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Thursday, July 30, 2009


Climate Models Written in ... Fortran?!?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was surprised to learn that climate models used by the U.S. government were written in the Fortran programming language. My reaction was: Good Lord! No wonder the results are questionable. Actually, the results of almost any computer model used to forecast or predict should be taken with more than a grain or two of salt. I say this because I myself have designed and programmed a number of forecasting systems (for demographics). Normally the programming language used to write a model is not a factor in evaluation of the model's results. If it accurately transmits the modeler's intentions to the computer, then that part of the effort is fine. The problem with Fortran is that, while it was a major step for programming computers when it was first developed, it contained a number of features that made large-scale programs risky to use. More modern programming languages are built around the concept of what is (or was) called "structured coding" whereby various tasks are isolated functional units that are invoked by more general task blocs (what I just stated is hugely simplified). For many years, Fortran was an "unstructured" language. A Fortran program might take the form of one large unit incorporating line numbers and "GOTO" statements that would change the (top-to-bottom) execution order of the program listing. That is, the computer would be directed to hop and skip all over the listing if that was what was required. The result was that Fortran programs were quite hard to understand and debug if they had very much complexity at all. Structured programs are comparatively easy to deal with, though still subject to plenty of risk of programming error. The Wikipedia entry on Fortran is here, if you are interested in learning more about it. As it turns out, Fortan has been tamed over the years into a structured language. The climate models were done using Fortran 90. It is mentioned in the previous link. Program code can be accessed via links under the first linkage. Indeed, the Fortran used in the climate models seems pretty well structured in that I saw plenty of control statements that had no GOTOs. Even so, I'd be happier if the climate models had been programmed in something more modern than Fortran 90. This is probably irrational on my part, but I can't help it. After all, I'm an APL (and its descendants) snob. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 30, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments





Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Air Conditioning and Civilization
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed a headline that Chicago is having its coolest July on record. Here in Seattle, we've had an unusually sunny summer and right now are experiencing a heat wave; today's high is expected to be a record 101 degrees (F). It has to do with a combination of pressure systems and ridges that brought hot air from desert areas over us. The heat helps evaporate water from Puget Sound, Lake Washington and other large bodies of water; this creates non-desert humidity levels and a good degree of discomfort. Worse, most houses here lack air conditioning because it's really needed only a few weeks a year and doesn't seem cost-effective. As things stand, it's just about too to blog here at the house and the same will be true for the next couple of days. This reminds me of living on the East Coast back in the 1960s. Where I lived lacked air conditioning, but at least there usually was air conditioning where I worked. But what about the almost entirety of human existence where there was no air conditioning? Hot, humid air sucks energy out of one along with all that sweat. No wonder life in the old South was slow half the year. It must have been a struggle to accomplish those tasks that were essential, let along others. Of course, defenses against the heat were used: placing shade trees strategically, creating rooms with high ceilings, having comfortable porches where one could escape hot interiors -- those kinds of things. Nevertheless, I find it something of a wonder that civilizations sprouted in climate hell-holes such as India, Egypt, what is now Iraq, and Mexico-Central America. With heat slowing one to a snail's pace and sweat dripping off the nose, how did they even think of creating writing, arts, and other things we associate with civilized life? And to what heights might they have arisen had they invented air conditioning? Ah, the things we take for granted. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 29, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments





Monday, July 27, 2009


Disneyfat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Low-carb guru Dr. Michael Eades pays an entertainingly cranky visit to Disneyland. Verdict? "Carb heaven." Eades' book "The Protein Power Life Plan" (which he co-wrote with his wife Dr. Mary Dan Eades) is an excellent place for those tempted to begin cranking back on the carbs to start their reading. The Eadeses also make substantial appearances in Tom Naughton's resourceful and informative documentary "Fat Head." I interviewed Tom: Part One, Part Two, and a return visit. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Sunday, July 26, 2009


Age and Political Awareness
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The old saw about one never ceasing to learn isn't actually a universal truth, but it works well enough in practice. It's also true that the greatest surge in learning begins in infancy and tapers off after ... when? puberty? ... whatever developmental psychologists say will do for now. Eventually, if all goes well, raw input becomes categorized, correlated and tested against an increasing body of life experience and distills into something we call "wisdom." This has everything to do with politics. There was a presidential election when I was five years old and it totally escaped me. Four years later, I knew who the nominees were and who I favored (the one my father did), but was basically clueless about issues. At age 13 I knew many of the issues, but my understanding was bumper sticker thin (though I don't think bumper stickers had come on the scene yet); basically, I was simply parroting slogans. When I was 17, I was able to articulate issues in more depth, but that election (the second Ike-Adlai match-up) had a foregone conclusion and issues didn't much matter. I turned 21 just in time to cast my first vote and was in the heat of youthful certainty that I was part of a crusade to make the world a better place. And so on and so on. How old was I when enough "wisdom" had sunk in that my understanding of politics went beyond the superficial? It might have been when I was 33 and finally voted for a candidate of the party I hadn't voted for previously in presidential races. Certainly it was by the time I was 41 and had definitely changed parties. For me, this benchmark seems appropriate because party change usually requires a good deal of thought about issues and how the world works as well as self-examination of core beliefs. Habits and inertia had to be broken. Folks who never experienced a party switch would have to use some other criterion to mark political maturity. At any rate, my "deep" understanding of politics with reference to issues clicked in when I was in my thirties. When I was younger, I of course thought that I understood. But I really didn't. I've always felt that I was a slow-to-mature person, so it could well be that my political maturity came later than it did for most others. On the other hand, the timing of outside events such as wars, recessions and exposures of corruption might be a factor for others as they were for me. For those of you who believe you have mature political awareness, let us know in Comments how old you were and, perhaps, what event or events brought you to that state. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (59) comments




Prettier
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Evolutionary pressures may be creating ever-more-beautiful women. Guys? Well, "men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments




Recession Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The economic downturn hits the New York City Ballet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments





Saturday, July 25, 2009


Collapsing Newspapers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Onion -- sold to our creditors, the Chinese. The Daily Planet -- downsizing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments




Walking the Dog
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this on a Friday, my day of the week when I forsake breakfast cereal at home for the delights of a restaurant breakfast with The Wall Street Journal as my companion. Tooling out of the neighborhood I spied three people walking their dogs. One man was in a white shirt (no tie at that point), clearly getting the chore done before heading off to work. And he was multitasking. Besides controlling the leash and walking, he was reading the paper; it's a talented neighborhood I live in. Another neighbor walks her dog two and sometimes three times a day. There surely are many others who do it more often than only the morning or evening. We had a dog when I was a kid. We never walked him. Never considered walking him. The reason was that there was plenty of open space next to our yard, so the dog could run free at will -- though the price he paid for this freedom was getting run over by a car a few years later. I'm probably too lazy and self-centered to put up with the tasks required of urban dog ownership, including that outdoors exercising that should happen even when the weather turns nasty in the dark winter days here. So far as I'm concerned, a dog has to earn his keep. It's fine if he hunts, helps herd sheep, guides the blind or warns if strangers approach. Otherwise, I consider them a drain on material and temporal resources. Some of my other thoughts on dogs can be found here. Conclusion: Dogs are for other people. Unless they bark too much. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments




The Skip Gates Case
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I figure that most visitors are 'way ahead of me where following the Skip Gates case goes. But maybe you haven't yet run across this blogposting by FeministX. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments





Friday, July 24, 2009


False-Functional Car Design Details
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Taken literally, the word "postmodern" refers to what happened or happens after modernism presumably ended. That covers a lot of territory and invites people who enjoy being analytical and or building taxonomies to come up with labels that might help clarify what has been going on these last few decades. Rather than getting into name-calling -- er, naming -- I thought it might be interesting to explore some odd details of the life-cycle of modernism with reference to its Industrial Design aspect. Not long ago, I dealt with refrigerators, a product that was a subject of ID from its earliest years. I also recently discussed that matter of form following function with reference to passenger liners. And I write a lot about automobile styling. When I was in college, industrial designers in general cast a skeptical eye on car stylists, not fully accepting them into the ID tribe. One factor might have been that car styling came into existence a few years before ID arrived on the scene. Another was the fact that transportation devices have always had a different, more romanticized, aura than other daily-used human creations: think ships, locomotives, airplanes and cars as opposed to toasters, desk lamps and refrigerators. Industrial designers had to decide whether to be coldly analytical and stand a good chance of coming up with an unappealing design for a locomotive, say, or else go for something sleek and futuristic that would create good public relations for their firm. This was the situation in the early, classical, purist days of the profession. A number of automobile stylists have had a tendency to think of themselves as somehow being inferior to and less pure than industrial designers perched atop the ivory tower of "form follows function." Not all stylists, mind you; the very best and most successful ones usually considered themselves better than industrial designers because they believed that they could do industrial design as well as cars, whereas an industrial designer couldn't do cars well. And they were right, for the most part. A number of car stylists successfully transitioned to ID, but hardly any industrial designers moved to the automotive field. (Only Raymond Loewy really succeeded doing cars thanks to his long-term Studebaker contract that resulted in several famous designs -- but he relied on staff members who were "car guys." Norman Bel Geddes' firm created speculative automobile designs and consulted for Graham-Paige and Chrysler. Brooks Stevens had a longer run as an automotive design consultant and even manufactured the Excalibur sports car for a few years. His car designs sometimes had an appliance look, sporting flat areas of chrome -- I'm thinking of his work during Studebaker's dying days.) So there can be low-level tensions in styling studios. There is the romantic aspect of transportation. There is the need for the product to appeal to potential customers. And then there is the siren song of form, function and design purity. Probably all stylists recognize the need... posted by Donald at July 24, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Thursday, July 23, 2009


Food Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mark Sisson offers the definitive Primal Guide to saturated fat. Buy Mark's superb guide to the Primal thang here. * In praise of butter -- at least the good grass-fed stuff. * Richard Nikoley thinks that you owe it to yourself to go see "Food, Inc." * MBlowhard Rewind: Reading Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" got me musing a bit: here and here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Frank Bruni, the New York Times' restaurant critic, recalls what was like to be a food-obsessed fat kid.... posted by Michael at July 23, 2009 | perma-link | (40) comments





Wednesday, July 22, 2009


And That's the Way It Was ... Slow and Seldom
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "And that's the way it is" was the phrase the recently late Walter Cronkite used to sign off his evening newscast on CBS. Some of you are too young to remember that. Even more of you don't remember how news was delivered back around 1950, long before Cronkite became a news anchorman. I bring this up because Uncle Walter's death has triggered a good deal of reminiscing in various media about the Good Old Days of journalism, and who am I to stick up my nose and not join in. What I won't do is write about Cronkite, even though I saw him a lot even in the days before his newsreading gig. As hinted above, I think it might be interesting to sketch news delivery in the United States as it was around 1950. Compared to today, as the title of this piece says, it was slow and seldom. At the time, it seemed perfectly fine, and an improvement over news delivery in, say, 1920. Of course it's helpful to remind ourselves that the 19th century experienced a huge improvement in the delivery of news. Aside from semaphore systems in parts of Europe, news traveled at the speed of horse and sailing ship in 1800. By 1900, telegraph systems using a combination of overhead wires and undersea cables fed spread news around the world in minutes. That's not quite right. News could flash from an origin point to a receiving point, but it required further processing to deliver it to the population at large. That processing mechanism was the newspaper. At best, given the required processes of typesetting and printing (not to mention rewriting and editing), it might take a hour or more before even an "extra" edition with a new front page wrapper with a big headline and a few paragraphs of detail could hit the streets of a city. This system prevailed during the last decades of the 1800s and into the 1920s. Radio news took a while to develop, but was in place in time for World War 2. Television news was emerging by 1950, though in general was little more that a televised version of a radio news program. Here is how it was in 1950 for a typical moderate-to-large American city. There was more than one daily newspaper -- at least one each readied for delivery in the morning and evening. In Seattle, the morning paper was the Post-Intelligencer and the evening paper was the Times, which had a larger circulation. Back in those days, evening papers sometimes were dominant: I'm also thinking of the Bulletin in Philadelphia. Most papers had multiple editions that could be identified by a tag-line or a telltale (a number of black stars, say) atop the front page. Most of the content of the various editions was identical. What varied would be one or two sets of frontpage-endpage wrappers on the main news section and perhaps the sports section. These few pages could... posted by Donald at July 22, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Impressionist Rule-Breakers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's the saying "Rules are made to be broken." It neglects to mention that it might be helpful to keep consequences in mind when considering breaking a rule. In painting, consequences can be hard to pin down. Breaking a painting rule might mean -- depending upon which rule it is -- (1) the result will be ugly or odd and the work won't sell, (2) the painting's surface might crack or flake as it ages, or (3) it will be hailed as a courageous, innovative masterpiece. In most cases, painting rules are bent, not broken, and the result isn't especially noticeable. These tend to be cases where the artist isn't paying total attention to what he's doing. But there are times when they are consciously broken if the artist seeks an effect he especially desires. Below are featured two well-known Impressionist paintings containing a violation or two of composition rules. My guess is that the artists weren't paying as much attention to composition as they might have. But it doesn't seem to matter because both paintings are very popular despite technical quibbles. "Girls With a Watering Can" - Auguste Renoir, 1876 Information about this painting can be found here. What's wrong with it? First, the girl is facing to our right and is also centered to the right; compare the distance from a point midway between her eyes to the right and left edges. According to a composition rule, she ought to have been placed left of center so that she would be facing a wider area of canvas. It's a question of visual balance. Given that imbalance, Renoir might have helped matters by placing a tall, narrow object of some sort at the right edge so as to block the passage of a viewer's eyes as they follow the gaze of the subject off-canvas. That would be the schoolbook solution anyway, though there really isn't much room for such a visual barrier. But Renoir helped retrieve things by placing a patch of flowering plants below and to our left of the girl. This creates an upper-right to lower-left diagonal from her head to the flowers, thus restraining eye movement to the right. Axes of the lawn edges to the right of her enhance this diagonal force. "Poppies Near Argenteuil" - Claude Monet, 1873 The Musée d'Orsay web page on this painting is here; it contains only data of various kinds. I might mention that there seems to be no settled English version of the title. One potential problem is that Monet divided the scene into two nearly equal areas, the sky and the ground. (Even splits are not recommended, though Caillebotte once famously got away with it.) The ground area is slightly dominant and the dark trees along the hilltop reduce the sky area some and help the balance. And then there's that odd, oddly-placed tree with the round ball of leaves jutting above the rest and into the sky. Did Monet add... posted by Donald at July 21, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments





Monday, July 20, 2009


LitFict and Sentences
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In case some visitors think that, in my many rants about the book-fiction world (sample one example here), I have overstated the intellectual set's commitment to literary fiction, let me present Yale's "The American Novel Since 1945." Take that course and you'd learn little if anything about postwar crime, horror, romance, or western fiction. You'd discover next to nothing about erotic fiction or humorous fiction. You'd remain clueless about the enduring influence of writers like Mickey Spillane and Jacqueline Susann. (I bet you also wouldn't wake up to the history of the postwar American publishing business.) Yet you'd emerge convinced that you'd "done" the postwar American novel. And you'd have Yale's imprimatur bolstering your confidence about that judgment. And, in case some visitors think I've overstated the intellectual set's commitment to writin' -- ie., fussing with words -- let me present The Teaching Company's "Building Great Sentences." Take that course and you'll be unlikely to discover much about how to create living-breathing characters, or how to come up with fictional situations that might conceivably pique a reader's interest. Your sentences will glitter, though. Best, Michael DIMLY-RELATED UPDATE: Sarah Weinman shares some welcome news about the recently-deceased crime-fiction giant Donald Westlake, a hero of mine. Rege Behe offers a well-judged tribute to Westlake.... posted by Michael at July 20, 2009 | perma-link | (38) comments




Cultcha in da Stix
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wall Street Journal's theater critic Terry Teachout has made it his policy to review as many non-New York productions as he can fit into his hectic schedule. (This month he's in Santa Fe for the pre-opening tuning of his opera "The Letter" -- he wrote the libretto.) His contention is that there's plenty of top-quality theater out there in what I and others used to call "the sticks" -- in these polite, non-judgmental times, the term "flyover country" seems to be the preferred term of art. I'm about as far as one can get from being a theater guy, but I find Teachout to be a sensible-sounding fellow and will take his word for it until someone conclusively proves that NYC is still top dog in terms of overall quality and those pretenders are third-raters. Lending support is the fact that there has been a good deal of qualitative decentralization over the last 50 years in all the arts along with other conveyors of culture such as publishing and academia. In part, this has been driven by the relative demographic decline of the northeast as measured by share of the national population. But that decline was related to strengthening economies in other parts of the country. Here's the dirty little secret: Arts are more likely to thrive where there is wealth. With growing wealth and population comes greater ability to support the various arts. Eventually, some of those arts efforts can equal or exceed the quality of arts in the formerly dominant arts centers. That's a hypothesis, anyway. So now we need to ask: just how big, quality-wise, are the former little guys? Also, which cities and metropolitan areas are well-balanced culturally and which fall into the one-trick pony category? For example, a pony candidate might be Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Here are some almost-top-of-the-head thoughts from me. When it comes to traditional painting and sculpture, the old centers still dominate thanks to donations made many years ago. Not many important Old Master works remain outside museums, so them's that got's 'em's gonna keep 'em. To put this more concretely, Los Angeles' Getty will never excel New York's Metropolitan unless the Met goes broke and has a fire sale of Old Masters. Many museums "out there" might have a stray Old Master or even some nice Impressionists. A few even achieve critical mass in selected areas. For example, the Delaware Art Museum supposedly has a very good Pre-Raphaelite collection (it was on tour when I visited) as well as a fine collection of 1890-1920 American illustration art. Modernist art is another story because it's still being produced, allowing any museum or donor with spare cash to buy dominance if that was the plan. Some arts are expensive: opera comes to mind. Santa Fe has an opera of good repute and it's also a center for region-oriented painting. I can understand how painting might be supported in a fairly small... posted by Donald at July 20, 2009 | perma-link | (22) comments





Sunday, July 19, 2009


Eating and Fitness Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jimmy Moore podcast-interviews Primal eating-and-fitness guru Mark Sisson. I'm crazy about Sisson's new book, which is full of startling information and helpful tips, and is the best intro I know of to the Paleo/Primal thang. Sisson's excellent -- and very lively -- blog is here. * FeministX could use some advice. * Scott Kustes offers a good intro to eating in the Paleo style. * Agnostic and the Times of London are asking the same question: Can eating sugar give you wrinkles? * Tom Naughton wonders why anyone would trust the health advice that's handed out by the federal government. * Yoga teacher Michelle found that a lot of her health problems vanished when she stopped avoiding fat. * Arthur De Vany thinks that you'd be wise to forget about running a marathon. By the way, De Vany -- a retired economics prof -- strikes me as one of the world's Really Interesting People. Those who (like me) are into both gene expression and nonlinearity may find him a real Pied Piper. I've subscribed to his private blog and have watched his DVD talks, and can recommend both. Read about him here. * Why do Americans seem so convinced that sterility is the answer to food-health problems? * MBlowhard Rewind: Back here I raved about Nina Planck's fab book "Real Food." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments





Friday, July 17, 2009


$$$martphones ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- MacWorld takes a look at how much money smartphone users are really spending. Fun fact: "For a lot of folks, the monthly smartphone bill can be as big as, say, a car payment." As someone who feels obligated to have a cellphone but who uses it maybe twice a week, I pair a dumbphone with a Verizon pay-as-you-go plan. Cellphone-wise, I get by on around 10 bucks a month. What's your monthly cellphone bill? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 17, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments




Mental -- And Physical -- Health
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe it isn't porn that's dangerous to your health. Maybe it's girlfriends. Bonus Links: Rod Dreher asks his readers what they make of living in a "pornified" culture. Razib shares some facts and thoughts about the topic. * Alexa didn't love "The Girlfriend Experience." (NSFW) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 17, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments




Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As is the case in some other parts of the country, Washington state has put considerable effort into legislating and regulating urban growth. In Seattle, zoning revisions for certain areas allow as many as four housing units to replace a single unit. Last Sunday, the Seattle Times' magazine "Pacific Northwest" dealt with the matter. A link to the article is here. I won't extract from the text, simply noting that its treatment was reasonably fair. My main interest is presenting some of the photos from the piece for your evaluation. (The Times describes the writer and photographer as follows: "William Dietrich is a former Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.") The article deals with, among other things, problems faced by architects working on new high-density single-family and townhouse housing. Presumably the examples I show below are considered to be some of the better fruit of the enforcement of higher density standards. Gallery Judkins Park house of David Sarti A detached dwelling in what seems to have been a back yard. Urban Canyon project - street view Urban Canyon project - court view Urban Canyon project - view from on top Boulders project - court view Boulders project - interior The house I grew up in was on a lot with perhaps a 70 foot frontage and 120 feet of depth. Where I live now is situated on a pie-shaped lot that probably has less acreage, but still plenty of elbow room. I lived nearly 30 years in a house on a third of an acre lot in Olympia, Washington. About nine years were spent in apartments, mostly of the garden variety. Then there were nearly three years in Army barracks. So I'm prejudiced in favor of traditional quasi-suburban housing. That means I wouldn't be hot to move into any of the units illustrated above unless circumstanced dictated it. Mind you, they aren't seriously bad, aside from that former-backyard house -- though I hate the newly-pervasive "industrial" exteriors I see on the Urban Canyon units. I guess my main problem is that these squeezed-in dwelling are neither fish nor fowl, as they say. They're not sensible detached housing. Nor are they honest row or courtyard-facing housing. They're an odd breed of "pretend" housing struggling against the dictates of our betters -- politicians and planners. I am sure many of you will disagree in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 17, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments





Thursday, July 16, 2009


Checking In
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apologies for vanishing without explanation. A family emergency needed immediate attention: My wife's brother, who had struggled with Parkinson's Disease for a couple of decades, entered a period of steep decline, and then died. He was an ornery, smart, and funny guy who fought what he knew would be a losing battle with a lot of gallantry and class. So, for the past week, there has been much of real life to attend to. The sadness will linger for a long time, of course. Now that the the sense of crisis is relenting, though, I'll soon be easing back into blogging. Thanks for everyone's patience. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 16, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments





Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote here about Ken Auster, who paints mostly cityscapes and restaurant and bar scenes. I like his work (with a few reservations), but there's another artist who also does cityscapes that I like even better. I should add that I haven't seen his paintings in person, instead relying on magazines and the Web. That artist is Ben Aronson (b. 1958) who offers this statement about himself on his website. Please read what he has to say before viewing the sampling of paintings below. Gallery La Marais - 2006 This shows a Paris neighborhood that didn't get Haussmann-ized. What I like isn't so much the ambiance, but instead Aronson's treatment of light on the cars. Many of his paintings include cars with the top-lighting afforded by city streets enclosed by high-rise buildings. Paris Morning, Left Bank - 2007 More Paris, more cars; catnip to a Paris-lovin' car lovin' guy like me. Bay Bridge 1 Now to San Francisco, a city depicted in the Gallery section of the posting on Auster. Compare. While both artists treat detail in a sketchy manner, Aronson's paintings tend to have starker value contrasts and stronger composition. Urban Reflections - 2008 And if you haven't caught on yet, all the Aronson paintings shown here have essentially square formats. Gustav Klimt did the same when painting landscapes. Closed Ramp, West Side Highway - 1997 Oops, here's one that isn't square. It was done a decade earlier than the rest, so perhaps Aronson hadn't settled into his dimensional groove. Note the strong, almost abstract design. Oceanside - 2008 Aronson does people, too. Again the design is strong and, if certain details were omitted, would become an abstract painting. This point is more obvious if you squint or look at it from a distance. The Secret - 2008 Not all of his work is done outdoors. Seems that Aronson can do portraits too, if he sets his mind to it. Nighthawks - 2008 The takeoff on Edward Hopper's famous 1942 painting of a nearly-deserted downtown diner was intentional. Aronson's twisteroo was to place the subjects in a fancy contemporary bar, another overlap with Auster, even down to including a painting behind the bar.. So far, I like what I see in Aronson's work. I notice that he's represented by a San Francisco gallery, so I'll make an effort to stop by when I'm in town later this year to find out if his originals are as appealing as the reproductions suggest. Aronson shows us a way in which lessons from modernist experiments can be used in the creation of paintings that are more representational than not. No resorting to contemporary modernist irony or other in-your-face tricks, either. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 15, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments





Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Rock is ... Forever?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll readily admit that popular music had generally become pretty slow, sugary and, well, awful by 1954 when Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" hit the charts. Rock 'n' Roll was a breath of fresh musical air to me and many other teenagers. That was 55 years ago. The pop genre of the early 1950s didn't entirely disappear, but new songs of that type stand little chance of big sales. Meanwhile Rock and its descendants (Disco, Heavy Metal, Grunge, etc.) continue to roll. True, the Bill Haley variety is performed as nostalgia and the same might be said for Chuck Berry's and other music from the days of Rock's comparative innocence and happiness. While Rock evolved it continued to dominate the commercial pop scene. Country music has regained some popularity and there is the species of chant called Rap/Hip Hop that's been going strong for decades longer than I at first figured it would last. (I confess that when I first heard it, thought it was a fad that wouldn't be good for more than a year, if that long. I failed to take into account that Rap requires little musical talent, allowing lots of folks to get into the act.) Keeping in mind that popular music styles take a long time to fade away (can I assume that Stephen Foster songs are now rarely heard?), I wonder how much longer Rock, broadly defined, will dominate the pop scene. They way things have been going, it might be another half-century. But then, remember how badly I misjudged Rap. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 14, 2009 | perma-link | (27) comments





Monday, July 13, 2009


We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It says in that panel over at the left that we Blowhards are arts buffs. But as best I can tell, "buff" doesn't translate into art über alles (yes, I know the German word is "kunst"). That's true for me, anyway. Art is nice, there's plenty of it out there and human nature being what it is, it won't disappear even though individual arts might have their ups and downs. Given my warped little philosophy, it shouldn't surprise you to learn that my teeth grind themselves into dust when I encounter people making art out to be more important than it should be while whining that ever more resources must!! be devoted to propping up one favored enterprise or another. What set off this tirade was an article I read in today's editorial page of the Seattle Times, an opinion piece from the 9 July Los Angeles Times by Ben Donenberg, "the founding artistic director of Shakespeare Festival/LA and a member of the National Council on the Arts." The link is to the LA Times site. As usual, I offer some excerpts: [I] recently sent an article to a local philanthropic leader about the importance of helping arts organizations during the recession. I thought he might draw inspiration from it, but that was too optimistic. "I don't need inspiration," he quickly responded. "We aren't supporting the arts; we're supporting essentials." ... Why should we care? Because experiencing and creating art is a crucial part of developing young people who can understand the world's complexity and tackle its problems with a full range of tools. He goes on to mention a project "working with a group of inner-city youths at an overnight community arts camp in the local mountains." They were to create a presentation "inspired by" A Midsummer Night's Dream and the idea was to have them experience a real woods at night. They were urged to explore a variety of artistic responses to the experience. Some wrote poetry; some danced in celebration of nightfall; others sang songs about the moon. One 17-year-old girl was particularly affected by the experience.... As she struggled to find poetry, she shifted her gaze and her flashlight beam between pages of a Shakespeare play and her notebook, filled with words she had carefully crafted. We struggled with her, rejoicing in her awakening even as we felt her pain at realizing that people with more money than she could know nighttime in a very different way. That night in the forest put new colors on the young woman's palette. ... Here's some advice for anyone who has to decide what is "essential" when making philanthropic funding decisions. Some summer night, take time out to look at the sky from someplace really dark. Then try to express -- visually or in words -- what the experience was like. I suspect you'll come to understand why art is essential. Let's see ... a hint of racialism ("inner-city"), sexual politics (the subject... posted by Donald at July 13, 2009 | perma-link | (47) comments





Sunday, July 12, 2009


Form Following (Commercial) Function
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I sometimes wonder if architect Louis Sullivan, perhaps busily spinning in his grave, regrets coining the modernist credo "form follows function." Taken literally, form would seem to be nothing more than a matter of good engineering. That interpretation won't do, of course, because aesthetic efforts by architects, industrial designers and their ilk would be ruled out. Even if a whiff of eye-pleasing by designers is added to the business of materials and engineering, the phrase still connotes form reacting to some dynamic requirement or another. Well, that's they way I always interpreted it when I was a student and for a number of years thereafter. More recently, I've become convinced that an important -- make that crucial -- function of a object is to be purchased. If not enough objects are sold to at least break even on the product's investment, then that product should be considered at least a partial failure regardless of its other qualities. This last point views things after the fact, and designers are ignorant of outcomes while they are in the design process. This means that, in addition to materials and engineering considerations, they need to think about an object's or product's commercial function and hope they get the details right. Take the passenger liner, for example. There have been all sorts of passenger-carrying boats and ships created over the past several thousand years. To keep this posting under control, I'll focus on some of the largest passenger ships created over the last 120 years, beginning with some winners of the Blue Riband for fastest trans-Atlantic speed. My Blue Riband information comes from this book. Here are a few requirements faced by naval architects charged with designing a Blue Riband contender. An important item was the operating environment of the ship. The run (as of 1935) between Bishop Rock lighthouse at the English Channel entrance and Ambrose lightship off New York harbor can get nasty. The waters aren't the world's nastiest, but they are both nasty enough and, most important, unavoidable. This means that a ship needs plenty of freeboard while not being top-heavy. More requirements were (1) enough power to generate high speed; (2) enough room for fuel storage to feed the powerful engines; (3) room for housing enough passengers, mail and other cargo to operate profitably; and (4) inclusion of attractive passenger amenities such as dining rooms and recreational spaces that would help entice travelers. A Blue Riband contender's commercial appeal would be its speed and perceived safety and luxury. Not all trans-Atlantic liners stressed speed, of course. A number of liners were successful due to their luxury or ambiance despite being a day or so slower than the speedsters. That said (and lots more can be said, for this is a fascinating topic), let's look at some examples. Gallery Dates in photo captions are those of maiden voyage. RMS Teutonic - 1889 The White Star liner Teutonic won the Riband in 1891, averaging 20.5 knots over... posted by Donald at July 12, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Saturday, July 11, 2009


Two Humorous Items from the Financial Crisis
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Our ongoing economic troubles have yielded me a good deal of pain, anguish and indignation, but not as I recall too much humor. Nonetheless, I recently came across two very funny items. The first is from Mike Shedlock, and concerns Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Kohn’s attempts to ward off the Congressional (and therefore citizen and taxpayer) scrutiny of his very secretive agency…or private sector organization…or whatever it is that just happens to control the money supply of the United States of America. This attempt is of course being pushed by former presidential candidate and Representative Ron Paul and a host of fellow legislative sponsors. You should know that Mish, as Mr. Shedlock is known, calls openly for the abolition of the Fed on the grounds that neither its governors nor anyone else in the world knows the correct level of short term interest rates. In any event, he makes his sympathies pretty clear by some slight impositions on the text of a Washington Post article. The second is a column from Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg (“Goldman Sachs Loses Grip on its Doomsday Machine”) on the recent dust-up over the Russian former employee of Goldman Sachs who stole some of their proprietary trading software. The incredibly speedy response by our law enforcement officials to this existential threat to Goldman’s profits (contrast this, if you like, to the response you got if you've ever reported your TV stolen to the cops) is also discussed in a pretty funny video here. Cheers and laughter, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 11, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Thursday, July 9, 2009


Ken Auster of the Kute Kaptions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ken Auster (b. 1949) is another contemporary painter I'm featuring while taking a break from the 1870-1910 crowd I've been tending to deal with. Auster was and presumably still is a surfer dude, an activity that led to spending years working for Hawaii's Crazy Shirtz company. Ken Auster - 2004 Auster credits his experience in t-shirt design and printing technology for helping his maturity as a painter. Nothing like a little focus and discipline to wipe away that faux creativity, right? At any rate, he eventually set t-shirts aside to settle on the Southern California coast pursuing a career as a fine arts painter and teacher. His Web site is here. An article with some biographical information is here. One of Auster's quirks (from Crazy Shirtz days?) is giving his paintings wry titles. Below is a set that's fairly representative, though the titles aren't quite into the Auster "zone." Check out his Web site or Google Images for more paintings and titles. Gallery Primary Transportation Auster has painted many urban landscapes. This looks like lower Market Street in San Francisco. Guardian II A New York Fifth Avenue scene with the Empire State Building in the background. Island Fever San Francisco's Powell Street with people waiting for a cable car. Counter Culture Auster does people and interiors as well. Last Call Here is a bar scene, a favorite subject for Auster. Knockout Auster painted a number of scenes featuring famous bars with famous paintings in the background. The background painting here is George Bellows' "Dempsey and Firpo" of 1924, the original in New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Artist Robert Bissett's favorable take on Auster can be found here. Me? I see his paintings from time to time in Carmel-by-the-Sea and find them a noticeable notch above the average for realist-oriented galleries in that artsy town. My only complaint, and it's really in terms of my own taste, is that his work is just a tad too sketchy. But if I had scads of money I'd consider buying one of his smaller works. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, July 8, 2009


What Might Representational Painters Paint?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I wrote about Casey Baugh, a young artist with great skills who, early in his career, has concentrated on painting attractive young women. In reply to a comment, I commented: I am in general agreement that subject matter is a problem for realists (as it is for any artist not dealing in pure abstraction). That's why I hemmed and hawed about Baugh's need for maturity, my implicit thought was that perhaps in the future he could do better than simply creating well-crafted pinups. Until well into the 19th century a painter was basically an illustrator if he wasn't doing portraits, landscapes or still-lifes. So there were templates for acceptable subjects -- from history, religion, mythology, travel incidents and so forth. Today, even representational fine-artists shy away from such subjects, perhaps to their ultimate cost. Exceptions: certain painters doing war genre or events from car races that appeal to a limited clientele. More recently, I posted on another artist, Euan Uglow, prompting a comment from Friedrich von Blowhard, who observed: I still maintain the biggest obstacle to a broad-based revival of traditional art is that mere skill in representation is not enough to get us there; this view ignores the very large amount of theoretical armature that traditional (i.e., Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic) art possessed that has been discarded or taken over by the Modern-Postmodern camp. For example, "representational" artists of the present have abandoned history painting, especially religious history painting displayed in churches (the very core from which all forms of traditional art grew), which has migrated largely into politicized conceptual art and installation art today. I suspect something like the full glories of Renaissance and Baroque painting are only possible if either (1) contemporary realists re-embrace religion or religious history as a serious subject for their paintings or (2) contemporary realists find some other source of serious content that will allow them to make serious statements that communicate to the broader population. Since few representational artists seem to be taking either route #1 or route #2 seriously, the representational revival is all to likely to remain locked in its current ghetto. Fun, but not destined for greatness. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression is that commissions for representational easel or mural paintings of historical, religious or mythological events are rare. Elite thinking in the USA holds war to be evil (unless someone on their side wants to fight one), so that rules out battle scenes. Nationalism is also a no-no, so depictions of other historical scenes of the sort common before the 20th century are also likely to be scarce. That same elitist group isn't especially keen on religion (unless perhaps one worships Gaia), so cathedral and church building isn't the growth industry it was in, say, the 14th century and the production of religious paintings follows suit. This suggests that any return to the subjects common from the Renaissance to the Great War will have to... posted by Donald at July 8, 2009 | perma-link | (17) comments




In The Times ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Time to generate even more debt, or to fret about the debt we've already created? * Hard to believe, but the people who make porno movies are once again throwing out storylines and plots. * It's Google vs. Microsoft. * Designers and builders continue indulging their bizarre obsession with glass. I bitched back here about how sicko it is, the way architects over-do the glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments





Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The Trouble with Theories and Plans
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On the occasion of the death of Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and president at different times of Ford Motor Company and the World Bank, The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens penned this column for today's edition. As is my practice, I'm posting some excerpts below, just in case the link disappears. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said that "in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." Robert S. McNamara, who spent many years thinking about the Vietnam War, first as an architect and then as a critic (and getting it wrong on both ends), was a man who believed mainly in plans. ... A recurring pattern played itself out over the 20 years McNamara spent at the Pentagon and the Bank. Giant troves of quantitative data were collected, analyzed, disaggregated and reassembled. Plans -- typically on a five-year timetable -- were conceived and then, presumably, executed. He once called the Bank "an innovative, problem-solving mechanism . . . to help fashion a better life for mankind." Nobel Prizes in economics would later be awarded for disproving this mechanistic notion of institutions. But no Nobel was required to understand that rationalism isn't a synonym for reason, much less common sense, or that a planned solution was a workable or desirable solution, or that war or poverty were "problems" in the same sense as, say, a deficit. There was also a human element, which -- depending on whom you believe -- McNamara either didn't get or didn't have. ... Now that's old history. But the mentality of the planner remains alive and well in Washington today, along with the aura of cool intellectual certainty. Barack Obama might take a close look at McNamara's obituaries and note that he, too, is the whiz kid of his day. Having survived the Ivy League Ph.D. grind only to leave campus for the real (business) and semi-real (government) worlds, this matter of theory and practice is a subject dear to my heart. In the Sociology grad schools I attended in the mid-late 1960s, Theory was worshiped by many professors and students. Since Theory was in the air and because I have a weakness for ideas, it took me literally decades to wean myself of it and deal with the world as it is. Ideas, hypotheses and, yes, even theories have a legitimate place in life. It's just that they're a part of the picture, often a small part. One danger is that theories, due to their clarity, simplicity and whatever other characteristics theories possess, is that they can become more real than reality to theory-lovers. Planning is usually based on some sort of idea structure, often one or more theories. People who love theories are often sympathetic to the concept of planning. After all, isn't it rational to plan things rather than simply "muddle through?" -- this concept itself being something of a theory. A danger here is... posted by Donald at July 7, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments





Monday, July 6, 2009


Politics and Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * From the right ... John Medaille makes a lot of good points in this critique of capitalism. Medaille, a very interesting guy, blogs regularly at the "reactionary-radical" website Front Porch Republic. * From the left ... Alexander Cockburn thinks that Obama resembles JFK in a number of unfortunate ways. * F. Roger Devlin introduces conservationist and immigration restrictionist Madison Grant. * Martin Regnan makes a good stab at summarizing the worldview of Mencius Moldbug. * Whiskey argues that the ad business is strongly anti-white-male. * Hey, Betaboyz -- there's still time to join the Church of David Alexander. (Link thanks to Corrupt.org) * As a fan of both the economist Wilhelm Ropke and the financial journalist James Grant, I was pleased to read in this 1996 interview with Grant that he learned a lot from Ropke. * Randall Parker assesses the likelihood of immigration amnesty under Obama. * Thanks to Bryan, who turned up these witty WWIII posters. * People, eh? I confess that I have moments when I sympathize deeply with anti-humanism ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2009 | perma-link | (20) comments




French Style Brushwork
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tour de France season returns. For a few years I followed it pretty closely. Closely by my standards, I should add; most of the time I pay attention only to who the ultimate winner is. I followed it "closely" when I happened to be touring France myself during the first part of July and wanted to make sure my route and the Tour's route didn't intersect within a couple of days of each other. I mention the Tour de France because of its logo that I was seeing on t-shirts and baseball caps when I was in the country a month or so ago. Here it is: Tour de France logo Thanks to my art background I flatter myself thinking I can "read" shapes, patterns, symbols and their ilk. But I must confess that it took me weeks to realize that the TdF logo is more than words. There's a sketchy image of a bicyclist embedded amongst the lettering. The "o" in Tour and the yellow circle represent bicycle wheels, the "r" in the same word is the cyclist's body and the dot above the yellow circle is his head. Get it? Perhaps one reason I didn't get it was the brushy quality of the lettering which I associate with France. Being hopeless on doing lettering of any kind (a major reason why I decided not to become a commercial artist), I admire even the guys who letter signs in supermarkets announcing the price of carrots. And the free brush style used in the logo is a lot easier than having to mimic an actual typeface, though still beyond my limited ability. In fact, it's very close to drawing. Moreover, there's a loose, brushy illustration style that also strikes me as being French in spirit even if a French artist wasn't responsible. Let's take a look. Gallery Macintosh "Picasso" poster - ca.1984 This is the Apple Macintosh computer marketing image created 25 years ago when it was launched. Some Web sites call the object shown above Macintosh's "Picasso poster." I can't remember if Apple used the same term. But Picasso himself was long dead and someone else created the brushy, sketchy image. I half recall that the artist was indeed French, but don't remember the name. Any Mac mavens to the rescue? Macintosh floppy disk The image wasn't only a poster. That might have been an afterthought because the image adorned Macintosh packaging and other Mac-related stuff including the label on the floppy disk shown above. Macintosh Selling Guide cover The Mac guidebook cover above didn't have the entire drawing of the computer but instead featured a design using just the mouse and its cord. British Vogue cover - December, 1934 Such brushwork was nothing new. Half a century before the Macintosh illustration and graphics we find this December, 1934 British Vogue cover. Vogue cover art - February, 1935 - by Eric An example from a few months later is this American Vogue cover... posted by Donald at July 6, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments





Sunday, July 5, 2009


Euan Uglow, Painstaking Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of weeks ago I noticed this book at the local college book store. For the paltry $125 price I could glean the life's work of an English painter I'd never heard of. Of course that made me curious. Even his name -- Euan Uglow (1932-2000) -- promotes head-scratching. Okay, the first name seems to be an alternative spelling of "Ewan." But the last name? I'm not at all sure how it's pronounced, partly because it doesn't look British. Might it be Russian "Ooo-glov?" Or an anglicized "You-glow?" Perhaps one of our readers from the Ancestral Isles might chip in to help this befuddled Yank.* Regardless, Uglow rates a Wikipedia biography that can be found here. It seems he was greatly influenced by his training to create spare paintings of meticulously measured subjects. This measurement was so important that tick marks are left on some of the completed works. One result of this taking of pains was a small lifetime production of paintings; he taught art to help earn a living. According to the Wikipedia article, interest in Uglow has been increasing. Not all that interest is favorable, as this Guardian review indicates. It's from the 8 July 2003 issue, written by Adrian Searle. The page is slow to build and might disappear some day, so I excerpted some of the most pointed bits: He was a figurative painter of what has been called the School of London, and his reputation was built on hard-won images, on relentless looking and describing. His art was founded on empirical measurements, on constant revisions, on a technique that was anything but flashy. His paintings bore the imprint of his repeated returns to the minutiae of observation. ... Uglow was a student at the Slade of William Coldstream, whose own life paintings had about them a chilling air of self-denial, and Uglow went on to develop Coldstream's approach through his own years of teaching in the same art-college life room. To me, it always smelled like a death room; every year a new crop of belated Euston Road painters would emerge from it, their pallid painted figures nicked with little registration points and tiny painted crosses, like so many torture victims, done-over in shades of umber and grey. A style like any other, this was and is a look masquerading as a moral quest. About it all hangs an air of futility, and a sense of something murdered.... Uglow's own paintings are, on the other hand, often colourful, but it feels like studio colour rather than the uncontrollable colour and light of the world. His blues are always the same blue, the reds and pinks invariably mixed from the same base hues, whether he is painting skin, the studio floor tiles or the decorated facade of a church in Cypress. Not that Uglow ever used much paint in any case. Like so much else in his art, touch is suppressed and pleasure is deferred. In the end,... posted by Donald at July 5, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Saturday, July 4, 2009


Eroticism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * 47-year-old model Carol Alt poses for Playboy. * Caitlin Macrae dons a pair of remote-control panties. * Alexa tells the tale of one particular first time. * Model, editor, and onetime girlfriend of the cartoonist R. Crumb, Dian Hanson works these days as sex-book editor at the brilliant publisher Taschen. She's smart and interesting. Here's an interview with her. * Oops. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 4, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments





Friday, July 3, 2009


Coming Soon: "RoboGeisha"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Opening in the U.S. this fall, "RoboGeisha." Here's an NSFW trailer for the film: Yeah, baby! I'm genuinely eager to see "RoboGeisha" -- I think that Noburu Iguchi, the film's director, is a real talent. "The Machine Girl," his last picture, was by far the funnest newish movie that The Wife and I have watched in a long while. It's scrappy, giddy, hilarious, and hyper-outrageous -- a great new entry in the "Dead Alive" / "Re-Animator," low-budget splatter-satire, gross-out horror-comedy sweepstakes. Plus it features loads of that daffily mashed-up, 22nd-century quality that the Japanese sometimes bring to their films. Not for the first time do I find myself wondering why the rest of the world doesn't give up and leave moviemaking to the Asians. How can we compete? Here's a trailer for Iguchi's "The Machine Girl": You go, brilliant young Asians. As a consumer advocate, I'm duty-bound to report that, sadly, not all recent Japanese splatter satires are created equal. Despite wonderful titles and heaps of far-out ideas, for example, "Tokyo Gore Police" and "Meatball Machine" both put me to sleep. Thanks to the numerous visitors who have sent along links to the "RoboGeisha" trailer. By the way, what is it about me? Do I really have "fan of Japanese splatter satires" written all over my blogface? Hmmm .... RELATED: I wrote about some other wonderful Japanese movies. If you aren't already 'way ahead of me on this: Why not get to know the movies of the amazing Takashi Miike? I think he's a plausible contender for the title of "most talented filmmaker working right now." Start with "Ichii the Killer" and brace yourself for a seriously wild ride. PBS this ain't! DIMLY RELATED: Learn about the diffs between movie people and book people. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 3, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments





Thursday, July 2, 2009


Books and Publishing Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Enjoy the latest offering from Charlton Griffin, frequent 2Blowhards visitor and producer of some of the classiest audiobooks available. * Big Hollywood's Matt Peterson continues his series about conservatives and literature. * Cullen Gallagher reads and enjoys "Pick-Up," by the pulp master Charles Willeford. * Whatever became of sexy-trashy blockbuster novels? * Gerard Jones takes stock of how things are changing for book authors. * Thanks to Bryan for turning up this excellent interview with the great, and very down-to-earth, Elmore Leonard. * Here's a downside to the Kindle that I hadn't thought of before. * Why doesn't the opinion-making class appreciate light verse more? * MBlowhard Rewind: I praised the sly and satirical work of the popular novelist Ira Levin. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments





Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Bubbles, McMansions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What role did the ventromedial prefrontal cortex play in causing the current economic crisis? * Have Americans fallen out of love with McMansions? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 1, 2009 | perma-link | (30) comments




Platonic Refrigerators
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I spent the first year or two in college as an Industrial Design major and retain a casual interest in the subject. Besides a concern for ergonomics in product design, graphical interfaces for computer software as well as in problem avoidance during everyday activities, a continuing subject of interest is design evolution and the related concept of a Platonic-like ultimate general form dictated by a variety of constraints. I treated product evolution of passenger aircraft here and that for automobiles here. The present posting deals with the interesting case of a class of product that has varied comparatively little over time in terms of its general appearance -- the refrigerator. True, there have been important changes over the last century and more in terms of the means of refrigeration as well as the materials used in construction. Nevertheless, in essence, a refrigerator is simply a box with one, two or a few doors taking up most of one side -- pretty much what ice boxes were a hundred years ago. Information on the refrigerator's predecessor, the ice box, is here, and a history of the refrigerator is here. Jeffrey L. Meikle in his book about the early days of Industrial Design offers an amusing treatment of the refrigerator and its relationship to design salesmanship as practiced in the 1930s. On page 104 of the1979 edition, he notes that while Henry Dreyfuss' General Electric refrigerators remained little changed from 1934 to 1939, Raymond Loewy's Sears Coldspot refrigerators changed details from year to year during the late 1930s. He writes: A "case history" written later in Loewy's office rationalized the continued redesign of the Coldspot. Sears executives "might have been dubious about the possibilities of a new and better looking box" because Loewy had presumably designed "a 'perfect' refrigerator." But the designer himself did not see his design "as a masterpiece, but as a step in the evolution towards perfection." What Loewy failed to realize -- or was afraid to admit -- was that refrigerators already had essentially reached their ultimate general form and that he, Dreyfuss, and any other refrigerator designers were mostly playing around with incidental details. Such an admission would contradict a "perfection" sales pitch common in the early days of the profession when the concept of bringing in an outside designer was still controversial. I should note that the ideal of perfect or ultimate forms emerging on the basis of an item's function and component materials was part of the ideology of modernism during the early 20th century. Below are examples of refrigerator design. Gallery Ice box - ca. 1900 A block of ice -- typically 25 or 50 pounds -- would be placed in the upper compartment. Foods that needed to stay frozen or nearly so would be there too. The lower compartment would be for items such as milk or vegetables that needed only to be kept cool. G.E. Monitor Top - 1928 These were common in the 1920s. The... posted by Donald at July 1, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments