Monday, January 31, 2011

Domestic comedy

[The school-closings crawl crawls along the bottom of the television screen.]

… canceled … canceled …

“Isn’t that spelled with two ls?”

“It can be either way.”

[And then, as if the television were listening.]

… canceled … cancelled …

Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts

Gmail display ads

The New York Times reports that Gmail is now showing display ads alongside messages:

Display ads are a growing business for Google as it expands beyond the simple text ads that appear next to search results and on other Web sites.

The ads contain images and sometimes audio and video and often publicize a brand, like an airline, as opposed to suggesting a specific action, like booking a flight on the spot.
As of this morning, there’s no mention of this development on the Gmail blog.

[In Firefox, the answer is Adblock Plus.]

Henry’s repeated gesture

[Henry, January 13, 14, and 15, 2011.]

I like Don Trachte’s Henry (now in reruns) for its clarity of line, reminiscent of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. I am unclear though about the gesture in the panels above. It’s one that Henry performs frequently. It means something like “Well, that’s that.” But what to call it? It’s not washing one’s hands of the matter, which would mean abandoning responsibility. I’d call it dusting off one’s hands. But to say “I dusted off my hands” would hardly suggest the gesture’s meaning. Is there, reader, a better name for this gesture? I would ask Henry, but he’s not talking.

Used wisely (i.e., sparingly, perhaps once a day), this little gesture makes an amusing, dowdy addition to everyday life. It is cheaper and quieter than a Staples Easy Button and uses no batteries.

A related post
Betty Boop with Henry (Henry speaks!)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ernest Borgnine’s
Lifetime Achievement Award

“But am I worth it? Really. It comes down to that. What have I done, really? But, hey! I’m not going to turn it down”: Ernest Borgnine receives the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award tomorrow.

Ernest Borgnine to have night of a lifetime (Chicago Sun-Times)
Ernest Borgnine, Still Building A Life’s Work At 94 (NPR)

[Thanks, Rachel!]

A related post
Happy birthday, Mr. Piletti (Marty after Marty)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Illinois Supreme Court typo

My son Ben found a great typo in the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that just put Rahm Emanuel back on the ballot in Chicago. Read closely, and you’ll find it too:

[Thanks, Ben!]

More typos
Brodaway : Mange : Premisis : Shink

Thursday, January 27, 2011


[Life, October 11, 1943.]

“Few other foods furnish such perfect balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat!” I went looking for something in Life, and all I got was this infographic from the Donut Corp. of America.

A related post
Close reading Taco Bell

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Steinbeck pencils

Together for the first time on stage: the Blaisdell Calculator, the Eberhard Faber Blackwing, and the Eberhard Faber Mongol, John Steinbeck’s favorite pencils.

Related posts
John Steinbeck on the Blackwing pencil
Mongol No. 2 3/8

Close reading Taco Bell

Here is the Statement Regarding Class Action Lawsuit, from Greg Creed, President and Chief Concept Officer of Taco Bell:

At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods. We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. Then we simmer it in our proprietary blend of seasonings and spices to give our seasoned beef its signature Taco Bell taste and texture. We are proud of the quality of our beef and identify all the seasoning and spice ingredients on our website. Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later — and got their “facts” absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food.
And here is the ingredient statement for Seasoned Ground Beef, as published on Taco Bell’s website:
Beef, Water, Seasoning [Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil (Anti-dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphates. CONTAINS SOYBEAN, WHEAT
Two things strike me: the verb to start (“We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef”) and the identification of oats and soy as seasoning.

Further reading
A beef over “beef” content of Taco Bell tacos fuels this class-action suit (Los Angeles Times)

[This post contains no false statements about Taco Bell’s food.]

Nabokov hypothesis confirmed

The New York Times reports that gene-sequencing technology has confirmed Vladimir Nabokov’s 1945 hypothesis concerning the evolution of a butterfly group known as Polyommatus blues.

[Vladimir Nabokov in Ithaca, New York, 1958. Photograph by Carl Mydans, from the Life Photo Archive.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Obama on education

From Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
Here’s the text of the address.

[“Yes, we can”: three words. “We do big things”: four.]

Budgetary surrealism

Robert Greenstein, Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on the PBS NewsHour last night:

“There’s something surreal about our having just extended a tax cut that provides an average tax cut of $125,000 a year to each person who makes over a million a year. Somehow we could afford massive tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, but we have to slash K–12 education, air-traffic control, clean air and water, cancer research?”
PBS NewsHour (January 24, 2011)

A.W. Faber catalogue

Look at what Lexikaliker found online: from 1884, A.W. Faber’s Catalogue of Pencils, Erasers &c.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar

When she went off to study at Vassar College, Elizabeth Bishop brought along a jar of Roquefort cheese:

Bishop brought the cheese to college because she claimed that the best way to develop poems was to record her dreams, and eating cheese before bed made her dreams more vivid and interesting. According to her freshman year English professor at Vassar, Barbara Swan, Bishop was “evidently doomed to be a poet.”
Elizabeth Bishop ’34 starts literary career at Vassar (The Miscellany News)

And here’s a poem: “One Art.”

Maurice Mannion-Vanover (1990–2011)

The New York Times has a story on “the remarkably long and way-too-short life” of Maurice Mannion-Vanover.

“Margaret Disowns Her Family”

My fambly dipped into the third season of Father Knows Best over the winter break, and we found ourselves once again caught up in genuinely moving — and sometimes bizarre — storylines. Genuinely moving: “Class Prophecy” (May 8, 1957), for instance, in which Jim’s college-roommate Henry Pruett (played by the terrific actor Harry Townes) unwittingly knocks on the Andersons’ door while selling kitchen gadgets. When Margaret answers and recognizes him, he casts aside his sample case and begins a painful (not funny) effort to pass as the doctor everyone had expected him to become. The bizarre: “Shoot for the Moon” (June 5, 1957), in which an itinerant laborer, Sageman (played by Royal Dano), conducts a fire ceremony that cures Kathy’s warts and restores the Andersons’ confidence in themselves. Not your father’s Father Knows Best.

The episode we liked best though attracted us by its title: “Margaret Disowns Her Family” (May 22, 1957). Like “Class Prophecy” and “Shoot for the Moon,” it was written by Roswell Rogers and directed by Peter Tewksbury. The story begins with Margaret composing a classified ad to sell an old crib. Jim gently mocks her wordy effort as the house falls into mild chaos, Bud having tossed his jacket on the floor, Kathy having left toys everywhere. (Betty is missing from this episode, off studying at a friend’s house.) Margaret is steaming. “Are you gonna disown us?” Kathy asks her mother. “Yes. Definitely, emphatically, yes,” Margaret replies. “There are moments,” she says, her voice trailing off toward despair.

In a Springfield apartment, Walt and Esther Garvin (James Ogg and Christine White) read Margaret’s ad. Esther is a worrier. She worried when her mother told her she was too young to marry, and she worried when she and Walt moved away to Springfield. And she’s worrying now, about the baby on the way. When the Garvins show up at the Anderson house, Kathy opens the door and invites them in. They hear Margaret railing at Bud and Kathy from another room. Kathy explains that her mother is in a mood and has threatened to disown the kids. Margaret enters, and the Garvins put some crumpled bills together to make ten dollars. They'll pick up the crib that night. Margaret notices how fearful and worried Mrs. Garvin seems to be (it’s Mrs. Garvin of course, not Esther), and how scarce money seems to be for this young couple.

Later that day: it’s not even 9:00, and Margaret orders Bud and Kathy off to bed. Jim is just getting home from work: he’s hours late and never called. His dinner is ruined. The Garvins haven’t come back for the crib, and Margaret knows that something must be wrong. It turns out that Walt too is working late, and he too hasn’t phoned home. Esther thinks he must be out with his pals. She calls her mother and makes arrangements for her father to meet her at the bus station. “I never should have gotten married,” she says. But before leaving town, she stops at the Andersons’ house, to let Margaret know that she won’t be taking the crib. And she needs the ten dollars for her busfare. But everything is all right, she tells Margaret. Then she confesses: no, everything is not.

Esther begins to unload her troubles in the Anderson foyer, saying that she knows Margaret will understand how she feels. And if things are bad for Margaret, who obviously has “a nice home and a good husband,” what will they be like for Esther? Margaret then explains how she really feels:

“Oh, my dear child — let’s go in and sit down for a moment. You have such a wrong idea about this. I don’t know what you heard me say to my children, but — oh, these are just the eternal little gripes of every mother. Now there are times when you almost feel like disowning them. But we might as well face it: raising a family is no simple bed of roses. It takes a lot of hard work. But tell me this, Mrs. Garvin: can you name me one thing, one worthwhile thing that doesn’t take a lot of hard work? And believe me, I know of nothing more worthwhile than a family. Oh, you can get irritated picking up your boy’s jacket a thousand times, but what if you didn’t have that boy to pick up a jacket for? You can get a little mad at your husband for barricading himself behind his newspaper at the breakfast table, but you just try eating breakfast without him there.

“These little irritations are all forgotten during those wonderful moments when you see your children begin to develop into — well, into people. The kind of people that you want them to be. Their triumphs at school, their awkward gestures of affection, their demonstrations of moral courage and fairness and good will. The warm feeling that fills your heart at those times you — you couldn’t buy for a billion dollars. You’ll have good times and bad times, but you’ll need them both. It’s from the bad times that you learn. And you’ll find that your family has good points and bad points. And you’ll love them for both. In fact, I think it’s people’s shortcomings, not their strengths, that bind them together.

“So the thing to do, Mrs. Garvin, is to muster up all your faith and your energy, your courage, whatever you have, and plunge headlong into the demanding, difficult but the most fulfilling and wonderful job in the world. Will you do that?”
The Anderson doorbell rings, and guess who’s there? Mr. Garvin wants to surprise his wife by getting the crib tonight. Margaret immediately sends Kathy to bed, directs Bud to clean up the mess from his snack, and orders Jim, now in his robe and slippers, to carry the crib to the Garvins’ car. Margaret turns to the camera and smiles: “This is one the bad days,” she says. In 2011, I want to hear Margaret’s words as a commentary not on motherhood but on parenthood. It’s the part about seeing your children develop “into — well, into people” that gets me. You too?

Other Father Knows Best posts
“Betty’s Graduation”
Card-file steals scene in TV debut
Father Knows Best Christmas episode
“A Woman in the House”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

National Handwriting Day

It’s National Handwriting Day.

[With apologies to Danny & The Juniors.]

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Six degrees of Richard Nixon

Can you work out your six (or fewer) degrees of separation from Richard Nixon? Yes, that Richard Nixon. Comments from Normann on my post about syllabus week have moved me to pose this question.

My Nixon number is two. I have met bassist Milt Hinton and trumpeter Clark Terry, both of whom played at Duke Ellington’s seventieth-birthday party in the Nixon White House (1969). I have another link that is both more and less solid: as a student, I spent a summer proofreading at Rogers & Wells (cap rogers amp cap wells, in proofspeak). Rogers was William P. Rogers, Nixon’s first Secretary of State. I never met Rogers, though, and I’m not sure that he was ever in the building.

But again, can you work out your six (or fewer) degrees of separation from Richard Nixon? You’re welcome to show how in the comments.

Related reading at Wikipedia
Six degrees of separation
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
Erdős number

[Richard Nixon, in his first presidential debate with John F. Kennedy, September 26, 1960. Photograph (here cropped) by Paul Schutzer. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Typography PDFs from FontShop

“Time for ‘the talk’”:

You may notice that you’re changing. You’re noticing different letterforms. You may feel different around them. Don’t be embarrassed; these feelings are natural. A few basics can help you through the awkward years.
That’s an excerpt from FontShop’s Meet Your Type: A Field Guide to Love and Typography. It’s a free PDF, one of nine you can find via the link.

I like the way typographers (or at least some typographers) are able to explain, patiently and without condescension, things that are ridiculously obvious to them. From another FontShop PDF, Erik Spiekermann’s Typo Tips: Seven Rules for Better Typography:
Quotes can have different shapes. They generally look like “this”, and can be remembered as beginning and ending quotes by thinking of “66” and “99”. Beginning quotes are found on the Mac by pressing option-[; closing quotes, option-shift-[. The apostrophe is simply a raised comma, the shape of a ’9 in most typefaces. It is identical to the closing single quote, while the open single quote looks like a ‘6. Beginning single quotes are found on the Mac by pressing option-]; the apostrophe and closing single quote, option-shift-].
See how nice? May all teachers be that patient.

A related post
Helvetica (Erik Spiekermann: “I’m obviously a typomaniac.”)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Boycott a Meeting Day

“Every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.” From 37signals: Boycott a Meeting Day. I especially like the vandalized stock photos.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Syllabus week

Have you heard? It’s “syllabus week.” Or was, last week. Urban Dictionary helps: “the first week of class, when syllabi are passed out . . . a basic waste of time.”

As you might guess from the definition, the term is one that college students (not faculty) use. I’m newly aware of it, I admit. Syllabus week seems to be an idea born of both wishful thinking (“No work!”) and diminished expectations (“No work!”). “Going over the syllabus,” as we say in pedagogy-speak, which means highlighting important matters and reading a few bits aloud, might take twenty minutes or so. It might even take a class meeting. But it doesn’t take a week.

A widespread belief that the first week of a college semester is “a basic waste of time” could have three unfortunate consequences. Younger, less confident faculty who believe that students expect (and are thus entitled to) a week of nothing might delay in getting down to the work of the course: they won’t want to alienate their charges early on. Faculty who plunge right in might begin to look like outliers. And students who aren’t yet showing up because they believe the first week to be a waste of time won’t be able to tell the difference.

A much smarter strategy for starting out: treat the first weeks of a semester as if they were the last ones. Work as if your grade depended upon it. (It does.)

A related post
New year’s resolutions (And academic life)

Monday, January 17, 2011

“I have a dream”

From the PBS NewsHour: fourth-graders from Washington, D.C.’s Watkins Elementary School read Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech.


[Photograph by Grey Villet, from the Life Photo Archive. The telegraphic description that accompanies the photograph: “Martin Luther King Trial Montgomery Alabama Integration.” On February 21, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. was one of ninety-three people indicted on charges of leading an illegal boycott of Montgomery buses. On March 19, his trial began.]
The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

From “The Power of Nonviolence,” an address at the University of California at Berkeley, June 4, 1957.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hooker ’n Heat

John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat, Hooker ’n Heat. Liberty Records, 1971.

John Lee Hooker, guitar and vocal
Alan Wilson, guitar, harmonica, piano
Henry Vestine, guitar
Antonio de la Barreda, bass
Fito de la Parra, drums

Messin’ with the Hook : The Feelin’ Is Gone : Send Me Your Pillow : Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ : Meet Me in the Bottom : Alimonia Blues : Driftin’ Blues : You Talk Too Much : Burnin’ Hell (w/Bernard Besman) : Bottle Up and Go : The World Today : I Got My Eyes on You : Whiskey and Wimmen’ : Just You and Me : Let's Make It : Peavine : Boogie Chillen No. 2

Recorded May 1970. All songs by John Lee Hooker except as noted.

Hooker ’n Heat came out on January 15, 1971, forty years ago today. Still in print, it holds up as well as ever. To my ears, it’s the best record John Lee Hooker made. It might be Canned Heat’s best too, despite the performing absence of lead singer Bob Hite, heard here only in bits of studio chatter and one hearty cheer.

Anyone who thinks of blues music as formally rigid — three chords, twelve bars — has never listened to John Lee Hooker, whose music is typically monochordal and most often without evenly measured choruses. Hooker’s approach, known as “the boogie,” is sometimes characterized as “primitive” (or worse, “primal”), but its fluid sense of time makes much blues performance sound pedestrian and predictable by comparison. Listen to any number of Hooker recordings from the 1950s and ’60s, and you’ll hear a musician at odds with his supporting cast, players who cannot bear to abandon the proper three-chord, twelve-bar form. At times it’s as if two records are playing.

What makes Hooker ’n Heat immediately stand out from so much of Hooker’s work is that Canned Heat follows the leader, with genuine empathy. As good as the solo performances here are (I’d pick “The Feelin’ Is Gone” and “Send Me Your Pillow”), the high points of Hooker ’n Heat come in Hooker’s duets with Alan Wilson and in performances with the full (or nearly full) band. The greatest of the Hooker-Wilson duets is “Burnin’ Hell,” which begins with a variation on a couplet from Son House’s “My Black Mama” (1930). Here’s House:

Yes, ’tain’t no heaven and ’tain’t no burnin’ hell,
Said where I’m goin’ when I die can’t nobody tell.
And Hooker:
Everybody talkin’ about it, burnin’ hell,
Ain’t no heaven, ain’t no burnin’ hell,
Where I die, where I go, can’t nobody tell.
“Burnin’ Hell” builds in intensity, as the singer goes down to the church-house to ask Deacon Jones to pray for him. The singer prays all night, and his insistence that there is no hell begins to sound like a desperate plea not to be sent there: “Ain’t gonna burn in, ain’t gonna burn in, burnin’ hell.” The Hooker-Wilson connection here is uncanny: Wilson, on harmonica, anticipating and responding at every turn, shaping this performance into a piece of existential drama. “I dig this kid’s harmonica,” Hooker says before this tune begins. “I don’t know how he follow me, but he do.” “Burnin’ Hell” has an intensity rare in Hooker’s music, rare in Wilson’s music, rare in anyone’s music.

With the band on board, Hooker hits what he calls “that groovy spot,” with great support from Henry Vestine, Antonio de la Barreda, and Fito de la Parra (who, like Wilson, are attentive to every shifting current). There are many great moments: Hooker’s sermonette in “Whiskey and Wimmen’,” his drop to his lowest (and lewdest) vocal register in “Just You and Me,” the way Wilson’s harmonica mimics Hooker’s guitar and voice in “Let’s Make It,” Hooker’s frenzied lament in “Peavine,” where he repeats the word gone fifteen times.

The best comes last, “Boogie Chillen No. 2,” eleven minutes and thirty-three seconds of it, with strong guitar solos by Henry Vestine and a brilliant harmonica solo by Wilson (with a switch of instruments midway to get to some low notes otherwise unavailable). Here too the Hooker-Wilson connection is clear: during Vestine’s first solo, Hooker says, “You hear that cat? On the harmonica? Let the cat hear you,” as if inviting a club audience to applaud. (Vestine then wraps things up.) And as the performance nears its end, Hooker shouts:
Alan! You feel good, and you feel good,
Just like I thought that you would now.
It was not to be. Alan Wilson died (by his own hand perhaps) a few months after these performances were recorded. Thus the murky, somber album cover. Every musician on Hooker ’n Heat is now gone, save for Fito de la Parra, leading Canned Heat to this day.

[Bob Hite, Fito de la Parra, Henry Vestine, John Lee Hooker, Antonio de la Barreda. A photograph of Alan Wilson hangs on the wall.]

Related posts
Alan Wilson
Canned Heat (Live in east-central Illinois)

Friday, January 14, 2011

.[ ]

“[I]f your teachers force you to use two spaces, send them a link to this article. Use this as your subject line: ‘If you type two spaces after a period, you’re doing it wrong.’”

A better Notational Velocity icon

[Before and after.]

If you, like me, like the Mac app Notational Velocity but cannot abide its icon, a substitute Evernote icon from is a great alternative.

Eberhard Faber Ruby Erasers

“There is one for every purpose”: Eberhard Faber Ruby Erasers, a photograph by Christian Montone.

Thanks to Bent Sørensen, whose Ordinary finds is full of good things.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The word and the world

As you probably know, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been in the news, as a professor and publisher have joined to produce an expurgated text of the novel in which the word slave replaces another word, 219 times. Three thoughts:

1. It’s been done before. In April 1963, the Philadelphia Board of Education removed Mark Twain’s novel from the city’s schools, substituting an adaptation with muted violence, simplified speech, and the elimination of “all derogatory references to Negroes.” And in 1984, middle-school administrator John H. Wallace published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Adapted, with that word and the word hell removed. I’ve seen no reference to these previous expurgations in news coverage.

2. Changing the word does little to change the categories that structure Huck Finn’s thinking, which are those of the world in which Huck has been raised. When, for instance, Jim bests Huck in an argument about whether it is natural for people to speak different languages, Huck explains that he chose not to continue the debate: “I see it warn’t no use wasting words — you can’t learn a [          ] to argue.” The joke is on Huck. You may fill in the blank with the less offensive noun of your choice, but no substitution changes Huck’s mind, which assumes (always) Jim’s inferiority.

3. None of which is to say that the language of Twain’s novel poses no complications or causes no pain. But the more urgent complications and pain of Huck Finn lie, I think, elsewhere: in Huck’s deformed conscience (he believes of course that in helping Jim he is doing wrong) and in Tom Sawyer and Huck’s absurd, dangerous, not-funny humiliation of Jim in Arkansas, a humiliation in which Jim is thoroughly complicit.

I’ve taught Adventures of Huckleberry Finn any number of times, and each time, I’ve resolved never to teach it again. (Thus far I’ve kept my resolution.) As a piece of American myth-making, as a meditation on the varieties of human freedom, Huck Finn is crucial. And there is no easy, uplifting lesson to take away from it. The image many readers have of the novel — Huck and Jim drifting along the Mississippi, just getting along with each other, just two people, free of an oppressive culture — is undercut by the novel itself, in which Huck and Jim drift further and further from the prospect of Jim’s freedom, their raft filled with the baggage of their culture.

[I learned years ago of previous expurgations from Peaches Henry’s essay “The Struggle for Tolerance: Race and Censorship in Huckleberry Finn”, in Satire or Evasion? Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn, ed. James S. Leonard, Thomas A. Tenney, and Thadious Davis (1992).]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trouble trouble

What to do when the Pop-O-Matic die doesn’t quite come to rest on one side? The rules offer no guidance. But Wikipedia offers a reasonable solution:

If the die in the “Pop-O-Matic” container has not clearly landed on a number, then the player who popped it can tap the “Pop-O-Matic,” but may not re-pop while the die is in limbo. The player can flick the board, but should not flick so hard that the board is moved.
Yes, we are speaking of Trouble. Elaine, Ben, and I hit upon the same solution last night.

I know that there are more important things in the world to be thinking about (and I am). But for an hour or so last night, nothing was more important than playing Trouble.

Readers of a certain age will remember this commercial.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

“Famous Roast Beef Suppers”

From Yankee, a report on the “Famous Roast Beef Suppers” (yes, in quotation marks) of Hartland, Vermont — as frequented by J.D. Salinger.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fargo, 1940

From NPR, the story behind one of the greatest Ellington recordings — Fargo, North Dakota; November 7, 1940 — as told by audio engineer Jack Towers, who recorded the night’s proceedings with his friend Dick Burris.

The Fargo performance is available in The Duke Box (Storyville Records).

Zimmer on Strunk and White

Ben Zimmer, who writes the “On Language” column for the New York Times, answers an interviewer’s question:

Q. Your colleague Geoff Pullum, at Language Log, has made it his personal goal to tear down Strunk and White. What’s wrong with The Elements of Style?

A. Pullum has been debunking the argument that this is the one book people should be using as guide to language. I find Strunk and White had a tenuous grasp on grammar. Many of their smaller rules are wrong, such as the blanket rule against using the passive voice.

Their larger rules are something you could never disagree with: “Omit needless words.” If you knew which words were needless, you would not need the advice.
Strunk and White offer no blanket rule against the passive voice, as even Pullum acknowledges in his Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on The Elements of Style:
The authors explicitly say they do not mean “that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice,” which is “frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” They give good examples to show that the choice between active and passive may depend on the topic under discussion.
And Zimmer’s tired, Pullum-flavored observation about the banality of “Omit needless words” is hardly fair: The Elements of Style presents this principle of composition (as Strunk and White call it, not “rule”) with sixteen examples of how to improve cumbersome phrasing (e.g., “the fact that”) and a demonstration of how six choppy sentences can be revised into one (as I pointed out in a response to Pullum’s Chronicle piece last year).

There are good reasons to find fault with The Elements of Style, but one should be sure that it’s The Elements of Style one is criticizing — the thing itself, not some rumor.

Related posts
Pullum on Strunk and White
Hardly (adverb) convincing (adjective) (Do Strunk and White ban adjectives and adverbs?)
The Elements of Style, one more time (My appraisal)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Jared Lee Loughner, student

Two New York Times articles recount Jared Lee Loughner’s time at Pima Community College in Tucson. A sample:

Don Coorough, 58, who sat two desks in front of Mr. Loughner in a poetry class last semester, described him as a “troubled young man” and “emotionally underdeveloped.” After another student read a poem about getting an abortion, Mr. Loughner compared the young woman to a “terrorist for killing the baby.”

“No one in that class would even sit next to him,” Mr. Coorough said. Another fellow student said that he found Mr. Loughner’s behavior so eccentric — including inappropriate remarks and unusual outbursts — that he wondered if he might be on hallucinogens.
The Washington Post has interviewed Pima instructor Ben McGahee, who had Loughner in a summer 2010 algebra class:
“I always felt, you know, somewhat paranoid,” McGahee said. “When I turned my back to write on the board, I would always turn back quickly — to see if he had a gun.”

McGahee said he had to make several complaints before administrators finally removed Loughner.

“They just said, ‘Well, he hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class,’” McGahee recalled. “‘We’ll just wait until he takes that next step.’”
McGahee’s fears are not exaggerated: they will be familiar to anyone who’s put in time in a classroom with a disruptive, unstable student. The Post also has three e-mails from a student in the class.

Administrators at Pima suspended Loughner in September 2010 and required a mental health clearance before he returned to campus. That of course never happened.

Arizona Suspect’s Recent Acts Offer Hints of Alienation (New York Times)
Suspect’s Odd Behavior Caused Growing Alarm (New York Times)
Jared Loughner’s college instructor: I was worried he might have a gun in class (Washington Post)
Jared Loughner's behavior recorded by college classmate in e-mails
(Washington Post)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

“Jail mail”

In the news:

In prisons across the country, with their artificial pre-Internet worlds where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving. Magazine editors see so much of it that they have even coined a term for these letters: jail mail.

The Handwritten Letter, an Art All but Lost, Thrives in Prison (New York Times)
[A better way to do that first sentence: “In the artificial pre-Internet world of prison, where magazines are one of the few connections to the outside and handwritten correspondence is the primary form of communication, the art of the pen-to-paper letter to the editor is thriving.” Or more simply, “In the no-Internet world of prison,” &c.]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beetle Bailey ketchup

[Beetle Bailey, January 7, 2011.]

That’s ketchup all right, a day late. As you may know, Hi and Lois is a spin-off from Beetle Bailey. Various Walkers work on the two strips, but it appears that there is no familial consensus when it comes to the representation of ketchup.

This panel shares with Hi and Lois the charming quirk of reversed window lettering. And speaking of Hi and Lois, there is still time to take up the Hi and Lois caption challenge.

A related post

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hi and Lois caption challenge

[Hi and Lois modified, January 6, 2011.]

My wife Elaine suggested that I turn this Hi and Lois panel into a caption contest. So I have. Take your best shot in the comments. And please, keep things relatively clean. I know, I know: Ditto is dripping all over the floor. But still I ask: keep it clean. (My mom reads my blog.)

I’ll send a pair of Black Pearl erasers to the winning entry. Or entries, maybe. I’m making this up as I go.

Please post your captions by 12:00 p.m. Central Time / 6:00 p.m. GMT, January 8. (Central Time=GMT-6.)

January 8, 1:15 p.m.: The winners have been announced in the comments.

Related posts
Hi and Lois watch
Hi and Lois, corrected

Hi and Lois, corrected

[Hi and Lois corrected, January 6, 2011.]

Two minutes in the free Mac app Seashore and the ketchup is ketchup-colored. But now I sort of understand why they went with black.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, January 6, 2011.]

As Elaine says, they must have run out of red.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pet Sounds cover, reimagined

Art by Andrew Kolb, from 33.3 Art Show (“artists and designers reinterpret and reimagine existing album covers”). It’s a lovely cover, but a bit generous to Mike Love (second from the right) hair-wise.

(via Boing Boing)

Anne Francis (1930–2011)

Long before Anne Francis was Honey West, she was Anne Dadier to Glenn Ford’s Richard Dadier (“Mr. Daddy-oh”) in Blackboard Jungle (1955). The above endorsement appears in the 1955 Pocket Book edition of Evan Hunter’s novel The Blackboard Jungle (1954). My copy cost 15¢ at a library sale.

Anne Francis, TV and Film Actress, Dies at 80 (New York Times)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Firefox v. Internet Explorer in Europe

StatCounter Global Stats reports that in December 2010, Firefox became the most popular browser in Europe, with 38.11% market share, compared to Internet Explorer’s 37.52%:

“This is the first time that IE has been dethroned from the number one spot in a major territory,” commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO, StatCounter. This appears to be happening because Google’s Chrome is stealing share from Internet Explorer while Firefox is mainly maintaining its existing share. . . .

In North America IE still retains a clear lead in the browser market with 48.92% followed by Firefox (26.7%), Chrome (12.82%) and Safari (10.16%).
Here at Orange Crate Art, Firefox leads, with 31.6% of recent visits, followed by Internet Explorer (30.6%), Safari (15.6%), and Chrome (14.6%). How do I know these things? Via my StatCounter stats.

Firefox overtakes Internet Explorer in Europe in browser wars (StatCounter Global Stats)

A Mac PDF tip

Gleaned from MAC OS X Hints: To speed up a slow-handling PDF, resave the file using Save As. What results is a much larger but much faster-handling file.

This tip seems especially useful with PDFs from Google Books.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Good free calendars

Like sands through the hourglass boxes in a grid, so are the days of our lives. Which means that I’m a sucker for a free calendar. Here are several good ones:

Compact Calendar 2011 David Seah’s calendar-in-the-form-of-a-spreadsheet fits a year to a page, with no divisions into months.

PDFCalendar This customizable calendar is great for the student or teacher who needs to map out a semester on one page.

TM Micro-Mini Calendar I’ve never had occasion to use Claude Pavur’s ultra-minimal calendar, but my inner child finds the idea of it irresistible. The Micro-Mini is no doubt the choice of ten-year-old secret agents everywhere.

UNIX calendar command The UNIX command cal is handy for making a three- or four-month calendar to tape into a notebook. Thanks to Hawk Sugano for sharing his knowledge.

One more: I’ve made a plain and dowdy 2011 calendar, three months per 8½ x 11 page. That’s a sample to the left. The font is Gill Sans Bold; the colors are Licorice and Cayenne (otherwise known as black and dark red). If you’d like to download the PDF, click here.

[With apologies to NBC’s Days of our Lives.]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year’s Resolution Generator

If you’re stuck fumbling for a resolution or two, you might try Monina Velarde’s Resolution Generator.

The first thing I resolved to do in 2011 was to remove my name from the creepy wesbite Spokeo. Here’s how (via Boing Boing).

Now what? Oh, yes, more tea.