31.12.07

A Funny Idea About Cream, ca. 1834

"Cream is very nourishing, but, on account of its fatness, is difficult to be digested in weak stomachs. Violent exercise, after eating it, will, in a little time, convert it into butter." From the Universal Receipt Book of 1834.

21.12.07

Myrmecology & the Specific Gravity of the Gods

"Old ideas in science never really die. They only sink to mother Earth, like the mythical giant Antaeus, to gain strength and rise again." -- E. O. Wilson & Bert Hoelldobler, Journey to the Ants (1994)

19.12.07

Santa's Elves are Migrant Workers

...and the North Pole is really the Pearl River Delta.

In 2002, Li Chunmei died after working sixteen-hour shifts on the Bainan Toy Factory's assembly line to meet the demand for Christmas toys. Hers is not an isolated case; deaths like hers have become so common that even Chinese journalists have dared to coin a word for them: guolaosi, or death from overwork.

Eric Clark, in The Real Toy Story devotes a chapter to Chinese toy factory labor ("Santa's Sweatshops").

See also The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Important. Thanks, GG!

Aesthetic of the Mended

In the interest of keeping stuff out of the landfill, I've been trying for some years now to stretch the useful lifetimes of our belongings by repairing things rather than replacing them.

Repairs are time-consuming and sometimes cash-costly, too. My cobbler wanted (and got) $45 to replace the heels and soles of my six-year-old boots. You can buy new (cheap) boots for just a little more.

Jane's clothes routinely fall apart. I suspect most kids' clothing manufacturers assume kids will outgrow their stuff faster than it will disintegrate and they set their production standards accordingly.

Thing is, with all this mending and repairing, we look a little ... mended and repaired. I think, actually, that this is okay. Matt has "work clothes" that look fine. And my work doesn't require me to look like Jackie O.

But I have a new appreciation for my grandmother's insistence on taking obsessive care of one's things. "Keep it nice," she always said. Because fifty years ago, it was Wrong to Throw Things Away if you hadn't worn the hell out of it. Not a bad way to go, if you ask me - but it takes some doing. Including the mental work of resisting the social push for new looking things.

13.12.07

The Daniel O'Brindle (Not Quite a Kindle)

Good for a larf: Daniel O'Brien spoofs the Kindle.

An Army of Ghosts

Harvard just discovers that even when it comes to writing books, graduate students do all the work. Wottashok.

The crux of the issue is, of course, buried way down deep in the article: "Many student researchers wouldn't discuss their research work for this article, even with guarantees of anonymity, because they fear jeopardizing a professor's future support."

Via If:Book (from whom I also pinched the title of this post).

How-To (Saved for Later)

How to install a ceramic tile backsplash.

12.12.07

All in a Day's Work

On the cover of G. Oster and E. O. Wilson's 1978 Caste and Ecology in the Social Insects, there's arresting illustration of African weaver ants, each of whom typifies or stands for a "caste" within a larger, hierarchically ordered ant-society. The illustration is credited to Turid Hoelldobler, otherwise known as Turid Forsyth, a Canadian artist specializing in botanical illustrations and photographs. If this acknowledgment [search on "turid"] of her contribution to some fieldwork with Steodota fulva is any indication, she was once married to Bert Hoelldobler, a German myrmecologist and co-author, with Wilson, of The Ants (1991), for which they won the Nobel Prize.

While Turid Forsyth is not (yet) listed on Wikipedia's page devoted to scientific illustrators, many other women are. And although this year's meeting of the History of Science Society included three or four sessions devoted to the absence of women in both science and the history thereof, I didn't find any sessions devoted to scientific illustrators. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that they are often cast in a helpmeet's role. One need only think of Catherine Boucher, otherwise known as Mrs. William Blake, who was responsible for etching the plates for many, if not all, of "his" most famous works, to understand how easily this kind of work is forgotten or effaced as a result of long-standing historical misapprehension: the "author" of a book is not by a long shot the only person responsible for its appearance in the world.

You might also be surprised to know that Beatrix Potter made scientific illustrations. So did Cecilia Beaux, one of the most celebrated society portraitists of the Gilded Age.

Beaux's case is interesting: While still a student, Beaux took on various work-for-hire projects including making etchings of fossils for the US Geological Survey. In her autobiography, Beaux reflects on the fossil drawings. At the time, her uncle had just taken her to visit his lithography business in Philadelphia, where she was deeply impressed by the huge stones used in making commercial lithographs. Meanwhile, she was trying to draw fossils from another, smaller set of stones, which recorded an impression in mirror-image, like the lithograph. "Reading" the fossil image off these stones was tightly connected, for Beaux, from what she had seen in at the lithographer's.

But the fossil record was thousands of years old. Beaux' first commercial lithograph was for an advertisement that appeared in a newspaper. Given that her initial work involved her in such extremes of duration -- the eternal, the ephemeral -- is it any wonder that she finally settled on portraiture, the representation immortalization of a single moment in a human life, as her preferred métier?

By 1890, with her lithographic work twenty years behind her, Beaux's artistic star was well on the rise. In the next decade, she would paint portraits of Charles Darwin's daughter-in-law, Maud DuPuy Darwin, Dr. John Shaw Billings, surgeon and librarian to the Army Medical Museum and Library in Washington, DC, and Mary Scott Newbold, wife of the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, before winning a gold medal at the 1899 Carnegie Art Institute's international exhibition, where she was praised by William Merritt Chase as "the greatest woman painter of modern times."

1890 also marked the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray -- which famously concerns itself with matters of temporality and portraiture. If this were the only connection between Wilde and Beaux, pointing out the presence of these themes in their artistic lives would be fairly, er, spurious. But other connections, perhaps equally spurious, can be excavated from the historical record... For instance, Wilde was a close friend of J. M. Whistler, whose famous painting of his mother provided the inspiration for the wistful, ambiguous canvas that is widely believed to have launched Beaux's career, "Les derniers jours d'enfance (The Last Days of Infancy)," which she completed in 1886. Wilde's novel also made explicit reference to the decadent novel, A Rebours, by J. K. Huysmans, who was also an astute critic of impressionism and much admired by Whistler (it seems the feeling was mutual).

Curieux univers/ A Curious Universe

From the University of Montréal: Curieux univers lets you sort and classify (images of) dozens of objects, from beetles to artworks, according to your own scheme. Later, you can register your classification and see what others have done with the same material. A fun experiment in curation, with a folksonomy aspect that could be worth exploring. How would you organize life, the universe...?

"Finally" "!!!!" """"

The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks.

10.12.07

Boomertowne Jail

Watching the History Channel's documentary about 1968 last night, I caught an ad for Boomertowne -- with an E! I am definitely not the target audience for this place. But I was amused by the jail, where visitors can nominate and excoriate jailbirds du jour.

Later: The current jailbird is Bandit Keith, an anime character I've never heard of until now. Makes me wonder who's really living in Boomertowne?

This Was Thomas Bernhard

A documentary about the writer (auf Deutsch).

5.12.07

Work-Life Balance? I Think Not.

Jane's been home sick three days solid with a fever.

So I truly sympathize with The Work-Life Cha-Cha, a blog by a mom who blogs about her efforts to "balance" her work, which she does outside the house, with her "life," meaning the work she does at home. Her categories are telling and hilarious. Among them: sick kids, sick day, sick-time, working family, working breakfast, working dinners, diarrhea, ear infections, self-doubt, multitasking, memory loss.

I would add to this: not-napping, tantrums, whining, wiggling, babbling, arguing, insisting, bargaining.

Work-life balance is a bullshitfancy way of saying there aren't enough hours in the day. Let's face it: Work is work. Life is work. A good day in a family with two working parents is not a joyous one; it's not a day that makes you feel vital and alive. No. A good day is when the work gets done. The work-work, the life-work.

For the past three days, my life has been all "life" and no "work," which makes me really, really crazy. The Zoloft dose that used to work for 18 hours now works for perhaps 3. My system can only handle two doses per day; after that, I'm nauseated beyond belief and sometimes I can't sleep. So, in between my carefully titrated infusions of heavy-duty pharm, I drink water and eat dark-chocolate covered espresso beans, which at least help with the lethargy. I count to ten. I breathe slowly. I try to avoid snapping at Jane. It's not her fault she's sick.

Most of my energy is going toward being patient and keeping my mouth shut. I am throttling various urges, knowing they are not productive.

3.12.07

Give Something To Someone. You'll Feel Better.

The Dalai Lama's Rx for the Gimme Season:

"We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace, anxiety, doubt, disappointment, these things are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves an experience of our own suffering is less intense."

via The Happiness Project, which is really not as cheesy as it sounds.

1.12.07

Maybe I Need an SUV.

In twenty years of driving, I haven't had a single traffic accident.

In the past week and a half, I've been in TWO. Both times, the other driver smacked my car from behind while I was stopped at a traffic light.

My brake lights are working! I don't sit in the intersection! I'm a good driver! So what is going on?

The best I can figure, people have now become so accustomed to seeing SUV-style rear lights way up off the road, they no longer notice brake lights on cars that sit closer to the ground.

Last night, when I got hit the second time, the driver backed up and drove away. Hit and run. Gah.