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  1. $$$martphones ...
  2. Mental -- And Physical -- Health
  3. Seattle Squeeze: New Urban Living
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  5. Ben Aronson's Representational Abstractions
  6. Rock is ... Forever?
  7. We Need the Arts: A Sob Story
  8. Form Following (Commercial) Function

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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