We get the newspaper (emphasis on paper) delivered every morning and will likely continue to do so until it ceases to exist or someone makes a reading device that plays well with food and liquids. I realize more often nowadays that I’ve drifted into the ”get off my lawn” camp of the more experienced population, and I look back to previous generational shifts for perspective. A YouTube commercial (below) from the late 1950s caught my attention as I struggled to relate to the time of its creation. The “Live Better Electrically” campaign was launched in 1956 by the electrical industry (General Electric) to encourage homeowners to use more electricity. Print ads included checklist quizzes to rank your electrical prowess by how many appliances you had plugged in (the opposite of one you might see in today’s “green” campaigns). “Live Better Electrically Medallion Homes” were built and certified with all electric kitchens, washer/dryers and electric heat (much to the dismay of today’s occupants who wish they had gas lines running to their homes, especially in the cold months). Electricity is still fundamental to our modern lifestyles, but the idea of having one’s home awarded for (over)consumption runs counter to today’s culture. Perhaps an amazing energy discovery will lead us back to a time where nobody can recall being yelled at for leaving the lights on.
Each year I read about the Edible Book Festival and it’s around April 1st so I think “does that really happen?” It does really happen (Wikipedia says so). It’s a contest to create edible art inspired by books. The timing, besides being the perfect date to fool around with words, coincides with Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s birthday on April 1st. Since 2000, various literary-minded organizations in multiple countries hold local competitions, award prizes, and then let the entries succumb to their edible fate. Seattle’s Edible Book Festival was held on Saturday with more than 100 entries. Many creations are puns on titles: “A Separate Piece”, “Tequila Mockingbird”, “Anne of Green Bagels”. Some are simply illustrative of the book. Then there are the creative stretches such as “The Invisible Manwich.”
The 573 love letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning record the progression of their romance starting from the first letter sent by Browning in admiration of Barrett’s poetry. The collected letters have been housed at Wellesley College since 1930. On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, the college made the letters available online, scanned and indexed for searching. Even the envelopes are in there. The letters were digitized in collaboration with Baylor University, home of another significant Browning collection. Along with the letters, Wellesley has the box and case used by Browning and Barrett to store the letters they exchanged and the door from the Barrett house with the mail slot through which Browning’s letters were delivered. According to college lore, the slot was screwed shut years ago to prevent Wellesley students from slipping in their own hopeful letters.
I’ve pulled together all my old Oscar gift basket posts into one page. When we moved this site off old Blogger to WordPress I made the difficult decision to convert my old static archive pages, losing all the valuable search engine indexing and incoming links. The search hasn’t recovered with how my archives are set up and I never took the time to cook up an incoming link convertor or other solution. My most popular posts were about the crazy-stuffed gift baskets the Academy Awards gave to their presenters. So I decided to catalog those and add a “Best of” link on the sidebar. It was a nice trip down memory lane.
Davidson Galleries in Seattle is running an exhibition of bookplates both contemporary and antique. Over 200 of these labels of book ownership are on display including those of well-known bookplate artists (yes, they exist!) who were, not surprisingly, usually printmakers. Bookplate subjects are as varied as their owners, though of course reading-related illustrations are common. My bookplates aren’t custom but they’re Laura Ashley (how luxe!) and I’ve only used them on a few very special books. Etsy is a good place to find bookplates to match your personality. I’ve written about bookplates twice before so here are some links I’ve gathered: Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie (still going strong after 5 years), The American Society of Bookplate Collectors & Designers, The Bookplate Society, University of Notre Dame’s Bookplate Registry project, and Stanford’s online Bookplates Exhibit. There are many more bookplate resources out there and collections at many universities.
It’s old news that American shoe manufacturing has moved overseas, mostly to China. One of the few companies still making shoes in the USA wants to tip the balance the other way by marketing its shoes to the Chinese. Allen Edmonds, a privately held manufacturer of men’s shoes in Wisconsin, is opening a store in Shanghai this year. They’re hoping that “Made in the USA” will be as distinctive in China as it has become back home. If the approach succeeds, they have plans to expand into Hong Kong and Macau, but they won’t move production to Asia like so many others have. Allen Edmonds shoes were worn by Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and the Bushes for their inaugurations.
The U.S. Geological Survey started creating topographic maps in 1884. They don’t even know how many maps they’ve produced since then but they’re estimating it at 200,000. It’s such a fascinating endeavor and they’ve written papers on its history. Their National Geospatial Program is scanning all of the old topographic maps into electronic format and making them available for free download. 90,000 are available already. You can also order a reasonably priced print, the same paper format many of us are familiar with for modern USGS topographic maps (available at stores that cater to hikers like REI). The maps are in GeoPDF format, viewable in Adobe Reader and you get even more functionality with the TerraGo Toolbar extension. I downloaded Mount St Helens from 1919. Yup, it’s a lot different now. And back then the maps were all done by people hiking around taking measurements. (Here’s more geeky detail on Mount St Helens topography if you’re interested.)
It’s been 8 years since I started researching the origins of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and this is the fifth year I’ve located it with aerial photos in online maps. Unfortunately this is the fuzziest online map view I’ve had in those years. I usually find a pretty nice photo of the tree in its original location, but this year’s tree, hailing from Mifflinville, Pennsylvania, hasn’t had a good photo op and so we must admire it instead in its decorated glory. Instead I took a screenshot illustrating its proximity to Interstate 80 where a Rockefeller Christmas Tree scout, driving along, spotted it in March. The owner, Nancy Keller’s late husband had wanted to cut the tree down when they first moved there 30 years ago. Now Mrs. Keller gets to fulfill his old wish and also donate it to a very public and worthy cause. After the holiday season ends the Norway Spruce will be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.
Julie Andrews’ scarred vocal cords robbed us of her lovely soprano. Other people with cancer, intubation scars, vocal strain, or other throat conditions suffer even more loss of their speaking and singing abilities. When Andrews went to Dr. Steven Zeitels, a Harvard professor specializing in laryngeal surgery, she learned of the project he and Robert Langer, a MIT professor in chemical engineering, had been working on to simulate vocal cords with a polymer gel. Langer’s lab started with polyethylene glycol, used in numerous medical and other applications. They’ve altered the arrangement of the molecules so that the gel vibrates the same way as vocal cords do when air passes by. When injected into scarred vocal cords, the gel can restore the behavior of the patient’s vocal cords, hopefully restoring their voice. The team hopes to start human trials next year. The Institute of Laryngology and Voice Restoration, which brought Julie Andrews in as honorary chairwoman and counts rock musicians Roger Daltrey and Steven Tyler among its supporters, helped to fund the research. Below is a short video of the gel compared to human vocal cords.
I wish had an interesting John McCarthy story but mine is hum drum. I was at a talk at MIT circa 1990. It was most likely about software patents but I don’t recall the topic exactly. Someone a few rows over stood up to ask a question (actually he made a statement, a good one) and a revered hush spread across the room as we collectively recognized the father of Lisp. He said his piece, sat down and that was that. Since I was actually a Cognitive Science major (who realized I only needed a few more courses for a resume-burnishing Computer Science major) the artificial intelligence topics were especially interesting. I spent a lot of time in LISP and Scheme during college and while I’ve never used them in my career, I’ve always strived for that elegance of expression.