All Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Does anyone else remember this guy?]

An otter failure


[Mark Trail, July 6, 2013.]

“Them”: a couple of otters. Rusty spoke to “them” just yesterday. I quote:

“You two can play in the yard while I go inside and have lunch. But don't wander off — I’ll be back in a few minutes!”
And yet, as Rusty is about to discover, they have wandered — “into the wilderness,” “back to their river home.”

I am troubled to think that the adopted son of the great outdoorsman Mark Trail thinks that otters will follow directions given in English. Everybody knows or else should know that one must speak to otters in Otterman.

Related reading
All Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Movie recommendation: Stories We Tell


                            What happened?

                            Gilbert Sorrentino, Aberration of
                            Starlight

In my family, we’ve been fans of Sarah Polley since Ramona, the ten-episode CBC series that aired on PBS when our children were tykes. In the documentary Stories We Tell (2013), Polley seeks out a crucial truth of her family’s history, interviewing her father, her siblings, and family friends and relations, all of whom tell their stories — what they know, and what they don’t know. As you might suspect from the list of interviewees, the crucial truth concerns Polley’s mother Diane, an actress and casting director who died in 1990, when Polley was eleven.

Stories We Tell has been described as a matter of mystery and contradiction, but there’s really very little of Rashomon here: what happened becomes clear early on. The real strength of the film is its presentation of love and marriage and family life as the work of fallible people who make difficult choices and must learn to live with the consequences. Or to rewrite Tolstoy: All families are imperfect, but each is imperfect in its own way. A second strength is the film’s foregrounding of the work of storytelling. In one of my favorite scenes, Polley’s actor father reads in a recording studio his own written account of his marriage as Polley directs, asking him to reread here, slow down there. What becomes clearer as the film goes on is that Polley is telling a story, one that not only explores but also imagines and recreates the past.

Stories We Tell has some flaws. The film runs a little long, seeming to wrap up at about the ninety-minute mark before continuing for another eighteen minutes. Greater variety in the circumstances of interviewing would lend the film greater visual interest. (I’m thinking, of all things, of the variety of interview settings in Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah: a barber shop, a café, an open field.) But these are minor complaints. Stories We Tell is unusual, inventive, and filled with humanity. Perhaps it will arrive at a theater near you.

You can read more about Stories We Tell at the film’s website. Careful: the trailer gives away more than you might want to know.

Thanks to Mike Brown for putting this film into my front brain.

[In Sorrentino’s novel, the repeated question What happened? is Marie Recco’s way of asking what went wrong in her marriage.]

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fourth of July


[“Fourth Of July Celebrations Wantagh, Li”. Photograph by Leonard McCombe. Wantagh, New York. No date. From the Life Photo Archive.]

If I were the photographer, the description would read: “Youngsters engage in frenzied bidding war for meat, meat by-products.”

Happy Fourth of July.

Related reading
Another Leonard McCombe photograph

[“Li” = Long Island.]

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Joad’s Corollary

A corollary of Friedrich Nietzsche’s principle of eternal return:

Time is infinite. Imagination is not. Thus there are remakes.
See also Stubbs’s Corollary.

[Inspired by the news that Steven Spielberg is planning to remake The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, there are good reasons to retell stories. But here I say hands off.]

Dale Irby, man of fashion

Newly retired teacher Dale Irby wore the same shirt and sweater-vest for forty years of school pictures. There’s proof online: a slideshow and a video montage (The Dallas Morning News).

Thanks, Rachel, for sharing this story.

Advice from Sydney Smith

At Letters of Note, the cleric Sydney Smith writes to a friend with advice for overcoming “low spirits.” It is poignant reading.

I should like to have known Sydney Smith and shared a cup of tea or coffee with him.

Marco Arment on RSS

Marco Arment on RSS and and the end of Google Reader:

RSS represents the antithesis of this new world: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. . . .

That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

Well, fuck them, and fuck that.
[RSS is what creates a website’s feed.]

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Go Read, a Google Reader alternative

I’m not sure where I read about this one, but I’m glad that I did: Go Read. Its creator Matt Jibson describes it as “fast, snappy, and clean.” I like that he uses a serial comma in that description. I like Go Read. It has no “features” to speak of — just a bright, minimal layout. (Much nicer than The Old Reader.) And from what I’ve seen, Go Read, unlike Feedly, places images where they belong.

Go Read isn’t perfect: it lacks search (“will take some time”); post chronology is sometimes off; and post titles (to my eye) are much too large. All of which is to say that it’s not Google Reader. How could it be? It’s one guy.

Jibson’s plans include “non-annoying ads,” removable with a small fee. I think that I’ll be paying that fee in the near future.

*

July 3: In iOS, Go Read shows only unread posts. And it misses posts that The Old Reader picks up. Sigh.

*

July 3: Yes, it’s a work in progress, whose developer is on the ball, on the case, responsive to user inquiries, and working to get things right. I have high hopes for Go Read.

Misadventures in feedworld
Feedly it ain’t
Feedly v. Feedly

[I’m done with Feedly.]

Drudge Report reportage

The Drudge Report is making merry with an offhand, joking comment that Michelle Obama made in an interview with NPR’s Cokie Roberts. Drudge links to this article, which quotes Mrs. Obama on life in the White House: “‘There are some prison elements to it,’ she joked. ‘But it’s a really nice prison.’”

See? It’s a joke.

The context, as given in the above article: “Roberts noted that Martha Washington, the first First Lady, also described living in the role as akin to being a state prisoner.” So the current First Lady wasn’t complaining: she was offering mild agreement, followed by a reminder that to live in the White House is to enjoy great privilege.

Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, seems to have agree with Martha Washington, calling the White House “that dull and stately prison in which the sounds of mirth are seldom heard.” Harry Truman wrote of the White House that “This great white jail is a hell of a place in which to be alone.” There is nothing new about occupants of the White House thinking of the building as a prison — and with far greater seriousness than Mrs. Obama’s comment allows. You’d never know any of that from the Drudge Report, whose sole purpose is to suggest (as Drudge headlines often do) that Michelle Obama is an unhappy and ungrateful camper, or perhaps an Angry Black Woman.

[I still marvel that I got to meet Barack and Michelle Obama, back in 2004.]

Pocket notebook sighting


[Alice Reed’s address book. I wish she’d written out the exchange names. Click for a larger view.]

The Woman in the Window (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944) stars Edward G. Robinson as Richard Wanley, a mild-mannered assistant professor of psychology. Feeling solidity and stodginess setting in (“Life ends at forty?” a fellow clubman wonders), Wanley steps beyond the limits of his routine and finds himself in suddenly desperate circumstances. Yes, that step involves a woman, the beautiful artist’s model Alice Reed (Joan Bennett). The Woman in the Window resonates with two other great 1944 films: Laura (dir. Otto Preminger) and Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder). As in Laura, a man is captivated by a painting of a beautiful woman. As in Double Indemnity, a killer tracks a murder investigation as it tracks him. But Robinson, who played the ace investigator Barton Keyes in Double Indemnity, here takes the Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) role, not the pursuer but the pursued.

A twist in the film’s plot, which I won’t reveal here, suggests to me that The Woman in the Window is very much about “the movies” — about the kinds of things people say and do in the world on screen.

Here, for Matt Thomas, is a shot of Professor Wanley in his study, writing a letter to his wife.


[Click for a larger view.]

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station

Dark Punctuation

“What the punctuational physicists at Cerne Abbas did was to shoot colons directly through the midpoint of the space between two words. Exactly as predicted, this not only split the colon into two semi-colons, but caused the words to collapse into one another”: Dark Punctuation revealed.

[Psst: It’s semicolon not semi-colon. I added the hyphen for years before discovering my mistake.]

Monday, July 1, 2013

Feedly improvement via a userscript

Feedly to Google Reader is a userscript that significantly improves Feedly by making it look more like Google Reader. The script’s greatest accomplishment, from my point of view: it stops Feedly from pushing images off to the right. The results aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than what Feedly now offers.

As I’ve figured out from some browsing today, the problem with Feedly’s image-handling is that it floats images to the right. One user reports that Feedly changes float:left to float:right, which would explain some of the problems I’ve seen in my posts.

Thanks to CaspianRoach for sharing this script.

Related posts
Feedly it ain’t
Feedly v. Feedly

Penguin Random House

The merger of Penguin and Random House into Penguin Random House is done. I have no idea what that bodes for books, but I think Penguin House would have made a better name. Or Random Penguin, better still. It turns out that the Internets agree.

[What do you call it when someone else has already thought your thought? Anticipatory plagiarism.]

A poem for RZ

I just thought of it:

I wrote this poem in 2005 while teaching a poetry class in which the students wrote poems addressed to friends. The emphasis was on being private in public, writing in a way that would make sense to the poem’s recipient but might seem cryptic to others. Now the poem seems cryptic to me. The only frame of reference I can remember for it: snow. Snow was general all over the northeast and midwest.

Rob Zseleczky (1957–2013)