Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Canadians are at the Gates!

I was horrified this afternoon to find on Google Maps that a spurious geopolitical claim has been made on the Banfield Freeway, I-84 on the beautiful East Side here in the City of Roses.

That's right: The precious artery that connects our fair but isolated city to the rest of the nation has been claimed by a province of our massive northern neighbor, Canada.

Now sure, there are some of you who will laugh this off, calling it a "glitch" or a "software error" or perhaps even a "prank by a disgruntled employee." YOU'RE LIVING IN A DREAMWORLD!!!  We're talking about GOOGLE here!  They don't make mistakes!  They don't have disgruntled employees!  It's well known!!!

To the ramparts!

Lands of the Forgotten Flags

Now that Vexillophilia has been decommissioned, I'm afraid that occasional flag content is now back on the table here at the Life & Times.  Courage!

One of the coolest albums in my grandfather's stamp collection is this one, the Imperial Postage Stamp Album.  It has a cover that, at first glance, seems to combine a couple of recognizable real-world flags with some other plausible but not-quite-real flags that somebody just made up.

But no -- these aren't imaginary flags, they are flags of the past, even from the perspective of the Imperial Album, published in 1934.  Apparently assuming that stamp people are probably flag people as well -- which seems reasonable enough -- the publishers of the album devoted a number of pages to the flags of the world.  In addition to making awesome coloring-book pages for a dorky child of a certain stripe, the flags are an interesting look at the past.

We start with a 45-star U.S. flag, albeit with the stars not in the proper configuration of the 1896-1908 banner.  Then, after quickly noticing that Austria's flag used to be far busier then it is today, and waving hello to friendly, familiar, stable Brazil, we notice that the individual principalities that unified to form Germany are shown individually.  This is kind of trippy, for me at least.  It's a measure of the success of German unification, even despite the East/West thing from 1945 to 1990, that it's hard to imagine a world in which its constituent parts were taken seriously as independent countries.  They even issued their own stamps!  Isn't that adorable?

Presumably, actual Germans have a different take on this.

So we had the Argentine Republic in the first set, and now here's Buenos Aires.  Weird.  Then, we see what a poorer world it was before the Canadians invented the Maple Leaf, and instead used a private-school blazer as a flag.  China had a pennant, apparently?  The Confederacy must have printed postage stamps?  Korea was spelled with a C?  The Danish West Indies chose to represent itself with an image of tiny lemurs furtively humping somebody's wedding ring?  And then, the comfortable permanency of the Dannebrog, always the same since it fell from the sky at the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219.

Finland, country of doctors!

Words can not express how much Iceland's flag seems to have improved.  And India's.  I believe the "Ionian Islands" are part of what we would generally call "Greece" today.

You have to love the bizarre status equality granted among wildly unequal entities on any list of "countries."  Here India, which today has about a fifth of the world's population, rubs elbows with Heligoland, a little German Island which has a population of about 1500 today, after having been evacuated and used as a bombing range in the 1940s and 50s.

Lombardy Venetia?!  Modena?  Lubeck?  Mecklenburg Schwerin?  Montenegro?  It's all so charmingly antique!!

...what, Montenegro is back on?  Cool!  Welcome back, guys!

Portugal, Poland, Iran/Persia, and Norway all get points for improving their flags from what's shown here.  I'm not sure what to say about New Zealand, though.

I'm firmly against pictorial flags, but staunchly pro-elephant.  Siam has me in a real quandry.

Of all the South Pacific islands, Tonga is the one that did the best job of preserving a semblance of self-government through the colonial era, and so its flag stands out surprisingly as one of the old reliables along with Uruguay, Turkey, and Switzerland.  Italian unification must have been the greatest moment in the lives of the oppressed flag-makers of Tuscany and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, I'll tell you what.

Incidentally, the Imperial Album is another biographical puzzle in the grandparents' stamp collection.  1934 is nearly 30 years before there is evidence in the rest of the collection that grandpa was collecting in earnest.  So, does this album indicate that he started a collection in the thirties and then dropped it?  Did he inherit it one way or another from someone else in the family?  Or did he maybe pick it up on the cheap at some garage sale in 1960, it becoming the spark that set off his four or five years of active interest in stamps?  It's unlikely I'll ever know, but for some reason I find it interesting, and somehow comforting, to wonder.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The 5000s at War: "Rivals of Catan"

Many of you have likely played, or seen other dorky people playing, the popular board game "Settlers of Catan."  One of the most successful of the modern school of "German-Style Strategy Games" for smart people who don't like to sustain conversations while they are socializing, Catan is a lovely game that looks something like this:

Only problem is, it requires a minimum of three players.  What are you to do if there are just two of you rattling around your castle and you feel the need to use grain, wool, lumber, and bricks to found a settlement?

Well, I recently bought a two-person Catan game on impulse at the City of Books.

And it has turned out to be kind of awesome!

Rivals is kind of a card game -- at least, it's played with a variety of cards -- and indeed, might be kind of a grown-up version of Pokemon, except I never played Pokemon so I don't really know.  Anyway, some of the cards represent your settlements, the roads in between them, the buildings and leaders living in them, and the surrounding countryside.  Here's my kingdom at the beginning of a game, with Mrs.5000's competing turf over across the range of draw piles.

I've got two villages connected by a road, and then an assortment of terrain that will, with any luck, be generating me some resources.

I've also got a handful of cards.  Some of them are actions that can benefit me or annoy my lovely helpmeet, and some of them are buildings, ships, or people I can place in my settlements by spending resources on them.

They are kind of purty.

The terrain cards have a cool mechanic whereby you keep track of your resources by rotating them.

In this case, I have one unit of wool.  If I get another, by rolling a four or otherwise, I'll rotate the card counterclockwise so that two sheepies are pointing towards me.  If I spend a unit of wool, I'll rotate the card clockwise.  Neat.

You build roads and villages and institutions, and try to urbanize...

But in this case, Mrs.5000 wins in the end.

Rivals was a bit dear at ~$25, but represents good value for money if you are into this kind of thing.  It has well-tuned game mechanics, with a good balance of strategic thinking and blind luck that creates, well, fun.  Also, the basic set actually contains five related games.  There is a relatively simple basic game, three expansion packs that add considerable depth, complexity, and spin, and a free-for-all that incorporates all three expansion packs.  After a month or so of frequent play, Mrs.5000 and I feel like we have a modest grasp of the basic game and only a tenuous understanding of the first expansion set.  It will be a while before we're ready to advance to the second expansion.  So, since the box really turns out to contain five closely related but distinct games -- or at least "gameplay experiences," to flash a little game-geek jargon -- the kit really pencils out to a bargain five bucks a game.

Prognosis: Excellent stuff if you are into strategy games but do not wish to be staring at a glowing screen!

Happy Memorial Day!

in participating nations.  Happy Spring Bank Holiday to U.K. readers, and a joyous Armed Forces Day to all y'all out in Brunei!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


Particulars of glass-making made by Master Valmarana.

Provenance: Purchased at a postcard dork trade show, April 2011.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Michael5000 Rises to the Occasion

As those of you on the Facebooks know, sitting has recently been declared lethal. No, really!

Naturally, it is now incumbent on all of us in the sedentary professions to devise a plan of action to reduce our sustained sitting! At least until the next wave of research reveals that the current findings, although valid, are overstated!  ...and that given a choice of an office chair or a heroin habit, the office chair is maybe the better choice.

Well, I'm here to help. Here are some of the strategies I've been experimenting with since the story broke.

1. Sit less.

Results: Although quite to the point, this plan of action has proved a little elusive in field testing.

2. Work in a large open-plan office where the printer is about a quarter mile from your desk.

Results: I have this one nailed! I am trying to "leverage" this "asset," as we say in the paperwork, by reducing my efficient use of the printer. For instance, instead of saving up multiple documents to print all at once, I am making sure to print each document individually. This multiplies opportunities to interrupt long, hazardous periods of sitting.

3. Drink lots of water.

Results: This can interrupt sitting once, if you go to the tap once to fill a water container to bring back to the desk. But why teach yourself to fish, if you can just give yourself a fish? Using the drinking fountain or water cooler dramatically increases interruptions of toxic sitting.

4. Pee a lot.

Results: This strategy is highly synergistic with #3, above. Obviously the benefit is maximized for those who have mastered the art of peeing while standing up.

5. Stand up while using the phone.

Results: Not only will this combat sitting, but you may find yourself bringing additional confidence and energy to your telephone conversations. I do. Really!  Sometimes it makes me a little punchy, frankly.

6. Open up the workplace environment. When your boss or coworkers bring you a new assignment or criticism of your work, respond by suggesting "Let's take this outside!" or asking "Would you like to take it outside?" This will give both of you a chance to get some fresh air and to have a frank discussion in a non-traditional work environment, all while avoiding the Chair Peril. Make sure to make your suggestion with a lot of enthusiasm, so they know you're sincere!

Results: I haven't tried this one, but I really want YOU to!

7. Walk around purposefully. If you feel like your sitting is reaching a dangerous duration, and you lack a good excuse to stand, here's what to do: put a significant-looking document on a clipboard and walk around your workplace looking at it with an abstracted, slightly worried expression.

Results: This works like a charm, and as a side benefit will improve your reputation as a committed, serious employee. However, do not try this strategy if you are a sole proprietor or, especially, if you are a long-haul trucker.


Results: Though certain to prove effective, this strategy may be subject to the law of unintended consequences. Be sure to think it through carefully before taking action.

9. Come on and dance! Come on and dance! You may not get another chance!

Results: No matter how grimly prescient the Steve Miller Band's ominous assertion has proven to be, you may still find that there remains some social and professional resistance to obliging the Terpsichorean muse in a contemporary office setting.

10. Convert to the "Standing Desk."

Results: Not only will you avoid the perils of sitting, you'll be getting a jump on the new "Lower Back Pain Epidemic."

READERS! Join me in the fight! Do YOU have any suggestions for how we can band together to fit the perils of sitting?!?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Your Thursday Boring Postcard from Michael5000


[Taskhkadzor is a skiing resort town in Armenia]

Provenance: Sent by L&TM5K co-Ambassador to the post-Soviet Fringe Patrick, February 2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz grows out of the barrel of a gun


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

Answers come out Fridayish.

1. Who wrote Boris Godunov and Pictures at an Exhibition?

2. Where's this, then?

3. What's that word for the figure of speech where a thing is called not by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with it. (You know, like "The White House" for "The American Government" or "Madison Avenue" for "the American Advertising Industry.")

4. Dorothea Brooke marries stuffy old Edward Casaubon in this "Study of Provincial Life."

5. From what movie does this image (which has been slightly altered for quiz purposes) come?

6. What always began with the song "Suicide is Painless"?

7. Her last name Ciccone, but she's too big a star to need it.

8. He told Richard Nixon that "I voted for you during your last election," and famously wrote that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

9. What artist created this painting, and what is its significance in the history of art?  Kidding!  Just the painter's name!

10. It is -- by a hair -- the southernmost capital city in the Americas.


The tie-breaker: A whopping 18 countries have a name that begin with this week's letter. List as many as you can.


Put your answers in the comments.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Song of the American Road, pt. 16 -- More Sorrowful Songs of the American Road

Court House, London, Ohio
3732. Kraemer Art Co., Cincinnati and Berlin

Dear Tommy & Mary: Write to me to London Ohio.  how are all of you Jim's mother was Buried on Easter Day it was awful.  How is Baby now  Write  Love to all 



Bridge carrying the roadway to Mt. Rubidoux.  The charm and hospitality of this city is renowned.  A year around mecca for tourists, no place could be more typical of the real California.


Dear Johnnie, We arrived yesterday afternoon.  I was sick all the way -- still am, but hope to be better soon.  The children and grandchildren are all well and send their love.  Wish you were here with us.  Flowers blooming in their yard & their tree so pretty.  Hope you are all right.

Love, E.M.

Thanksgiving Greetings

Dear little niece,

How are you & Ruth getting along?  What are you going to do Thanksgiving?  I would just give anything to see you all.  Glen & Gladys are both about as fat as pigs & mean as they can be.  Tell mamma I will write to her before long.  you must write to me and let me see you your can write.  Your loving Aunt Rita.


The river affords excellent fishing for salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout.  It is closed to commercial fishing.  The Nestucca is one of the many beautiful rivers along the Oregon Coast Highway.


Today I feel much better.  The inflamation is letting up in my eyes and ears.  We are both okay otherwise.

Love, Mom & Dad

The Postage

U.S. Special Delivery Stamp, 1902-1922. Ten Cents.

Dorky Supplemental Information

Monday, May 23, 2011

Michael 5000 vs. The Beatles: "Please Please Me"

So here’s the backstory, as I understand it and without any especial research into the matter, in full confidence that BeatleHeads will jump right in to correct any errors or heresy: The four young dudes from Liverpool had been working like mules on their rock music act, putting in their famous “hard days’ nights” in dodgy nightclubs around England and Germany. Suddenly, they had a few successful radio singles, and it was clear to all concerned that a full-length album would be a highly lucrative commercial proposition. The boys were then herded eagerly into a studio, and recorded the cream of their standard live set over the course of a single long day’s day. John Lennon happened to have a bad cold, giving his voice a ragged quality; it’s interesting to speculate how much influence that cold may have had on the subsequent future of rock vocal stylings.

Key Points:

→ The album represents a dizzying blend of five hyperfamiliar tracks and nine that were completely new-to-me.

→ Singing! The Please Please Me Beatles are, whatever else they might be, a pop vocal quartet. And they’re great! The most remarkable musical feature on this set of songs is the seamless vocal harmonies.

→ I’ve been curious to assess Mike Doughty’s assertion of Paul McCartney’s awesomeness as a bass player. It’s sound. Early 60’s mastering leaves the bass line sounding rather thin by our standards, but McCartney has a subtle touch, keeping a strong but subtle pulse snaking around underneath.

→ Is Ringo the weak link? Nah. He’s not Keith Moon, but he’s a rock on this recording, and belts out a solid working man’s vocal on “Boys,” the best of the lesser-known tracks and possibly my favorite song on the album.

The Beatles Came Along, and Everything Changed?

Certainly not yet. On PPM, the Beatles show more interest in and influence of a wide variety of sources than anything revolutionary of their own. The much-discussed interest in American blues music is apparent, but it doesn’t dominate a sound shaped by the traditions of vocal quartet music, a mildly electrified version of the Folk Revival, and straight up 50s-era pop. The biggest surprise in this opening salvo by the Fab Four isn’t how much they pave new directions, it’s how often they sound like a scruffy version of the Kingston Trio. Well, except without the lyrical sophistication, for this is an album of juvenile and unimaginative little poems about “love,” as love is conceptualized by fifteen year olds. Well, that’s no crime, or if it is it’s a crime still being committed by 4/5ths of the musical acts going.

The Songs

1. "I Saw Her Standing There" -- A vigorous countoff, still sounding like the height of cool nearly a half-century later, is a hell of a way to kick off a recording career. An awesome hyperfamiliar rocker with all four lads performing quite nicely.
Theme: Boy Meets Girl.
Awkward Moment: Utterance of the phrase “She was just 17, if you know what I mean” is considered near-actionable in our in some ways more prurient age.

2. "Misery" -- Likeable but tepid midtempo number. It’s marred slightly by the sudden appearance of a strident piano riff -- the only place on the album, I believe, where the band goes beyond its basic instrumentation.
Theme: Boy Loses Girl
Awkward Moment: “I’ve lost her now for sho. I won’t see her no mo. It’s gonna be a drag.”

3. “Anna (Go to Him)" -- Not a Beatles-written song, it’s a bit of 50s fluff built around a nice little guitar riff.
Theme: Boy, his ass dumped, gives Girl permission to move on.
Awkward Moments: Dude, she clearly didn’t need your permission. Also, the lyrics.

4. "Chains" -- Also not a Beatles song, this may be the Beatles’ most wholehearted excursion into country and western.
Theme: Boy can’t love Girl because he’s chained by love. Wait, what?
Awkward Moment: This song makes no sense whatsever.

5. "Boys" -- A lovely hard rocker, with Ringo belting it out over harmonies laid down by the three stronger singers, this is the heaviest and most prescient track on the album. Led Zeppelin and the Mamas and the Papas can both be heard waiting in the wings.
Theme: Talkin’ ‘bout Boys
Awkward Moment: “Bundle of joy”

6. "Ask Me Why" -- Back to the Beatles’ own writing for a piece of vaguely Latin fluff featuring Lennon’s beautiful tenor voice. You can totally tell he has a sore throat.
Theme: I’m so totally in love baby!
Awkward Moment: “I love you ‘cause you tell me things I want to know.”

7. “Please Please Me” -- Hyperfamiliar but very satisfying, with some of the richest harmonic singing on the album.
Theme: If I’m not mistaken, this song is a plea for parity in the granting of sexual favors.
Awkward Moment: None.

8. "Love Me Do" -- Hyperfamiliar midtempo tune with, again, nice harmony and lead vocals and some serviceable harmonica playin’.
Theme: Boy desires love from Girl, or someone like her.
Awkward Moment: Chicks hate it when you admit that “someone like you” would do.

9. "P.S. I Love You" -- Vaguely smarmy filler song that must felt kind of dated even in 1963.
Theme: Boy writes letter to Girl.
Awkward Moment: “P.S. I Love You.”

10. "Baby It's You" -- A non-Beatles song with a “Sha-la-la-la” chorus dealie.
Theme: Boy expresses willingness to remain with Girl despite her dodgy reputation.
Awkward Moment: “Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!”

11. "Do You Want to Know a Secret" -- A fun and very familiar mid-tempo number, with a slightly off-kilter melody sung beautifully by Harrison.
Theme: Boy loves Girl.
Awkward Moment: A weak intro and an even weaker bridge, apparently tacked on to try to get the song to two minutes. It falls three seconds short.

12. "A Taste of Honey" -- A godawful piece of faux-Spanish exotica. Mrs.5000 claims that this song appeared on every schmaltzy pop album of the late 1950s, and was likely forced on the Beatles by greedy capitalist overlords.
Theme: Boy likes kissing.
Awkward Moment: in toto.  It's fun in Finnish, though.

13. "There's a Place" -- A nice uptempo rocker returns things to listenability. Check out the harmonizing on “don’t you know that it’s so.” The lyrical high point of the album, for what it’s worth.
Theme: Boy finds solace in introspection. And thinking about Girl.
Awkward Moment: none.

14. "Twist and Shout" -- Like “Louie Louie” or “La Bamba” except with arguably different words. We all enjoy this song, of course. If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Theme: Twist! And Shout!
Awkward Moment: Turns out it’s not a Beatles-written song.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your Sunday Boring Postcard from Michael5000

Lemmon, South Dakota

Cone shaped pyramids add to the magnitude of this man-made splendor.  Over 100 of these pyramids ranging in size from eight to thirty-two feet are spread throughout the park..

Provenance: Gift of the Morgan F. Shirley Collection, 2009.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Flag Friday XXVIII

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 "Weapons" and "Bad Colours," he gives it a "C", 55/100.

Michael5000: I like the tricolor-with-sidebar look, but the national symbol on the inside top, although it's just a single color, is hella fussy.  Your Omani Betsy Ross is going to be spending a lot of time with the applique, I'll tell you what.  Probably what she'll want to do instead is get one of the high-end consumer sewing machines where you can link to a computer graphics program, and just stitch that sucker in.  It would get the job done, but it doesn't feel in the proper flag spirit somehow.

Grade: B-


Parsons: "Best use of the star and crescent. Unfortunately, it depicts something astronomically impossible, namely the eclipse of the moon by a star. But perhaps it's not a star but a nuclear satellite-weapon aimed at India?"   "Good Colours" for an "A", 88/100.

Michael5000: It is, as Parsons says, a star and a crescent.  The crescent is of course one of your major Islamic symbols, among Muslims willing to recognize religious symbols, and it isn't intended to represent the moon; the geometry wouldn't be right, even just within the crescent itself.  So the astronomically-impossible business is off-base, or more likely just Parsons playing for laughs.

I like Pakistan's flag!  It's got two color simplicity, and even though the colors and symbols are used by other countries the inside white sidebar really sets it off and makes it instantly recognizable.  Win!

Grade: A


Parsons: With an accusation of "Plagiarism," Parsons gives it a "C+," for 60/100.

Michael5000: Yeah, yeah, "plagiarism," because having a circle on your flag is such a crazy, out-there concept, and Japan and Bangladesh completely wore out the concept.  Or maybe the problem is that the color scheme is derivative of Sweden's?  Whatever.  It's a nice, simple flag, actually one of the most recognizable of the new-generation island flags.  Once you get it in your head that a country called Palau exists -- that's the tricky part -- its flag stays with you like a sun in the tropical sky.  I like the slight inward offset of the circle.

Grade: A-


Parsons: It's "Eyewatering," and it gets a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000:  A distinctive and easy-to-recognize use of your standard-issue red, white, and blue, which is unfortunately a bit on the boring side.  Four quarters, two with stars-on-white and two with solid color fields.  The kind of flag a kid might design, pondering over whether to put the blue star on the bottom right and the red star on the upper left, or....

Grade: B-

Papua New Guinea

Parsons: He doesn't like the "Graven Images," and gives it a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: Well!  New Guinea's flag is right there at the front of the class in terms of distinctiveness.  The diagonal is a bit jarring, though, and each half has some fairly fussy elements to it.  Since all the graphic elements are solid color and at a fairly large scale, though, I'm probably less worried about the fussiness than Parsons is.  As busy as this flag looks as first blush, it only uses four colors.

Hmm, I wonder how it looks on the pole?

Not terrible!  Let's give it a:

Grade: B-

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Wednesday Quiz was founded by George Fox in the 17th Century!


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

Answers come out Fridayish.

1. It's a coming-of-age ceremony in Latin America.

2. He was President of Norway from 1942 to 1945, and probably the only President of Norway whose name has become a word in the English language.

3. What country is this?

4. They're the group that George Fox founded in the 17th Century.

5. It's a category of animals, based on mobility, that includes mostly vertibrate mammals (though not humans) and reptiles -- although there are occasional exceptions, like the preying mantis.

6. What is this a simple example of?

7. They might not have known this when you were in school, but it turns out that these are bright rings of matter being drawn into large black holes in the centers of distant galaxies!

8. Who's this guy?

9. What problematic unit is equivalent, depending on context, to 0.95 liters, 1.10 liters, or 1.14 liters?

10. What is, after feldspar, the second most abundant mineral in the Earth's crust?


The so-called tie-breaker: Try making a coherent sentence with words starting with THIS week's letter!


Put your answers in the comments.