Tuesday, November 30, 2010

“Order updated”

To: Alec, Alma, Bethany, Collin, Dario, Doug, Gail, Gilda, Grover, Harvey, Jake, Jeremy, Krystal, Larry, Leo, Lily, Lizzy, Mandy, Meredith, Nick, Nicol, Norberto, Ophelia, Queen, Richard, Sherlyn, Sonny, Suanne, Tod

From: A grateful customer

Thank you, all of you, for updating my recent order. Was that order crazy, or what? I just couldn’t make up my mind: color, quantity, shipping preference, style: too much to think about! But you guys came through, seriously. Every time I decided to change my order, you were right there with another e-mail: “Order updated.“ Sometimes even before I let you know! You guys! You kept things running smoothly at all times, even when dealing with a total scatter-brain. (Me!)

I have only one question: when can I expect to receive my order?

Related posts
Achilles and stochastic
English professor spam
The folks who live in the mail
Great names in spam
Introducing Rickey Antipasto
The poetry of spam
Spam names
Spam names

Monday, November 29, 2010


In correspondence amongst ourselves (okay, e-mail), my family has come to rely upon the word fambly, drawn from the speech of the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Believe me, there’s nothing condescending or funny about our use of the word. Fambly reminds me of humbly. Fambly has no associations of ancestral glory. The word serves, at least in my imagination, as a reminder that a family is a small and fragile thing, making its way through life’s hazards.

Elaine and I were happy all the time to have our fambly together last week. What can one say about a daughter who knows how to use the word redux in a sentence and a son who can trade fours on “On the Sunny Side of the Street”? Simply that they’re wonderful people, in so many ways. As the Joads would say, I’m proud to know them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Van Dyke Parks and Clare
and the Reasons, on the radio again

Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons visit the World Café (NPR). The broadcast includes socko performances of “Ooh You Hurt Me So,” “He Needs Me,” “Heroes And Villains,” and “The All Golden.”

Related posts
Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons, on the radio
Van Dyke Parks in Brooklyn
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (1)
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (2)

Friday, November 26, 2010

A thought for Black Friday

There is something slap-happily incongrous here: a day of thanksgiving followed by a day devoted to buying more stuff. True, the stuff is for other people, who themselves might be out buying stuff for other people — people like (let us hope) us.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

“Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving”

This card is postmarked 1917 and addressed to Miss Lena Schroeder of Lincoln, Illinois:
Dear Cousin. How are you. I am all o.k. Grandpa is about the same yet. We are going to get done shucking corn today. Your cousin Fred M.
Reader, I hope that you and yours are all o.k. today. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to improve writing (no. 31)

President Obama, on the television earlier this morning, pardoning turkeys Apple and Cider: “As president of the United States, you are hereby pardoned.”

I love the guy. But that sentence begins with a dangling modifier. Corrected: “As president of the United States, I hereby pardon you.”

[This post is no. 31 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Domestic comedy

[In mock-protest, laughing.] “Stop ganging up on me!”

[In unison, sincerely.] “We’re not ganging up on you!”

Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eagle Verithin display case

[Click and click again for a larger view.]

A 1953 New Yorker “Talk of the Town” item recounts a visit to Abraham H. Berwald, director of marketing for the Eagle Pencil Company, in the course of which Berwald begins to slam colored leads “all over the place,” demonstrating their flexibility and resistance to breakage. He must have been very proud. The leads must have been Verithins.

None of that went through my mind when I bought this Eagle Verithin display case, the larger and more colorful sibling of an Eagle Turquoise case also housed in the Museum of Supplies. This Verithin case, like its sibling, sat in an office-supply store that slowly gave up the ghost. I wish this case had been better cared for: the scrapes on its rainbowed corners appear to have resulted from price-stickers (for pencils, not the case) being removed and replaced. I removed seven or eight price stickers from this case — two from those corners, two from the sliding glass front, and a three- or four-layer mess from the plastic top (I added not a mark to the damage). If you’re wondering where the glass went: I removed it to eliminate reflections and make the pencil display more visible.

I left one sticker in place, a beautifully designed one at the back, from the case’s manufacturer:

The Red Circle Display Case Co. remains a mystery. The lettering seems to say “1950s.” Some of the loose pencils in this case might go back that far; others are more recent production (Berol Prismacolors, from the company that superseded Eagle).

Dig the array of colors, identified on a printed strip inside the case. This strip features a spelling error (“Tetta Cotta”), a handwritten strikeout and revision (“True Green”), an enigma (“Green” v. “True Green”?), and a reminder that pencils, like crayons, may carry traces of a culture’s unexamined assumptions (“Flesh”):
734 White
734 ½ Light Grey
735 Canary Yellow
735½ Lemon Yellow
736 Yellow Ochre
736½ Orange Ochre
737 Orange
737½ Sea Green
738 Grass Green
738½ Light Green
739 Green
739½ Olive Green
740 Ultramarine
740½ Sky Blue
741 Indigo Blue
741½ Azure Blue
742 Violet
742½ Lavender
743 Pink
743½ Rose
744 Scarlet Red
745 Carmine Red
745½ Tetta Cotta [sic]
746 Sienna Brown
746½ Tuscan Red
747 Black
747½Dark Grey
748Red & Blue
751Emerald True Green
755Golden Brown
756Dark Brown
There’s little in the case that is of practical use, unless one is looking for a lifetime supply of yellow. I’m happy to see three orange pencils in this jumbled, holey spectrum.

[This post is the tenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real. Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. Photographs by Michael Leddy.]

Related posts
A visit to the Eagle Pencil Company (1953)
Eagle Turquoise display case
“This is the Anatomy of an Eagle”

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27
Fineline erasers
Illinois Central Railroad Pencil
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads
Stanley carpenter’s rule

Edward Tufte auction

Edward Tufte is selling nearly 200 rare books at auction. The proceeds will go into ET Modern (his museum and gallery) and into land for display of his landscape sculpture.

Beautiful Evidence: The Library of Edward Tufte (Christie’s eCatalogue)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, August 14, 2010.]

[Hi and Lois, November 20, 2010.]

Progress, sort of: a car seat at last, even if its occupant still rides inches from the rear windshield.

Related posts
All Hi and Lois posts
Baby’s in back
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

The New York accent

“A New York accent makes you sound ignorant”: so says a speech therapist quoted in Friday’s New York Times.

“Aah, shuddup,” says I.

A link at the Times takes you to a brief guide to New Yorkese from Almanac for New Yorkers: 1938, a 1937 publication of the Federal Writers’ Project. Better still, one can download the Almanac as a PDF. Thanks, Times.

Friday, November 19, 2010

David Foster Wallace in Newsweek

From Newsweek, a story about the David Foster Wallace archive, a sampling of materials (a childhood story with an strangely Infinite Jest-like family, annotations, notebooks, drafts), and some outtakes from Infinite Jest. Don’t miss footnote 81 (on panhandling) and Hal Incandenza’s essay on pennies. A sample:

My thesis is that pennies are most interesting, however, because their primary value is that they keep you from geting more pennies. You either get rid of your pennies or you’re forced to accumulate even more pennies for your jar. Woe betide the penniless at the point of purchase. Totals tend to be, eg., $16.01 or $1.17. “Darn it all,” says the customer, “I have no pennies.” The cashier grins, happy to get rid of some pennies.
[Caution: for someone who hasn’t read Infinite Jest, there are spoilers at Newsweek.]

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

My son the moral philosopher

In the aftermath of the Florida cheating scandal, my son Ben offers his thoughts in response to a suggestion that the way to deter cheating is to make it more difficult and thus impractical:

[W]ithout the threat of punishment or the charge that cheating is unethical, isn’t it far more practical for a student to give cheating a try, perhaps in combination with a bit of studying? After all, if students are caught — and many students are never caught — they would have the comfort of knowing that they’ll simply be required, like the students at UCF, to retake their test. And why not cheat on this second test as well?

If cheating is to be avoided only because it is impractical, it also seems we have no reason to say that an extremely adept cheater is doing anything wrong, since it is most practical for them to cheat. And when students graduate out the controlled classroom environment, there will be nothing to keep them from cheating their way through life when they know they will not be caught. . . .

[D]o students who only make an effort to learn when learning is less difficult than cheating really deserve to be at a university? If this is the best we can expect of students, what is that final diploma really worth?
Read more:

Students who cheat don’t deserve to be here (Daily Illini)

[You can see, I hope, that the post title is no joke.]

Johnny Cash’s to-do list

A Johnny Cash “To Do” List (Julien’s Auctions)

(via Austin Kleon via Draplin)

Posts with lists
Blue crayon (Supplies for an imaginary camping trip)
Review: Liza Kirwin, Lists (Artists’ lists)
Whose list? (A found list)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pens, pencils, and weapons-building

Pens and pencils are in the news in Worcester (“Woosta”), Massachusetts:

A letter banning the possession of anything but a school-issued No. 2 yellow pencil in sixth-grade classes at North Brookfield Elementary School “went over the line,” the school superintendent [Gordon L. Noseworthy] said yesterday [November 16]. The letter that was sent home indicated teachers were dealing with a discipline problem and believed the ban would address the issue.

Wendy Scott, one of two sixth-grade teachers, sent a letter home to the parents of all sixth-graders announcing that she and Susan LaFlamme were instituting a new rule barring students from carrying any writing implements on their person, in a backpack or on the school bus. . . .

The teachers’ memo explained that the change was being made because of behavior problems and indicated that any student found in possession of a pen or mechanical pencil after Nov. 15 would be “assumed” to have the implement “to build weapons,” or to have “stolen” it from the classroom art supply basket. . . .

Meanwhile, Police Chief Aram Thomasian Jr. yesterday said he was approached on Friday by parents of one student who had been suspended for having a pen that had been altered to fire a rolled up piece of paper.

“The student showed me how it worked. I’d be surprised if the spitball traveled 4 feet. And at that, I’m not even sure it had any spit on it,“ he said.

Pen is mightier than the teacher (Worcester Telegram & Gazette)
A related post
Broken pencil sharpener nets suspension

Recently updated

Five sentences about clothes (More Carhartts!)

“This is college. Everyone cheats.” (Details emerge; students blame the prof.)

David Foster Wallace’s senior year

In his senior year at Amherst College, David Foster Wallace wrote theses in English (creative writing) and philosophy. The one became the novel The Broom of the System (1987). The other will be published by Columbia University Press next month as Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will. From James Ryerson’s introduction:

Even just the manual labor required to produce two separate theses could be overwhelming, as suggested by an endearingly desperate request Wallace made at the end of his letter to [philosopher William E.] Kennick. “Since you’re on leave,” he wrote, “are you using your little office in Frost library? If not, does it have facilities for typing, namely an electrical outlet and a reasonably humane chair? If so, could I maybe use the office from time to time this spring? I have a truly horrifying amount of typing to do this spring — mostly for my English thesis, which has grown Blob-like and out of control — and my poor neighbors here in Moore [Hall] are already being kept up and bothered a lot.”

Despite the heavy workload, Wallace managed to produce a first draft of the philosophy thesis well ahead of schedule, before winter break of his senior year, and he finished both theses early, submitting them before spring break. He spent the last month or so of the school year reading other students’ philosophy theses and offering advice.
In a 2008 New York Times article, Ryerson presents the gist of Wallace’s philosophy thesis: Consider the Philosopher.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“I even use . . . chalk”

From the New York Times, in response to an article on the use of clickers in college classes:

I teach college writing at a huge state school, and the other professors all request the “technology classrooms” so they can have all the gadgets and diversions — the big screen, the audio, the clickers. This year, I experimented with having a technology-free classroom. Students write with pencil and paper, we sit in a circle and look at one another, we talk, and we have discussions using rules of civility. I even use . . . chalk. The writing and learning has been absolutely amazing. Not every college classroom will be technology experience, so don’t forget to warn students they might get a professor like me.
This professor is on to something. There’s nothing more exciting in teaching and learning than unmediated communication in the little village of the classroom.

An Eleanor Roosevelt photograph

In the New York Times this morning, a short meditation on a photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Why is she carrying her own suitcase?” I asked my wife, Mary. She gave me a look as if I should know and answered, “Because she’s Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


[“Ultramodern Piano Jazz taught by mail. Note or ear. Easy rapid lessons for adult beginners. Also Self-instruction system for advanced pianists. Learn 358 Bass Styles, 976 Jazz Breaks, hundreds of Trick Endings, Hot Rhythms, Sock, Stomp and Dirt Effects; Symphonic and Wicked Harmony in latest Radio and Record Style. Write for Free Booklet.” Popular Mechanics, June 1934.]

I like the idea of learning by ear by mail. I found this ad while collecting “Learn at home” ads to go with John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (in which Connie Rivers plans to study electricity or radios through a correspondence course).

Related posts
Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer
“Radios, it is”

Monday, November 15, 2010

A voice from a term-paper mill

A writer of “custom essays” tells all:

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

The Shadow Scholar (Chronicle of Higher Education)
One way to defend against it: occasional short in-class writing.

Related posts
Adventures in cheating
“Plagiarism free”

(Thanks, Carrie and Elaine.)

String bags FTW

The New York Times reports this morning that reusable grocery bags (the ones made from recycled plastic) may contain “potentially unsafe levels of lead”:

“Bummer! We’re still not doing the right thing,” said Shelley Kempner of Queens, who was looking over the produce at Fairway on Broadway at West 74th Street. She prefers a reusable bag, she said, because she “likes the idea of not putting more plastic into the environment.”

Told of the recent lead findings, Ms. Kempner sighed — “It’s still not good enough” — and wondered if she would have to switch to something else. “Are we going to have to start using string?” she asked.
String bags are terrific. They’re inexpensive, durable, and fit easily into a pocket or bag. And because they stretch, they hold a lot. How much is a “lot”? A lot! Elaine and I bought our bags from a natural-foods store. As you might expect, Amazon has them too.

A mystery challenge

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Can you identify the object in the photograph above? The object is made of plastic, 2 15/16" long, 1 5/16" wide at its base. The black-and-white is meant to suggest “the past.” But not the distant past. (Yes, that depends upon how one defines distant.)

Reader, I invite you to play twenty questions or shout out the answer in the comments. I have no idea how recognizable this object is, and I’m curious to see what happens.

7:34 a.m.: The mystery is no more. Emerick Rogul identified the mystery object as a floppy-disk notcher, used to turn single-sided  5 1/4" floppy disks into double-sided disks by punching a notch into the side of the disk’s plastic housing. Congratulations, Emerick!

A Google Books search for suncom notcher turns up the following item:
[InfoWorld, January 20, 1986.]
And suddenly I’m back typing on my Apple //c.

Domestic comedy

While watching five minutes of Jeopardy:

“Who would name their kid Jove?”


Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts
Jove Graham Wins on Jeopardy! (Swarthmore News)

Friday, November 12, 2010

The lobster, considered

Boing Boing considers the lobster, or the most humane way to kill one:

According to Jennifer Basil, associate professor of Biology at City University of New York, Brooklyn College, it’s boiling. That’s because lobsters, like most invertebrates, don’t have the same kind of brain we do. Instead of having one, big central mass of neurons — i.e., the brain — lobsters spread their thinking around their bodies in several smaller masses, called ganglia.

“Every segment has its own little brain doing its own thing,” says Basil. Which is why, she says, it’s better to boil the lobster and kill all those mini-brains at once. “Cutting it up just creates two uncomfortable lobsters.”
But consider David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster”, which begins its examination of these matters (in the pages of Gourmet) by quoting a statement of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council: “‘The nervous system of a lobster is very simple, and is in fact most similar to the nervous system of the grasshopper. It is decentralized with no brain. There is no cerebral cortex, which in humans is the area of the brain that gives the experience of pain.’” Says Wallace,
Though it sounds more sophisticated, a lot of the neurology in this latter claim is still either false or fuzzy. The human cerebral cortex is the brain-part that deals with higher faculties like reason, metaphysical self-awareness, language, etc. Pain reception is known to be part of a much older and more primitive system of nociceptors and prostaglandins that are managed by the brain stem and thalamus.[12] On the other hand, it is true that the cerebral cortex is involved in what’s variously called suffering, distress, or the emotional experience of pain — i.e., experiencing painful stimuli as unpleasant, very unpleasant, unbearable, and so on.
Endnote [12] adds:
To elaborate by way of example: The common experience of accidentally touching a hot stove and yanking your hand back before you’re even aware that anything’s going on is explained by the fact that many of the processes by which we detect and avoid painful stimuli do not involve the cortex. In the case of the hand and stove, the brain is bypassed altogether; all the important neurochemical action takes place in the spine.
I’m in no position to decide who’s right here. I only invite you to consider what Jennifer Basil has to say, what David Foster Wallace has to say, and what the lobster might have to say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

“This is college. Everyone cheats.”

A leader of tomorrow:

“This is college. Everyone cheats. Everyone cheats in life in general. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this testing lab who hasn’t cheated on an exam. They’re making a witch hunt out of absolutely nothing, as if it were to teach us some kind of moral lesson.”
That’s Konstantin Ravvin, a student at the University of Central Florida, commenting on a cheating scandal in professor Richard Quinn’s senior-level business-management course. Yes, the students involved — perhaps 200 of 600 — are seniors.

Konstantin Ravvin may be right about as if. The Orlando Sentinel reports that “Quinn brokered a deal with the business dean that would allow students to clear their records if they owned up to cheating before the rewritten exam started being administered this morning.” You read right: everyone gets to take the midterm again. That’ll teach ’em.

How might students get hold of an exam and its answer key? By breaking and entering? Sort of. If a comment at Inside Higher Ed is to be believed, students found the midterm and answer key online. Margaret Soltan draws the reasonable inference that the midterm was a canned exam, something supplied by a textbook publisher.

The University of Central Florida recently made the news for its efforts to stop cheating, which include surveillance cameras in “testing centers” and a ban on gum-chewing during exams.

[To readers visiting from this page:

From my perspective, one kind of cheating (if giving a pre-fab exam is cheating) doesn’t legitimize another. Two wrongs (if giving a pre-fab exam is wrong) don’t make a right. I’ve removed the final parenthetical sentence from the next-to-last paragraph — “(Everyone cheats!)” — so as to remove any confusion about whether I think cheating is ever acceptable. It is not, though cheating, like irony, abounds. I do think that Mr. Ravvin’s skepticism about moral lessons is reasonable: allowing a do-over here, because so many students cheated, seems to me to teach a very odd lesson about strength in numbers.]

Update, November 18, 2010: Details emerge in Inside Higher Ed:
What is clear is that some students gained access to a bank of tests that was maintained by the publisher of the textbook that Quinn used. They distributed the test to hundreds of their fellow students, some of whom say they thought they were receiving a study guide like any other — not a copy of the actual test. . . .

[M]any have noted that the students’ initial intent was less troubling than their conduct once they realized they had an advance copy of the test. No one raised his or her hand during the test to acknowledge having had a copy of it, and the incident came to light only after Quinn statically analyzed the scores and saw that they ran a grade-and-a-half higher than in the past.
It turns out that Professor Quinn is on tape stating at the start of the semester that he creates the midterm and final examinations for the class. Thus the defense offered above — which seems a pretty feeble one.

In my experience, academic misconduct has a simple explanation: the student doesn’t expect to be caught, an expectation stemming from cluelessness, hubris, or both.

Related reading and viewing
“This is college. Everyone cheats.” (The Cap Times)
UCF Students Busted for Cheating (ABC News)

[Thanks to Stefan Hagemann for pointing me to this story.]

November 11, 1920

[New York Times, November 12, 1920.]

It was the second anniversary of Armistice Day.

The OED covers snake dance: “A dance performed by a group of people linked together in a long line and moving about in a zig-zag fashion, as at parties, celebrations, etc. orig. and chiefly U.S.

As for bunkie:

[O.O. Ellis and E.B. Garey, The Plattsburgh Manual: A Handbook for Military Training (New York: Century, 1917.]

A related post
November 11, 1919

A Marilyn Monroe recipe

“No garlic”: thus begins Marilyn Monroe’s recipe for stuffing, now appearing in the New York Times.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Real fake news

The New York Times covers The Onion’s Joe Biden articles.

How to improve writing (no. 30)

From a New York Times obituary for percussionist Howard Van Hyning:

Mr. Van Hyning was also a collector who amassed a trove of vintage percussion instruments that he rented to orchestras worldwide. Comprising more than 1,000 items, his collection includes a snare drum built by Billy Gladstone, a highly regarded Radio City Music Hall drummer of the 1930s and ’40s. Its crown jewel is the set of “Turandot” gongs.
Note the slight bump in the road at the start of the final sentence: its of course refers to Howard Van Hyning’s collection, not Billy Gladstone’s snare. Any reader of these sentences can figure its out, but the greater the distance between a pronoun and its antecedent, the greater the chance for confusion. Consider this possibility:
Comprising more than 1,000 items, his collection includes a snare drum built by Billy Gladstone, a highly regarded Radio City Music Hall drummer of the 1930s and ’40s. Its value is estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.
Now it’s no longer obvious that its refers to the collection. So one might rewrite:
The collection’s value is estimated at a quarter of a million dollars.
In the original passage, replacing its solves the problem:
Comprising more than 1,000 items, his collection includes a snare drum built by Billy Gladstone, a highly regarded Radio City Music Hall drummer of the 1930s and ’40s. The collection’s crown jewel is the set of “Turandot” gongs.
Howard Van Hyning’s obituary describes a man who led a good life, doing something he loved and sharing his instrumental finds with others.

[This post is no. 30 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pluto redux?

As Boing Boing noted this morning, Pluto is back in the news. What better time to listen to Clare and the Reasons’ tributes to the finest of dwarf planets? In English and French:

Clare and the Reasons, “Pluto,” “Pluton” (YouTube)

“Chin up, Pluto.”

Related posts
Pluto Day
Venetia Phair (1918–2009)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another word for today: ineluctable

It’s Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day:

ineluctable \in-ih-LUK-tuh-bul\ adjective
: not to be avoided, changed, or resisted : inevitable


Like drama, wrestling was popular in ancient Greece and Rome. “Wrestler,” in Latin, is “luctator,” and “to wrestle” is “luctari.” “Luctari” also has extended senses — “to struggle,” “to strive,” or “to contend.” “Eluctari” joined “e-” (“ex-”) with “luctari,” forming a verb meaning “to struggle clear of.” “Ineluctabilis” brought in the negative prefix “in-” to form an adjective describing something that cannot be escaped or avoided. English speakers borrowed the word as “ineluctable” around 1623. Another word that has its roots in “luctari” is “reluctant.” “Reluctari” means “to struggle against” — and someone who is “reluctant” resists or holds back.
Ineluctable is a word I know from and always associate with James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The word begins the “Proteus” episode, as Stephen Dedalus wrestles with the nature of reality:
Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs.
[“Signatures of all things I am here to read”: from Jakob Böhme (1575–1624), mystic and theologian.]

Related posts
Word of the day: artificer (Another word from Joyce)
Bandbox (Other words, other works of lit)


[Say what?]

Poking around in the Lists options in TextEdit, the text-editor / word-processor that comes with every Mac, I was baffled by this drop-down box. What might it mean to “Prepend enclosing list marker”?

Prepend, I immediately discovered, is unmentioned in TextEdit’s Help file, which has little to say about lists at all. The word appears in neither the Mac’s New Oxford American Dictionary nor Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate. In Webster’s Third New International, the word means “consider, premeditate.” It’s the Oxford English Dictionary for the win, supplementing the word’s older meanings — “To weigh up mentally, ponder, consider; to premeditate” — with a more recent one: “trans. To add at the beginning, to prefix, prepose; esp. to add or append (a character, string, file, etc.) at the front of an existing string, file, etc.”

Further digging: Apple’ documentation says that
NSTextListPrependEnclosingMarker “Specifies that a nested list should include the marker for its enclosing superlist before its own marker.” One software developer notes, dryly, “We are confident that someone will find this useful.”

Well, I have: I’ve made a post about it. But I’ve made various lists, with and without the box checked, and I still cannot figure out what an enclosing list marker is and what difference prepending one might make. I wonder if any TextEdit user does.

Update, 10:39 a.m.: Someone does! An explanation may be found in the comments. Thanks, Arne.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Movie recommendation: Catfish

I recommend Catfish. I also recommend reading no reviews, watching no trailers, asking no questions of anyone who’s seen it. Go see Catfish!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sparky Anderson on language

Steve Rushin remembers baseball manager Sparky Anderson:

“I truly don’t know the language,” Sparky once told me. “I wish I could know the difference between a noun and a pronoun and an adverb and a verb, but I don’t know, and you know, I don’t wanna know. Why do you have to know English? It's like ‘two.’ There‘s three ‘twos’! There’s tee-oh, there’s tee-double-ya-oh, and there’s tee-double-oh! Three twos! Now, if I put any one of those down in a letter, you know which one it is I’m talkin’ about. It’s like ‘there’ and ‘their.’ What’s the difference, as long as you know there’s a there there."

Former Tigers, Reds manager Sparky Anderson had own language (Sports Illustrated)
Sometimes, alas, there is no there there.

On One Morning in Maine

Elaine Fine has written a beautiful post on the crucial book of her childhood, Robert McCloskey’s One Morning in Maine: Surrogacy and Wishes.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fake ironing

If you prefer, as I do, cotton shirts, the kind whose collars end up wizened after a spell in the dryer, you might be interested in fake ironing. Here’s how to fake-iron a shirt collar:

1. Roll collar into a tight ball, looking something like a cinnamon roll.

2. Wrap collar as tightly as possible with a rubber band.

3. Shower, shave, brush teeth, get partly dressed.

4. Remove rubber band from collar. Don shirt.
It works! I wasn’t plan to write this post this morning, but I wasn’t planning to invent fake ironing either. As you can see, I did, both.

Update, 5:58 p.m.: In response to a request for visual clarification, here’s a photograph. Note the cinnamon-roll effect. More clarification: start by grasping the collar at the back. Bring the two ends together. Roll from the back to the ends, keeping the fabric as smooth and as tightly wrapped as possible.

A related post
Minor kitchen wisdom (Household hints)

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Principal Andrew Buck explained in a horribly written memo why books are not necessary at his school, Brooklyn’s Middle School for Art and Philosophy. A sample:

Personal experience aside, which surfaces a concern about the potential adverse affects of textbooks to students learning, let’s return to the essential question of learning and how it is best achieved.
Yes, let’s.

Writing-challenged principal Andrew Buck stands behind his idiotic letter (New York Daily News)

November 5, 2010: For some reason (a stray touchpad or mouse move), comments were off for this post. Now they’re on.

[Post title with apologies to this Daily News headline.]

Mitch McConnell’s to-do list

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

By now this statement has been widely quoted. But I haven’t seen anyone ask: is there any precedent in modern American political life for this sort of declaration? Has anyone in a comparable position ever said such a thing about a sitting president?

Stephen Sondheim’s writing habits

Pencil and paper, but not just any pencil or paper:

For those who like me are curious about a writer’s habits: the pencils I write with are Blackwings, a brand formerly made by Eberhard Faber but alas, no longer. Their motto, printed proudly on the shaft, is “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed,” and they live up to that promise. They utilize very soft lead, which makes them not only easy to write with (although extremely smudgy) but also encourages the user to waste time repeatedly sharpening them, since they wear out in minutes. They also have removable erasers which, when dried out, can be reversed to resume their softness and which are flat, preventing the pencil from rolling off a table. The pad I write on is a yellow legal pad with thirty-two lines, allowing alternate words to be written above one another without either crowding or wasting the space. These pads are hard to find, as most legal pads come with fewer or more lined spaces. Having been warned by Burt Shevelove, a stationery aficionado, that stationery supplies are frequently discontinued, I had the good sense to stock up on them as well as the Blackwings before they disappeared, and now have a lifetime supply.

Some people write sitting at a desk, some standing at one; I write lying down on a couch (except when I’m at the piano), for the obvious reason that it allows me to fall asleep whenever I encounter difficulties, which is often.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes (New York: Knopf, 2010).
[“They utilize very soft lead”: utilize? Well, as Elaine observes, he’s not writing lyrics.]

Related posts
Stephen Sondheim on pencils, paper
All Blackwing posts

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hitting the sauce

As a half-Italian kid, I regarded sauce as a mystery. (It was always “sauce,” never “gravy.”) My grandma made sauce in her kitchen. We took large amounts home with us in Tupperware. End of story.

Now, with a little help from my wife Elaine, I’ve started making sauce. It is ridiculously easy to do. Sauce from a jar? Not in my kitchen, as a commercial once said. Here’s my recipe:

1 28 oz. can Cento Tomato Puree
olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. sea salt¹
20 turns of a McCormick Black Peppercorn grinder (between 1/8 and 1/4 tsp.)
20 turns of a McCormick Italian Seasoning grinder (between 1/8 and 1/4 tsp.)²
1 tbsp. sugar
3 oz. red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, says I)

Brown onions in oil. Add garlic. Add basil, oregano, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sugar, and stir. Add wine and stir.³ Add the tomato puree and stir. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for one hour, or two, or more.

Thank you, Elaine, for encouraging me in this adventure in cooking (and for everything else). Yes, today would be a good day to hit the sauce.

[January 2023: I’ve made minor revisions, doubling the salt and adding optional hours to the cooking time.]

¹ This recipe has a fraction of the salt found in jarred sauces. You won’t miss the extra salt. Promise.

² If you choose a different brand of Italian seasoning, make it one without basil and oregano. The McCormick grinder is mostly rosemary, black pepper, and red pepper.

³ It’s Elaine who suggests adding the wine after adding the spices, for maximum distribution of flavor.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rosanne Cash, John Boehner

Roseanne Cash to John Boehner: “Stop using my dad’s name as a punchline, you asshat.”

Recently updated

Five sentences about clothes (Carhartt!)

Semi-mysterious J.D. Salinger Boxed Set (Nothing new after all)

David Foster Wallace on voting

David Foster Wallace:

In reality, there is no such thing as not voting; you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

“Up, Simba: Seven Days on the Trail of an Anticandidate,” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2007).
[In context, these sentences concern young adults and primary elections. I am taking these sentences out of context to suggest the urgency of voting in any and all elections.]

Monday, November 1, 2010

“I Can’t Find My Phone”

More fun that using a landline (assuming you have one): I Can’t Find My Phone.

(Found via Coudal)


Elaine and I detoured to a country road so that we could stop safely and take a picture. Hooray for our 1996 Toyota Corolla.

A related post