Monday, July 31, 2006

Twilight comma

A headline from the local paper:

Twilight, mule races added to fair schedule

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mount Proust

Mount Proust, as seen on a midwestern Saturday afternoon. I'm climbing In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower and have made it to the top of the P of Proust.

Why do the last two books look different? I'm glad you asked. Because of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which keeps work out of the public domain for an extra 20 years after its maker's death (i.e., for 95 years, not 75), the new Penguin translations of the final three volumes of In Search of Lost TimeThe Prisoner, The Fugitive, and Finding Time Again — have not yet been published in the United States. Aaron Matz explains:

Since Proust died in 1922, only those four volumes first published during his lifetime had passed into the American public domain by the time the Bono Act became law. It will therefore be at least 2018 before readers in the United States can find the final three installments of the new translation . . . in their local bookstores.
There is some good news: the final three volumes are available in the States, at least for now, from Amazon, in two British Penguin paperbacks (which can be found here and here). My copies took about a month to arrive, and I don't think I've ever been happier to have books in my hands. If I were interested in reading Proust in the Penguin edition, I'd order these now.

Link » In Pursuit of Proust, Aaron Matz on the last three volumes of In Search of Lost Time (from Slate)

Language police

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have crept into the language, such as "pizzas[,]" which will now be known as "elastic loaves," state media reported Saturday.
Link » Iranian Leader Bans Usage of Foreign Words
(from the Washington Post)

Friday, July 28, 2006


From a long cell-phone conversation touching on broomsticks, the national deficit, the movie Predator, and more:

"No, she threw a dart at the mouse and killed it."
Link » "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Art and education

From the New York Times:

In an era of widespread cuts in public-school art programs, the question has become increasingly relevant: does learning about paintings and sculpture help children become better students in other areas?

A study to be released today by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum suggests that it does, citing improvements in a range of literacy skills among students who took part in a program in which the Guggenheim sends artists into schools. The study, now in its second year, interviewed hundreds of New York City third graders, some of whom had participated in the Guggenheim program, called Learning Through Art, and others who did not.

The study found that students in the program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills — including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning — than did students who were not in the program. . . .

The results of the study, which are to be presented today and tomorrow at a conference at the Guggenheim, are likely to stimulate debate at a time when the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind has led schools to increase class time spent on math and reading significantly, often at the expense of other subjects, including art.
Link » Guggenheim Study Suggests Arts Education Benefits Literacy Skills (New York Times, registration required)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Frost and Sandburg

From an interview with essayist and editor Joseph Epstein:

Robert Frost once said of Sandburg, they were apparently to give a poetry reading together and someone said, "Where's Carl?" and Frost said, "He's upstairs messing up his hair."
Full enjoyment of Epstein's anecdote requires the understanding that Frost too was something of an actor, playing the role of the homespun, folksy, New England sage. Robert Lowell highlights the difference between the public performer and the private man in his poem "Robert Frost" (which begins by playing on the title of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Frost at Midnight"):
Robert Frost at midnight, the audience gone
to vapor, the great act laid on the shelf in mothballs,
his voice musical, raw and raw — he writes in the
"Robert Lowell from Robert Frost, his friend in the
"Sometimes I feel too full of myself," I say.
And he, misunderstanding, "When I am low,
I stray away. My son wasn't your kind. The night
we told him Merrill Moore would come to treat him,
he said 'I'll kill him first.' One of my daughters
    thought things,
knew every male she met was out to make her;
the way she dresses, she couldn't make a
And I, "Sometimes I'm so happy I can't stand myself."
And he, "When I am too full of joy, I think
how little good my health did anyone near me."
When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors told a story of seeing Frost backstage before a campus reading. Unhappy with the reading arrangements, Frost was kicking a student.

Link » Interview with Joseph Epstein (from

Thursday, July 20, 2006

George Steiner on reading

In his essay "The end of bookishness?" George Steiner anticipates the near-disappearance of what he calls "classical reading," reading that "takes place in a circle of silence which enables the reader to concentrate on the text." Here is reading's future, as Steiner imagines it:

I would not be surprised if that which lies ahead for classical modes of reading resembles the monasticism from which those modes sprung. I sometimes dream of houses of reading — a Hebrew phrase — in which those passionate to learn how to read well would find the necessary guidance, silence, and complicity of disciplined companionship. . . .

The tale is told of how Erasmus, walking home on a foul night, glimpsed a tiny fragment of print in the mire. He bent down, seized upon it and lifted it to a flickering light with a cry of thankful joy. Here was a miracle. A return of that sense of the miraculous in the face of a demanding text would not be altogether a bad thing.

George Steiner, "The end of bookishness?" Times Literary Supplement (8-14 July 1988), 754
A "sense of the miraculous in the face of a demanding text": what every teacher of literature should aim to inspire in the residents of her or his house of reading.

Related posts
» American reading habits
» Words, mere words

Is Jimmy John's bread vegan?

The company website doesn't say. (Other fast-food companies offer detailed information on ingredients.) An online search yielded no clear answer.

After calling Jimmy John's corporate office and sending two e-mails, I finally got an answer. Jimmy John's bread is not vegan. I offer that information here for anyone else who's wondering.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Proust on time

Still climbing Mount Proust, I will pause to share one sentence:

The time we have to spend each day is elastic: it is stretched by the passions we feel; it is shrunk by those we inspire; and all of it is filled by habit.
Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve (New York: Penguin, 2002), 187

Link » Proust posts, via Pinboard

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blue crayon

In The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (1990), Henry Petroski points out that Henry David Thoureau left out one crucial item when he made a list of supplies for a twelve-day stay in the Maine woods:

According to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau seems always to have carried, "in his pocket, his diary and pencil." So why did Thoreau — who had worked with his father to produce the very best lead pencils manufactured in America in the 1840s — neglect to list even one among the essential things to take on an excursion? Perhaps the very object with which he may have been drafting his list was too close to him, too familiar a part of his own everyday outfit, too integral a part of his livelihood, too common a thing for him to think to mention.
When my daughter Rachel made a list of supplies for an imaginary camping trip (at the age of six or seven, I think), she was careful to include the blue crayon with which she wrote her list. This list has been on a wall in my office for many years; I thought it would be fun to scan it and post it here.

[List reproduced with permission of Rachel Leddy]


The list now appears in Sasha Cagen's anthology To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us (New York: Touchstone, 2007).

In the palace of Rumor

From Ovid, a picture of the palace of Rumor:

There is no quiet, no silence anywhere,
No uproar either, only the subdued
Murmur of little voices, like the murmur
Of sea-waves heard far-off, or the last rumble
Of thunder dying in the cloud. The halls
Are filled with presences that shift and wander,
Rumors in thousands, lies and truth together,
Confused, confusing. Some fill idle ears
With stories, others go far-off to tell
What they have heard, and every story grows,
And each new teller adds to what he hears.
Metamorphoses 12, translated by Rolfe Humphries, 1955

Sounds remarkably like a white-collar workplace.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Florence Wolfson's diary

From tomorrow's New York Times:

In its nearly 2,000 entries, the diary paints a picture of a teenager obsessed both with her appearance and with the meaning of existence.

Jan. 16, 1930: “I bought a pair of patent leather opera pumps with real high heels!” On April 8 that year: “Bought myself a little straw hat $3.45 — It won’t last long.” On April 20 the following year: “Dyed my eyebrows & eyelashes and I’ve absolutely ruined my face.” On March 13, 1934: “A fashion show for amusement and almost overcome with envy — not for the clothes, but the tall, slim loveliness of the models.”

Yet interspersed with observations about frivolous matters are equally heartfelt remarks about the books she loved — Baudelaire and Jane Austen were particular favorites — the paintings she studied, the performances she attended and the city that was her home.

“Slept long hours, read ‘The Divine Comedy’ and for the most part too exhausted to think or even understand,” she wrote on March 12, 1934. Four months later: “Reading ‘Hedda Gabler’ for the tenth time.”

Music, a recurring theme, scored her life with exclamation points. Beethoven symphonies! Bach fugues! “Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven,”“ she wrote on June 28, 1932. “I feel like a ripe apricot — I’m dizzy with the exotic.”
As a teenager, Florence Wolfson kept a five-year diary from 1929 to 1934. She and her diary were recently reunited.

Link » Speak, Memory (New York Times, registration required)

[Update, May 6, 2008: There's a book: The Red Leather Diary.]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

XP, Vista

The curmudgeons of this world know that every new operating system brings with it at least much hype as benefits, and more often than not means spending lots of money in pursuit of the ever-elusive goal of making life at the keyboard perfect. And so they'd rather fight than switch.
From an artlcle on why it might be smart to stick with Windows XP and avoid Windows Vista.

Link » How To Stay Happy With Windows XP
from InformationWeek (via Lifehacker)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From the Levenger catalogue

These richly textured pieces of genuine lizard will endure years of use. Inside are pockets of genuine calfskin.

[From the description of the Lizard Card Wallet, in Levenger's "Mega Summer Sale" catalogue]
Just how many mad scientists are now working for Levenger anyway?

Monday, July 10, 2006

American reading habits

Sad statistics:

Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.

42% of U.S. college graduates never read another book.

58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.

70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
And on an ironic note:
81% of the U.S. population feels "they have a book inside them."
Link » Facts and figures about publishing
from, via

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Dark Room

A free new tool for anyone interested in distraction-free writing on a Windows computer: Dark Room, a Windows version of the free Mac program WriteRoom. Dark Room allows for distraction-free writing with minimal editing capabilities — cut, copy, paste, undo, redo. (WriteRoom has more options.)

What makes Dark Room different from a text-editor: the full-screen mode removes access to the desktop, so that there's nothing but a blank "page" — no titlebar, no taskbar, nothing to pull you away from writing. And full-screen mode keeps the "page" in the middle of the screen (very different from writing in a text-editor with a maximized window, with text running the width of the screen). DarkRoom's defaults are old school — green text with a black page and black background, but colors and margin settings (along with font style and size) can be changed to your liking. And you can toggle between fullscreen mode and a smaller, conventional window with F11.

I love the idea of a computer program emulating a typewriter (the Mac program Blockwriter, in development, goes further, removing cut and paste.) And I find it interesting that as Microsoft Office is on the verge of becoming even more visually complicated, people are creating alternatives for writing that function with extreme simplicity.

Related blog post
» My version of "Amish computing"

» Dark Room (requires .NET Framework 2.0)
» WriteRoom
» Blockwriter
» Microsoft Office 2007 (Wikipedia article with screenshots)

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Playing in Peoria

All your needs in one place: hair, sportswear, and martial-arts instruction.

[Photo taken in Peoria, Illinois, by Rachel Leddy]

Jumping out of Windows

A while ago I installed Ubuntu on an old laptop (thereby bringing an antique back to life). This past weekend, I wiped out Windows XP and installed Ubuntu on our family desktop computer. So with five computers in our family, the score is now Windows XP 3, Ubuntu 2. Our absolute reliance on Windows has come to an end.

The care and feeding of our family's computers has always fallen to me, and over the past six or seven years I've reinstalled Windows 98 and XP on various computers at least six or seven times. No matter how careful we are, problems, mysterious, impossible ones, appear. That's what happened this past weekend — bewildering freezes that could only be undone by disabling our wireless connection. Our arsenal of anti-malware, anti-spyware, and anti-virus programs could find nothing wrong; restoring the system with ERUNT was no help. The only way to resolve this problem was to reinstall Windows. That would have meant getting all of SP2 (an endless download), patching XP to allow a custom theme, reinstalling dozens of programs, tweaking all sorts of settings — in short, giving up a day or more to bring the computer back from the dead. And for what? I'd likely be doing it all again a year or so from now. So with my family's blessing, I went for Ubuntu.

Switching was simple. Wiping the hard drive and installing Ubuntu (from one CD) took about thirty minutes. (The installation includes Firefox, the GIMP,, and other programs.) As with the old laptop, establishing the wireless connection was a simple matter, and the system recognized and installed our printer in less than fifteen seconds. Updating Ubuntu and adding some programs from online "repositories" was quite straightforward and also took very little time.

Is everything perfect? No. The major problem thus far is that Suspend and Hibernate don't work, so all we can do is leave the computer running or shut it off. Ubuntu starts up and shuts down very quickly, so even this problem doesn't seem crucial. (It's widespread, so I hope that it will be solved with an update). I miss the backup service Mozy, though the Firefox extension Gmail Space gives us free online storage via a Gmail account (alas without automation). I'd like to have a program similar to AllChars, so that I can add em dashes in text files and type, say, /link and have the appropriate HTML for a link appear. (I would think that such a program must exist, but I haven't found it.) And there are various small issues that should get resolved as I learn more about Ubuntu. There is, yes, a learning curve, at least for the person who's maintaining the computer. I need to learn, for instance, about the advantages or disadvantages of partitioning our hard drive (I know how to partition; I just don't know whether it's appropriate to do so). The Ubuntu forums, easily searched, have already provided answers for many questions.

I suspect that as everyday computer users think carefully about the costs and complications of "upgrading" to Windows Vista and Office 2007 (both hideous, from the many screenshots I've seen), Ubuntu will become increasingly popular. I'd go so far as to predict a near-future in which many households are running at least one computer with a free operating system. It's relatively easy to jump out of Windows and land on your feet.

Link » Ubuntu

Water-slide, syllables added to pool

Our town pool has been renamed an "aquatic center." But that doesn't mean that we will be swimming with sharks. According to our local newspaper, the change of name is meant to show that there's more to the pool than a pool. There is also a water-slide.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Poem of the day

The Fourth

Valid hunches are rampant in this house,
like the one that just was — this past one,
every other word! — a rich explosive field
at whose center a romantic American
attempts to speak to a not-yet-romantic
(but soon-to-be) American, & no,
I would not like a piece of "funeral pie,"
we'll all be stiff soon enough, mind you,
"after postponing the obvious."
Little town, your shades are down,
you can tell, I know, no more.
[I wrote "The Fourth" on a late-20th-century Fourth of July.]