Monday, March 30, 2009

An Extremely Short Bedtime Story

...Once upon a time, we all walked five miles to school, uphill in the snow, dodging the velociraptors while reciting the names of state capitals...
At my place of employment, now known as Greenhouse City (because it has one, not because I have anything to do with it), a young woman of twenty listens to some of us (with hyperbolic references to mastodons roaming the earth) reminisce about typewriters, carbon paper, etc. Jokingly, I say, only two 'fonts:' pica and elite. Yes, chimes in another colleague, until the IBM selectric ball. Then we got rid of the return, too. She looks at us, suddenly very serious. You know, she says, I've never seen a typewriter. I mean, I have, you know, in the movies and stuff, but, not an actual real one. [Silence. We all require coffee before speech returns.]
Let's leave it at that. I cannot bear to repeat the conversation she has a bit later with someone else on this same ancient implement, when she learned that hitting a key used to make type strike ink and paper. Perhaps if she were into steampunk ?
In fact, no typewriter could be located within the building for a show and tell. I have one, though, at home: my father's Remington, green, in a hard case. Does anyone remember that aroma when a typewriter case is opened ? The must of ink, eraser dust, metal ? I also have some things to say about steampunk, but that's another post.

Photo of modified mac via; other examples can be seen at "The Seventeen Hottest Steampunk Computer Creations"
A good list of Steampunk Books can be found here. It all really started with Gibson & Sterling's
The Difference Engine, but, right, another time, another post.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Take A Cup, Drink It Up

...and let your neighbors in, I think the children's rhyme goes. Tonight's koan: when is your neighbor not your neighbor ? Answer: When his house has disappeared from Google Earth.

John Stewart's Interview with a Vampire (Cheney, in absentia).
My feelings exactly. I also just wanted to move on from my silly night of anagrams. Much to do at work these days. All good, but more than humanly possible, it feels. I'll be working the weekend, too, it seems, so enjoy this clip for now.

Video downloaded from Raw Story.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enamelled Fin Hop

That four hours of sleep thing is not good. It was a busy day at Greenhouse City; I could not get out of there when I had planned to be long gone, and can't say tonight has been very productive. I drank coffee, not espresso, but coffee, at the office, which I never do, and my cup of tea is going to toddle me off to bed in a minute, just fine. So somehow, I think via following links out of Crooked Timber (sidebar), I found a site of "Anagram Poetry" (all the poems have titles that are anagrams of the poets' names, absolutely hysterical). Who knew that TS Eliot was "Toilets ?" Okay, I guess if I had ever gone to the trouble, it would be obvious. but the imitation is of high quality, which makes it even funnier:
by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, to the john,
Where the toilet seat waits to be sat upon
Like a lover's lap perched upon ceramic;
Let us go, through doors that do not always lock,
Which means you ought to knock
Lest opening one reveal a soul within
Who'll shout, "Stay out! Did you not see my shin,
Framed within the gap twixt floor and stall?"
No, I did not see that at all.
That is not what I saw, at all.

To the stall the people come to go,
Reading an obscene graffito.

We have lingered in the chamber labeled "Men"
Till attendants proffer aftershave and mints
As we lather up our hands with soap, and rinse.

The take on "The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock" is pitch perfect. WC Williams becomes "Islamic Owls," and so on. So, I wondered, what could I do with the title of this blog ? I am too tired to think for myself (or for anyone else for that matter), so I turned it over to the brain of hive mind, an anagram generator found here. Some results are nonsensical, but others, such as "Enamelled Fin Hop," have a poetic appeal. I left out the definite article for the first try, and some other favorites are: "Leafed Helm Pinon;" "Flanneled Pie Ohm;" "Headline Men Flop;" and "Heaped Felon Limn." I added "the" and asked for the first 100 results (55,556 found, it claims). With punctuation added, some are even funnier: "A defilement ! Help, Hon !;" and "A Helped Feline Month; along with "A Hinted Phoneme Fell," seemed catchy. Well, I told you this was a silly post.

Very Lazy, Very Late Night Post

I haven't even just added her to my blogroll yet, but Chiara Kael's blog, Coffee Cycle Chic, lines up three things of which I am dearly fond, and basically in the order that they occur in my life (it is iffy as to whether the third element is ever achieved, but it is striven for. Not in a Manolo Blahnik kind of way, more in a "to thine own sense be chic" sort of ethic). But I can linger over her blog, clicking links, and with its beautiful graphics and caffeine-imbued sensibility, it serves as a kind of virtual café, complete with posters (links) for good causes lining the walls. So I've swapped in the graphics from her blog header in lieu of any thoughtful content but by way of sincere introduction. I'm already dreaming of the coffee... I have to be up in four hours. All my fault. Coffee has been seen around here before. 'Nite.

Monday, March 09, 2009

This Will Be A Home Study Course

Via the Where Blog , comes this post, "Introducing the New Urbanism," which aims to provide a basic reading list introducing the concept. I've copied below the top five here directly from the post, all, I think, good reads, though I don't know number two at all, and am only vaguely acquainted with number five. "Urbanism," of course, is a very restrictive concept, and [yet ?] I find myself wondering how the ideas in these books might intersect with the ideas from places like Complete Streets, the burgeoning discussion on Carbon Trace of what one means by "bike culture," and the idea of the "1 Mile Solution," also found there. Cities and towns tend to get conflated in discussions of urbanism, new and old, and suburbs and exurbs become really, really annoying places that many theorists would seek to banish, connect, or reconstruct (so that they are cities or towns). But I digress a tad. Let's say that I'm waiting for the New Oppidism (see why it will never catch on ? Because the Latin word for town, oppidum, does not make a pretty word), as distinct from the NU. There is a very thoughtful secondary list in this post that includes some interesting and/or classic picks, such as Mumford's The Culture of Cities (1938) which opened up the conceptual framework for many other writers, and Will Self's oddity, Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place (2007). I'll be working my way through the secondary list for some time to come. Three other books came to mind, though only one of them has to do with urbanism qua urbs: A Pattern Language (1977), by Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein, a book that has had a growing influence on, among other things, small (not micro) house design (see Susanka's The Not So Big House); the children's book, out just last month, beautiful graphics (I cannot bring myself to say "graphic children's book"), My First Book of Urban Planning," by CJ Hughes; and, for extremely un-thought out reasons, what we call a gut feeling, DeLillo's Underworld, whose barren landscapes strewn with the refuse of human existence (Fresh Kills landfill and the airplane grave yard ---"The Boneyard" in Tuscon, AZ are prominent) and sly cuff, with "under," at the "sub" of suburbia ought to haunt any new urbanist. Only the second is "about" urbanism, but it would be fun to add them to the list. For those whose interest in vehicle graveyards has now been piqued, try this post on Mental Floss.

Here, finally, is the list from The Where Blog:
The Top 5

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (1961). At about 450 pages, “concise” is probably not the most apt description of this book. But, as this is the single best written, most accessible, most compelling book I’ve ever read about cities, I’m willing to forsake the concision criterion even in my first recommendation. If you want to know what can make cities pleasant, safe and interesting places to live, read this book. If you want to read one of the best non-fiction prose stylists of our time, read this book. It’s a classic, and deservedly so. As one Where reader put it: “It’s a great book for explaining why we care about all of this.”

2. The Option of Urbanism by Christopher Leinberger (2007). While not as fun to read as The Death and Life of Great American Cities or The Geography of Nowhere (see below), this slender volume briskly highlights difference between drivable sub-urban development and walkable urban development, and does a good job of explaining the benefits of walkable city neighborhoods. It’s good primer on the basics of density, zoning and the hidden subsidies fueling drivable sub-urban development.

3. The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler (1993). This book is an exploration—and excoriation—of the rise of suburbia and sprawl. It also explains how the more traditional patterns and places of city life and country life are superior to the “geography of nowhere.” Accessible and ferocious.

4. Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz, with Norman Mintz (1998). According to a Where reader, this book is “in the spirit of Jacobs” and discusses “how existing cities can be improved with citizen participation in contrast to destructive master plans.” The book is filled with lots of specific ideas about how to improve downtown areas, all of them lavishly illustrated with real life examples from successful efforts in dozens of cities.

5. How Cities Work by Alex Marshall (2000). Squarely aimed at the lay person, this book seeks to discover what forces shape places and cities—and finds that one of the most powerful forces is political choices, particularly those having to do with transportation policy. A Where reader gave this recommendation: “It’s not comprehensive, of course, but it’s a good snack, possibly the kind that could interest a person in a larger meal.”
Image taken from the review of My First Book of Urban Planning, from which the NYTimes reprinted the image. The NYTimes review is linked to the title above.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lazy Sunday Afternoon Blogging, II

Reading about nutrition, food, limited budgets and what is good for us. Isn't it the same with books ? I do not mean that physical hunger is a metaphor, or ought to be made one, but I was reading this post from Unlimited Magazine about The Canada Food Guide (to compare it to the infamous US pyramid, if you must know what I was doing while about the blogosphere). But the mass marketed, over processed overpriced "bad food" seems akin to the mass marketed, over processed, overpriced forms of entertainment we indulge in, including all of that cable and gaming, etc., when a good book, a really good book, will set you back much less. Overpriced junk vs. truly fulfilling nourishment, for body and for soul. Since this is a lazy Sunday afternoon entry, no conclusions or analysis are on offer. Let's just think about it. Here is the post from Unlimited, which is all about food and poverty, not books:

About a decade ago, while I was wandering in and out of the shops in Provence, I noticed that the really crappy foods – the sodas and candy – were markedly expensive. The “good” food – you know, the dark leafy vegetables and other organic matter that forms the girth of the food pyramid – were, well, dirt cheap.Back home in Canada the inverse was, and is, still true: bad food = cheap; good food = expensive. In Avignon, I found a perch near a carousel in the town square to people watch. I saw a man walk by, ripping the knob off a baguette. Someone else passed by talking on two cellphones at the same time Michael Pollan, a consummate food writer and a kind of agro-activist through journalism, has pointed out the skewed value North Americans put on food in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and countless articles for the New York Times Magazine. Charge more for the crappy food and less for the good stuff, the reasoning goes, and we’ll consume more of the good stuff. Kind of like with gas: high prices force us, more than environmental conscientiousness, to re-consider our consumption habits.The issue is more complex than this – subsidized farming, for starters – but you get the point.The flip side is the person who can’t afford to pay more for crappy food, let alone an organic chicken breast served with 100-mile asparagus and potatoes you grew yourself. This is where two friends, Tracy Hyatt and Jennifer Windsor, came up with a social experiment: With agflation shooting up like mortgage rates, the pair wanted to see if they could each eat for $80 a month. And eat healthy. Thus was born the Working Poor Diet, which raises funds for the Edmonton Food Bank.You can follow their hunger pains and mood swings online. There are rules, including no free food, including handouts from friends and family. The Canada Food Guide is gospel—though oatmeal, rice and tea from the Dollar Store have become staples and a bounty of bruised apples from Save on Foods were a bargain.

For comparison, here is the US Food Pyramid.

Lazy Sunday Blogging

Since today is literally short of time, I thought I'd play at the meme that has been going around the net, but that no one has seen fit to tag me with. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing. And, I didn't realize until I signed in this morning that my last post was my hundredth. Considering how long I've had the blog, this is nothing to be proud of, but still, I'm glad I'd put some effort into that one. Numbers have an irrational hold on us, and somehow, a hundredth post sounds as if one ought to do something to suit the occasion. So I'm glad I wrote about Gertrude, cats, and the Gerbil News. Okay, the meme:
Here are the instructions.
1. Put your music player on shuffle.
2. Press forward for each question.
3. Use the song title as the answer to the question even if it doesn’t make sense. NO CHEATING!
I am worried in advance. I have a lot of Christmas music loaded onto my ipod. I really fear the worst. But let's give meaningful randomness, or accidental meaningfulness, a whirl:

The results are below. Eh. Not as funny as the "______ needs" Google search that was going around. Then again, that "shuffle" algorithm is an odd one. None of my my recently added music appeared, such as my Miranda Lee Richards album. Numbers 11,12, and 15 are, I suppose, the funniest to me because they seem apt (11 and 12), or just amusing (15), and I'm really glad that the answers to 13 and 18 did not appear as the answer to 19 ("How will you die ?"). It also seems that everyone's blog has a different set of questions. I'm looking for the definitive ten or twenty questions. Anyone ? Now, I suppose I should turn these into a playlist ---I'm skipping the Christmas songs--- to see how it all sounds, but the hours are burning away today. Back to laundry, lunch, and a little less randomness.

1. How do you feel today ? Secret O'Life (James Taylor)
2. Will you get far in life ? Breakdown (Jack Johnson)
3. How do your friends see you ? Blue Christmas (Elvis) I knew it...
4. Where will you get married ? Hoy No Quiero (Julieta Venegas)
5. What is my best friend's theme song? Between the Bars (Elliot Smith)
6. If someone says, "Is this ok ?", you say: Winter Wonderland (Aimee Mann)
7. What would best describe your personality ? These are the Days (10,000 Maniacs)
8. What do you like in a girl/guy ? Empty Frame (Eno and Cale) Funny.
9. What is your life's purpose ? Reckoner (Radiohead) Ooh. Hits very close to home.
10. What is your motto ? I Wish I Felt Nothing (Wallflowers)
11. What do you think about often ? Relax, Enjoy Yourself (Randy Newman) True
12. What is your life story ? Eisenhower Blues (Elvis Costello) Also true !
13. What do you want to be when you grow up ? Fiery Crash (Andrew Bird) Ouch.
14. What do you think when you see a person you like ? Soul Searchin' (Solomon Burke)
15. What will they play at your funeral ? Feed the Tree (Belly) Hysterical. I'll put it in my will.
16. What is your biggest secret ? Got a Feelin' for Ya (Kelly Willis)
17. What do you think of your friends ? The Living (Natalie Merchant)
18 What's the worst that could happen ? Set Yourself On Fire (Stars) That's pretty bad !
19. How will you die ? Beachcombing (Mark Knopfler & Emmy Lou Harris)
20 What is the one thing you regret ? The First Noel (Bing Crosby) Fail.
21. What makes you laugh ? Say Yes (Elliot Smith)
22. What makes you cry ? You Got Something (JJ Cale)
23. Who is your secret admirer ? Reunion (Stars)
24. If you could go back in time, what would you change ? The Eyes of My Beholder (Lucy Kaplansky) Sounds deep. What does it mean ?
25. What hurts right now ? Into My Arms (Nick Cave) No, no, no.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I am taking full advantage of this snow, ice, work at home thing to browse about the net on a snowy day, extra cappuccinos in hand. Why had I not found Gerbil News before ? It is hystericalIy funny. My eyes hurt from reading too many entries. I was going to save this for a post on Saint Gertrude's Day (March 17th), but this lovely mock epyllion by Con Chapman (take that name for what it's worth...) cannot wait. Saint Gertrude is the patron saint of cats, and it was in quest of some information about her that I found The Gerbil News. I am not Catholic, but a patron saint of cats, especially one who has a mouse running up her staff in her traditional iconography, is too good to pass up. According to several blog sites, in addition to being the patron saint of cats and those who love them, Gertrude of Nivelles also looks after "gardners, travelers in search of lodging, and the recently deceased," the last of which, I suppose, are merely travellers in search of lodging in a different realm. She is invoked against "rodents, fear of mice and rats, and fever:" all sorts of reasons for this come to mind by implication, e.g. fever and diseases carried by rodents, etc., but no one seems to say why she negotiates these particulars of human existence with the one Almighty. In pictures I've found of her, she is often surrounded by mice. Not merely the mice on her staff, but rather contented looking creatures who seem to have mistaken her for their patron.

The website from which this image is taken explains that mice are christian symbols for souls in Purgatory, and this may explain it. Mice do not appear to have a patron saint of their own, but my research consists only of several search engines' first page results.

By James C. Christensen

Other images, such as the one on the left, do surround her with the furry ones themselves. Good night, all. I shall be setting up a small suitable shrine for Saint Gertrude, or thumbing through my Sylvia books and imagining what one might look like from my non-traditional and quasi-polytheistic approach religion and the numinous. But go and read "A Band of Feline Brothers."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snowbike and Poaching, Part II

I know I said I was going to get rid of it, but I cleaned it up first, then looked into making an Xtra-Cycle out of it (feasible), then took it for a spin once and a while (the new bike is better, but the steel frame on this one is X-tra tempting...), and now look at it:

Meanwhile, I have been very tempted by Bullitts from Larry vs. Harry, but they cost more than Xtra-Cycles and, I think, would have to be imported. Hmmm. With the new job at Greenhouse City, it is possible that I could end up in Copenhagen for a weekend this summer. Time to test ride a Bullitt ?
Meanwhile, via Carbon Trace (for a great entry photo, cut the /bike out of the url and just go to, I've found the PPE Blog, a wonderful account of a biking Englishman in acquiescent exile ---so he says--- in the Netherlands. The photography and descriptions of biking around towns and country places are wonderful. And I have a soft spot for any self-declared exiles out there. Time to clear off the car before the next round of snow (we're up to a foot, but in a break at the moment), and shovel out from what the snow plough left banked up in front of my front tires.


It appears that the entire eastern seaboard is shut down, closed, at rest, quiescent because of snow. It's funny; it doesn't feel like a raging storm or blizzard, but all of the schools are closed, according to the radio, and many businesses aren't exactly encouraging people to brave the conditions to get to work. So I am working (ahem) at home. I've discovered this, via The Tidings of Magpies, an absolutely lovely poem:

What I Believe
by Michael Blumenthal

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently.

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.

Posted here