17 June 2013

[writing] As Far As You Know, I Wrote Earthsea

2946.According to an idiot online expert system, I come off in print like one of my idols:

I write like
Ursula K. Le Guin
I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

I was thinking of putting this in my sidebar but I'm leaning toward not doing this thing. It's an interesting thing, kind of like getting a lottery scratch ticket and finding I won a grand, but it's a distraction, really. The decision is governed by rules of which I'm not aware, which are coded by human developers who layer their own assumptions thereunto. Also it's crufted over by advertising, so the ulterior motive is maybe the profit one and not all that hidden.

It's kind of easy to have an algorithm tell you your writing has Ursula K. LeGuin's voice and figure you've achieved something.

The object of my writing is maybe to be inspired by UKL, but not to be a clone of that.

My diary calls. 

[liff, logo] Reagan Busted The Air Traffic Controllers Union and All I Got Was This Used License Plate Frame

2945.Here's a delightful yet bittersweet find. Got this from the Salvation Army over at NE 122nd  and Halsey (it used to be a Goodwill before the Goodwill got schmancy new digs just south of there) yesterday.

It's a bit of organized labor history, tho' the provenance must be, for the time being, in doubt:

It's a license plate frame from … PATCO. The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

Those of you who are not enlightened as to recent labor history (and that's just about everyone these days) probably don't know from PATCO. Sherman, let's set the Wayback Machine to 1981. Reagan had been in office about a year and a half, and PATCO, in an effort to improve working conditions, struck.

Now, to be complete about it, there were a lot of centrifugal forces in play. Reagan and his team were busy hammering the anti-union key on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and PATCO made some miscued moves on its own … for instance, in the 1980 campaign they supported Reagan over Carter, in dissatisfaction with the way that the Carter-era FCC was treating them (to be fair here, Reagan endorsed the union and expressed support for their struggle, so maybe being a little to credulous was their real sin here. Coulda-shoulda-woulda).

They got what they wanted, and they were about to get it good and hard, as they found out. It may have been Morning in America, but for PATCO, it was about to strike midnight. When PATCO went on strike on August of '81, they did it illegally; there was (and probably still is) a provision in Federal law outlawing strikes by such organizations.

I guess they felt pretty confident. In reality, they overplayed their hand; on the 3rd of August, they struck, and on the 5th of August, they were unemployed. This left a mark on civil aviation that took the best part of a decade to erase, and a mark on labor in America that survives … tragically … to this day.

So it was ironic that I should find such at artifact at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, for a surfeit of reasons. But there it was. Priced to move at $2.99 (but with an earlier sticker that says someone once charged fifty cents for it … good thing I got it before the price went up any more).

The PATCO logo:

is a pretty faithful adaptation of the famous standard logo treatment:

… and the giveaway is the style of the plane, which is dead on target.

As I said, the provenance of this artifact is a matter of debate. The bare metal areas are fairly shiny and well-kept. The paint on the detail has suffered some flaking, though, which indicates age; I'd be willing to bet there's a significant chance that this was from the 70s-80s, when the Long Dark Night of American Labor was getting underway.

Some form of successor to PATCO seems to exist.

And so it goes.

12 June 2013

[art] Gakyō Rōjin Manji Microsoft Excel

2943.… or, The Old Man Mad About Art with Microsoft Excel.

Seriously? He did this:

With MS Excel?

Yep. As quoted, the 73-year old artist, Tatsuo Horiuchi, remarked "Graphics software is expensive but Excel comes pre-installed in most computers. And it has more functions and is easier to use than [Microsoft] Paint."

I didn't even know Excel had drawing tools!

A more complete gallery is viewable at Spoon & Tamago: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2013/05/28/tatsuo-horiuchi-excel-spreadsheet-artist/

Hat tip to Carla Axtman at the Book of Face.

[pdx_photo] Parklane Park, In Black and White

2943.When I was out pitcher-takin' yesterday, I explored a few features of my camera that I didn't use often. One of them is black-and-white.

Parklane Park is a little triangular park where SE 155th Avenue and Main Street meet: it's bracketed on the south and west by Main St, on the south and east by a curve of the interestingly-named SE Millmain Drive, and on the north by a vacant lot that was at one time a private airport (Trohs Airstrip) and was subsequently a sand and gravel quarry. It's a nice little - but not too little - park embedded in one of those secluded southeast neighborhoods where, if you're lucky, you'll come by and see a league game of baseball or soccer, and kids are always playing.

The camera I own is a used Kodak EasyShare. Even though the supporting company has largely abandoned this, it's rich in features and performs the champ for me and, just for fun, I took a couple of black and white pictures.

One (above) was predominantly light, and I let the shadows frame the picture in the second one, below.

When you live in a world of color, you tend to forget what drama a monotone brings to even the most mundane scenes, and you realize why black and white photography still has a place in artistic photography. When I look at such a picture, the brain gets active in a different way; it begins to work at exploring the light and dark spaces, and fills in color based on whim, whimsy, and memory. Color photos do it all for you - it's all layed out, nothing left to guess at. Black and white, though, draws one into the frame.

There's dramatic tone in the darks and lights, mystery and intrigue in the way the world has paradoxically been reduced to a shadow of itself while somehow becoming sharper and more defined. Details not noticed before leap out.

An ordinary suburban park becomes an extraordinary parallel world.

11 June 2013

[pdx_photo] Mt Hood and Division Street and The Hood and The Camera Thereunto

2942.I'm very happy with the area of Portland I live in, even if it's not the fashionable, Portlandiable part.

As a matter of fact, I think I'm happy with it because it's not fashionable.

Recently I took advantage of a view point that I'd actually not visited before. At SE 136th Avenue and Division Street in outer East Portland, there's a pedestrian overpass. Its south end is located square between the Dairy Queen on the corner and the Dutch Bros of which we have much custom. We had decided to go it rough, get our coffee from Da Broze and our lunch from the shabby but so very good Cruiser's Cafe and pack it off to Parklane Park and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. The Wife™ handled the coffee-purchasing duties and I ascended to the apex of the overpass to catch the view.

It was so nice, the camera came out.

Division Street in Portland runs, from the river out through Gresham, and if you don't count the part calling itself SE Division Dr just beyond Gresham, about fifteen miles. That's a long, straight piece of pavement; when I was a kid and growing up in Silverton, Salem was fifteen miles down the road.

I've always been impressed with streets that run that long

The thing about Division is that it's unabashedly suburban. It's rode hard and put away wet and it's still got a sort of grace. In the above picture there, the little blue-gray apartment complex called the "Swan Court"? Back when this was how you got from city to city, that was a shabby little motel called the Swanee. That's been quite a while.

The division it's named after isn't obvious, but I've wrote of it before. This street runs parallel to, and exactly one mile south of, Stark Street, which is on the Willamette Base Line.  Division Street is laid out along the first section line south of that base line; that's the division it refers to. It was, before it was urbanized, called Section Line Road.

It, of course, beckons one to Mount Hood, which is my other fetish.

The hood I speak of is perhaps a bit of a lazy coinage these days, and I'm a little sorry for it, but it's hard to avoid using it when speaking of the peak. I've lived in its shadow all my life, and it's kind of a lodestone for me. When I see it, I know I'm where I should be. Home ground.

The challenge with my meagre equipment is to frame and choose the perspectives. I don't have the luxury of attaching a telephoto lens when I want to get a perspective that highlights the way Mount Hood seems to loom on the horizon in subjective view; I have to stand and look and then crop the result.

I use in-camera effects.

But it's not entirely bad. I think it makes me work more creatively. When you don't have fancy devices to support your artistic vision, you have to be nimble. Still, I'm always surprised; Hood always comes out so much smaller in my photos than the impression I get simply looking at it.

Cities in Oregon usually impress the visitor because there are so many trees. I remember as a kid in Salem going up to the Chemeketa Parkade, that garage that overbounds Chemeketa Street; you look north and you can't see the city for the trees. Outer East Portland, with so much green, is the same way. As urbanized as it is, the urban gets lost in the urban forest pretty quickly.

And if I take another POV, I arrange more of humankind's works, such as they be, power towers and power lines and transformers and plastic signage and roofing and insurance offices in front of that great mountain and, well, it's something I've been able always to find some sort of odd beauty in.

It's our world. It is what it is.

And so it goes.

[diary] The Business Journal Of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

2941.From the world of letters and diaries, we have this gem: the ledger of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In a business ledger, between the years of 1919 and 1938, he laid it all out; what he earned since his leaving the Army, a record of his published fiction, the money he earned by other writings, a biographical "Outline of My Life", and the money Zelda earned from her writing.

It's fascinating to me because of two things it reveals; first, that a writer on their own is not necessarily a poor record-keeper, keeping track of some minutiae for their own records if not posterity, and, second, FSF was quite a neat penman, keeping orderly records in a meticulous hand.

View it at http://library.sc.edu/digital/collections/fitzledger.html.

10 June 2013

[art] Yes, They Still Give Out Handwriting Awards

2940.Who says good handwriting counts for nothing any more?

Whether you call it handwriting or the more archaic (and perhaps sexist) penmanship, handwriting seems to be a dying thing; we hear the dirges played constantly.

This is unfortunate. Not only does handwriting develop motor and reasoning skills that typing simply can't, it connects the author to the text in an indelibly undeniable way. Your writing becomes more you.  I'm convinced that the more you write by hand the more you think about what you're saying; typing is speedy, and most people … at least it seems that way, by the writing I read … don't think much about what it is they're saying.

According to a story by the Associated Press posting on KOIN TV's website, though, gives hope, if only because there is at least one 6th-grader out there who takes the time to write the way we all used to have to.

It's here at http://www.koin.com/2013/06/10/wash-6th-grader-honored-for-her-handwriting/. It was promoted by Zaner-Bloser, and I've made my italic-over-cursive partisanship known by now I should hope, but still, it's nicer to see that there's adept cursive writers than to know that there's nobody who cares at all.

07 June 2013

[logo] Dagen H, or, The Day Sweden Went From Left-to-Right

2939.There are some things that seem such commonplace verities that I at one time personally took them as read, permanent, non-changing, understood.

Like driving on the right. The rule of the road.

Not that such things are unchangeable (I once thought national boundaries were set in stone as well, then started reading, as a neat thing, about the great World War 2) but they are glacially slow to change. And the rule of the road would be one. Americans drive on the right; Americans have always driven on the right.

Well, yes, and no. When America was a British colony, as it happens, the Rule of the Road was stay on the left. This was the rule until sometime in the 1780s. So, things do change, but I didn't think this happened in the modern times, and certainly not during my lifetime … but then, I just found out I was wrong about that, too. Up until September 1967, Swedes drove on the left - in contrast to their sister nations on the Scandinavian peninsula, which drove on the right, which tended to cause confusion and the occasional accident at Sweden's land borders with Finland and Norway.

I'll not at this time explore why the Swedes resisted the change for so long or whether or not this was an improvement in safety over historial ways; I'll leave that to someone else. Suffice it to say that it took four years of public relations and one memorable Sunday in late 1967 to synch Sweden with her neighbors. For what its worth, it happened, and the Kingdom exists today, still cranking out Volvos and bland Europop and whatever else it is that Swedes do. They seem fine. Cracked (strange to think that, in the latter day, I'd be learning my history from the website descended from the poor relation to Mad Magazine, but these are interesting times) displays the merry chaos on this page, which published a photo from the 3rd of September 1967, a day known as Dagen H.

Dagen H translates to H-Day, and the H is short for Hogertrafikomlaggningen, or Swede for right-hand traffic driving. And, to communicate the change, a suitable logo - appearing on everything, reportedly, from t-shirts to coffee mugs to cute ladies' undies, went public. Here it is

This piece of clever design speaks for itself. The way the letter H is recast as a sort of expressway diagram I find particularly impressive. The date is expressed in the style we Americans have come to interpret as a typically European one: day-month-day, with a period delimiter rather than a slash (we would write that 9/3/1967, they, 3.9.1967).

The type is particularly beguiling, with a hand-constructed look to it.

It's a clear lesson in clever communication, and, as such things are wont to do, works on multiple levels without being too proud about it. Definitely a win.

(H/T to Scott Sanford who showed this to me over on the Book'o'Face)

04 June 2013

[diary] Reading About Diaries 2: The Books

2938.In missive the last I mentioned reading three books about keeping diaries or journals. I'll list those out now. I haven't completed them all; but I have a ver solid sense of the three. Either one of these three books will give an aspiring diarist the inspiration to start, but each speak with a slightly different voice, and one may speak to one louder or with more coherence than the other.

Thus said, to the shelf.

Samara O'Shea

The first one I read was Note To Self: On Keeping A Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by author and Huffington Post blogger Samara O'Shea. This is a very personal account of her diary-keeping over the years, and goes into such deep personal territory that at times I felt as though I were reading Into The Author's Bedroom With Gun And Camera. I'm torn about that. But she had a whole range of useful insights into starting, stopping, how frequent, inspriations, and sharing your diaries with others, and how to look into your own life for diary subjects - including hopes, aspirations, writing when happy as well as when sad, and, of course, sex. She specifically bares her journaling soul by including several excerpts from her various diaries as kept over the years, which are as small gems scattered throughout the book

This book, while well-done generally and thorough, spoke to me the least of all the others. The author gave me a valuable POV on her urban, sophisticated lifestyle, but at times I felt like I was out of place trying to make sense of her narrative. But then, she's the kind of writer who'd worked for magazines like O, Harpers Bazaar, and Esquire, whereas I'm more of a Parade, TV Guide, and Time sort, though I have Utne Reader pretensions. De gustibus non disputandum, and all that.

So, in short, upsides: Unafraid, frank, sophisticated, well-written. Downsides: A little too unafraid for the beginner, a little too urban for the non-HuffPo reader. If you're the fashionable sort, this would be a good starting book; if you're not the fashionable sort, this would be more of an advanced study.

Recommendation: Go in ready to be amused and a little surprised and a little unsettled, if you're a tyro.

I do indeed notice that O'Shea is also famous for trying to bring back the art of letter writing to a wide audience. As someone who used to write letters ceaselessly, I have some idea of what we've lost, so she's indeed doing the Lord's work here, so to speak.

Sheila Bender

Sheila's book is Keeping A Journal You Love. This, the most densely-written of the three books, dives right in with what she calles the 'Seven Sisters'; writing tactics that are writerly explorations of the world around you. This is a book rich in technique, expressed as a writing teacher might do it. This book supplants this with examples of the journaling and diary techniques of other diarists. The result is almost a manual, a shelf-reference that you can go to again and again, with ideas of how others do it so one can either copy a style until they find their own feet, or combine into something new or useful. Overall it encourages the sort of introspection that diaries are famous for being a laboratory for, with the writerly approach incredibly useful.

Upsides: Thoroughly written, wide-angle field of vision provides for a range of viewpoints and inputs for inspiration, encouraging a writerly approach to the diary. Downsides: might encourage too much introspection, the multiplicity of voices could encourage too much copying and masking of one's own voice.

Recommendation: Better for the absolute tyro than the O'Shea work, but might come off as too dry and intimidating for the newbie. Good to go with as a beginner, but one might find oneself working a bit too hard to find ones own voice amongst all the excellent examples.

Alexandra Johnson

Lastly we come to the humbly-titled Leaving A Trace: The Art of Transforming A Life Into Stories, by Alexandra Johnson. This takes a seriously deep approach to the art of the diary by drilling down, finding patterns hidden in all journals, and identifying what she calls the 'through line' to your life. The objective is to coax a story from your life, and is useful if you're the kind of journal writer, as I am, who fancies themselves a fiction writer.

The book draws several lines that I'm deeply impressed with. It draws the line between brief and thorough  between short and containing multitudes, and between direct and gentle. It delivers techniques with a breezy air that is still informational, an easy read with a definite message. The techniques come quickly but are friendly, and one can apply them quickly.

Upsides: to me, this book is all upside. Small yet large, simply-written yet informative, it gifts the reader with tactics to create a diary or journal that goes just as far as you want it. If you want to keep it introspective you could; if you want to knit a narrative out of your life and use the lessons to create a more compleat writer out of yourself, it'll take you there too. Downsides: I love this book! I've not stumbled on a real downside yet.

Recommendation: This is the book you should start with if you want to really come up with a diary that will mean something to you. The above two are good, but they're the sort that I think the experienced diarist will want to use to kick it up to the next level. This book is the beginner's book of the three.

03 June 2013

[diary] Reading About Diaries, Collecting Notebooks

2937.I'm currently reading (or have gone through) three books on diary writing by three different authors. I have nothing to say about the now, but will anon.

In the meantime, here's a nifty article by Marie at the blog Presents of Mind that tells of her obsession with collecting notebooks, which is something I do, just a little, myself. A taste:

Three hand-made notebooks. The one on the left is bound with real leaves with a wooden spine and hand-made paper. The other two have covers made of waxed, brown paper shopping bags and ordinary bond copy paper. You can see the name of the market bleeding through its cover. The one on the right is decorated with pen and ink filigree. I bought it at a street fair, then went home and duplicated the process. Different and fun to use and only costs pennies to make.

And here's the link: http://presentsofmind.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/my-notebook-obsession/

[design] Dept Of War Math Posters Now For Sale

2936.In the previous missive, the remark was remarked that Plus3 should be sellin' them Dept of War Math graphics as posters. Unless you were a very silly person, you agreed with me.

Well, Brad Clark and Plus3 have heard and delivered.

Hie thee hence:


You'll be glad you did.

01 June 2013

[design] Dept Of War Math - Propaganda for Geniuses

So there's a trending topic these days (that I hope does more than trend), and its name is survivorship bias. You'll all want to write that down, because it'll become a serious bit of discussion in the months to come … or should. If it doesn't, that'll be unjust, and I think I'll be coming back to it here.

Surviviorship bias. Learn about it, courtesy of David McRaney, at the blog You Are Not So Smart.

But it started me on this road, a great riff on a classic style. And it has to do with the wartime Department of War Math.

War Math?

A little-known, unsung department that helped us carry the great World War II?

Well, yes … and no. It's like this:

During the war, math and science played a very large role, of course, and a role that extended into things like the post-war Race for Space and the very large role also that scientists played in giving us the shiny technological world to follow.

But during the early 1940s the USA was running up against problems requiring extensive mathematical modeling … and the computers that could do that modeling didn't really exist yet. The most powerful number-crunchers of the time, as the article says, ran on toast and coffee.

There was a time that 'calculator' was a human job title, do take note.

The Applied Mathematics Panel, made up of groups of human mainframes ensconced in various spaces hither and yon, was, or should have been, our Department of War Math. Commanders in the field brought them problems, and they solved them. Pretty much just like that. They came up with a way to figure out how to best fire torpedoes based solely the ripple pattern left behind by a ship … if it turns, you see, the ripples are different in a way, and if they're cruising evasively, you can't predict which way they're going to turn, but if you analyze the waves, you didn't have to.

Actually, they were kind of Mentats, really.

McRaney's article on survivorship bias goes into great detail about how these amazing people would not only use their technical knowledge but superior analytical and logical minds to finesse the unobvious but crucial details out of any situation. He went to Dave Clark, of the video and animation design studio Plus3, who brought the notional Department of War Math to virtual life, with pitch-perfect propaganda graphics. This one is my favorite:

Illustration by Brad Clark of Plus3. Used with permission.

The heroic math geek spirits the downed Allied pilot away from the crashed plane. "Carry the one?" Indeed. Containing clever wordplay with a multiple meaning, pitched with just the right patriotic enthusiasm - and a deft eye for the war-poster style, we have a completely convincing poster for a war department that wasn't - but it should have been.

This next one is a rather darker, but none the less on-target:

Illustration by Brad Clark of Plus3. Used with permission.

That Nazi swastika never saw it coming. With a palette that reminds me of those sinister, silhouetted "Hun comin' to get ya" posters, the heroes work unseen in the background, Mentating an Allied victory for sure. That compass means business, man! And again the adroit multiple-meaning word play; We're counting on you goes more than one direction, when it comes to the math the sharp pencil brains at the Dept of War Math did.

If I were them, I'd be selling posters of this. Great satire like this comes along so infrequently.

Plus3 Video is at http://plus3video.com.

Again, these illustrations used are by Brad Clark, to whom I express grateful thanks.