Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day / Summer's Eve

Happy Holiday to all of you UnitedStatsians! And if there's one thing that the L&TM5K believes in, it is avoiding a repeat of either the American Civil War or the First World War!

And for all y'all from the other many groovy countries of the world, here is a nice representation of June from a medieval book of hours. Admittedly, June will not look like this to you if you do not live in a temperate climate. And in the Northern Hemisphere. And for that matter, in a fuedal medieval society. But ain't it pretty?

Image Sources: The Internet

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Provenance: Unsure.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Request up to one weekly in the comments!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Missing Key; a Shaggy Dog Story

I was having trouble with my space bar the other day -- allmywritinglookedlikethis -- and on investigation I noticed that there was a ton of dust and crap built up in the keyboard. I turned it upside down and shook it, but that didn’t help. With a tweezers, I was able to dig out a couple of minor fuzzballs, but most of the junk was too tightly lodged to budge.

Then I remembered that you can actually ~remove~ computer keys. So, with my characteristic caution and attention to detail, I started popping off assorted letters and letting them fly randomly over my right shoulder. This worked beautifully: I was able to dig around inside the computer and clean out a couple of years of accumulated crap until the spacebar stopped giving me grief.

Then, came the hard part, which was finding where the keys had landed in the chaos which is my home office. I found the “N”, I found the “L”, I found the “0 / )” – I found all of them, in fact, except for the “> / .”.

I looked and looked. Mrs.5000 poked her head in, saw me on my hands and knees, and asked what was going on. I explained. She helped scan the floor for a while, but eventually we both gave up. Deciding that “it will show up eventually,” I went back to work, punctuating every declarative sentence by sticking a paperclip into the gap left by the missing key. This was, of course, a HUGE pain in the ass.

A few minutes later, I got lucky and noticed my missing “> / .” key on an unlikely little edge. Its trajectory must have been strange indeed, bouncing at several angles to land, just so, on a place you couldn’t have deliberately sent it if you had tried a million times.

And of course, I was delighted! For not only did I have full use of my computer again, but I got to rush into Mrs.5000’s office and utter, for the only time in my life, that classic line of happiness and relief:

Darling! I finally got my period!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flag Friday VIII

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Parsons: Complaining of a "Bad Tricolour," he gives it a “B-”, 65/100.

Michael5000: Well, what we have here is a tricolor. I don't see what's "bad" about it, particularly -- it's got the three primary colors, a pretty obvious set.

Now here's the deal: Romania has a virtually identical flag, and Moldova, which is arguably the Romanian chunk of the old Soviet Empire, has a very similar flag but with a coat of arms on the center yellow stripe. So, you might be tempted to accuse Chad of copping a design already in use by a European country. But not so fast! Chad came into being and designed its flag in 1959, when the French high-tailed out of Africa, and Moldova's flag didn't come along until 1990.

But what about the old-school country of Romania? Well, it had used a blank tricolor in the past, but during the communist era -- that's from WWII to the early 90s, for those of you who were born yesterday -- there was an appropriate communist national symbol in the yellow stripe. After the cretinous Ceau┼čescu dictatorship was toppled in the late '80s, these symbols began to be torn off or cut out of Romania's flags, sometimes leaving a defiant hole in the yellow stripe. In 1989, the blank tricolor was made official -- but this rendered Romania's flag identical to what was now an existing national flag, Chad's. Chad complained about this to the U.N. in 1994, but Romania understandably didn't feel like changing at that point. I can't imagine that anyone in the international diplomatic community felt too excited about taking the question on; in any event, the issue seems to have faded. If Romania and Chad ever go to war using 18th Century infantry tactics, though, there's going to be real trouble.

Grade: A-


Parsons: He gives it an "A-", 80/100, without comment.

Michael5000: For a UnitedStatesian, the flag of Chile is disconcertingly similar to the flag of Texas, a much wider political unit. Looking past that, something about Chile's flag -- perhaps is it the blue square amidst all the flaggy rectangularity -- mildly displeases me. It's a flag design without any glaring flaw, but also without any glaring merit.

Grade: B


Parsons: Disliking "too many stars," he assigns a "B", 73/100.

Michael5000: Pow! China's flag is instantly recognizable with its hot, hot colors and minimalist design. It's true that there are rather a lot of stars there, and that a star is not the most original of design elements, but interestingly I don't think I've ever really thought about the starriness of this flag. I think of the People's Republic's flag (we'll deal with the ROC later, under "Taiwan") as "the red one with a splash of yellow in the upper left). Which kind of works!

Grade: A-


Parsons: It's "original," but only gets a B-, 65/100.

Michael5000: A horizontal tricolor without the stripes at their typical even widths, the flag of Colombia is to an extent "original" -- until you look at the strikingly similar banner of its neighbor and chronic rival Venezuela, or the even more strikingly similar banner of its southern neighbor, Ecuador.

The Venezuela/Ecuador/Colombia flags use the same essential primary colors as the Chad/Romania/Moldova flags, but employ them horizontally instead of vertically and with the yellow stripe taken out of the center.

Grade (for the current flag): B+


Here's the flag of Comoros that Parsons reviewed:

Parsons: Disliking "Writing!", that it's "too busy," and that it has "too many stars," but liking "good colours," he gave it a "D+", 48/100.

In 2002, though, Comoros unveiled a new flag -- its sixth since 1975, making it possibly the most unstably flagged country in the world.

Michael5000: I kind of like it! The stripes liven up the white-on-green stars 'n' crescent action of the earlier iterations, with the red and yellow especially adding some warmth (although I fear Parsons would likely find them "eye-watering." The white stripe looks a little goofy with the flag spread schematically on a computer screen, but in context you would see that white stripe against the sky or some other kind of colored background, where it would probably look a little sharper. My recommendation to the people of Comoros: you've got a winner. Stick with this one for a few decades.

Grade: A-

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Morte Las Vegas!!!

A few years ago, Mrs.5000 and I drove through Las Vegas, which is kind of like going to the mall but on a much larger scale. Oh, and the mall is on fire -- the visibly declining air quality as you approach the city from southwestern Utah is pretty alarming.

For the most part, the charms of the city were lost on us, but I did make an excited hard left turn when I happened to spot a fenced-off area of a few square blocks along a road a few miles from the city center.

This turned out to be the "sign boneyard," a dumping ground for old neon and electric signs.

Mrs.5000 & I went right to work!

And spent a happy half-hour or more taking photos of the splendid decay.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

B-52 Bomber from Offutt Air Force Base

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz on Vacation

It's bye-week for the Wednesday Quiz, with top three winners UnWise Owl, la gringissima, and DrSchnell enjoying their various fabulous prizes and four and fifth place winners Kadonkadonk and Mrs.5000 seething with rage that only the top three spots get prize.

But while we wait for the Quiz to get its act together, here's something we can all endure together.

Dickens v. Bulwer-Lytton

Remember when I read Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii a while back? No? Well, that's cool. But in the ensuing discussion, B-L was compared and contrasted with Charles Dickens, and eventually a forceful recommendation was put forward that I should read Great Expectations.

So I read Great Expectations. Or, rather, listened to it on cassette tapes(!). And it was terrific, for the most part, with a somewhat muddy final reel that led to an ending which was, well, reasonably satisfying but also a little sappy. At which point, the reader on my cassettes said "Now, that's the ending that Dickens' buddy Edward Bulwer-Lytton talked him into writing. The following is the original ending that Dickens changed on Bulwer-Lytton's advice." Then, he read an alternative ending, a little darker, a little less improbable. Far out.

This led me to Google, naturally, where I ignored the little Pac-Man game in favor of checking out the relationship between Dickens and Bulwer-Lytton. And that's how I found the:

I haven't taken it yet. And obviously there are problems with this kind of thing -- how on earth could the guy who put it together resist the temptation to cherry-pick Bulwer-Lytton's best nuggets and Dickens' worst clunkers? But, I'm going to take it today. Let's see if we can really tell the difference between the guy who is still revered as a cultural touchstone, and the guy who has become a literary laughing-stock.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Great Movies: "Schindler's List"

Schindler’s List
Stephen Spielberg, 1993

In the three years now that I've been working on the Great Movie project, I’ve often wondered what I was going to do about Schindler’s List. It is a film that I recognize as “great,” or at least as having a lot of merit, but watching it again is not an experience I especially care to subject myself to. My strongest memory of watching it the first time, in the theater, is of leaving for the restroom halfway in – not because I needed to pee but because I needed a break from the horror. There, I discovered my roommate, doing the same thing. He eventually headed back for the second half, and I followed him out a few minutes later.

At the time, I was taking a decidedly relaxed German-for-graduate-students-who-need-a-language-proficiency-to-get-their-degree class, taught by an affable gentleman whose wife was a survivor of Auschwitz. Schindler’s List came up in class, naturally, and we learned that my professor’s wife found the movie quite good – “although the actual experience was much worse than anything they could show, of course.”

Well, I can’t blame Spielberg for trying, and I certainly recall his movie being a powerful document. He certainly is to be commended for looking the Holocaust full in the face, as Roberto Benigni would so memorably fail to do in his allegedly uplifting, highly popular, and unspeakably vile Life is Beautiful a few years later. The only problem is this: I’m trying to live a happy life here, and being interested in history already gives me more than enough challenges in pulling that off. Wallowing in some of the very worst moments of recent history is just asking for trouble. Being responsibly knowledgeable about the more hideous examples of what they used to call “man’s inhumanity to man” will have to do. For Schindler’s List, once is enough.

Plot: German industrialist attempts to balance his survival and his new-found humanity in the terror state of the Third Reich, trying to maximize the number of people he can keep from being sent to death camps.

Visuals: Well, it’s been a while. I remember highly effective use of black and white to both evoke the historical period and the bleakness of the situation. I also recall a single child portrayed in color, calling our attention to a single victim in much the same way that Israel called attention to a single victim, if memory serves, in the trial of Adolph Eichmann. Very effective stuff. [Note: Memory apparently does not serve. But there was some trial like that.]

Dialog: I remember being impressed by the way that the characters’ choices of words and phrasing was used to illustrate aspects of their personalities.

Prognosis: Everyone should probably consider watching Schindler’s List once.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Acquisition & Divestiture

Divestiture: When we made the great leap from dial-up to DSL in 2003 or thereabouts, some friends who were making the upgrade to newfangled "wifi" gave us their old router. We drilled a series of small holes in the Castle5000 walls to run cables here and there, connecting two desktop computers to the network. When the laptop came along, its use on the internet involved either lying on the floor next to a third cable from the router, or of course going to the coffee shop.

This all worked quite well for many years, requiring only a weekly-or-so resetting of the router when it would randomly reset itself. But early this month we started experiencing glacial internet speeds that were literally reminiscent of the 1990s. We were horrified, of course. Mrs.5000 spent hours with the DSL provider's tech and sales staff, and I spent hours tediously trying to reconfigure the router by every means I could think of. The problem just got worse, and by the end of the week we had just a single line into the house and the DSL provider offering to provide "home networking" for only an extra gouging a month.

Acquisition: Finally, I went to a big box retailer of home electronics with a reputation for terrible customer service. I explained our dilemma. An affable and knowledgeable sales clerk took me immediately to a new router that fits our needs exactly. It has what strikes me as a comically tiny price tag; the sales guy assured me I didn't need anything more expensive. The transaction took maybe three minutes.

So now we're back up to speed, and I can use the laptop in all sorts of exotic places throughout and near the Castle. It's really trippy. Although I think I'll still go to the coffee shop often enough.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


The World Forestry Center is a magnificently constructed monument to wood where people can learn about forests and man's use of the forest through fascinating animated exhibits. The host of the Center is a spectacular 70-foot Talking Tree (left photo) which explains how a tree grows, using the latest techniques of exhibitry.

Provenance: Gift of the Morgan F. Shirley Collection, 2010.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Request up to one weekly in the comments!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

10 Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without

Long term readers of the L&TM5K will remember Phineas, one-time frequent commenter who even today stops by to dominate the occasional Wednesday Quiz. Among his other mad skillz, Phineas is a serious amateur chef, and has been keeping a, a -- what? a blog? a weekly newsletter? -- on fancy home cookin'. It's called Be a Better Cook - I'll Help -- Cooking Advice from a Passionate Home Cook. Much of what he writes goes a little over my head, frankly, since I am of simple peasant stock and prefer foods that can be prepared, consumed, and, if necessary, cleaned up after in less than a quarter of an hour. But it is well-written stuff, and is getting some critical acclaim out there, so I do recommend it for those of you burdened with sophisticated palates.

Recently, though, he happened to write a post about something which I just happen to have a rare expertise in. It was called "10 Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without." Now it so happens that, many years ago, I found myself marooned on an island -- Great Britain -- for the better part of a year, and was forced to assemble the kitchen tools that would see me through this time period. So I know, from cruel experience, exactly what Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without. Let's take a look at the list that Phineas -- who, probably to protect his privacy, is calling himself "Tom McGuffey" on this new project -- came up with, and see how well he did.

Here's his list:
1: Chef's Knife 8"
2: Cutting Board
3: Peeler
4: 10" and 12" Non-stick Saute Pans
5: 8 Quart Stock Pot
6: Largish sauce pan
7: Paring Knife
8: Strainer / Colander
9: Microplane Grater
10 Dutch Oven
Now, here's the actual list -- as I say, forged from real, cruel experience:

#1: A pot. This is very useful for heating up anything liquid, from boiling water for noodles to preparing a nice can of soup. It is also good for heating up refried beans -- now generally available in the UK, but at the time something I had to special-order by the case from a specialty shop -- or dahl, much more widely available in the UK than here.

#2: A pan. This is good for frying things, such as eggs or pancakes. If you are doing fancy cookin', you can "saute" in it.

#3: A spatula. A necessary companion for the pan.

#4: A spoon. Useful for transferring liquid, runny, or granular foods to the mouth. Also useful for stirring things cooking in the pot.

#5: A fork. Useful for transferring foods that need some kind of stabbing to the mouth.

#6: A knife. In addition to a serrated knife capable of getting through a block of cheese, I also splurged on a table knife. This latter is a rarely used appliance, but it's generally considered part of a culturally appropriate trio with the fork and knife.

#7: A bowl. Good for containing most foods made in the pot while consuming them. Not a strict necessity, as it is perfectly workable to eat out of the pot, but a nicety.

#8: A plate. Much like the bowl, for foods made in the pan. Plates are more important than bowls, as pans can be difficult to eat out of.

#9: A cup. For containing liquids, such as tea or water. This was eventually supplemented with some of the pint glasses that one can find for free in the neighborhoods around British "pubs," or bars, if one is out and about early on weekend mornings.

#10: A cheese grater.

So, we see that although Phineas didn't do a BAD job -- he realizes, for instance, that it's tough to run a kitchen without a pan, a pot, a knife, and some sort of way to grate your cheese -- he perhaps forgotten to think through the final stages of the dining process. As far as I can tell, he's going to be transferring food directly from the pot or pan to his mouth using either a chef's knife or a paring knife, which is not only inelegant, but raises significant safety concerns.

He also includes on his list one item that I can not only live without, but that I can live without knowing what it is: a "Dutch Oven." I was initially baffled by "Microplane Grater" as well, but I'm thinking that's a cheese grater, and having a cheese grater on the list shows Phineas to be a man of good sense who will be able to deliver the nachos when the chips are down. Which is especially good for him, because with nachos you don't need a fork or spoon.

Mind you, the above list cuts close to the bone. I do not recommend living without the following supplementary tools:


#11: A blender. Used to make the banana/orange juice/fruit concoctions that one has for breakfast, and the carrot/orange juice/spinach concoctions that one sometimes has for lunch.

#12: An air popper.

#13: A baking sheet. Cookies!

#14: A cooling rack. Cookies!

Be a Better Cook - I'll Help -- recommended for you foodies out there!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Incident at Store #521

I occasionally find myself writing letters of complaint, but I always feel conflicted about them.

Here's one I sent out a few weeks ago.

Hi. I've been habitually going to Store #521 both for fountain drinks and for gasoline since well before it was a [xxx] property, probably spending in the neighborhood of five or six hundred dollars a year.

Tonight, I walked down to the store only to be told that the cash register wasn't working, and "we can't do anything at all" The gentleman trying to fix the problem was, understandably, looking pretty stressed.

No problem, I said, all I wanted was a fountain drink refill for which I am usually charged 89 cents. I could fill my cup, leave a dollar on the counter, and they could ring the sale once the cash register was working again.

"I can't do that," he replied.

Naturally, I was surprised. I pointed out that he could in fact do it very easily, since the transaction didn't involve using a scanner. I suggested - politely, I think - that remembering to ring in the dollar later was, in addition to an opportunity for a sale, not much of a concession to a customer who had taken time out of the evening to make a trip to the store.

"I can't do it," he repeated, not quite rudely but with some heat. Well, as I say, he seemed under a lot of stress, and perhaps he was bound by a policy? I don't know, of course. He went on to suggest that I go elsewhere in the neighborhood. Having exhausted my arguments, I had no choice but to take his suggestion.

And do you know what? It turns out that not only is there a closer soda fountain to my house, but a closer (and cheaper!) gas station too. So it seems I've just been going to ol' #521 through force of habit, ignoring these other places places because, I suppose, I already HAD a neighborhood gas station.

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting experience. And just to emphasize -- I didn't encounter any real rudeness tonight. Just a baffling inflexibility.

Best Wishes,

So here are my questions:

1. Is it a healthy thing that I let a frustrating social interaction get so far under my skin that I spend twenty minutes writing about it and figuring out where to send what I've written?

2. Is it possible that I'm just being a weasel? Am I a snitch who deserves stitches?

3. Is it a kind of handshake with totalitarianism, that I would essentially collaborate with the corporate overlord against the poor working stiff?

4. Or is it maybe a good idea to write in, keeping pressure on everybody in the system to keep those front-line transactions positive?

Curious what y'all think.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Library Book Sale CD Trove XVII

Finally, we reach the end of reviews of my CD finds from half-price day at the Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Booksale.

dj Cheb i Sabbah: MahaMaya; Shri Durga ReMixed

I am fond of Indian classical music as what you might call chillout music -- I like to play it when I'm writing or paying the bills or doing anything else where I don't want to concentrate, but could use a little groove going on.

What dj Cheh i Sabbah does here is just what you'd expect -- takes Indian classical performances, manipulates them electronically, and puts some beats underneath them. He treads lightly, though, so this isn't club music that you would dance all night too at your local South Asian rave. Indeed, it's a light enough touch that, for several listens, my feeling was more along the lines of "why listen to this when I could just listen to straight Indian classical music?"

Prognosis: It's fine but fairly unremarkable. Good background music for your South Asian imports shop. But I took the disc to work to listen to for this review, and it's kind of grown on me, so I think it will stay with the little work CD collection for the time being.

(Did you see what just happened there? I COMPLETED A PROJECT! I'm not sure that's ever happened on this blog before. That it was the lamest of the L&TM5K projects is immaterial!)

Your Thursday Boring Postcard(s) from Michael5000


Update -- check out THIS Cliff House postcard...



Hub of San Francisco's internationally famous commercial, financial and industrial activities.


Provenance: Christmas Gift from BiggestSister5000, 2009.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Wednesday Quiz II:12 -- The Quiz of Eights

The Wednesday Quiz -- Season II -- Quiz 12

The Quiz of Eights

The Wednesday Quiz is a "closed-book" test of knowledge and intuition; please do not look up answers, ask others for help, or answer as a team.

Questions about the rules and the ~Fabulous Prizes~ are answered here.


This week, answers are worth eight points apiece (of course) unless otherwise marked.

1. The eight basic colors of Crayola crayons have remained the same since the brand was introduced in 1908. For a point apiece, what are they?

2. What does the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protect you from?

3. Catholics and Lutherans consider the Eighth Commandment to be You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. For other Christians, as well as Jews, the 8th Commandment is what?

4. For two weeks in March, 1965 -- between The Temptations' "My Girl" and The Supremes "Stop! In the Name of Love" -- the number one song on the Billboard U.S. singles chart began with these lyrics:
Ooh I need your love babe,
Guess you know it's true.
Hope you need my love, babe,
Just like I need you.
Name that tune.

5. The Noble Eightfold Path consists of:
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
But who says so?

6. The "G8" or "Group of Eight," is a yearly forum that has been held (originally as the G6 and for a time as the G7) since 1975 among leaders of traditionally powerful countries. It does NOT currently include the "Outreach Five" countries whose influence has been on the rise more recently: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa. For a point apiece, what eight countries DOES it include?

7. Remember eight-track casettes? Why were they said to have eight tracks?

8. Of the eight planets -- the L&TM5K is in full support of the 2006 IAU decision to fire Pluto -- which are (for two points apiece)
the smallest?
the one with the shortest year?
the furthest from the sun?
the one that's almost the same size as Earth?
9. The "Noble Gases" neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), and xenon (Xe) tend to be chemically unreactive because they have eight ___________.

10. What is the next Fibonacci number after eight?

11. What, for four points, is this dealie:

12. How do you write the number 8 in a binary numerical system?

13. The eighth book of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is a short story about a widow who finds a new husband. It is the Book of _____.

Submit your answers in the comments!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Movies: "Vivre sa vie"

Vivre sa vie
Jean-Luc Godard, 1962

Vivre sa vie is one of two movies on Ebert's list that are sufficiently obscure, or unpopular, or whatever, that they are not available from the collection of the Multnomah County Public Library. So I made my way up the street to our neighborhood movie rental store Movie Madness, an institution that has cut out for itself a survivor's niche in its dying industry by catering to people who are looking for obscure and unpopular titles. For instance, while I was there they had the sequel to the classic 1989 James-Belushi-and-a-dog vehicle K-9 playing at high volume. I found Vivre sa vie easily in the extensive Goddard section.

"Has it been a while since you were here last?" asked the cashier, failing to find my record. "Um, 1999?" I replied. And then I had to fill out a whole new membership application. "This is outrageous!" I protested.

Anyhoo, Vivre sa Vie. Sez here it means "To Live Her Life," but it was released in the U.S. as "My Life to Live" and in the U.K. as "It's My Life." Whatevs. The subtitle is maybe more important anyway: "A Film in Twelve Scenes." Most of these scenes are set in a single location for a discrete length of time. Some of them are in the form of fairly straightforward film narrative, while others are more experimental.

The overall story [here come the spoilers!!!] is the decline of a minor actress into petty crime and prostitution. She seems unbothered by this, or much else really. But then no one in the movie expresses the slightest emotion throughout, with the exception of a bureaucratic police officer who seems to experience a touch of concern at one juncture. For we are back again into the emotionally constipated school of mid-century European art film, and it's all about the existentialism, baby! So when our character dies suddenly at the end of the film, she of course does so meaninglessly and alone.

The most interesting of the twelve "tableux" are the more experimental ones. The protagonist's induction into prostitution is shown as a long montage of expressionless pickups and encounters while, in voiceover, we hear a highly technical FAQ of the sociology, law, and standards and practices of mid-century French prostitution. It renders the shocking banal, and I imagine was a source of inspiration for some of the indie directors of the 1990s. In the 11th scene, our heroine is in a coffeehouse and runs into Brice Parain, a philosopher of language (played by himself), who has a gentle conversation with her about, well, the philosophy of language. Abstract as can be, it is easily the most humane moment in the film.

Many of the more straightforward scenes, however, are spare to the point that they are frankly kind of boring. Goddard, moreover, was not always as attentive as he might have been to ensuring that we watchers would know what the hell was going on. This is not always a fatal flaw in a movie, but since the entertainment factor is pretty low in Vivre sa vie, being stymied as to why things are happening just causes further frustration.

Plot: Young woman fails to arrest downward trend.

Visuals: What are we to make of the first of the twelve scenes, which is a conversation shot showing the back of the characters' heads instead of, as is more traditional, their faces? It's experimental! It creates a mood! It's annoying! And so with much of the movie. Later, we're going to watch for three or four minutes as the character struggles to write a simple letter. This is very effective at showing us that she is a bit lacking in her intellectual toolkit, but it's also three or four minutes that we are sitting there, watching a pen move on paper. Not riveting stuff.

Dialog: See "emotionally constipated school of mid-century European art film," above.

Prognosis: Slackers meets Pulp Fiction as directed by Jean-Paul Sartre on downers. Recommended for big-time film geeks only.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Acquisition & Divestiture

Acquisition: GPS Receiver. As an early birthday present for myself, I was given liberty to splurge on a GPS receiver. Not the one shown here, though. Mine has a little crack on the screen from the first day I used it, when I was staring at myself walking through the world on the screen instead of looking forwards as I walked through the real world. I tripped over a wire, and tumbled forcefully down, my weight on my palms and the gadget in my palms.

A similar incident happened the second day I played with it, but fortunately it was only my shins, and not the gadget, that got banged up this time.

Why a GPS unit? Geohashing, of course.

Divestiture: I got a new pair of glasses recently, and it occurred to me that I have never, since college, thrown a pair of glasses out once it was replaced.

I kept three, and was able to donate the rest to the Lions Club, who will presumably find someone with even less style sense than me to inflict them on.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Provenance: Unsure.

Want a boring postcard from Michael5000? Request up to one weekly in the comments!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Castle5000 Bedroom Remodel: Q&A

In response to last Monday's post on the Castle5000 bedroom remodel, L&TM5K Vice-Dork Jenners kindly remarked:
I'm sure it feels good to be done ... and I think you did a good job .. but seriously, why not add some color????!!!!!!!!
An excellent question! For Jenners has never crossed the threshold of Castle5000. She has never seen the safety-orange living room! The maroon of the entry way! The bright yellow (with purple trim) of the downstairs bathroom! Never seen the kitchen with its violet floor and royal blue trim! The indigo of the guest room! The Moroccan Ice Blue Bathroom, she has seen only in photographs.

So she could not know that the Castle5000 bedroom colors -- three flavors of white -- were carefully chosen as the only place in the house where color has NOT been added.

And why not? Because it's the only place we can do things like this:

Any other questions?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Reading List: Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

People give lip service to the junior high years being hard, but even so I think it's common to forget how genuinely hellish the passage from childhood to adulthood really is. Early adolescents are afforded a humiliating lack of even the most fundamental personal autonomy. When to wake up, eat, and sleep, what to wear, where and how to spend every hour of the day, how to manage one's personal space: all of these are subject to the strictest parental control. Even when one's preferences are ratified, the degradation of gratitude is implicitly expected, and one is always mindful that the luck might not run so well again next time. The essential tool that one uses to navigate the world and to arrange one's environment to one's liking -- I speak here of money – is always in ludicrously short supply. One's possessions are quite literally, by law, limited to those few square inches inside one's head, and even that little enclave of thoughts and knowledge is continually being probed, sounded, and assessed by all-too-savvy, if hopefully well-meaning, adults.

This abject condition is bearable if one is blessed with a good and stable home in which to wait out the misery among kind people who make clear their interest in your immediate and future welfare. But one is also forced, during this awful time, into a savage world occupied almost entirely by one's peers. In every junior high school across the land, there exists a social environment akin to the horrors of marine biology, where human animals whose sense of zero-sum social ranking has been fully activated but whose capacity for empathy, restraint, compassion, and the gentle art of letting things slide are still a few years from even starting to come online. The result, for nearly everyone making the passage, is a daily misery that would be simply unendurable to we adults who have pushed through to relative safety and forgotten much of the day-to-day trauma we endured, back then.

The Message of Hope

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret is, I think, intended as a message of hope to young adolescents, particularly those of the female persuasion. It is a promise that much of what they are going through has been experienced by others, that it is endurable, and that the ride will, with luck, eventually even out a bit.

The first-person heroine, Margaret, is a remarkably well-adjusted young woman who works her way through five major issues, by my count, over the course of the book. She 1) is confused about religion, having been raised by parents who are lapsed, one from Judaism and one from Christianity; 2) is forcibly relocated to suburban New Jersey from Manhattan by a family move, and thus plunged into an alien social environment and stripped of a grandmother who is her closest adult ally; 3) is moderately freaked out about the physical changes she's expecting her body to start going through; 4) is trying to figure out how to deal with her emerging heterosexuality; and 5) is exposed to the ways that people tell brazen lies about themselves and conduct cruel campaigns of propagandistic slander about others in order to establish or preserve their place in the local hierarchy of social status.

Now it's certainly true that we adults generally spend plenty of time furrowing our brows over religion, proximity to loved ones, body issues, mating, and social infighting. All of us know quite a few other adults who wrestle with one of these themes as the central narrative of their existence. But on average, a healthy adult suffers far less angst about this kind of thing than even the happiest of early adolescents. We've made our choices, eliminated options, gotten used to a certain quantum of daily bullshit, learned how to avoid, glad-hand, or browbeat our more toxic contemporaries, or just found other things to worry about. So it's hard to really feel the impact of AYTG?IMM in the same way as an adolescent might. Reading it as an adult is like chatting with your neighbor the trauma surgeon. He seems like a nice enough guy, but kind of unremarkable; you are aware that he saves lives as a matter of course, but fortunately you don't require his specialized skills at this particular moment.

What I'm saying, I guess, it that this is a book skillfully written for young people of a specific age, and that it makes no sense for me to evaluate it as a piece of fiction when I am reading in early middle age. The Goodreads website, where I log my reading, will want me to issue it one to five stars, but I won't. I could give it one star, saying that it was simplistic and offered me no new insights into the human experience, but that would be foolish and kind of cruel. I could give it five stars as a book that, as I understand it, shaped a whole genre of young adult literature that actually addressed aspects of the young adult experience, but that would be a rating of its reputation, not its merit. I can't tell how good it is; I didn't get to it in time.

A few of you are thinking "yes, dumbass, and you're also MALE." It's a fair point. But males also -- this particular male, anyway, and I suspect almost all of them -- also go through puberty ravaged by insecurity about their physical sexual development. Now, whether the nightmarish worry and wondering about the adequacy of one's penis, about that organ’s humiliating ability to move and change form and betray your thoughts against your will; whether that is trivial compared to the wondering and waiting for breasts and menarche, I have no idea. I very much doubt it's worse, but neither am I completely sure it is a whole lot better.

Margaret, Then and Now

AYTG?IMM is -- if you will forgive the unintentional but acknowledged pun -- a bit of a period piece. Judy Blume is recognizably a progressive of the early 1970s. Clearly in tune with the concerns of young people, she however slips up a few times and lets Margaret notice details about her suburban environment (that the houses and trees, for instance, are all the same age) and about the intrusion of commercialism into schools (a presentation about menstruation is sponsored by a tampon company) -- things that, although of interest to adult progressives, would completely fail to register on a sixth grader’s cultural radar. The New Jersey town that Margaret lands in, too, is a broad caricature of social conformity, literally possessing a choice of a Protestant social club and a Jewish social club, one of which everyone is expected to attend unless they are, like one minor character, Catholics who exist on the margins of society.

I'm curious how popular the book is today. I imagine it must be read a lot, if only because it will have been placed before many or most girls by mothers and aunts and mentor figures who found reading it a revelatory experience back in the day. Does it still retain its power to palliate the process of adolescence in the information-soaked matrix that puberty is currently lived in? My guess is that it can still compete, at least among some readers, with the vampire crap -- "Young Adult Paranormal," I believe the genre has been branded -- that is so fashionable/well-marketed in the early-teen market sector of today. A few minutes on the Wiki can yield all of the information about puberty and adolescence that anyone could know what to do with, but a story about puberty and adolescence in which a character encounters something resembling the actual terrors found there, and shows hope of surviving the ordeal -- well, that must be an awfully compelling narrative to a reader of a certain age.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MapBookFest III: Mapping the World

In which I look at the third of the four books covered in Steven Heller's March 7 New York Times review of books about maps.

Mapping the World by Caroline and Martine Laffon

With a name like Mapping the World; Stories of Geography, this well-made coffee table book sounds like it should be a real slam dunk for a mappy gentleman like myself.

And indeed, it fulfills the basic mission of the coffee table book, offering up many pages of pretty pictures. In this case, the pictures are details from mostly premodern maps.

The book has a different look from most other collections of its type. One reason for this is that it shows not entire maps but picturesque details from maps. This is fine, I suppose, but to me the images seem a bit lackluster thus out of context. The enjoyment of exploring, of finding the quirky details in the context of the map, has already been taken care of for you. These are historic maps, pre-digested.

The image quality is great -- suspiciously great. The images are sharper, less yellowed, less cracked and stained, than documents of their age ought to be. One suspects photoshopping.

Too -- although it seems uncivil to remark on the text or the intellectual underpinnings of a coffee table book -- both are awfully weak in this instance.

I mean, this is a book that starts "Without a doubt, we need poetry to create spaces according to the size of our imagination and to describe the surface of the earth." Oh please.

But, the maps are still pretty if you can put up with the haphazard cropping.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Card #29
DOLOMITE PYRAMIDS, a very rare formation, found only in Major County, Oklahoma, in the Dog Creek Shales (Permian), South of the Cimarron river and the Glass Mountains. About 2/3 actual size.

Provenance: Gift of the Morgan F. Shirley Collection, 2010.