Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feel the Fear, and Take the Charge

[This post's title was inspired by Susan Jeffers's book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I love her title, but I've never read the book.]

I. Out with the Old, In with the New

Good news: At midlife, many of my fears, especially my social fears, have dwindled--or even disappeared altogether.

Bad news: I've got new fears.

Specifically, the fear of physical pain.

I've never been very afraid of being hurt because I so rarely have been.
Basically my plan for living in a body has been:
If it hurts, don't do it.

That pretty much took care of athletics, right there.
And I've been blitheringly lucky enough to have great health, mostly.

But this past year, not only did a 6-hour gallbladder attack leave me wondering how people live with chronic pain without throwing themselves off a cliff,
but I've seen a bunch of people around me go through some serious bodily hurting, with a lot of attendant fear.

It occurs to me that there's going to be more of this before we're outta here,
and that it would behoove me to adopt a new game plan.

II. Game Plan

So, remember I started to watch sports movies after Christmas, looking for wisdom?
(I wrote about it here.)
And quickly discovered why I haven't been watching them all along:
Mostly, they're not about wisdom.
They're about sports.

This past Christmas, I'd asked a coach pal of mine for sports-movie recommendations:
Miracle (2004) is his top favorite.

It's about a coach, played by Ken Russell (right)--whoops, several people pointed out to me that that is, in fact, KURT, not KEN Russell--thanks, keen readers!),
[Look, Margaret: he's in plaid!]--
anyway, a coach who makes his scruffy loser ice-hockey players practice until they vomit so they can beat the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics. Which they do.
(True story.)
That pretty much sums up these sorts of movies.

But there's another kind of sports movie.
The next time I saw my coach friend, he eagerly asked me what sports movies I'd watched.
I told him my favorite so far was Bad News Bears (1975), which isn't even on his list.

[Remember Bad News Bears? Walter Matthau (above, left) plays a drunk has-been who gets roped into coaching a baseball team of loser kids.
In the end, when his team has the chance to win (with the help of crack pitcher Tatum O'Neal), he chooses to let the worst kids play instead, saying,
"Everybody on my team gets a chance to play."]

My coach pal crunched up his face and said, "That's not a sports movie!"

"Sure it is!" I said. "It's about a style of coaching, an approach to playing. It's how I want to be, say, as a movie director."

"Well, if you're that kind of coach," he said, "no one will want to be on your team because you'll lose."

Yes, well, and that's why he lives in a house with five bedrooms,
while I have to put my mattress in the bathtub if I have more than four people over;
but I still don't want to skate till I vomit or make other people, either.

[To be fair, I've gotta say, this guy is a great guy--very generous and in many ways far nicer than me. We just hang out at opposite ends of the competition spectrum.]

III. Movie Moment: "Take the Charge"

I'm not looking at sports movies for tips about How to Win,
but for the psychological underpinnings of things that interest me, including
collaboration, creativity, and courage.

Along those lines, I was at a dinner party last night, and someone said that watching the Olympics made him wonder:
How do athletes deal with fear?
General consensus among the guests was that these superathletes don't feel fear. Which I'd say just goes to show this was not a table of athletes.

I'm sure that except for psychotic people, high-performers feel fear. They feel it, and they do it anyway.
I don't know, but I'd guess that for high-endorphin folks, the fear is probably even part of the rush they get.

Anyway, with my veritable storehouse of Sports Knowledge Gained From Movies,
I added my two-bits:
I told them about the scene in Eddie (1996) where Whoopi Goldberg coaches a Knick's basketball player on how to "take a charge" (also called flopping).

Gee, I haven't written up a Movie Moment in quite a while. This is a great one, here (at 7:50–9:15):
"Whoopi Goldberg Demonstrates How to Take a Charge"

You can watch the whole movie on youTube: Eddie.

RIGHT: Photo of "Charging Foul," by Jed Jacobsohn, from Life magazine*

The dinner guests didn't know what "taking a charge" was anymore than I had,
so here's the deal.
Briefly, it's when player A, on defense, stands in front of player B as B charges up to make a basket.
If player A plants his/her feet, when player B smashes into A, that's a "charging foul" on player B;
so if B made the basket, it doesn't count, and the ball goes to player A's team.
(But if player A's feet move or are too close to the basket, then A gets a "blocking foul.")

Anyway, besides the great action photo here, I also came across an instructional video on "How to Take a Charge" that says good charge-takers have to have 3 things:
1. the ability to watch where the ball is on the court, at all times
2. the ability to watch where their own feet are
--and my favorite:
3. "Courage--because it hurts just as much as it looks like it does."

Courage--that's what Eddie is demonstrating to her basketball players.

So, for me, this all applies to aging and pain and fear.
Unless I'm really, really lucky, I'm gonna hurt sometimes, maybe a lot.
This frightens me, but I think the time is coming to replace "If it hurts, don't do it" with something more like "Take the charge."

Not invite pain on purpose, of course! But learn to tolerate the fear that comes with it.
As Paul Child, Julia's husband, said, there's an art to suffering, which most young people don't know.
And he's right--I haven't learned that art yet.
But I do know it's not about beating the other guy,
it's about staying in the game.
P.S. Oh! As it happened, the host of last night's dinner party had won a pair of tickets to a basketball game next Saturday. He didn't want them, and no one else at the table wanted them either, so I am now the lucky owner of two tickets to see the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Houston Rockets.
(They cost $50 each. Sheesh.)
My friend Maura is going with me and can explain what is happening, though even I can follow a basketball game.
I am so excited!
This means I will attend my very first pro-basketball game the day after my 49th birthday.
* Re "Charging Foul" photo:
NCAA First Round - George Washington v Vanderbilt
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 15, 2007: Regis Koundjia #23 of the George Washington Colonials is called for a charging foul as he puts up a shot over Shan Foster #32 of the Vanderbilt Commodores during round one of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Arco Arena on March 15, 2007 in Sacramento, California.
In this photo: Regis Koundjia, Shan Foster
Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Take Your Pick

LEFT: A modern take-off of the "Keep Calm" poster, from Flowers & Fleurons

RIGHT: The original wartime (WWII) poster, British of course

Ah.That's better.
Now the sun has entered my home sign, Pisces, I feel in my element again.
The element of fluid, paradoxical, nonlinear water,
where the squid frolic and play!
Or kill and dismay.
Or whatever they may...

Oh, happy day!

Yes, and I declare it the season of bad poetry and non/sense too, the creation of which is a human right. Or need. Or something.
And more delightfully on display as people become giddy here in the far northern hemisphere now that the days are getting longer.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Magic Carpet Ride

Last night in a dream, I explained to someone:

"I'm a writer.
I turn Lithuanian into carpets."

Which makes a kind of sense... but, Lithuanian?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mad, Bad, & Sad: The French & Indian War

Next Up: looking into the French and Indian War (1754–1763).
(I'm going to do the communications book too, which I mentioned a while back, but this project comes first.)

I chose the war from a list of possible U.S.-history topics because I don't know anything about it.
Do you?
Or, rather, because I know that what I half-know must be a jumble of misinformation,
and sorting out the junk drawer of my brain is fun.

Like, I figured no way did General James Wolfe, one of the British commanders, die as beautifully as Benjamin West imagines in his famous painting The Death of Wolfe (1770).

(click to embiggen; from Wikipedia)

Wolfe was a complicated guy, I learned, of whom King George II supposedly said, on hearing gossip that Wolfe was mad:
"Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals."

In the painting, the guy in green, on the left, is a Rogers' Ranger, one of a colonial militia whose members, among other things, wore snowshoes to battle in the snow. (Reminds me of the Finnish Ski Patrol troops.)
The rangers attack on an Abenaki town on the St. Francis River during the F&I War was made into a Hollywood movie, Northwest Passage (1940).

In contrast with the Indian warrior of West's painting, here's a watercolor of a jolly-looking Abenaki couple by an unknown artist, from the 1700s.

This morning I also learned that Wolfe wasn't feeling well at all, most of the time.

In 1758, the year before he died, he wrote, “I am in a very bad condition, both with the gravel & Rheumatism," and the next summer, he recorded, “Sad attack of dysentery...”

I'm always amazed how much historic people accomplished without even aspirin.

I must read Simon Schama's literary historical work Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations (1991)--in it, he writes about Wolfe's death and Benjamin West's painting,
exploring the gap between a "lived event and its subsequent narration."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blue Fool

This makes me happy.
Seems some others agree with me that Avatar needed some comic relief.

Blue Mr. Bean, from a round-up of avatards painting people blue: Avatardation,
via The Website @ the End of the Universe

"The Imagined Relationship to Reality"

The folks who contributed to the blogging meme I posted a couple days ago mostly seem to be humanistic science [-fiction] techy types, so I decided to keep checking their blogs.
And, as these things go, one thing leads to another.

Big Dumb Object led me to Gerry Canavan, who posted this:

Essential Weekend Viewing: Kim Stanley Robinson's Talk, “Science, Religion, and Ideology”, (you can watch the whole talk here, plus read some transcriptions).
This is just terrific; it even influenced my dreams after I watched it last night.

This is Part 1 of 7 of the talk. ( That's Canavan giving the intro--he helped organize the event.)

K. S. Robinson, a sci-fi writer, touches on about a million things I've been wondering about as I look at Star Trek and design-
-especially utopianism: the belief that another world is possible, which connects with my attempts to understand what it means to say Star Trek (TOS) was optimistic.
KSR's wry humor proves he believes in "the possibility of comedy" too.

Robinson says history and technology have accelerated to the point where he sees little difference between sci-fi and realism anymore:
"We are living in a science fiction novel that we all collaborate on."

I want to quote every other thing he says, but if you find this sort of thing exciting, you can watch his talk yourself.
I'll just stop here with his definition of "ideology" (science is an ideology, he says as much as religion and politics are):
"Ideology is an imagined relationship to a real situation."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Space: Sans-Serif

Tons of work to do today---this is a quick round-up of images and ideas sparked by my illustrator/design professor friend Tom mentioning that Star Trek design is like the typeface Helvetica, designed in 1957.
Its clean lines are sans-serif (without the serifs--the little tails on letters).

Here--I've changed my blog's font to Arial, a Microsoft clone of Helvetica.
(I'll change it back later, as I think it's hard to read lots of text without serifs.)

LEFT: Poster from the Helvetica NOW Poster Contest for the fiftieth anniversary of Helvetica type font, via Crust Station

In the documentary film Helvetica (2007, dir. Gary Hustwit), graphic designer Wim Crouwel said:
"Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface...
We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface." [italics mine]
Uh-huh. Nothing humans do is neutral. Design has meaning.
Even moral meaning.

I love modern design!
But I am always wary of philosophies--whether political, religious, or aesthetic--that want to tidy up humans. Take a preference for stripped-down design to extremes, and you can even arrive at a kind of cultural eugenics.

An Austrian named Adolf said:
"The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.
--Austrian modern architect Adolf Loos, that is, from his 1908 booklet Ornament and Crime

"Loos [linked] the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts."

Gotta add a little Shatner to muss up the tidy minded...
See the range of ST fonts here. "Horizon" is a typeface designed by Bitstream based on the original Star Trek font.

The Memory Alpha (ST wiki) entry on Star Trek Fonts notes that Helvetica Ultra Condensed is used for library computer displays in ST: TNG (The Next Generation).
But here, left, Gary Mitchell's ESP profile from the TOS pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is mostly in old typewriter font... (with underlinings in pen---how quaint!).

From the very cool entry with screencaps of Images Seen on the Original USS Enterprise Library Computer.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Blogging Tips Meme

I gave up making Kirk of the Week posters a while ago, as they take more time than one might think. But this topic seemed ripe for one.

(I gather Shatner always made sure he was front and center, facing the camera.
If he'd known how beautiful his back was, he would have turned around more.)

I came across the blogging tips meme, below, on Woolamaloo Gazette.

It's from a few years back, but nothing ever dies in the blogosphere.
Still, I checked all the urls, and while I was at it, made them live links.
Interestingly, they're all alive––(except one, which I deleted, maybe wrongly; but it's gone now...)––maybe because a lot of these folks are into the culture of communications, technology and science [fiction]?

I don't tag people, but if this meme appeals to you, pick it up and pass it along.
Or just leave a tip in the comments; I'd love to see what you all have to add.

-Start Copy-

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside any you like.

Add the next number (2. 3. 4., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people.

1. Look, read, and learn. ******

2. Be EXCELLENT to each other. ******* Bush Mackel: "Technology––I Just Eat This Stuff Up!"

3. Don’t let money change ya! **** The Random Forest: "Ramblings, Opinions, Reviews and More"

4. Always reply to your comments. ***** The Kat House, also blogs Blogs We Luv

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ***** Chip's Quips: "A tiny spark of wit for a highly flammable world"

6. Don’t give up - persistance is fertile. **** Velcro City Tourist Board: "Science fiction, science fact and all that's in between"

7. Give link credit where credit is due.**** SF Signal (rich in sci-fi tidbits)

8. Follow your own path. Do anything you want, it’s your blog. *** Big Dumb Object: "A blog about Science Fiction... where Science Fiction is taken in the broadest possible sense."

9. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can blog today. Backlogs are the primary cause of Blogger's Block. **
The Genre Files: "Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror | Fantastic Art | Graphic Novels | Movies | more…"

10. Don’t be afraid of giving an honest opinion when you post, even if it is different from most others, as long as you can explain your position and give a decent reason for it.** Forbidden Planet International

11. Using some visual material can really make a post look more attractive - pictures, photographs, video embeds and so on, and also help break up larger posts, such as interviews and reviews to make them more readable instead of offering a huge chunk of unbroken text. Just bear in mind not to over-use pics and to keep them relevant to the article. And cute kitty pics are always popular * Woolamaloo Gazette: "satire is the best defence in any democracy."

12. Avoid crushing your readers under a tsunami of text.
Besides images [see #11], use subheadings, line breaks, bullet points, whatever, to avoid the "tl;dr" response (= too long; didn't read).
"l'astronave" at

-End Copy-


I found it on the blog of the
Oxford Internet Institute
--OII, or "oii"--how clever is their logo, below right?

Art Sparker sent me this link to a great post:
"What I've learned in two years of blogging",
on John Struan's blog Super Punch.

While I never worry about how many readers I have (I don't even check), unlike John,
I like a lot of his advice on creating a readable blog.

Some of it applies to life in general too, like,
3. Give more than you expect to receive.
I'd add: be sure it's something you want to give, since for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction... somewhere.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Surfing the Curves of Change

LEFT: Surfer Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, about whose surfing adventures her father Frederick Kohner wrote the 1957 novella Gidget

(Fun fact: This cute Californian Jewish teenager grew up and married a Yiddish scholar from New York. Worlds collide.)

I was so excited last night to read in the novel Venus Plus X thoughts about changing technology--about facing the future--from within the era whose design I've been looking at (the pre-Star Trek mid-twentieth century).

With a few changes of names, the author's psychology of change--his advice to lean into the future like a surfer--still holds, fifty-some years later:

From Venus Plus X (1960), by Theodore Sturgeon:

"He remembered reading an ad in a magazine listing ten quite common items on a shopping list,
aluminum foil, an anti-biotic cream, milk in cartons, and the like,
and pointing out that not a single one of these things could be had twenty years ago.
If you lived in a technology like that of the mid-twentieth century,
you were there to see the vacuum tube displaced by the transistor and that by the tunnel diode,
while in one ten-year period the artificial satellite moved from the area of laughable fantasy to a hunk of hardware broadcasting signals from the other side of the sun.
"There were a lot of people living in his time who never did latch on to the idea that the curve of technological progress was not a flat slanting line like a diving board,
but a geometrical curve like a ski-jump.
"Unable to get the big picture, they welcomed the conveniences,
the miniaturization of this and the speed of that,
and then they were angrily surprised when their support of these things
changed their world.
Well he... seemed always to have been aware that progress is a dynamic thing,
and you had to ride it leaning forward a little, like on a surfboard
because if you stood there flat-footed
you'd get drowned."

Bio/Tech: Side by Side

After a little discussion in the comments section about the connection between biology and technology, I thought I'd like to see these three designs side by side.

I hesitated, as the two designs to the right are nice things, while the one on the far-left is not nice at all.
So, please take this in a friendly way: I don't mean the three are equivalent.

Left: H-bomb

Center: Enterprise

Right: Male reproductive system


To quote Margaret on the similarity among designs:
"It's more than coincidence, but it's not deliberate."

Friday, February 19, 2010

365 #127: The Snowball Hat

Talking with people who grew up in the 1960s, they tell me they can physically recall the feel of ice-cold aluminum tumblers in their hands--and they name their favorite color combination of tumbler & Kool-Aid too.

Another '60s design women around my age mention is the furry snowball hat, with its dangling pom-poms.
Well, last night I saw such a hat in the window of a thrift store.
Fifteen dollars. What a steal for a remembrance of times past.

(Pink lipstick courtesy of Cathy.)

Sensory memories are like time travel: When I put the hat on, I'm in fourth grade again. Except the one I had in the winter of 1969 was white.

[I started the 365 self-portraits project on my 48th birthday last year: I only have a couple weeks to nudge the number up; but I just counted and surprisingly I've averaged about one every three days.]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Balls in Space

Infinity Café Flick # 16: Balls in Space (25 sec.)

[May I point out, after you click on the start arrow, move the cursor off the video screen, or the menu bar stays on.]

Thanks to bink for her tossing prowess.

Snippet of music from "The McGinty Wedding," by Manfred's band (links to blog), which you can listen to on e-snips: Trip to Jerusalem .
Used without permission, so I am going to e-mail him RIGHT NOW...
[Note: Manfred wrote back and said I could. Thank you, TTJ!]

I got the thwoocky noise of the balls by playing the video in reverse, in iMovie.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Welcome to the Future"

"When I was ten years old...
I would have given anything,
to have my own Pac-Man game at home;
I used to have to get a ride down to the arcade,
Now I've got it on my phone."

--Brad Paisley, "Welcome to the Future" (2009)

Pondering the 1960s' views of the future makes me think about where we are now:
we have arrived at the future of my childhood.
(In fact, we've survived a couple of the imagined hot spots-- 1984 and 2001--which turned out to be hot indeed.)

So, how're we doing? What do we think?
I adore Brad Paisley's funny, celebratory answer (with just a touch of melancholy in the music), in his country/Southern rock song "Welcome to the Future."

Of course I have to like Brad Paisley--he worked with Bill Shatner on Bills' 2004 album Has Been and wrote the lyrics for his song "Real."

And look what's illustrating the lines
"So many things I never thought I'd see,
Happening right in front of me":
It's the Enterprise shuttle!
Boy's a Trekkie.

(I guess it doesn't hurt that, as my friend John would say, he doesn't scare the horses either.)

"Wherever we were going, well, we're here..."

So... where now?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine Greetings

bink made this but she said I could post it because she's always happy to share the Joop joy. (Joop is her little dog. You can see he isn't into clean-line spaceship design.)

Star Trek and Sixties Design, #18: An Interesting Plainness

"An interesting plainness is the most difficult and precious thing to achieve."
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), German/American architect

Below, left: Kirk in his quarters;
Below, right: Barcelona Couch, designed by Mies van der Rohe *
Mies actually designed the couch in 1930, but his modernist design was a huge force in post-WWII United States.

[Depending on your computer screen, these photos will line up so the end of Kirk's bed meets with the edge of the reddish piece of furniture in the Mies room.]


Why do I care about Star Trek design?

Nothing so high-minded as a pure interest in the physical manifestation of social philosophy:
it really all comes down to that guy lying with his boots on the bed, cutting his eyes at us.

(Which reminds me: Happy Valentine's Day!)

Mies van der Rohe is representative of the "logos" (rational) design philosophy I see in Star Trek:
he was one of the prime innovators of
"a completely new architectural design process guided by rational problem-solving using modern materials...
while dismissing the eclectic and cluttered classical... as irrelevant to the modern zeitgeist."
--from Wikipedia article on LMVDR

Turns out, Mies was inspired, too, by Frank Lloyd Wright (architect of the Guggenheim).

What's interesting to me is that the design of Star Trek seems to reflect this earlier zeitgeist (Mies was part of the Bauhaus, too, mentioned in an earlier post) than any of the more "eclectic and cluttered" spirit of its own place and age.

Star Trek design seems to me to be perched right on the edge of the rift between the Modern and the Postmodern world view, --a rift which becomes evident, I'd say, with the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 and becomes progressively and gradually wider and wider through events such as JFK's assassination in 1963, etc.

Not that these design movements are clearly divided,
of course, any more than anything humans do is.

A further DISCLAIMER: you know, I speak as an American,
and one who has not formally studied design history--all this stuff about Star Trek & design is pretty much me Scotch-taping ideas and images together with the personal impressions of someone born in the Midwest in 1961 (that would be me).
(Not that that invalidates anything I'm saying,
I just wanted somewhere in this series to make clear where I'm coming from.)
* Mies designed this couch after the Barcelona Chair he designed for the German Pavilion (which he also designed, now called the Barcelona Pavilion) at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. The couch is still manufactured by Knoll.

My friends Cathy & Brad's white Barcelona Couch turns up in my movie Orestes and the Fly--it's the couch Queen Clytemnestra, played by Maura, falls and dies on.
As always, Star Trek screencaps from

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Good Guys/Bad Guys

Tip o' the keyboard to bink, who sent me these 21st century Doctor Who pics and pointed out the differences between them and the old Doctor Who and Star Trek.
The design signifiers are the opposite of the ones used in Kirk & Spock's Star Trek world--past and present.
(The later Star Trek series Deep Space 9 and ST: Enterprise vary this formula, but they are not Kirk's world.)

BELOW: The bad guys, the daleks, are the ones with the clean, mechanistic design.

BELOW: While the TARDIS, Dr Who's good-guy ship, is the cluttered, animalistic one. Rather steampunk, with its ornate Victorianish high-tech gadgetry.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Better Things for Better Living or Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

Answers to my question, "Why do the Enterprise and the Guggenheim look like each other?" are starting to come into focus.

As often happens, once the answers appear, they begin to seem blindingly obvious, and I start to wonder why I should bother to mention them.
But I know this seeming obviousness of answers is a trick of consciousness and must be resisted.
So here's something that's coming together for me:

The clean-lined design of the Enterprise and the Guggenheim both reflect a mid-century design preference for logos (reason and clarity) over eros (passion and messiness).
Further, this kind of design tends to view machines and technology as friendly and helpful--something humans can stay on top of--rather than inherently threatening--something that will destroy or control humanity.

LEFT: "So light they almost fly!" Puffin Biscuits, 1956
From Plan 59: Vintage Ads

I. "Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry"

It's hard, now, to hear the chemical company DuPont's "better living" slogan the way it was intended: irony-free, with no Orwellian overtones.

DuPont wanted to sell the idea that its science was our salvation;
but in fact, its slogan was part of the company's public relations campaign to turn its image around, because
"by the mid-1930s, public opinion of DuPont had soured due to Depression-era anxiety, anti-big-business sentiment, and congressional hearings into World War I profiteering that tarred DuPont as merchants of death.”

It worked too, and "helped DuPont more effectively manage its World War II activities, including sensitive work on the atomic bomb."
[History from DuPont's site.]

This view of technology generally held through the post-war prosperity and pro-big-business sentiment of 1950s USA.

This ad (below)* from 1955--the same era as the space biscuits above, is meant to be a friendly image:
ABOVE: "The Voice of the Atom", Union Carbide, 1955

My imagination chokes and sputters trying to see this as less than terrifying, made as it was ten years after the atomic bombing of Japan. Then I remember 1955 is the height of the Cold War, and we are afraid.

Scary things are comforting when you think you're the one who controls them, even if that's an illusion.

Of course, not everybody ever subscribed to this "better living" model--and the 50s are full of warnings about the dangers of technology.
And in the 1960s, it all began to break apart.
1962's Silent Spring again turned public opinion against chemical industries--and Dow's manufacture of napalm between 1965 and 1969 increased that.

Nonetheless, Star Trek design is firmly in the camp that believes Technology Will Save Us:

I've been slow to see why people say Star Trek is "optimistic," since I myself don't thrill to the WASP-normative social model it envisions.
(As always, I'm only talking about TOS--the original series, 1966–1969.)

The show's optimism is in its view of technology:
Star Trek posits that in the future technology will not have enslaved or destroyed humanity. Rather, high-tech represents our rational side, which will ultimately triumph over our irrational, emotional impulses.

Einstein supposedly said, "The world we've made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking." [italics mine]
[Or, more reliably: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking."]

Star Trek suggests that in the future, we humans will somehow have changed our mode of thinking, so we can solve the problems of technology and harness its powers only for peaceful ends.
(If you look closely at Star Trek, there are lots of things that undercut that philosophy. Still, it is its dominant theoretical framework.)
Talk about optimistic...

Related technology, different ends:

LEFT: USS Enterprise blueprint, from the Star Trek LCARS Blueprints Database

RIGHT: Hydrogen Fusion Bomb Design, first tested in 1952. **

II. Logos vs. Eros

The starship and the museum both come out of a mid-century machine-friendly modernist way of thinking--
--the view that rational, nonemotional, sciency design ("logos") for living is superior to irrational, emotional, animalistic/ organic, chaos ("eros").

Star Trek design--and moderinst architecture-- is stripped-down, clean, and uniform.
Technology was going to save us,
and it wasn't going to have anarchistic frippery hanging off it like Jimi Hendrix. ("Excuse me while I kiss the sky.")

[I don't know where Frank Lloyd Wright stood on this matter. He wrote a lot, so I'm sure I can find out, and will. But at any rate, his architecture has those same clean lines.]

RIGHT: Timothy Leary, a different kind of spaceman, from the Woolamaloo Gazette.

Cathy pointed out to me [thank you, Cat!], for instance, how different this "clean" design is from the psychedelic design (and drugs) of the post-modern Sixties.
Which is why I remember the show in its time being pretty square--nerdy in a non-hip way.

III. The Evolution of Starships

The new Star Trek (2009) stays with the old vision: the interior of the new ship looks like a mix of Apple and Ikea stores and a surgical theater.

Compare it, however, with some of the post-modern imagined spaceships of the 21st century:

bink pointed out to me [thank-you bink!], for instance, that Dr Who's TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) has gone from having a science-lab-like interior--

LEFT: The Tardis's original control room with console, from 1963;

--to being practically a steampunk mess inside, held together, sometimes literally, with twine.

RIGHT: The new Tardis's control room/console, 2006(?), looks like the inside of a flower or the intestines of an animal.

(Nice to know some things never change: the TARDIS is still a plain old police box on the outside.)

And Serenity, the ship in Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002), is rescued from a junkyard, a pile of parts constantly threatening to fly to pieces.

The almost last lines of Serenity, the Firefly movie, make it perfectly clear that in Whedon's universe, eros trumps logos:

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: "But it [flying the starship] ain't all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flyin' is? Well I suppose you do, since you already know what I'm about to say."

River Tam: "I do. But I like to hear you say it."

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: "Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her home."

The movie's very last line, however, rather undercuts this romantic notion.
The last thing we hear is the captain saying, "What was that?" as a part of the ship tears off and comes flying at the camera.

We live in a broken-up post-modern world, with a zillion high-tech machines.
How do we navigate our way through it?
* Union Carbide ad from Plan 59: THE MUSEUM OF MID-CENTURY ILLUSTRATION, found at Tangerines in a Red Net Bag, whose banner includes this quote from David Mamet:
"In a world we find terrifying, we ratify that which doesn’t threaten us”.

** The hydrogen bomb blueprint on the site Time Travel Research Center comes with a note:
"It is really really hard to make the almost pure plutonium or highly enriched uranium pits for these bombs."
Just so you know not to waste your time making your own.

"The Hydrogen Bomb," from the Encarta Encyclopedia:

"The Hydrogen Bomb or H-bomb, weapon deriving a large portion of its energy from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen isotopes. In an atomic bomb, uranium or plutonium is split into lighter elements that together weigh less than the original atoms, the remainder of the mass appearing as energy.
Unlike this fission bomb, the hydrogen bomb functions by the fusion, or joining together, of lighter elements into heavier elements. The end product again weighs less than its components, the difference once more appearing as energy.
Because extremely high temperatures are required in order to initiate fusion reactions,
the hydrogen bomb is also known as a thermonuclear bomb.
The first thermonuclear bomb was exploded in 1952 at Enewetak by the United States,
the second in 1953 by Russia (then the USSR)."
Found at's "Weapons of Mass Destruction"

[The never developed cobalt bomb was called a “doomsday device” by physicist Leo Szilard.]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

P.S. Reciprocity

I was waiting at the bus stop today and it came to me:
the word reciprocity.

When I wrote that post about comments a couple days ago, I couldn't sum up in one word what I want out of blog comments, but that's it.
Really simple, but I struggled to get clear about it.
And now I am.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Where Two or Three Are Gathered You Get Blogroll

bink's "power speed bunny" jacket,
bought for 3 euros on the street in Palermo, Sicily

I. Why We Might Be a Bit Dazed; Or, The Internet Is a 16-Year-Old
"Here's one of countless statistics that are liable to induce feelings akin to vertigo:
on New Year's Day 1994... there were an estimated 623 websites.
In total. On the whole internet."
--from "Forty years of the internet: how the world changed for ever", by Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, 23 October 2009. [Thanks for that link, Stefanie!]

623 Web sites...
I think we must add 7 zeros to that number now, sixteen years later.

II. And it's taking us for a drive on an expressway with no maps in a car with no brakes.

Thank you, everyone, for commenting on comments.
It was a great reminder that, as Femminismo says, "My blog is for me," and it's up to us how we want to be online. Everyone does it differently, and there's no right or wrong way.

Indeed, that's one of the challenges: We're making this up as we go along.

The Western world was just getting to its feet after the invention of the printing press when the Industrial Revolution knocked us sideways. Staggering to our feet, the atomic bomb blew the new norm away... and now this, this technology-on-the-hoof stuff.

It's just a lot.
It calls for a certain kind of bravery to take it on, the whole swirling mess of it. I mean, we really are going where no one has gone before.

If humanity survives, in a few hundred years someone will be writing about this time the way historians write about the post-Gutenberg era: how did those poor monks and scribes deal with their world turning upside-down and inside-out?

III. Blogrolls & Followers

So, if you're up for another question about What Are We Doing Here?:

How do you all feel about blogrolls and followers?
Like 'em? Not?

I used to list blogs on my sidebar here, but I ran into some social awkwardness.
One blogger started to write stuff that was distasteful to me; but I felt weird taking her blog off because she was a friend.
Eventually I displeased her, and she yanked my blog off her blogroll in a second.

I felt I was back in the high school lunchroom, with its social tension over who sits at which table. (Facebook is far worse for me, which is why I quickly left.)

As for "followers," I appreciate that option as a way to follow you all (on my dashboard) because I've never used RSS feeds.
*blushes and admits not knowing how to use RSS*

But I don't add the Followers gadget to my sidebar because I don't even know who a couple of the followers are.
Fair enough. It's important to me that blogging is an open system, not restricted (another thing I didn't like about FB)--but that doesn't mean I want to look at these people's pictures.

I'm just calmer if I don't list followers/blogs on my sidebar.

I do like it, however, when other people have blogrolls. Especially I like when the blogroll shows thumbnail photos of recent posts.
But mostly I find other bloggers through the comments they leave on other blogs. Comments give you a kind of fresh sense of who a person is.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

. . . . Care to Comment?

LEFT: Sign on bathroom door at local coffeeshop

I recently read a list of things a blogger hates about other blogs, which got me thinking.

First, here's how I judge blogs: on their content.
Content, content, content.
Automatic music or ads that jump around are annoying, I agree, but if your content is good, I can take it.

But, second, there is something that changes my relationship to a blog:
when bloggers never, or almost never, reply to comments.

Now, I cherish the fact that blogs are whatever their bloggers want them to be. Each to her own. This radical freedom is precious, so I don't condemn much less hate non-response, but I don't understand it.
I guess the non-responding blogger is working from a different model than I am--maybe they see comments more like Letters to the Editor, which need no response?

I see comments as words spoken in public, or a fist bump or a high five:
things which call for some flicker of a reply.
Further, I see the comment section of a blog as a public forum, so while I like it when conversations move off-blog to a private place (e-mail or face to face), I still see and enjoy the comment section as shared conversation, ideally.

Bottom line: If people don't reply to their comments, I may keep reading and loving their blog, but I stop commenting. Maybe they don't care. I feel they don't, anyway.

Further, I was surprised to read among the many comments on the "things I hate" list that some people hate one-word or net-speak comments, such as "awesome" or "LOL."

Let me tell you right now, I am a praise hog.
If you tell me something I wrote made you LOL, I am thrilled.
Further, I am just thrilled that you are here. If you have criticisms, I welcome those too (though please don't yell at me, like on youTube).

I ran into a couple models for blog comments recently:

1. Zhoen, at "One Word", whose sidebar reads : If you don't have a comment, please leave a "stone." (o) So I know you were here.

I love this image of leaving a stone--it's something hikers do that I find incredibly touching--leaving this little message in the wilderness: I was here and I know you are too.

2. Charles, at Razored Zen.
I'm not a regular reader, so when I commented for the first time recently, I clicked on "e-mail me follow-up comments." I was impressed that not only did he reply briefly but thoughtfully to my comment, but he went on and replied to every single one of the 40-some people who commented on that post, even if only to say, "I hear you."

So-- I wonder:
What do you want to happen in a blog's comments section,
as a commenter or a blogger?
Or even as a cyborg.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Expressways and Networks

I. Focus

Filming through the wire mesh of a highway overpass during evening rush hour, I finally discovered how to mess with the videocam's focus, on purpose. (How can I practice shifting my inner focus?)

I think this is my most beautiful micromovie yet.
Light is just so, so amazing... What is it?

Expressway (1:01 min.)

Making these flicks is like creating building blocks or learning basic vocabulary words.
They become the components of possibility.

II. Social Networking without a Phone

[This part of the post got edited for legal reasons, so it may not make a lot of sense, but I wanted to keep the image references anyway.]

As I've been thinking about the connections between ideas and design, I've been looking at design books and came across the designer Charles Eames's diagram of the "social network" (what used to be called friends and acquaintances) of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

(Wouldn't these big talkers have loved a BlackBerry like Obama's?)

I've been wondering if I should get back on FB--at least for a while--and start twittering (is that the verb?).
What am I missing?

BELOW: Eames's diagram "Friends and Acquaintances" for the 1976 U.S. bicentennial exhibition The World of Franklin and Jefferson.
Ben and Jeff in the middle, and the names around them are J. Adams, T. Paine, Lafayette, Washington, etc. [click to embiggen]

I wonder if anyone has done a text message/twitter version of something like the Constitutional Convention, the way people have done Twitter versions of Jane Austen novels, say.

Here's a sample of Pride and Twitterverse, from Under the Mad Hat:
@JaneB Get this! We have to review Darcy’s blog. He has the most beautiful template I’ve ever seen.
@JaneB Holy crap! He just tracked my IP through site meter. AM MORTIFIED!!!
@JaneB But for some strange reason, he friended me on FB instead of getting mad. Colour me confused.

* Diagram from The Work of Charles and Ray Eames (Abrams 1997), posted at Ask Edward Tufte (author of Beautiful Evidence).

Philip Morrison, in an interview on Ray and Charles Eames:
"They really loved the world and how it looked and they tried to understand why it looked that way and what it meant for people and what it meant to see beauty and to see form and to see the absence of those things and everything else and they just went around the world doing that for people--in buildings, and in text, and in film..."

Friday, February 5, 2010

What's behind the door?

Behind the Door #1 (15 sec.)

Behind the Door #2 (16 sec.)

bink provided the old key and locks in her place, and her help, for these micromovies.

They were inspired partly by my childish love
of opening the little windows in the annual Advent calendar,

and partly by the opening scene of
Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998),
a gorgeous film about an ugliness.
Derek Jacobi plays the self-absorbed painter,
and Daniel Craig plays his self-doubting lover George Dyer, who commits suicide. *

It's a painful movie, but it starts with a beautiful close-up of a key turning in a door,
and I wanted to copy that simple shot.
Of course I got nowhere near the brilliance of John Mathieson's cinematography.


* Bacon's studio is a work of art in itself: Francis Bacon's Messy Studio; video of interview with the artist here too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Starship & Museum Bulletin Board #2: Non-Square

"Why do things look like other things?" I asked my friend Jody, printmaker, book artist, and professor of art and design.

"Because they have something in common," she said.
(I always overlook the obvious.)

So, what, fundamentally, do the starship Enterprise and the Guggenheim museum have in common?
They both are not square.
They're not round in every way or in all the same ways, but they're not fundamentally square.

Almost every humanmade thing around me is square, from this laptop I am typing on, to the table it sits on and the room and house we are in.
Things don't have to be square. (I'm not.)

Here are some more images of non-square structures and floaty things that remind me of the starship & the museum. (See also Bulletin Board #1, below)


The Pantheon, Rome, first built in 27 B.C. *
Like the starship and the museum, it has a sort of outrigger feature (its square porch).

A Sinhalese outrigger, from Bjorn Landstrom's The Quest for India.

Found on Indigenous Boats blog, "small craft outside the Western tradition."

Pile of Melmac cups

From My Vintage Addiction

From the BBC: Lost Palaces of Iraq.

"The Great Mosque at Samara is the most memorable architectural image in Iraq.
The minaret was built in about 850 AD and is a 52m-tall spiral."

ABOVE: Mosque in Bougouni, Mali. From Architecture in Medieval Islamic Empires

ABOVE: Radio station headquarters in Krakow, Poland. From the cool blog One Good Thing, which has many examples of nonsquare structures. More images here.

ABOVE: Starship C-57D, from Forbidden Planet (1956). **

ABOVE: Altocumulus lenticularis clouds, from Lee. "Lenticular" clouds are lens-shaped. Also called wave clouds or flying saucer clouds, because they are sometimes confused for UFOs. The Alaska Science Forum notes that when wave clouds form in layers (like above), they are called pile d'assiettes, French for "pile of plates".

Weather balloon. Half the images I found of weather balloons were on UFO sites... This one's from eHow "What Does a Weather Balloon Do?" Turns out they measure the weather in the atmosphere.

Pneumatic bubbles installation, Los Angeles, 2007.
They inflate and deflate when people touch them. More photos at Fox Lin (design team).

Handsculpted porcelain jellyfish.
(These are several feet in height, and made entirely of porcelain--including their... whatever you call their dangly bits.)
From Coe & Waito (links to their blog), found on Trendhunter

Captain Nemo and the crew of the Nautilus observing jellyfish, from the 1870 French edition of Jules Vernes' 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (image from Ocean Explorer).

A diving submarine from Nautilus Submarines & Diving Systems
(For Kellie.)
* Re The Pantheon
Hadrian, who built the Pantheon that survives:
"My intentions had been that this sanctuary of All Gods should reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial globe and of the stellar sphere...
The cupola...revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue.
This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that coffered ceiling so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below, prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods."
** RE: Forbidden Planet Spaceship
Bit of trivia: Joss Whedon codenamed the search-and-rescue ship on the planet Miranda C57D, after the Forbidden Planet spaceship, in his Firefly film Serenity. Miranda is Prospero's daughter in Shakespeare's Tempest, upon which The Forbidden Planet is based.