Monday, January 31, 2011

Little Horses, Big Bicyles

There are many things that seem quintessentially ~Portland~ to me, on very little evidence.  Maybe they are just things of our times, and this is when I happen to live in Portland.

One is the harnessing of little toy horses to those old rings in the sidewalk that are generally thought -- correctly, I think -- to have been put there back in the day for the harnessing of actual horses.

I generally like this custom, at least while the horse in question is still in good shape.  They eventually get pretty shabby.

The other is the presence of very tall custom-welded bicycles.  These are, I suppose, real creative and technical achievements on the part of the people who craft them.  Nevertheless, I must admit that I think of these as "asshole bikes."

The L&TM5K readership spans literally several cities and more than one country!  Tell me -- do these phenomena exist in your place of residence?  Or are they unique to the City of Roses?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

State Reformatory

...but of what state?  I have a guess, but haven't been able to confirm it.  The card was never sent, and has no other clues.  Anyone producing an answer with supporting evidence will be granted three wishes.

Provenance: Purchased at Portland antique shop, November 2010.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bear Chronicles

Dinosaur Museum, Vernal, Utah
July, 2007
(Photo taken just before the Bear got 
in trouble for being in the dinosaur cage.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flag Friday XXII

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: Disliking "bad colours," he gives it a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: It's a little surprising to find red, gold, and green this far north, and assuredly Lithuania has never been a significant player in the pan-African movement.  But that doesn't make the colors of its flag "bad."  Just distinctive.

It's hard from this distance not to think of the Baltic States as a trio, and one thing I like about their flags is that they are all tricolors yet all immediately distinguishable both from each other and from the tricolor of neighboring macrostate Russia.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Hey, speaking of distinctiveness...  Here's the schematic for the flag of Luxembourg:

...and here's one for the flag of neighboring Netherlands:

Keeping in mind that both of these countries border on France, you can't help but wondering if the Luxembourgers might have come up with something that would make them stand apart a little more in the way of national symbols.  In their defense, the design does have roots stretching back eight centuries.  On the other hand, the flag wasn't made official until 1972, and at that late date maybe something more contemporary could have been done.  

Michael5000's proposed more distinctive flag for Luxembourg
Just a thought.

Grade (for the current flag): B-


Parsons: "Looks unfortunately like a target," he says, but it's "original," which is worth a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: The Macedonian flag doesn't really look unfortunately like a target, which generally have an array of concentric circles rather than coverging rays.  No, the Macedonian flag looks unfortunately like the "Rising Sun" flag of fascist Imperial Japan.  But that is not to be worried over, as modern Macedonia is rather remote from the tribulations of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

I actually like the Macedonian flag more than I thought I would when it was first unfurled.  The red/yellow combination is unusual and highly distinctive.  The radiating-rays design is a good one, and Macedonia's take on it goes a long ways towards rehabilitating the concept.  So, a cautious thumbs-up for The State That We No Longer Have to Call the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Grade: B+


Parsons: This time, "original" is worth a "B", 73/100.

Michael5000: I quite like the subtle but simple geometry of the Malagasy flag, which combines three 2:1 rectangles into a simple 3:2 banner.

For some reason, the red, white, and green color scheme has always especially failed to say "Madagascar" to me -- maybe I'm subconsciously looking for some African gold or black in there -- but apparently they are colors with deep historical associations, so what the heck.  In any case, it stands out among the African flags, and would stand out against the flags of its neighbors.  Except, of course, Madagascar doesn't have neighbors.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Unhappy with "bad colours," he nevertheless gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Malawi has undergone the world's second-most recent flag change (since superseded by Burma, but I expect that one will prove to be fairly temporary), and you no doubt followed the coverage here on the L&TM5K.  Niece#3 did, and her subsequent current events paper for Global Studies not only got an "A", but also extra credit for covering a country that no one else had got to yet.  But I digress.  Parsons reviewed a substantially redder flag:

Here they are together, old and new.

And, apparently the new one is actually showing up in real life:

At first (politics aside) I disliked the new design, regarding it as something of a "dumbing down" of the old flag's unusual red-on-black scheme.  Also, it must be said that the new sunburst, though single-color, does have a hell of a lot of fussy little pieces.  That aside, I'm coming to recognize that Malawi Flag 2.0 remains distinctive and is really a little easier on the eyes.

Grade (for the current flag): B+

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Somewhat Less Singular Quilts

While I was finishing up Niece#2's coming-of-age quilt, I was also tossing two much less complicated quilts into boxes and wrapping them as Christmas presents.

Mrs.5000 got StormQuilt #13:

And Niece #3 got StormQuilt #6:

Specs and blather at State of the Craft.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Provenance: Purchased at Portland antique shop, November 2010.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Celebrated Wednesday Quiz


The new weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!

Once more, into the breach! Answers come out on Friday! Or sometime!

1. Originally an Italian banker, he took part in early exploratory expeditions to South America in the service of Spain and Portugal and wrote (or had ghost-written) accounts or their discoveries. Today, he is famous only for his name. Who are we talking about?

2. Igor Stravinsky dismissed his music as "the same concerto 400 times." What Baroque composer is probably 18th Century Italy's most famous redhead?

3. Charlotte Brontë wrote a few other books aside from Jane Eyre. Her second most famous might be one about an English woman named Lucy Snow who works as a teacher in a fictional city that bears a remarkable resemblance to Brussels. What is the name of the fictional city, which is also the title the novel?

4. Where is this?

5. Louis Pasteur was among the first to suspect their existance, after all that work with his microscope failed to turn up a cause for rabies. What are they?

6. Where's this?

7. The Koran calls her سورة مريم, and Greek manuscripts say that she was a παρθένος. Who are we talking about?

8. What's this?  I mean, the bit in the green circle.

9. The element with atomic number 23 isn't found in its pure form in nature, but it was isolated and named in 1831. It's often used in steel alloys. What's it called, again?

10. Who wrote The Age of Louis XIV, Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of the Nations, Zadig, Micromégas, and, oh yeah, Candide?

Give it the old college try!  Or, if you didn't go to an old college, flaunt your independent book larnin'!  Answers in the comments, of course.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coffee Table Book Party: "The Wall"

Heavens, somehow the weeks slip by and suddenly you realize that you haven't done a Coffee Table Book Party post in eight months! Well, that's a situation that's easily enough remedied. Let's get this party moving again!

The Wall; Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis

About the time I was born in the summer of 1968, Soviet tanks were rolling into Czechoslovakia to crush the liberalizing movement of the Prague Spring.  A few weeks later, my sister-in-law was born.  In Prague.  She gave me this book for Christmas this year.

It uses simple cartoons and simple language to tell a simple story about how awful and demoralizing life is under totalitarian rule.

A palette of red, black and white represents life under the Soviet thumb.  Hints of free expression and creative thought drifting in from the West are represented as vivid splashes of color.

Color represents the other side of the wall in a great two-page allegorical map.  We don't always think of the late 1960s as a time of justice, integrity, virtue, and honor in the West, but even such things can be relative.  Here's how the world looked, facing westward, to a Czech teen of the era.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Measure for Measure (BBC, 1979)

The Play: Measure for Measure -- BBC
Directed by: Desmond Davis (1979)

Genre and Setting: One of the comedies, but more in the old-fashioned sense of “giving away that there’s a happy ending” than in the modern sense of “funny.” Not in this staging, at least. The setting is an anonymous “Vienna” that could be any city anywhere. Traditional Shakespearean costume is worn in well-chosen, olde-looking locations.

The Gist: The Duke pretends he’s leaving town, handing the reins to an Uptight Junior Official who, deciding to enforce the letter of the law, condemns a Popular Young Man to death for having somehow caused his girlfriend to become pregnant. The popular young man’s Virtuous Sister pleads for mercy from the Uptight Junior Official, who suddenly realizes what he’s been missing and offers to trade her brother’s life for her “virtue,” if you see what I mean. Meanwhile, the Duke has actually been sneaking around town dressed as a friar, and proposes a way out of the mess requiring only a sordid night-time switcheroo of sexual partners and an interminable final act in which all is revealed in the slowest manner possible.

Measure for Measure plays with some interesting, albeit not especially novel, ideas about hypocrisy and the abuse of power. The Uptight Junior Official’s losing struggle against his worst nature is pretty good stuff, although very out of place in what we moderns consider “comedy.” It’s certainly interesting that enforcement of a harsh penalty for pre-marital sex is unambiguously considered excessive, on the grounds that, hell, everybody does that (Puritans then and now would object, and they have a point: there was and is indeed a certain percentage of people who don’t do that). The most problematic character is The Duke, who deliberately leaves his town in the hands of a tyrant-in-waiting, sneaks around concocting dumb schemes to mitigate the damage, then comes back to dispense long, drawn-out justice and to condemn to the gallows a guy who said mildly insulting things about him while he was in disguise. In terms of power-mad villainy, Uptight Junior Official’s really no worse than The Duke.

The Adaptation: “I may not be joining you for all of these BBC productions,” says Mrs.5000, after sitting through Measure for Measure. As with last week’s Tempest, talented actors are featured within the production values of daytime soap opera. This time at least some effort was put into the sets, which are actually pretty good, but the characters are not really made to inhabit their roles. The tone is set by an early scene: some minor characters are playing a game of dice, but this is shown by them simply taking turns rolling dice. Unlike any other human who has ever played a gambling game, these guys don’t look at the numbers they have rolled. They don’t express pleasure or vexation at their luck. They simply deliver dialog. You might be able to get away with that sort of thing on stage, but in a film adaptation we’re right up close to the actors, and when they behave unnaturally it kills the sense of humanity that plays -- especially really old plays with archaic language -- desperately rely on.

Clocks In At: around two and a half hours. All the scenes are there, but occasional lines of dialog are trimmed.

Pros: The Duke is well acted, as is his Third-in-Command, a wiser administrator who is unable to temper the excesses of the Uptight Junior Official. Good sets.

Cons: Shakespeare seems to feel that the Duke is a righteous ruler who restores order, not recognizing the moral ambiguity of his own creation. It’s billed as a comedy, and ain’t funny. The production lacks any zest or vigor that might help sell the play.

Prognosis: I’m curious to see if anything can be done with this play. With this adaptation as my only exposure to it so far, I’m provisionally using Measure for Measure to start the “Bad Shakespeare” list. And unfortunately, I don’t know if I’ll have access to any other adaptations.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

1100 Jahre Schlatt, 858 - 1958
Einheimisches Kunsthandwerk: Schrank, gemalt von Hans Richner, Schlatt

"Hello Michael.  For me, this is the most boring postcard I found.  What do you think?"

Provenance: Sent by Postcrossing member Egni, October 2010.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Bear Chronicles

On the St. John's Bridge
c. 2007.

Holiday Loot

One of the very nicest things about my compulsive editing of this online internet variety show is that sometimes people give me stuff.  And I like being given stuff.  I like stuff.

Three or four people sent or gave me boring postcards over the holidays, for instance.  In due course, these will of course be featured in installments of the beloved Thursday and Sunday Boring Postcard feature.

But there was other stuff, too!  Regular commenter Elaine sent this copy of the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs 1959 Calendar!

Having determined from a perpetual calendar that 2015 will be the same as 1959, I look forward to using my highly excellent date book in just a little under four years!

Then, lurker Thom, from the British Isles, sent along this outrageously awesome 1953 Ordnance Survey map of North Wales.

I do not know Thom from Adam, so he had no way of knowing that this map covers some of my and Mrs.5000's favorite travel memories, not to mention some of our favorite place names.

Also, old Ordnance Survey maps are mad pretty.

Plus, there was an item from regular commenter Elizabeth that... well, that we'll probably treat that one in a post of its own one of these days.  But you get the point, I hope.  Which is that I like it when people send me stuff!

No pressure.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Element of the Month: Molybdenum!

January's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 95.94 amu
Melting Point: 2623 °C
Boiling Point: 4639 °C

Let's start with the obvious: "Molybdenum" is lots of fun to say.  Try it!  Also, I encourage you to start a conversation with a sentence containing the word "Molybdenum" with the next person you encounter.  Nothing but good could could come of this.

I, for instance, might start a conversation by asking "Did you know my mother-in-law once lived near one of the largest Molybdenum mines in the world?"  True story!  Before she was married, she lived in Climax, Colorado, at that time the highest altitude human settlement in the United States.  The pride of Climax was of course the "Glory Hole" of the Climax Mine, a vast Molybdenum extraction enterprise that, back in the day, produced three quarters of the world's output.  Climax was however abandoned in the 1960s, having been undermined (if I recall the stories correctly) by its own Glory Hole.  When Mrs.5000 and I drove through the area recently, we were impressed by its resemblance to the kinds of ghastly ruined landscapes imagined by directors of dystopian science fiction films with ecological messages.  You can get a feel for the place by checking out the satellite image on Google Maps.  Though no doubt the Phelps Dodge Corporation, owners of the currently mothballed operation, has the environmental situation firmly in hand.

The Centerfold!

If you were paying attention to the introductory information above -- I don't mean to doubt you -- you realize that the Australian Molybdenum shown here must be pretty freaking hot.  It has the sixth highest melting point among the elements, so you have to warm it up pretty thoroughly to get it all bubbly like that.  This leads to its major industrial application, which is as an alloy to steel.  Makes it harder and, of course, more temperature resistant, and this is considered very handy.  Molybdenum is also fairly plentiful and cheap, although its price has zipped up from eight bucks a pound in 2008 to around eighteen bucks now, what with the booming Chinese steel industry.  Still, it remains one of the go-to alloying metals for high-performance steel.

Molybdenum was probably "discovered" in the late 1770s by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, an early chemist who also probably discovered barium, manganese, and tungsten before the people who generally get the credit for those discoveries today.  Apparently the guy didn't fully grasp the significance of what he was doing, and/or didn't have much of a PR machine set up.  Indeed, Scheele apparently discovered Oxygen several years before Joseph Priestly, who, as everyone knows, discovered Oxygen.  Well, that's the historical record for you.  In the case of Molybdenum, formal credit goes to the plucky Swede Peter Jacob Hjelm, who isolated the stuff in 1781.

Toxic (like everything else) in high doses, Molybdenum is however a fairly important nutrient.  If you aren't getting enough, you might be subject to tooth decay, enzymatic imbalances, and a dramatically increased risk of esophageal cancer.  But unless you live in the Central Asian belt which, for some reason, doesn't have much Mo in the soil, you're probably doing fine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Traditional Uncle-Niece Quilt-Giving on the North Pacific Coast

So now that she's seen it herself, I can unveil Niece #2's coming-of-age quilt.

Those of you who pursue The Craft have probably already seen a number of problems and figured out why they happened.  But what the heck, it's soft and warm and N#2 seems to dig it.

I flatter myself that it's a distinctive design.  It was, mind you, inspired by and vetted by N#2 herself, although giving it a cherry-red flannel backing was on my own initiative.  It's arguably something of a contrast with Niece #1's quilt (right).  But then, I've got no two nieces alike.  There will be two more of these to go, and I don't expect those to look like each other, or like either of these.

Specs and lamentations at State of the Craft.

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Composite view of this super highway which connects Tulsa, Oklahoma; Miami, Okahoma and Joplin, Missouri.  
Top: The ultra-modern GLASS HOUSE RESTAURANT which spans the highway at its midway point.
Btm: The modern entrance.

Provenance: Unknown.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz Admits of No Peer


The new weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!

Ready?  Here goes!  Answers come out on Friday!

1. What's the 13th biggest city in Scotland, and the 4th biggest city in Australia?

2. What did Sir Alexander Fleming discover by accident in 1928 that ended up scoring him a Nobel Prize?

3. What is the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid or comet where it is nearest to the sun?

4. What's this?

5. What character says
Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since,
Thy father was the Duke of Milan and
A prince of power....

Thy mother was a piece of virtue, and
She said thou wast my daughter; and thy father
Was Duke of Milan; and thou his only heir
And princess no worse issued.

6. What's the name of these buildings?

7. He co-founded cubism, his vast body of work has the highest monetary value of any artist, he lived to be 91, and his Guernica is among the most recognized of 20th Century paintings, and he was the subject of a whimsical song by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers. Who was this lucky man?

8. Whose trademark line was "That's all, folks!"?

9. These are all examples of a painting genre called the _________.

10. One of the most influential physicists of all time, he named and was probably the single most important figure in the development of quantum mechanics. Who is he?

Give it a try, if not for yourself than for the sake of your family name!  Put your answers in the comments!  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dept. of Found Poetry

The last two out of nine stanzas of "One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro."  Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1961.  

I was sitting in Mike’s Place, Fidel
waiting for someone else to act
like a good Liberal
I hadn’t quite finished reading Camus’ Rebel
So I couldn’t quite recognize you, Fidel
walking up and down your island
when they came for you, Fidel
“My Country or Death” you told them
Well you’ve got your little death, Fidel
like old Honest Abe
one of your boyhood heroes
who also had his little Civil War
and was a different kind of Liberator
(since no one was shot in his war)
and also was murdered
in the course of human events

Fidel… Fidel…
your coffin passes by
thru lanes and streets you never knew
thru day and night, Fidel
While lilacs last in the dooryard bloom, Fidel
your futile trip is done
yet is not done
and is not futile
I give you my sprig of laurel

Found in The Voice that is Great Within Us; American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, edited by Hayden Carruth.  Bantam Books, 1970.

Fidel Castro, 84, lives in Havana, Cuba.  He retired in December, 2010.

However, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, active at 91, could still get the chance to eulogize Mr. Castro.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: The Tempest (BBC, 1980)

The Play: The Tempest -- BBC
Directed by: John Gorrie (1980)

This is not the The Tempest you’re expecting. In this one, Prospero is still a dude.

Genre and Setting: Often called a “romance,” I believe, The Tempest is hermetically set on a desert island. In this adaptation, the set resembles a scrubby vacant lot with some big rocks. The actors are in traditional Shakespearean costume of the kind you might see in a high school production.

The Gist: A magician (Prospero), the banished Duke of Milan, conjures a storm to wreck the ship of his old political enemies. Various romantic, comic, and dramatic episodes ensue among the shipwrecked men and the magician’s goody-good slave (Ariel), his barbarous, rough-hewn slave (Caliban), and his beautiful daughter (Miranda).

The Tempest is among the more intellectually ambitious of the Shakespeare plays, I feel, and there are all sorts of interesting themes at work in’t. I am especially fascinated by how Shakespeare uses Prospero and Caliban to think about the then-new phenomenon of European conquest of other people’s islands. In this deployment of anthropological metaphor, The Tempest can be thought of as an extremely early instance of good science fiction. In my humble opinion.

The synopsis on the DVD cover.
The Adaptation: The BBC was able to pull in some talented actors, but entombs them in the production values of daytime soap opera. The sound quality is poor, the visuals are amateurish and grainy to boot, and the spectacle scenes are painfully, painfully unspectacular. Caliban looks less like the spawn of Sycorax and the devil than the spawn of Chewbacca the Wookie and a Motorhead roadie, and Ariel, naked, anorexic, vapid, and covered with body glitter, is just kind of... icky. But these details don’t really do justice to the badness of the direction, which consists almost entirely of people standing in a barren landscape reciting their lines. This is a play about magic and the nature of power, and as such requires a little oomph. This adaptation is sadly oomph-free.

Clocks In At: around two hours. You get the whole play, uncut but a bit rushed.

Pros: The Tempest is such an awesome play -- in my humble opinion -- that even to just have it read by competent Shakespearean actors is kind of cool.

Cons: The Tempest is such an awesome play that it deserves a better look and feel than you would get from a lesser episode of original-series Star Trek.

Prognosis: I look forward to finding a good version of The Tempest to recommend to you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

University of Washington, Seattle 5, Washington.

Mailed from Seattle to Chehalis, Washington on April 15, 1970.  Text of message in French.

Provenance: Purchased by Mrs.5000 at an estate sale, October 2010.