July 31, 2002
Evil Petting Zoo

Evil is getting a lot of press these days.

It's happening at the high governmental levels; our president has famously referred to the "axis of evil" which somehow represents entire nations. And of course it happens at the pop culture levels, my favorite example being the famous "Austin Powers" line "An evil petting zoo?"

I don't really regard evil as a thing or a person (or a country), but more as a substance. It's in the air, an invisible but slimy substance. If it's a particularly bad day, the evilness may be washing up around you, leaving a sticky gray film. It's on your shoes and on your pants legs. It's leaving behind effluvia (bits of trash, old tires, etc.) on the floor. Watch your step!

Evil is grotty, my friends.

I try to combat evil with many things. Mini-Oreos are often useful. Efforts to mentally sandbag can work, although the barricades have to be in good shape and not worn down with wittering. Music is a good counter, too. Spiritualized hasn't been particularly helpful, but Sigur Ros is often a good choice. Evil doesn't understand the words, and it gets flummoxed and goes away, muttering.

Occasionally you get a break. Sometimes evil takes a holiday (like death). Or maybe it just goes to a trade show and hawks Evil Tote Bags.

And on those days, you put up your feet and pass the strawberry sorbet.

Posted at 07:28 PM
July 30, 2002
Sic Transit My Shoes

I must have done something to it a while back, because today my shoe broke in half. I literally walked away from the heel and limped a step or two before I realized half my shoe was still on the sidewalk behind me.

"Boy, that must be bad," said a helpful passerby when I went back and picked it up. I could only agree as I stood there staring at it, my heel sans shoe.

Getting home was a problem. Luckily the heel was low enough that I could tiptoe along on one side. It seemed to work, at least from the front, but from the side I looked a right idiot.

Looking at the remnants of my shoe, I could see that its innards looked mostly like layers of cardboard. It's not my favorite shoe--when I wear it, I have to wear tape around certain toes to keep from getting blisters--but I felt sad that it came apart so easily.

Many things in life are fragile, I know. But I never figured my shoes to be one of them.

And so I limped to the train, slightly unsteady. And my thoughts were a little sadder, a little more tinged with formless regret, than they had been earlier.

Links of note:
Portage: Stuff Worth Saving is a Weblog warehouse of cultural artifacts and some nice images. Very cool.

OK, it's not the most original idea in the world, but I read every word of these kids' stories at Homeless Week, wherein two Seattle guys keep a blog of a week of being homeless. Yes, utter destitution, with a digital camera. (via OJR)

And last but not least, thanks to Mr. Cozy and MFH and Jason for making me feel so welcome in the Bay Area last week. So long guys, and thanks for all the fried clams!

Posted at 09:49 PM
July 29, 2002
Infographics Info

Back from 10 days at SPPC and the synapses are firing a little slowly today.

Oddly, the classes that made me the most cheerful were those related to magazine design. Not sure why this is, as I am not a magazine designer. It may be that the editorial classes all felt like work, since they were so close to daily life. And the business-side classes (how to create a business plan, etc.) have no pretenses at being anything other than work. But for me, design has always represented infinite possibility--the mysterious step between that final line edit and the first magical transformation of words into type.

One of the highlights was Nigel Holmes, who specializes in "infographics" for some of the glitzier publications. Infographics are hard to do well, but valuable when they are done well. To that end, some links of note:

Visual Journalism.com isn't updated very often, alas, but it's an interesting idea--a site to discuss "infographics." Hottest property on here seems to be a comparison of various ways newspapers and magazines diagrammed the collapse of the WTC towers.

The Poynter Institute's site includes a list of good information design links.

AIGA's Design Forum includes discussion of information design as well. "When I was running a design firm, it was always a useful litmus test for interviewing prospective designers to put a 1040 Income Tax Form on the desk and ask them how they would like to redesign it. If their eyes glazed over or they broke out in a cold sweat, I knew it wasn't likely to be a good fit," says moderator Terry Irwin.

I'm sure there's more than one blog out there on this topic, but EM Design ("thoughts and observations about design, information architecture and design history") has a thoughtful, almost literary, approach that I liked.

Are there other good sites that I've missed? Send them along.

Posted at 02:31 PM
July 18, 2002
For This, A Focus Group?

1. Last entry until around the 29th or so, after I return from CA.

2. Today's e-mail yields more fun with consulting groups: Deloitte Consulting, after the world's largest focus group, is renaming itself Braxton.

"Our choice of Braxton further demonstrates our willingness to break the mold," says a spokesman. OK, I can understand the appeal of a non-goofy name. But "Braxton" says absolutely nothing to me, except to remind me of jazz musician Anthony Braxton.

Read all about it here. There's also the obligatory annoying Flash presentation.

Oh well, no one ever said "Gartner" was such a great name, either.

3. Photo to contemplate during the pause:

Lincoln Park Zoo, July 2002

Posted at 01:50 PM
July 15, 2002
Best Lines Ever

The umpteenth day of being sick has reduced me to a person who watches too much E! Television and naps a lot. However, I remain mindful of my readers, all two of them. This entry is primarily for Eric. If you've seen "Bottle Rocket," the first Wes Anderson film, you'll understand. If not, run out and rent it now!

1. Okay, one morning over at Elizabeth's beach house, she asked me if I'd rather go water-skiing or lay out. And I realized that not only did I not want to answer that question, but I never wanted to answer another water sports question or see any of these people again for the rest of my life.

2. Okay, there do you see the star is me, right there, and I'll be in there. The "X" is Anthony. Bob, you're the zero out here in the car.

3. On the run from Johnny Law. It ain't no trip to Cleveland.

4. And I can't fix a car like this. I don't have the tools to do it, man. And even I had the tools I can't promise you I'd know how to fix a car like that.

5. Kumar: I don't know, man. I lose my touch, man.
Dignan: Did you ever have a touch to lose, man?

6. Isn’t funny how you used to be in the nuthouse and now I’m in jail?

Posted at 07:08 PM
July 11, 2002
Dreamers and Telephone Screamers

Ever give up hope? Ever completely resign yourself to frustration and then see something turn around and reverse itself, completely independent of you?

One of the more adventurous parts of life as an editor is sweet-talking people into contributing articles. For me, this frequently involves the dreaded "cold call"--telephoning complete strangers and asking--sometimes repeatedly--them to write for me--on whatever arcane topic is on the agenda today.

Work on the current batch of ideas had hit a roadblock this week:

Article 1: Telephoned two experts in the field for suggestions back around June 20. Expert 1 referred me to books (no help); expert 2 referred me to two other people, one of whom is out of the country. Telephoned third expert, also out of the country. Telephoned expert 2's other reference, who said she was no longer working in this area but would try to find someone else to help me. "Give me 24 hours," she said.

Twenty-four hours passed and nothing happened, and I was back to uneasily considering my options.

Article 2: I only know one person qualified to advise me on this topic. Had telephoned her twice since mid-June and never heard any reply. I spent the intervening time trying to troll around relevant Web sites looking for possible suspects in the field, but again wasn't coming up with much hope.

Three weeks of searching and the trail was dead cold. I was reduced to dreaming (literally) that I'd found authors. Last night I made a list of my options for each one, including the inevitable "give up and try something else"--an option I rarely choose, but one that was looking more promising this time.

And then this morning it all turned around. By the time I'd finished checking my voice mail, I was laughing. My expert for article 2 called back and said she had some people in mind that she'd contact for me. And a complete stranger called regarding article 1, saying he'd been e-mailed by the person who promised to find me a reference in 24 hours.

So I'm back on the trail again...sweet talking, message leaving, hope springing eternal.

Posted at 06:35 PM
July 10, 2002
Too Much Sidewalks

Back in the heady days of the early '90s, a certain local "personality" became well known in the newsgroups for his badly phrased assertion that the University had "too much sidewalks." (Whereupon our Republican friend, Colin, liked to respond: "Too much sidewalks? Yeah, and I've got too many money!")

Looks like our syntax-challenged colleague is not alone, however. In some communities, there are places where they don't have sidewalks. What surprised me was how many people don't want sidewalks.

I have yet to read about a community that doesn't want driveways. Or, indeed, how about a referendum against paved roads in general? Frankly speaking, a community without sidewalks is a place I don't want to live, because I walk everywhere. And I find dodging errant drivers disruptive to my concentration.

Disclosure: I grew up on a street that didn't have sidewalks. It made it difficult to pitch a lemonade stand in the summer, which may be at the root of all this ranting.

Posted at 09:33 PM
Class Wars

I am the milkman of human kindness,
I'll leave a (sour) pint....

Remember when wage slaves used to hate the rich? Apparently that's long out of fashion.

At least it is at the neighborhood grocery store where I sometimes shop in the mornings. One of the regular cashiers on that shift is a surly guy whose favorite activity, it seems, is to grump about the underclass.

"I won't ride the bus," I overheard him fuss at the bag boy one day. "It's so hard to sit there with the masses."

Yesterday I found him trying to explain a one-item limit to a woman who apparently spoke very little English. It seemed to get resolved, and she had left with a jaunty enough air. But he was still grumpy when I got to the head of the line.

"These people, they come in here and take our time, when other people" (gesturing at me and the woman behind me, who is loading up on onions) "have to get to work!" The bag boy made a conciliatory sound. "Well, I think the answer is to abolish the entire food stamp system," the cashier spat. Then he handed me my change and receipt. "Thanks, and have a great day!"

I tried to think of something to say, maybe a little bit nicer than Dude, you do know your life's work is operating a cash register, don't you? or You know, you'd probably feel a lot better if you were a Socialist. But I get the feeling he might not see the point.

*Apologies to Billy Bragg.

Posted at 08:58 PM
July 08, 2002
The Reluctant Design Student

The irony is not lost on me that while Mike and Matt are debating books about the punk-rock past, I am worring about light fixtures.

Strictly speaking, I am not worried about specific light fixtures. I am worried about my lack of knowledge in general about light fixtures, which I fear will result in some future embarrassing incident at Home Depot.

My light-fixture anxiety, however, is part of a larger issue. Now that we "own" a "home," as many people put it, I have been fretting intermittently about how to decorate.

I confess: on my own, I am not very effective. I don't want to spend too much money, but I don't want anything cheap. I don't like our current blinds, bathroom fixtures, etc., but I don't want to give up my Saturdays to shopping for new ones. At times, I wander around furniture departments, from Marshall Field's to Pottery Barn, fingering things, but I don't want to make a commitment.

Meanwhile, Eric's many records are largely inaccessible in cardboard boxes. Our living room is an eclectic mix of Grandma's furniture and dumpster chic. There is a light fixture in the kitchen that looks like it was salvaged from the Gorton's fisherman's ship. We have towels that date back to the Reagan era.

And this is a good place. Not like the ones that came before, with holes in the bathroom wall and pipes that oozed brown goo.

And so I ruminate.

I am going to whip out my checkbook one of these days, for real. Until then, I have compensated for my indecision by decisively buying shelter magazines.

Unfortunately, "Angst-Ridden 30something Afraid to Spend Money" does not seem to be a widely recognized demographic for shelter magazine publishers. Far too many specialize in "country clutter" kinds of motifs that I have no use for, ever. (I don't know why "book, magazine, and music clutter" isn't more popular.)

Can't relate to Elle Decor, which always seems to feature homes with pools the size of my back yard. Dwell and wallpaper offer freakish parades of Manhattan lofts, not exactly applicable to me. On the other end of the spectrum are the do-it-yourself magazines, from Martha Stewart Insider Trading--whoops, Living to This Old House, where I start with making a stylish umbrella stand and end by putting in new floorboards.

A coworker used to give me House Beautiful now and then, and this one came closer to meeting my needs for a while. However, I see that recently Hearst has given the present editor the boot and replaced her with someone from Traditional Home.

The New York Times quotes a Country Living editor who comments that the previous editor was perhaps too "uptown, stylish and over the top." Whoa! I can see how this would be a problem. The new editor, in contrast, is "understood by middle America." By the little old ladies in Peoria, maybe? Sheesh.

I'll hold off on that HB subscription for just a little longer then, I think. Not sure a "traditional home" is what I'm looking for either. I'll show them all and subscribe to Architectural Digest. And continue haunting the furniture department at Field's, waiting for that next big sale.

Cool sites, regardless:

About.com does a decent "How to Read Decorating Magazines."

Designzine.com, "the online newsstand for design," which doesn't seem to be updated anymore, alas.

Interior Design.net is more of an industry publication, but still interesting.

Posted at 09:20 PM
July 05, 2002

One of the things that makes me happiest in the summer is the sheer abundance of fruit. I'm so spoiled these days, able to choose from peaches, blueberries, and cherries this week. And Sean and Teresa brought starfruit yesterday, so we were all set.

My big contribution to the day was cucumber salad, just the thing for a very hot day. Just to be difficult, I wanted to avoid the traditional combinations of yogurt or sour cream and opted to find a recipe for something a little less creamy.

The right combination? Two cucumbers. Salt. Lime juice. A chili pepper. And minced garlic.

My search for the perfect recipe also yielded:
I don't drink black cherry soda, but if I did, this person has done reviews of multiple different brands. Even takes note of the packaging. Paul Lukas, take note!

The Real Man's cookbook.
"Most cookbooks are written for women and, for that reason, do not account for the delicate tastes and abilities that make up the part and parcel of a man. With the exception of barbecue, the domestic culinary arts have been closed to the typical American male...In reality, cooking is more akin to the rough and tumble sport of baseball, borrowing such terms as batter and fowl."

The ease of finding lots of recipes, free, on the Web is only surpassed by the number of people trying to make money from those recipes. Some do better than others. I enjoyed, but did not succumb to, the different pitches interspersed throughout this alphabetic index.

And finally, nothing beats Fannie Farmer's cucumber salad circa 1918. This is certainly not labor intensive, although I could use some explanation of "Parisian French dressing." Or, for that matter, of "fish course."

Other good things about the summer:

Long walks by the lake.
Hanging out by Cafe Selmarie in the evenings.
Breakfast on the back porch, with the newspaper and the train for company.

No shoes.

Posted at 04:01 PM
July 01, 2002
More on Monday

Just had to follow up to the latest hoo-hah about Monday, the renamed PriceWaterhouseCoopers Consulting group. Corante points out that there may be a domain name issue overseas.

Posted at 09:25 PM
It's the Best Thing

Amazing, but it will be five years ago in November that Jim and I went over to Skippy’s house to help with the sequencing of “The Family Twee” (a much-beleaguered project that the indiepop list really hasn’t recovered from, even now). In between announcing that he intended to move to New York City and attempting to sequence 50 lo-fi indiepop songs, he pulled out “Apartment Life” by Ivy and turned it up loud. He really wanted us to hear it.

And listen we did, even reverently. It had a cleanly produced sound and buzzy little lyrics. It even had a singer with a delicious French accent, like Laetitia from Stereolab, but more intelligible. Dominique had the perfect name and the perfect compact, shown below.

“Isn’t it the best thing you’ve ever heard?” Skippy said.

Somehow, it was. And still is, on a muggy hot July day about a million light years from there.

Posted at 09:03 PM