What I learned this week, April 6, 2012

Next to my table at one of my favorite coffee places was this 3D photograph with a pair of glasses attached by a piece of brown twine. Pretty cool (though the twine was a little too short and it was hard to see the full effect). I liked it better than Avatar.


Work hard and sacrifice and you can send your children to an elite private university. That’s my son, Lee, in the following video. He’s the one in the Red Suit. I always wondered who did stuff like that.

Hey, whatever gets you into the final four.


Sometimes, I dream of a life led like this:

Unfortunately, this is only a dream, my real life is like this:

“Are you casting asparagus on my cooking?”




I’m not a huge fan of Titanic (even though I did like it more than I thought I would) and have no intention of seeing the 3D version. However, I am amused at the one change they made in the movie. Apparantly after (spoiler alert) the boat sinks, they had the wrong starfield – plus it was reversed for the second half of the sky. An astronomer was enough of a pest to get it changed in the 3D version.



From Maybe Mousse

The Google Art Project


I am hard at work on the cover for my book of short stories. I shouldn’t care, nobody looks at the cover of Kindle books anyway – but fear based procrastination is rampant. At any rate, here’s a nice TED talk on designing book covers.


What a great idea! From Library Scenester -

sips card

Sips Card brings independent fiction and local coffee shop/bar venues together. Customers can find Sips Cards at participating coffee shop-like venues. Each card contains a QR code, loaded with a short story from an independent writer meant to last as long as their drink. The cards are venue specific and include their business information as well as that issue’s author, story title, and website.


For my own reasons (which some of you may know) I have always wondered what a severed head in a shopping bag might look like. Thanks to Helen Taylor, now I know.

I bet it’s heavier than you would think.

A head in a shopping bag


Finally, a French Scopitone. It’s another odd France Gall offering and has three creepy male dancers with even creepier sideburns… like her classic Bebe Requin.

What I learned this week, November 11, 2011

Looking around the shelves at a used book store I came across a copy of 500 Essential Cult Books. I’m casting around for something to read right at this moment.

I didn’t buy the book, but I did sit down with it, some index cards, and a Parker 21 that I carry, and sat down at a table to go through most of the 500.

My first impression is that I was shocked at how many of the books I had already read… somewhere around half. The books were divided into categories and some I had read almost all of the selection.

At any rate, I filled a couple cards with books that I had not read and that looked interesting. Some I already have in my library or Kindle, most I do not. Here’s the list, in no particular order:

  • Generation X – Douglas Coupland
  • Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre
  • Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me – Richard Farina
  • Cathedral – Raymond Chandler
  • A Feast of Snakes – Harry Crews
  • Perfume – Patrick Suskind
  • The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
  • VOX – Nicholson Baker
  • The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  • Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami
  • Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill
  • Cocaine Nights – J. G. Ballard
  • The Ginger Man – J. P. Donleavy
  • Atomised – Hichael Houellebecq
  • Young Adam – Alexander Trocchi
  • Wonderland Avenue – Danny Sugarman
  • A Hero of Our Time – Mikhail Lemontov
  • How Late it Was, How Late – James Kelman
  • Of Love and Hunger – Julian Maclaren-Ross
  • D. B. C. Pierre – Vernon God Little
  • Nelson Algren – A Walk on the Wild Side

I’ve been reading a lot about the “Bubble in Higher Education.” One of the interesting articles in that vein is called, Where Have All the Chemists Gone?   It links to a New York Times article – Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

You can read both of these articles and decide what you think about it on your own, but it does bring back an experience of my own, one I’ve talked about ad nauseum – but still…. I think I’ll write it down here. This is something that happened almost forty years ago… so maybe the trends identified in the articles aren’t so new after all.

I remember my first freshman chemistry class at the generic big Midwestern public university. It was held in a large old gothic auditorium (since burned down) where they played the basketball games back in the twenties and thirties. The professor walked out on the first day and said, “This is Chemistry 301, Introduction to Chemistry for Chemistry Majors. You should only take this class if you are going to get a major in Chemistry. There are three hundred and fifty students in this class. We graduate about forty chemists a semester. You need to do the math. If you don’t think you can make it through this class, drop as soon as you can to minimize the damage to your academic career.”

I was stunned when about a dozen kids walked out at that point. How low must their self-esteem be to give up at that point (or maybe they realized they were in the wrong classroom). The first exam took over half the class. The mid-term dropped half of those that were still left. At the end of the semester the class was well under a hundred. The really bad thing was that, three years later, Physical Chemistry took a third of those that had made it that far (I still believe that P-Chem is one of the absolute evils in the world – I know if any other chemists are reading this – I just gave you a nightmare).

A few years ago I was at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Arlington (I remember there were three Nobel Prize Winners at the dinner) and the the topic was improving chemistry education. I was talking to a professor afterward about how to increase the enrolment of chemists and he said, “Actually, in my experience, most of the student that can be chemists, are chemists… what we need is to increase the understanding of some of the basic tenets in the non-chemist population.” This was a guy that should know what he was talking about.

Oh, and the article talks about how grades are lower in STEM classes than in, say, business or liberal arts. No shit. My goal in chemistry was to graduate, that was it (I consider my bare C- in P-Chem I and II to be one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. I managed to pass two semesters in a subject where I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on at all). In the decades since, I don’t think I have ever had anyone ask me my GPA. I have hired a few chemists in my day and if I ever had a job applicant with a 4.0 and a major in chemistry (In reality I never have seen or heard of such a thing) I would not hire them. To get a 4.0 in a chemistry curriculum you would either have to be too smart to be in the same world as I am, or some sort of mutant that could not relate to ordinary human beings in any meaningful way.


Another list of “Must Eat At” places in New Orleans.

New Orleans – A Foodie’s Paradise

  • Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop
  • Crawfish Etouffee at Chartres House Café
  • Jambalaya at Coop’s Place
  • Red Beans and Rice at Joey K.’s
  • Muffulettas at Central Grocery Co.
  • Beignets at Café Du Monde
  • Bananas Foster at Brennan’s
  • King Cakes at Sucre
  • Po’ Boys at Parkway Bakery & Tavern

I’ve been to six of the nine… though some were a long time ago. I wrote about Joey K’s the other day. Last year I set out to find the best Shrimp Po-Boy in New Orleans, and Parkway was the best, IMHO.


How to make pancakes from scratch

Wallet Pancakes

Why imitation syrup is better than the real thing

How to make the best diner pancakes in america


a new word for our time
ineptocracy


Man, I would love to snag a 2011 Rangers World Championship Cap. I wonder what impoverished tropical hell hole I’d have to go to so I could buy one of some poor dude’s head.

Where does World Series Runners-Up Gear Go?


A few more Scopitones. Starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

I used to Love the Tijuana Brass, back in the day. This song and Scopitone is not why.

Great Hair… terrible rock and roll.

There have been some very good versions of Telstar over the years. This is not one of them. Plus odd and wildly inappropriate footage.

Petula Clark… one of the greats. There was “Downtown”, “I Know a Place”, “My Love”, “Colour My World”, “A Sign of the Times”,  and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.”

Oh…. and this:

And, last but least… The absolute worst:



What I learned this week, November 4, 2011

Maybe I should take this list and try to get through it  before I die (probably right before). So far, before reading the article, I’ve been to five (that I can remember).

The 15 Spots for the Best Drunk Food In New Orleans


I’m sorry…. but this is simply too stoopid to pass up:

Something has exploded in a spectacular fashion on Uranus


Sometimes I look ahead and read a book because there is a movie coming out at some future date made from the book. Thus it is with Hunter Thompson’s The Rum Diary.

I enjoyed the book more than it deserved. That whole Caribbean Ex-Pat wasting away in Margaritaville, almost getting killed by the government dictator’s thugs thing is very attractive to me. Probably better read (and written about) than lived.

The movie is out now and it looks good. At least to me.

It is interesting that this is the second time Johnny Depp has played Hunter S. Thompson in a film. I always thought that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was unfilmable… and the film proved me right. This one should be very different.


Here’s Why No One Reads Your Blog

  • You’re Boring
  • You’re a Waffler
  • You’re not a Controversialist


How Blogging Taught Me to Be a Writer

  • Discipline: writing on a schedule
  • Discipline: writing even when you don’t feel like writing
  • First drafts don’t have to be perfect
  • In fact, it’s okay to write first drafts that are so bad they end up in the trash
  • I’ve learned to hone in on the details and connections in daily life so I can write about them
  • I know how crucial it is to let a piece rest
  • I’ve also learned that sometimes good enough has to be good enough
  • A career in writing involves mandatory, non-writing activity
  • Sometimes a blog post launches into the internet … and nobody cares
  • The best part: every one of the above lessons has carried over into other forms of writing




What I learned this week, October 28, 2011

Five Mistakes You’re Making With Your Scrambled Eggs

1. “Don’t be wimpy with your eggs. Whisk well and be vigorous about it–you want to add air and volume for fluffy eggs. And whisk the eggs right before adding to pan; don’t whisk and let mixture sit (it deflates).” –Kay Chun, Deputy Food Editor

2. “Don’t add milk, cream, or water to the eggs. People think it will keep the eggs creamy while cooking, but in fact, the eggs and added liquid will separate during the cooking process creating wet, overcooked eggs. Stir in some creme fraiche after the eggs are off the heat if you want them creamy.” –Mary-Frances Heck, Associate Food Editor

3. “Don’t use high heat. It’s all about patience to achieve the soft curd. Whether you want small curd (stirring often) or large curd (stirring less), you need to scramble eggs over medium-low heat, pulling the pan off the heat if it gets too hot, until they set to desired doneness.” –Hunter Lewis, Food Editor

4. “Don’t overcook them! Take them off the heat a little while before you think they are done. The carryover heat will keep cooking them for a minute or so. Also: Use a cast-iron or a nonstick skillet. If you don’t, there will be a rotten clean-up job in your future.” –Janet McCracken, Deputy Food Editor

And last but not least, ditch that fork! Scramble your eggs with a heat-proof spatula, a flat-topped wooden spoon, or for the perfect curd, chopsticks.


7 Phrases NEVER to Use at Work (or Anywhere Else)

  1. When
  2. Someday
  3. Willpower
  4. Want/Wish/Hope
  5. Not Good Enough
  6. I Don’t Have The Time
  7. It’s Not The Right Time

6 Steps to Reduce Stress

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Take a Break
  4. Go Outside
  5. Take Deep Breaths
  6. Plan a Vacation

The song isn’t too bad, and the guy has a fantastic voice – but I have never seen dancing more out-of-step-and-time with the song in my life. Ahh, the Scopitone World.


Nobody does it better than Malcolm Gladwell.

I enjoyed this talk and Malcolm Gladwell is so entertaining and informative. Even in a case like this, when his conclusions are completely and absolutely wrong.

For example – the Norden Bombsight. He makes the point that it could not actually drop a bomb into a pickle barrel and that in actual use, it was not very accurate, had a lot of shortcomings, and was negatively affected by weather and wind.

So what.

It did not live up to its hype. Nothing does. It had a lot of unforeseen problems. Everything does.

The important thing is that during World War II the entire free world was in an existential struggle with the forces of fascism and a large contributor to victory was the destruction of German industry wrought by the American bombing forces… using the Norden Bombsight.

The fact is that the Norden bombsite succeeded in its purpose – helping to save the free world. Everything else is just noise – interesting noise… educational noise, even important noise – but noise nonetheless.

Then we come to the drones in Afghanistan. He claims that even with a 95% kill rate the drones make them hate us so much that IED device attacks on US soldiers go up. Exactly where is that connection? Again, we are in an existential struggle against an enemy as evil as we faced in WWII, if not as powerful.

The purpose of the drones is to prevent an organized attack like we saw on 911 – and so far, so good. Everything else is noise. You can criticize the drone attacks as immoral, illegal, or too expensive – but to say they aren’t successful… there’s scant evidence for that. Or at least Gladwell doesn’t present it.

When you listen to (or read) someone as entertaining as Malcolm Gladwell you have to be careful to watch the point of view he is working from. Look for the logical leaps that are glossed over by glibness – like a skilled three-card-monte player, he’ll get you looking one way and slide the card somewhere else.

Sure do like to listen to him, though.


Some guy would like to show you the pictures he took on his last dive trip to the Caymans… but he can’t find his camera.

What I learned this week, October 21, 2011

16 Tips to Simplify Your Life (and Increase Your Productivity)

from Tom.Basson

  1. Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day
  2. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.
  3. Start your day with exercise.
  4. Be obedient to the sabbath!
  5. Learn to say no.
  6. Plan your week ahead.
  7. Don’t answer your phone every time it rings.
  8. Get up early.
  9. Go to bed early.
  10. Eat a big healthy breakfast.
  11. Clean out your closets. Get rid of things you never wear or don’t use anymore.
  12. Stop watching TV.
  13.  Make sure you plan a decent holiday break once a year.
  14. Learn to protect your time.
  15. Do your banking online.
  16. Use Evernote.

Building Three-Dimensional Characters

  • Spine
  • Supporting Trait
  • Fatal Flaw
  • Shadow

I may be a loser and an idiot, but at least I’m not like this:

Family calls 911 when they get lost in a corn maze.

Isn’t that the point of a maize maze? Aren’t you supposed to get lost? I went to one once, with two kids, and it was a little disconcerting – but I was also aware that at any time I could walk through the corn if I had to.


OK, I hate Martha Stewart as much as you do… actually I hate her more, because I actually have a reason to be pissed at her. If you ask me nice, some day I’ll tell you about it.

In the meantime, she may be a nasty little piece of work, but she does know how to:

Make the perfect Macaroni and Cheese


http://ted.com/talks/view/id/961

Uncertainty, Innovation, and the Alchemy of Fear

  • Single Task
  • Exercise Your Brain
  • Reframe
  • Pulse and Pause
  • Drop Certainty Anchors

One of Lee’s friends told us about a pet that I had never heard about. Micro-Pigs.

video

Seems like a good idea, I suppose…. Isn’t that where Bacon Bits come from?

 


Scopitone

The last few weeks, whenever I would sit down at the computer – dipping my toes in the very shallow edge of the warm and wild sea of the internet – looking for youtube videos of old and tacky musical performances – I kept coming across the word “Scopitone.” A lot of musical chintz, commercial pop from the early sixties, especially stuff from Europe…

Some of the best (and worst) of it had the word Scopitone floating above the tawdry grin and shabby outfits, grainy film-transfer, inane and incongruous background singers, and abysmal dance routines. I assumed that Scopitone was a brand, or a record label, or something else rooted in the second-rate musical world of the time. I was right about that, I guess, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I stumbled across what Scopitone actually is.

It is a machine. A musical video jukebox of the time. MTV for the sixties. An Ipod of the day, the size of a refrigerator.

A Scopitone Machine

A Scopitone is a way to pay to view sixteen millimeter films of the stars of the day. The short musical films were stored on reels inside the complex mechanism and delivered up for view on a dark, dim, blurry screen atop the contraption while the sounds, carried on an innovative magnetic track beside the filmstrip, bellowed out of tinny, static-filled speakers.

The Scopitone was developed in France after World War II. The story is that two French engineers built the prototype projector from a 16mm aerial spy camera and used other leftover war equipment for the mechanism. It was very complex and wasn’t perfected until the late 1950’s. I can’t imagine the difficulty of building a mechanism to automatically thread and rewind a pile of 16mm film reels, all in a portable machine the size of a refrigerator.

The interior mechanism of a Scopitone

The machines were mostly placed in loud, noisy, crowded bars full of desperate drunken young men. That is why so many feature skimpy outfits on skinny starlets, shimmying whatever it is that they’ve got for the three minutes or so the song spends wearing itself out.

A classic Scopitone – Neil Sedaka with Showgirls. (Is Miss June Barbara Eden?)

I love the idea of these whirring, clanking, clumsy mechanical marvels competing for spare change with the stale pretzels on the bar. What pitiful echoes of sophomoric erotic thoughts would course through the alcohol-fueled young minds while viewing something like this:

The only thing stranger that the short success of the Scopitone is the fact that these films are still around today. You can buy DVDs. There are blogs dedicated to them. I can go online, type Scopitone into the youtube search field and my screen fills with a list of hundreds of these ancient artifacts. Is it stranger that they are available… or that I actually like to look at them, or even write about them.

Oh well. It is what it is.

This is actually a great song. But why are they singing to a bear?

This one is straight from a burlesque show… and I remember the Dean Martin James Bond spoof of the same name. Did the song come first?

Have to have one with dancers wearing fringed bikinis.

This is the most heartfelt song I’ve ever seen that involved women in bikinis playing skee-ball. “Hey Kids! Play with Peppy”

Always had a soft spot for instrumental “twist” music.

Most of the Scopitone music is obscure and second-rate – but this is one of the best songs of all time… and an interesting visual of the time

And of course, Bang Bang