Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday photo

My place, October 2009

Since fall is drawing to a close and winter is about to arrive, I thought I'd offer up one last peek at autumn beauty. The groundskeepers at my apartment complex usually don't allow the leaves to remain on the sidewalk, but it had been raining for several days and the leaves were to heavy to remove with leaf blowers. For just a few days, I could enjoy God's gift of scuffable leaves.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More on irony

I've made a couple comments on irony before, here and here. I'm especially amused at that phenomenon where the irony is as thick as the aroma on a pig farm, but - like a pig farmer - the people at the center of it all can no longer detect it.

Case in point: a man in Fort Wayne, Indiana, complains to a reporter that President Obama "isn’t governing, he’s still campaigning." He says this while taking a vacation day from work to stand in line at a Meier store and admire the woman who quit her governing job to go on book tours fulltime.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday photo

Sand Dune, Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park. April, 2002.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The well-engaged couch potato

An interesting article by Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen argues that DVR's allow viewers to pay more attention to their tv-watching - including the ads.
The main point: DVR's give people control over their viewing, so they're more active about what they watch. Passive viewing generally means paying less attention to what's on the screen.

To escape ads before, people would use the time to use the bathroom, make a sandwich, make a phone call, or check email (more recently). In fact, there was once an urban legend about plumbing problems being cause during commercial breaks during the Super Bowl. Running at normal speed, commercials allowed for 2-3 minutes of activity away from the television. Sped up using a DVR, people don’t leave the room.

Viewers have to watch the ads to use a DVR effectively. You have to know when the ads stop and the show resumes, which means watching the ads as they go by. Even at a high speed, the ads register. And people do watch carefully. As Hammock puts it so nicely, “Often, the person with the control is being judged by a second party for their finesse in stopping the fast-forwarding at the precise time it needs to stop, so, therefore a second party is also engaged in looking at the sped up commercials.”

Anderson is certainly right that few people were really watching all those ads anyway. Most of us are multitasking like mad when the tv's on. It's a rare program that has my undivided attention.

As an aside, I don't have a DVR, but I have found that I pay far more attention to a Netflix program streaming to my computer than I do to a DVD playing on the television. This seems to have more to do with the size of the screen than to any other factor. To watch on the computer, I pretty much have to keep the laptop on the lap, and I can't really surf the net or browse a book at the same time. I do like being able to carry it into the bathroom with me, though.

Our team? Who are they?

It's a sad fact of life that, outside of Tennessee, most college sports fans wouldn't recognize the players from the women's basketball team. But how obscure do you have to be before your own cheerleaders lead the other team onto the floor before the game?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Little Leather Library

A few months ago, I found a set of miniature books at Mom's house that looked rather old and which I don't recall ever seeing before. They were sitting in the garage, which has the typical lack of climate-control - so I brought them home for better care.

They turned out to be a set of books from the Little Leather Library, which published over a hundred classic titles from about 1916-1926. The brown book in the photo is one of the earlier editions, but the rest (with the green covers) would date from between 1920-1924. I had imagined that Mom's parents bought these for their kids sometime while they were growing up, but they actually predate her parents' marriage in 1925.

I don't know whether it was my grandmother or grandfather who bought them, but they would have been affordable to a young adult or a newlywed couple. They were mainly sold in sets, at prices that came to about 10¢ per copy. Early editions were sold through Woolworths department stores, but later they were marketed directly through the mail. I expect these were a set, because otherwise it's hard to imagine my conservative grandparents choosing two Oscar Wilde titles. LLL also published many books of the Bible, but grandma and grandpa would have already had Bibles.

The Little Leather Library was all about bringing classic literature to the masses, at as cheap a price as possible. Classic literature, of course, meant out-of-copyright, royalty-free literature; to further reduce costs, the original leather covers were quickly replaced by cheaper synthetic covers. However, the expensive look remained, as the publishers understood that middle America not only wanted good literature to read, but wanted nice things to display in their homes. One of the publishers even later coined the term "furniture books" to describe volumes which sold on appearance as much as literary content.* Their success can be gauged by the fact that the little books aren't rare: you can find them on E-Bay for about $3-4 dollars per book.

As a point of interest, LLL founder Albert Boni went on to found the Modern Library; the men who bought the company from him, Harry Scherman and Maxwell Sackheim, later started the Book-of-the-Month Club.

For more, see Janice A. Radway, A Feeling for Books: the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire , or Little Leather Library

Robert Browning, Poems and Plays
Robert Burns, Poems and Songs
Samuel T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems
W.S. Gilbert, The "Bab" Ballads
Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Addresses
Thomas Babington Macauley, Lays of Ancient Rome
Thomas Babington Macauley, Lays of Ancient Rome (misidentified on the cover as Longfellow's Courtship of Miles Standish)
Maurice Maeterlinck, Pelleas and Melisande
Olive Schreiner, Dreams
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enoch Arden and other Poems
Henry David Thoreau, Friendship and other Essays
George Washington, Speeches and Letters
Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Gaol and other Peoms
Oscar Wilde, Salomé

Multiple authors, Fifty Best Poems of America

* No to accuse my grandparents of mere pretension, however. Grandma was the daughter of a newspaper publisher and raised a family that valued education.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friday photo

Garter snake, Yellowstone National Park, September 2004

You don't see many snakes in Yellowstone; the winters are too cold, I think. But I found this fellow about half a mile into Glen Creek. Autofocus is easily confused by a scene like this, where it doesn't know what to pick out as the subject. This was the best of several attempts.

I can't see the backside enough to tell if it has the three white stripes down the back that would identify it as a Wandering Garter snake, but that's probably what it is.

Great names

Time calls "Geoducks" one of the 10 worst school nicknames ever. I love it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yellowstone quarter design

One of these designs will become the new Yellowstone quarter next year:

According to the news story at the Billings Gazette, the Commission of Fine Arts didn't like any of them and declined to make a recommendation, while another committee preferred the one with the bison. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gets the final decision, since the two groups didn't agree on an endorsement.

I still haven't figured out what the upper-left design is supposed to show. Apparently we're looking down the concrete pathway toward Old Faithful, but is that a crowd of people at the end of the path, or the little theater that almost no one ever notices? It almost looks like some sort of
Shinto shrine or something, although I'm pretty sure no one would actually put one in a Yellowstone image.

The other two are nice, but predictable. I suppose predictability isn't bad for this sort of purpose, but I can see why a fine arts commission would stick out their collective tongues at them. I might have chosen a tourist feeding a marmot, but that probably wouldn't win, either.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stewart skewers Beck

John Stewart fears for Glenn Beck's internal organs:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis


Friday photo

Coyote. Yellowstone National Park, July 1992.

This photo comes from one of my favorite moments, ever. I was hiking near Hellroaring Creek and sat down on a rock for a brief rest, when I spotted this coyote. He (or she, I didn't look that closely) began to trot straight toward me, apparently rather curious about this stranger. But not too careless, despite the curiosity - as I raised my camera to take a photo, the motion startled him and he ran off. Dang, I thought, lost a chance at a good shot.

But the critter didn't go very far and I decided to wait around and see if he would get used to my presence. For the next hour or so, I walked around, scuffed rocks, sat down, and generally did everything I could think of to convince the coyote that I had my own business to mind and that it didn't include him. Meanwhile, he amused himself trying to snatch flying insects out of the air.

Eventually, I was able to edge closer and closer, still avoiding eye contact or direct movements in his direction. It worked perfectly and the coyote lost all concern over me. In fact, he finally flopped down in the grass and closed his eyes. I had set up the camera on the tripod and, every time his eyes closed, I would scootch the camera closer and take a couple more photos, up to about eight feet away, when I decided I probably shouldn't push my luck any further.

As I began to reach the end of the roll of film (and realized I didn't have a spare, dammit), I started testing the animal's calm by scuffing the ground noisily. His head would jerk up, he'd quickly look around, then stare at me and put his head back down. That "Oh, it's just you" look is what you see in this photo.

I'm too much of a rationalist to get much into "being one with nature," but there's no denying that I usually feel more of an outsider than I wish when I encounter wildlife in their own habitat. At this moment, though, with a wild coyote that showed no hostility or fear toward me (or begged any food), but viewed me as a tolerable part of the landscape - I felt just a little less alien.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grizzlies on the plains

From Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News:

Grizzlies home on range – again. By Karl Puckett. Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer.

Is anyone interested that grizzlies are abundant enough and northern Montana empty enough that grizzlies are spilling out onto the plains?