In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hidden Front Wheels
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the very real world of engineering, you can't optimize everything. Putting it another way, engineering is a realm of trade-offs, compromises. For example, instead of text in that comic-strip balloon above your head, we see a glowing light bulb, and your mind is exploding with the word "Eureka!" You suddenly realized that one way to improve gas mileage of automobiles is to streamline the car's body. That comes from reading that aerodynamic resistance, at speed, is a function of a car's frontal area (the number of square feet/meters at the vehicle's largest cross-sectional point) and the coefficient of drag. For a given frontal area, the resistance can be reduced by improving the coefficient of drag by streamlining the car's body. A brilliant insight, but not exactly new. For example, Paul Jaray was investigating automotive streamlining in the 1920s and took out several patents. The Ill-fated 1934 Chrysler Airflow made use of wind-tunnel tested streamlining in an effort to reduce drag. One of the ways to cut drag is by eliminating or controlling sources of air turbulence. For instance, projections from the car's body such a rear-view mirrors can create turbulence. Since mirrors are essential to driving safety and cannot easily be eliminated, they are now housed in streamlined shields; when I was a lad, they were the shape of a dentist's mirror, presenting a nearly flat surface to the wind. Another source of turbulence is holes or gaps in the body surface. The largest such gaps are the wheel wells. Therefore, when engineers and stylists began to think seriously about streamlining in the 1930s, they set about eliminating wheels wells, both front and rear. Let's take at look: Gallery Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" Reducing drag of wheels was nothing new in the field of aviation. The P-26 fighter, first flown in 1932, was one of many designs that featured streamlined "spats" over the wheels and landing gear struts. This was a compromise. The spats improved streamlining over open struts and wheels, but a better aerodynamic solution was retractable landing gear. But retractable gear were heavy and complicated. So spats were acceptable for P-26s that had a top speed of a little more than 200 mph, but weren't the best solution four years later when Curtiss Hawk 75s could hit 300 mph. Most 75s had retractable gear, but the 75Ns that were sold to Thailand had spats. Norman Bel Geddes model, 1934 Pioneer industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes created several aerodynamic car designs in the 1930s. The copper model shown above has eight (!!) wheels and a body whose interior might have been a akin to todays' minivans. Note that both the front and rear wheels are covered by fenders. Panhard "Dynamic" 140 coupe, 1937 If you look closely, you can see that there are three windshield panes, a large one and small curved ones at each side. Panhard called this primitive wrap-around system panoramique; General Motors mass-produced single-pane wrap-arounds starting in 1953-54. What can't... posted by Donald at May 3, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, May 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lynn is turning 50. Youngster! * Hey, baldness can be studly: Chris White points out the funny and informative Take It From the Head, self-described as "The Gallery of Shaved Head Musicians." Photos and info about tons of musical cueballs to be enjoyed. * Stuff Asian People Like explains that whole badminton thing. * Roissy turns up a study that reaches some depressing conclusions about marriage and sex. * David Chute confesses that he has a taste for melodrama. * Steve and commenters have a lot of shrewd hunches about why our lawgivers think insane immigration rates are such a great thing. * Dark Party Review picks 10 great teenflicks from the 1980s. Hmm: Cute as Molly Ringwald was, I could never really stand John Hughes' work ... So I guess my fave of the bunch is "Valley Girl." Or maybe "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." (UPDATE: Here's a 2004 interview with Molly Ringwald.) * Part of Thursday's translation of Ecclesiastes is going to be published. * Katie Hutchison celebrates some beautiful carriage-house doors. * How are dogs and children similar? How are they different? * Pants for geeks. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * A great line from Baldilocks: "Grown folks expect criticism; children in adult bodies mistake criticism for being dictated to." * Rick Darby speaks up in praise of the wonderfully eccentric jazz pianist Erroll Garner. * MBlowhard Rewind: In this posting I wrote about all kindsashit. The really interesting bit, though, is about the history of the director. Did you know that until the 19th century plays didn't have directors? To quote m'self: "The Greeks, Shakespeare, Mozart's operas, etc -- all were performed without a director." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Service Charges
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Daniel Flynn snarls at Ticketmasters' absurd "service charges." Daniel is the author of the new "A Conservative History of the American Left." He's interviewed by FrontPage magazine's Jamie Glazov here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Another Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The top 50 hedge fund managers earned a combined $29 billion in 2007. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Razib and Tyler on Lit and Guys
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Razib asks a lot of good questions about guys and contemporary fiction. Tyler Cowen picks up the thread. Many commenters run with it. Yours truly contributes this little bit: A couple of additional things y'all may get a kick out of chewing on: When you're talking about contempo fiction, most of you seem to be thinking about contempo "literary fiction." Literary fiction generally sucks. It's wimpy, depressive, and fussy. It's also an artificial construct. Literary fiction as we currently know it is an invention of the '60s and '70s, something in arts terms akin to the Great Society programs of the era. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, O'Hara ... There were higher and lower forms of fiction being written in those days, but it was all part of a continuum. They wrote for popular magazines, after all; they had bestsellers. More about this here. One of the reasons contempo fiction seems weak to many people is that ... well, to be frank, book publishing is one of the most feminized industries around. Back in, say, 1970, the editorial side of book publishing was probably 80% male, and many of them were hetero. These days, the editorial side of book publishing is probably 75% female, and many of the guys are gay. Good for them, of course, and they bring many virtues. Unfortunately, the ol' rampaging-male-stallion energy is not one of them. Book publishing is a bit like Vassar or Smith these days. Guys sense this, and they avoid the field -- red-blooded yet arty types tend to go into music, or TV, or movies instead. Same holds for creative types. The more outgoing, dynamic creative guys are writing TV these days, or creating webseries, not trying to put their thing across in book publishing. Despite all this, there's some awfully good new and newish fiction out there, even for the tastes of people who prefer action to contemplation. The reason you may not know this is that you're being ill-served by the reviewers and the press. They're anxious, striving, Ivy wimps, generally, eager to impress each other with their fussy taste. (Or, worse, wannabes. Imagine that: wuss wannabes.) A couple of suggestions: try more crime and western fiction -- Westlake, Richard S. Wheeler, Leonard, Gorman, Hillerman, Crais and many more in America ... Ruth Rendell, Peter Dickinson in England ... And have any of you read Steven Pressman's "Gates of Fire," about the Spartans' defence at Thermopylae? That's a really amazing, stirring novel. This is high-quality fiction. But a lot of it is flying under the radar. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Websurfing virtuoso Charlton Griffin keeps turning up gems: * Learn about the legendary American landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Don't miss the slide show. * Maybe a few lines and wrinkles aren't such bad things. Interesting fact: "Of the 11.8 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. in 2007, less than 10 percent were done on men." * As if the Marimba Queens aren't enough to make your eyes and ears pop, check out that slap bass player. * Also worth a listen / watch: the Wilford Brimley diabetes dance remix. * Here's a delicious true-crime story about new-style identity fraud, young-and-shallow edition. Here's a page of photos and details that will enhance your reading pleasure. Some more pix. * Thank god for a little truth in college advertising. * The worst of the worst -- and when the topic is musicals, that's saying a lot. * Penis snatching in West Africa is back. Be especially wary around taxi drivers wearing gold rings. *Japanese misuses of English can be a riot, can't they? Those with a taste for the raunchy will want to click here too. * The gas that will turn a grown man into a slacker. * What did Leonardo Da Vinci look like? * Pat Condell isn't a man you can hold back. Here he blasts Scientology. * 18th century England's working classes dressed nattily. Thanks to Charlton. As you may know, I'm a big fan of Charlton's work as an audiobook producer and reader. Help yourself to his new version of "Crime and Punishment" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Global population is expected to rise 33% in the next 40 years. Source. Semi-related: I marveled at the way that population growth has been forgotten as a political-ecological-sociological-whatever concern: here, here, here. Patrick Burns puts together a couple of population-growth animations that show that the human race isn't in any immediate danger of going extinct. In fact, if I live to be a hundred, I'll have watched world population rise by 350%, and the U.S.'s population go from 150 million to over 400 million. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

What'll They Bracket Next?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Long-time readers might recall that Michael has this, er, thing regarding typographical brackets in advertisements, editorial layouts and so forth. Like [this] {sort} (of) stuff. His first salvo on the subject can be found here. Ah, but now the bar has been raised. Behold the following snippet from an advertisement for EliteJets, a business jet chartering firm: Over to you, Michael. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Diebenkorn, Dubrow
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of art shows I visited recently were rewarding not just because of the excellent art but because of some unexpected connections. The first was "Diebenkorn in New Mexico." Are you familiar with Richard Diebenkorn? His reputation goes in and out of fashion, at least here in New York, and I've lost track of what kind of esteem he's currently held in. He was born in 1922 and died in 1993, and spent most of his life in California. He was known for his figurative painting and for his abstracts, and also for the unself-conscious way he moved back and forth between representationalism and abstraction. His figurative pix are easy to read in abstract terms; his abstract pictures seem far more grounded in real-life perception (of landscape especially) than most abstracts are. His "Ocean Park" series, which he began painting in the late '60s, is probably has best-known work. As far as this show went: Using G.I. Bill money -- the history of the impact of the G.I. Bill on American art really needs to be written -- Diebenkorn studied at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque from 1950 to 1952. He was then in his late 20s. This was a show of drawings and paintings he did during those couple of years. These are images made, in other words, before he became a known quantity. I loved the show, which I found it refreshing, and pleasingly visual. No conceptual hijinks here, thank god. Thank god too that this wasn't high-period, magesterial, masterly art, purified by vision and tempered by experience -- I wasn't in the mood for any of that. No, in these drawings and paintings there were lots of stray ends, and even bits of undigested corniness. But that was perfectly fine with me: This was a show of the work of a talented young man, and much of the fun of it was enjoying Diebenkorn's youth, his energy, his adventurousness, and his sometimes goofy experiments. He was having fun himself, blundering eagerly from one idea to the next. Diebenkorn apparently loved the desert -- the Indian glyphs, the dazzling light, the muddy / tawny colors. He also, at this time, loved George Herriman's comic strip "Krazy Kat," and he'd recently studied with another fave of mine, the Bay Area Figurative painter David Park. The images Diebenkorn made in New Mexico are a jumble of all this and more. They aren't theoretical, they aren't just about "the paint." They're doodly, blotchy, sometimes rhapsodic / sometimes silly catch-alls, made from lived experience and visual awareness. This is what's on my mind; this is what's in my eyes. Personally speaking, what I tend to enjoy most about Diebenkorn is his lightness, his perceptiveness, and his quickness. He often used oil paint (generally a time-and-effort-intensive medium), he sometimes painted on a large scale, and he was certainly influenced by such backache-inducing modernists as Clyfford Still and Willem De Kooning. But Diebenkorn's paintings have... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

A Couple of Incarceration Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Heather Mac Donald looks at the figures and concludes that the reason so many American jail prisoners are black isn't racism, it's that so many crimes are committed by black people. Sad fact: "From 1976 to 2005, blacks [13% of the population] committed more than 52% of all murders in America." * The Washington Post reports that an overwhelming number of prisoners in French jails are Muslim. Molly Moore visits the Lille-Sequedin Detention Center and writes: "This prison is majority Muslim -- as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country's prison system are Muslim ... though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country's population." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Biz and Travel Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael Wade compresses a lot of wisdom about the virtues of quick-and-dirty into this short posting. * Did you know that the cubicle-style office was born of utopian theorizing? * Alan Little returns from a business trip to India. * As the Olympics approach, Welmer recalls what Beijing was like when he was there in the late '90s: here and here. * The dollar is taking a serious dive, of course. (A guy I chatted with last night does business with China. He told me that big-box shoppers -- who have been used to bargains on China-made goods for some years now -- are in for some serious price shocks come the end of 2008.) But how secure is the Euro? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Food and Health Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Are vegetarians really healthier than meat eaters? * No reason not to have some chuckles at the expense of the localism-and-organic crowd, of course. Still: How many of those chucklers are aware of what Monsanto is up to? * Another insane health tip is laid to rest. It turns out that there's no reason whatsoever to drink eight glasses of water a day. Which prompts a musing: If we're really serious about improving our health and our happiness, maybe the first thing we should do is dismantle the health-tips industry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

A Couple of Architecture Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Catesby Leigh thinks the New Urbanists should stop arguing about buzzwords. * Andrew Cusack celebrates a new building designed to fit in, not stand out. That's what 99% of buildings should set out to do, it seems to me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fear of Baldness
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are things that men fear. For many men, I suspect, the top three are (in order): death, impotence and going bald. The first two seem pretty scary, but I'm not so sure about the third. Actually, that's not quite right. The fear of going bald is real, otherwise there wouldn't be an entire industry devoted to toupees, hair transplants, hair-growing lotions and so forth. What seems odd regarding that fear is the fact that baldness, in varying degrees, is something a large percentage of men will encounter at some point in their lives. Something a lot less serious than dying. And less serious than a lot of other misfortunes as well. So why the panic? I don't really know, because I never feared going bald. I suppose that's because I didn't begin losing hair seriously until I was well into my fifties and therefore didn't have to deal with the issue when I was young. And when I did notice that bald spot, I took it philosophically and simply changed to a buzz-cut hairstyle to avoid the silliness of making ever more radical comb-overs as the hair receded. I'm hardly being original if I speculate that men's reaction to baldness is usually related to two other fears: aging and failure to attract women -- the two often being related. Both fears are probably stronger for younger men, say under age 35 or 40 or so. Some people age early, but most men are more young than old into their mid-30s. To them, baldness is something for older guys, and it could be a real shock if it happens to themselves. They also tend to think that women prefer men who aren't bald. Although most people probably fear aging, it's something that can't be avoided; when it happens, one must deal with it -- once the denial stage has passed. One way of dealing with it is to camouflage it by means of cosmetic surgery, Botox, hair dyes and those baldness remedies mentioned above. Another strategy is to age as gracefully as possible. But aging is a side-issue here. The real issue is whether or not baldness is a turn-off to women. I have no doubt that there are women -- mostly young ones, I would guess -- who truly find bald and balding men unattractive for various reasons. On the other hand, a lot of women don't seem to mind it at all. Perhaps some equate baldness to masculinity. Others had fathers who turned bald and, because they loved their Daddy, have no hangup over other men deficient in the hair department. Plus, women tend to prefer men at least a little older than they are, so maturity of the hairline shouldn't be such a bad thing, I would think. Still, despite all these comforting thoughts from an age of maturity, I'm not sure how I would have reacted if my hair had started to fall out at age 27, say. If I... posted by Donald at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (44) comments

Icon World
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Before the first Macintosh went on sale in 1984, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "icon" used to describe a stick-figure "graphical" visual before. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "graphical" before either. But all of a sudden it seemed that everyone had an opinion about "graphical interfaces." Here's a shot of the original Mac 128k screen: It seemed a like foreign (if appealing) universe. Outlines? Impersonal lines? Hyper-simplification? Pictographs? It seemed more like ancient Egypt than modern America. In America circa 1980 you might occasionally run across schematic drawings by engineers and architects: Those male and female outline-drawings that pointed you to men's and women's toilets were a staple of international airports. But -- strange though it can seem today -- the arrival of pictographs seemed pretty damned exotic. The world simply hadn't been heavily decorated and punctuated with hyper-simplified symbolic line images. These days, by contrast, it can seem as though icons (like tags) aren't just everywhere, they're a defining characteristic of modernity. What's a button, or a screen, or even a thought, without its own icon? I'm OK with this in a general sense, not that my opinion should matter. Eye-candy? -- I often like it, especially when the eye-candy serves a usability purpose as well as a delight purpose. I'm reminded that, back in the early '80s, I knew a writer who was struggling unsuccessfully with adapting to computers. Publications were demanding that writing be delivered in computer form, and -- as brilliant as he genuinely was -- the poor guy simply didn't have a computer-compatible brain. The screens presented by early-'80s PCs (green letters on black) put him off. File systems baffled him, and having to memorize basic computer commands ... It all made him just about weep with frustration. I don't mock this, by the way. People who don't happen to have brains that synch up well with computers are at a serious disadvantage these days. Come to think of it, one of the biggest changes I've witnessed in my lifetime is the development of a general expectation that everyone should be able to manage computers. It's a strange expectation, when you think of it. I work in an arty-media field, for example, yet it's all now based on computers. How bizarre that English majors -- English majors!! -- are expected to be competent with computers. Hey, IT people: There are perfectly decent and intelligent people out here whose brains just don't do the computer thing very well. Yet here we are today, nearly all of us spending our professional days serving the great computer god. There are moments when it all seems like nothing more than a naked power-grab by the geek class, doesn't it? Anyway, as of 1983 my writer-friend was in despair. His brain just didn't -- and really couldn't -- work the command-line way. Then, in 1984, he bought a Mac, and his problem was... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

StoryMill On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I did a lot of enthusing about a new and terrific class of writing tools for the Mac. Short version: They aren't word processors or page-layout programs. They're more like project organizers. Gather all your research, all your drafts, and all your files in one place, and move among these resources quickly and intuitively -- no more contending with files-scattered-everywhere. Then, when you've finished writing, make your project look pretty in a word processing or page-layout program. Novelists and other book-writers are likely to find these products godsends, but they're also helpful for any writing project longer than about 5000 words. Really-truly: Using these products will likely reduce your writing-organization headaches by 90%. One of them -- originally called Avenir and recently renamed StoryMill -- has just gone on sale. I've settled on Scrivener myself, and love it. I have nothing but good things to say about Scrivener; it strikes me as one of the most brilliant pieces of software I've ever used. But StoryMill -- which, unlike the more customizable Scrivener, has been optimized for fiction-writing -- is an excellent product in its own right. Current price: $29.95. That's a serious bargain. Another Mariner Software program that I like a lot is MacJournal, a small miracle of versatility. You can use MacJournal to keep a journal, or even many different journals. But you can also use it as a general bin for all your writing. Why go searching every which-where to find something you've written when you can dump all your writing in one place instead? As with StoryMill and Scrivener, if you use MacJournal you'll want to export (or copy-and-paste) your masterpiece into a word processor for prettying-up before showing it off. But that's a small price to pay for a great big heap of convenience and ease. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Chick Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost tells Dark Party Review that she thinks of "Dangerous Liaisons" as excellent erotic fiction. * More Bellucci gorgeousness. * Alias Clio has some tips for da dudez. Ian, Thursday, Peter, and PA offer disagreements, as well as tips of their own. * Postmodern burlesque queen Dita van Teese once made a sex tape. (NSFW) * Thousands of aging British women travel overseas every year looking for sex with young foreign men. Not all of these liaisons work out well. * Gwynnie loves gyro. * Johanna Soderlund thinks that a lot of people might benefit from reducing the quantity of carbs they eat. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, April 28, 2008

Immigration on Video
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Learn some of the basics about our current immigration mess from Vdare's Ed Rubenstein: Part One, Part Two. An arresting fact from Ed's presentation: Immigrants and their children will account for 80% of U.S. population growth through mid-century. Heather Mac Donald spells out some further costs. A standout fact from Heather's talk: Since 1989, over 70% of the growth of the health-care uninsured in the U.S. comes from immigrants and their children. George Borjas goes into the topic in considerable depth here. Fun fact from George's talk: Nearly 15% of the American workforce is now foreign-born. In 1970, that figure was less than 5%. How about California's workforce? It's now over one-third foreign-born. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 28, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Parachuting Into Flyover Country
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Next Wednesday (7 May) we fly to Chicago for 11 days in the Midwest. Nancy hasn't been there other than airport stopovers, so this trip is for her to get to know that part of the country better. My parents were born in Illinois and Ohio and I've visited the area many times while driving through or when consulting for A.C. Nielsen, General Motors and Chrysler back in the 80s and 90s. But I haven't been there since 2000 or thereabouts and am not up-to-date regarding what's worth seeing. For example, I haven't been to Chicago in about 15 years. I plan to visit the Art Institute. Friends say that a boat tour of the architecture is worth taking. And we'll of course check out the Loop and Michigan Avenue and perhaps one of the zoos. Nancy isn't that hot on technology so we might skip the Museum of Science and Industry and other Midway area attractions. Plus, we don't really want to spend all our time in museums anyway -- my attention span in them ranges between 60 and 90 minutes. Elsewhere, I plan to visit Ford's Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and perhaps take a peek at the Air Force Museum in Dayton to see what's new. Other than that, nothing very definite. We plan to be in: Madison, WI; Springfield, IL; Indianapolis, IN; Columbus, OH and perhaps South Bend, IN in addition to places previously noted. We probably don't have a large enough time budget for spending hours and hours in one place, but if any of you have suggestions regarding interesting places to see along the route I just sketched, let me know. I plan to pack a computer and will try to post when I can en route. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Propaganda Misfire?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was leafing through a book about the history of posters and happened upon this: "What England Wants!" - Egon Tschirch, 1918 It was inspired by a 3 January 1918 Daily Telegraph article quoting Labour party member Johnson-Hicks (I can't find more detailed information on him) as saying "One must bomb the Rhine industrial area day by day with hundreds of airplanes, until the cure has occurred." -- the "cure" being destruction of the German armaments industry. A German translation is at the bottom of the poster. The intended message was probably something like "Those evil Englishmen are out to destroy us!" To me, looking at that huge swarm of bombers, the unintended message is "Holy s**t! Those Limeys have a gazillion bombers to throw at us! We're DOOMED!!!" I'm not sure why, but my distant cousins from along the Rhine never quite get public relations right. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 27, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shopping for cameras can be bliss, no? I spend far more time researching cameras than I do actually taking pictures. Camera store visits and cruises through sites like DPreview and Steve's Digicams strike me as valid entertainment options in their own right. Question: What is it about shopping for a camera or a camcorder that the testosterone-addled can find so deeply satisfying? Although I've become a fairly well-informed camera shopper, I haven't in fact purchased a new camera in more than three years. I suppose that's partly because the next generation of cameras always seems sooooo much more appealing than what's currently in the stores. Yet the appeal must go deeper than that. Sifting and sorting technical details, comparing and contrasting features, and of course handling machines and imagining what brilliant uses one might put them to ... OK, I guess I may have found my explanation. This is just the kind of shit that boys really like. Hey, where video is concerned: For years I was intimidated by the expert chitchat on various videocamera forums. How could one even consider picking up a videocamera without at least a PhD in electrical engeineering? Then I checked out what these tech wizards were actually putting their knowledge and machines to work shooting, and was able to relax a bit: footage of their kids, their dogs, and their vacations, mainly. Guys and machines, eh? I'm reminded of a charming joke in the film "Amelie." A voice-over introduces Amelie's father, telling us that his greatest pleasure was to spend time in his workshop -- not to build anything, mind you, but to clean and organize his tools. My current favorite online camera-researching resource is CameraLabs, the creation of a British technology writer named Gordon Laing. He's clear, enthusiastic, and crisp; he's opinionated without being obnoxious about it; he's informed without succumbing to total geekiness. He's smart and helpful, in other words -- an ideal camera reviewer, in fact: one whose expertise never blinds him to how we Normals are likely to make use of and react to a machine. And Laing's video walkthroughs of the cameras he discusses are something too. They seem to me to be masterpieces (if hyper-minimalistic ones) of expository filmmaking. It's a pleasing bonus that Laing seems to live and work in Queenstown, N.Z. When Gordon Laing shows off sample photographs, in other words, he's showing pix of some of the prettiest landscapes in the world. At the moment, I'm hesitating between four cameras: this one (great wide-angle lens but can't zoom while taking a video), this one (zooms during video, amazing telephoto lens, but bulkier than would be ideal), this one (fun, but how's the quality?), and this one (seems perfect but pricier than I'd like). Of course I could always put off a decision until next season's models come out ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 27, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments