Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Harold & Maudeland

The thing I love about the Bay Area is that you walk through bits of literature and history. Like the Sutler Baths, which burned down 30-40 years ago, and which were used to shoot a scene in the movie Harold and Maude. Elsewhere, you wander through the land of the Beats in the North Beach neighborhood around City Lights, see the literary ghost of Steve McQueen pitch down Nob Hill streets, and come across the settings of Tales of the City. You end up with a feeling that's the opposite of nostalgia--the feeling that if something happened here, and here, and here, you might be about to step into the middle of a story of your own at any moment.

The corollary of this idea, or maybe just its twin, is the sense you get from everyone you talk to that their career is just something to pay the rent; they're really in the middle of the story that's happening right at the moment you're talking to them.


Somehow, the Pacific sounds more like an ocean should than the Atlantic. Maybe it helps that I was up near the Cliff House, where the rip tides and sharp rocks make a midnight winter swim an exciting experience.

San Francisco by Night

Chad invited me to a party at Dan and Donnan's place. Even with the address, the taxi driver couldn't figure out where the party was...he should have just looked for the crowd of guys standing around smoking and looking for something to blog.

As soon as I said hi, the crowd introduced me as "that blogger from Chicago" and themselves as "DanChrisMichaelChrisDaveandNick". They fed me on red wine and chocolate mousse, while Donnan sang holiday songs from Hedwig. Chad showed up just as I was leaving, so unfortunately, we didn't get to chat as much as I'd have liked. Still, I got to meet his cousin Scott, also from Chicago, and a number of SF's most interesting people.

I'd love to say that we all hit the Endup after capturing all their URLs and becoming BFF with each and every one of them, but jet lag got the better of me, and I collapsed until the morning.

San Francisco: the View

From the St. Francis Hotel overlooking Union Square and points east.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

San Francisco, Day 1

Got up early in the morning after a late night flight to SFO. I decided to charge up the side of Telegraph Hill first thing off the bat, bundled up in a wool sweater, jeans and scarf. Appropriate for Chicago weather, nearly fatal in 58 degree, high humidity San Francisco conditions after going up 45 degree streets. By the time I reached the top, I was completely drenched.

On the way back down, I stopped in Cafe Zoetrope, and told the bartender, "I just climbed Telegraph Hill."

"Yeah," she said, "that's what it looks like."

Later in the day, I stopped in at Mea Cinis ("my ashes"), a newly-opened store that specializes in new hand made jewelry and Southeast Asian Antiquities. The store featured Chad's Venetian plastering job and the hand-strung pigskin hangings that looked like dreadlocks, as well as a kick-ass selection of art objects.

Dan, the owner, showed me around the place. When I mentioned that Chad's blog led me to visit, Dan shouted, and Chad appeared from the back, wearing a Geek Squad t-shirt. He seemed very surprised that anyone reads his blog...false modesty, judging from his site stats.

We started chatting about blogging and plastering and whatnot, and Dan showed me his twin brother's collection of 12th century bronze Khmer mirrors. A guy came in, wearing a massive pair of green galoshes, and started ooh-ing and aah-ing over everything, until he came to the mirrors, and gasped.

"Those are 14th century Khmer bronze mirrors," he said.

"No," replied Dan with a touch of pride, "they're 12th century Khmer bronze mirrors."

Just a standard day in North Beach. Always nice when you can find the one place where two people would come to argue over the dating of nine hundred year old art.

A bald woman came in next. I couldn't tell if she was bbald because of some ailment, or for religious reasons, or just as a fashion statement, but clearly, being bald worked for her. Dan went off to show her the bracelets made from something that looked like the mating between human bone and high-grade fractal rendering software.

Chad said, "look, since you don't know anyone in San you do. A friend of mine is throwing a party tonight, and I'd love it if you would come."

Despite jetlag and tired legs from the morning climb, how could I say no?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Weirdness Roundup

Well, with 2006 nearly done, it's time to bottle up as much of the weirdness as possible before it all floats away.

The 10 most bizarre people on earth (via kottke (via mr) (UPDATED LINK)
Including the guy with the mutated twin lodged in his abdomen and the guy who ate a Cessna. I was briefly disappointed not to be included in this list, but as a friend once told me, "Scott, you're a nice amateur eccentric, but we have professionals here to handle the heavy lifting."

Dominionist Christians in the Pentagon, and the People who Hate Them
A classic political rant. I recommend that y'all give this guy whatever it is he needs to take care of the problem, or we may be living in a Left Behind book in no time flat.

The fugue state of the Bishop of Southwark (via Neil)

What happened to the Bishop of Southwark last Tuesday night? Was he mugged on the way home to Tooting from a pre-Christmas party at the Irish embassy? Or was he found wandering in a confused state in Crucifix Lane, near his cathedral, having supped not wisely, but too well?

The Rt Rev Tom Butler, 66, one of the Church of England's most senior bishops and a pillar of Thought for the Day on the BBC Today programme, says he has no idea. Others say he was seen sitting in the back of a Mercedes chucking children's toys out of the window and announcing: I'm the Bishop of Southwark. It's what I do."

And of course, the Russian Spy Polonium Sushi Caper.
As Bruce Sterling likes to say, this one is fractally weird. As the press boys like to say, this one's got legs. This particular little article highlights the victim's dining companion. Nice reading.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lunaryuna & Magic Fly Paula's Star Diary

Ooh, aah.


Bloody swimming pools

I give you...the Abode of Chaos

Crashed aircraft, fire-blackened walls, a swimming pool of blood and portraits
of Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden adorn a sprawling “shrine to chaos”
Demeure du Chaos (Abode of Chaos) includes a swimming pool of blood, top,
alongside a display of twisted metal, charred walls, burnt-out cars and
battlefield debris.

M Ehrmann’s celebration of the apocalypse, inspired
by his experiences in the Middle East and by the events of September 11, 2001,
has enraged residents, who are offended by its charred walls, twisted metal,
burnt-out cars and battlefield debris. A mock oil platform sits on one roof amid
camouflage netting. The garden includes a sculpture re-creating the remains of
the World Trade Centre.

“I have to pass by it every day. It’s morbid.
It’s horrible,” Monique Nietto, a neighbour, told Le Parisien. “M Ehrmann has
completely destroyed a magnificent property.”
The locals call the site “

Edward Tufte Lecture Notes

Edward Tufte Lecture 10/2/06: SG Notes
Presenting Data and Information

Use high-density data
· Allow audience to read. People can read 2-4 times faster than you can talk.

Minimize graphic flair
· Allows more space for explanatory material.
· Eliminate boxes on org charts when 2-D location of text already describes relationships inside organization
· Eliminate chartjunk (e.g., explosions; cf FEMA chart)

· Explain what’s going on

Show causality
· Differentiate links/relationships
· Use whatever evidence is important
· Multiple levels of information in one exhibit
· Allow users to tell their own little stories

Presentation Methods
1. Don’t get it original, get it right
2. Model: NYT/WSJ
o News stories
o Sports page
o Weather page
o Stock page
3. This is a solved problem
4. NYT/WSJ are:
o High density
o Conventionally designed—designs that have worked
o Despite complexity of data, millions of people can read the sports page, get lots of information, so don’t underestimate the capability of your audience to understand

Two main problems in Information Display:
1. Multivariate problems
Subproblem: how to display in 2-D/ on paper
2. Information Resolution

Put your name on your work. Work is not done by organizations, it is done by people. Putting your name on it is a sign of pride in craftsmanship, and allows users to direct questions/criticisms back to the author.

Label data directly. Avoid legends & distant labels.

2-D workaround example: Euclid, 1st edition, 1570
· Use of 3-D popups, still functional in book copy almost 500 years later

The Grand Principles of Analytic Design
1. Use comparisons
Rulers, scale, normal ranges, etc
2. Show causality
3. Show many dimensions/levels of data
4. Completely integrate words, numbers and images
“The evidence is indifferent to the mode of production”
5. Document everything and tell people about it
This adds credibility and reasons to believe
Also enables further study
Show all of your data—don’t cherry pick
6. Content counts most of all
Serious presentations stand or fall on the quality, relevance and content of
7. Adjacent in space, not stacked in time
Don’t make users turn the page to see next result. It is easier to compare
adjacent things
8. Use small multiples (cf Galileo sunspot diagrams)
9. Put everything on a universal grid
How big is it?
Where is it?
What is its context?
These are the commonalities among all humans, regardless of time, culture

Low resolution of screens vs. paper
· Computer screen uses ~1/500th of human eye-brain capacity
· 1 glance = ~150Mb data
· 16 bit color (up to 20 bit for artists/designers)
· Paper 10-12 times better than screen for resolution

Aside: p.162 of Galileo’s Demonstrations features the only direct reference he made in print to the movement of the earth: “dal meuimento anno della Terra”. (“The annual movement of the Earth”) The church asked him not to repeat this.

You know what you’re talking about
You aren’t cherry picking

Give lots of handouts
· Lets people use their own cognitive style. People not paying attention to the speaker in order to read the handout is a sign the audience is awake

Respect the audience. Contempt leaks through.
To clarify, add detail
· Sounds paradoxical, but is true

To see best variation, scale average slope of data to 45°
· Avoids ceiling & floor effects
· Most useful for cyclic data; allows best detection of variation
· You want lumpy, not spiky or flat graphs

Use sparklines: intense, simple, word-sized graphics inline with text
· Software: Sparkline—shareware office plug-in
· Other software:
Stats program: SAS, SPSS, “anything that costs more than $500”
Design program: Illustrator
Page layout software

Resolution of words=Resolution of sparkline graphics

Usability tests: do people use something similar

John Tukey: “Better to be approximately right than exactly wrong”

Project management:
· Best to do wallchart
· Make it large, updated regularly
· Readable 2-3’ away

When reading a PPT presentation, ask:
· What’s the story?
· Does it establish credibility
· What’s the scope? Two problems:
o Overreaching
o Irrelevant Domain

PowerPoint Flaws:
· Low Resolution: 4 sheets of paper=50-250 PPT slides
· Chops all info into slide-sized pieces
· Encourages fake hierarchies (bullets)
· Encourages clipped jargon, non-English
· Discourages non-findings
· Encourages pitching, rather than reporting

Pitching out corrupts within (cf Iraq evidence)

Solution: use technical reports, built in word processor, instead of decks

Technical Report:
11”x17” paper, folded once, written on both sides

Start with 200 word intro:
What the problem is
Who cares (what’s the relevance)
What your solution is

Model is article in Science or Nature

Meant to be read through
High resolution data dump
Followed by discussion
If someone derails talk, at least you got through the 200 word summary

One handout means
50-250 slides of average density
1000-2000 words or
500-1000 sparklines

General presentations:
· Worry about content, rather than production values
· Practice, practice, practice
· Video of self reveals: verbal & gestural tics, placeholders, other annoying quirks
· Show up early
1 time in 20, this heads off a serious problem (double booking, etc)
1 time in 20, allows a quiet opportunity to prepare, talk to/greet audience
20 times in 20, you are not late

Start with 200 word, 3 part summary from report
Never apologize (Don’t waste time talking about you, talk about the data)

For presenting complicated data/data display:
PGP=Particular, General, Particular
Give an example, then orient to whole of data, then give another specific example

Give everybody a piece of paper

Don’t condescend to your audience. Instead of “Knowing your audience,” which leads to underestimation: Respect your audience, Know your content.

Use body language

Finish early.

Key readings:
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Introduction and Ch. 1
Envisioning Information, Introduction and Ch. 2
Beautiful Evidence, Introduction and pp. 12-45

Monday, September 04, 2006

Leverage: My Hero

Guy Gabaldon, died at age 80 this week.

He grew up as part of a "multiethnic gang", moved in with a Japanese-American family subsequently interned in Alaska, and fought in WWII. Using a mixture of rudimentary Japanese and cigarettes, he successfully captured over 1,500 Japanese soldiers on the island of Saipan, earning himself the nickname of "Pied Piper" and winning a Navy Cross Medal in the process.

(Wikipedia Entry)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Just got back the pictures from the Amsterdam trip. Back after seventeen years...#1: View from the spooky-quiet trains.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Link Roundup

BibliOddysey features scores of scans of old and rare manuscripts. Beautiful & strange.

Likewise the Procedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society are a wunderkammer in print, existing at the intersection of science, magic and whimsy.

Good Words

"I don't believe we'll defeat the Axis of Evil
By putting smart bombs in the hands of dumb people."

-Billy Bragg "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

6 year blogiversary

As of the day before yesterday it's been 6 years off and on. Looking back on it there's been quite a bit of off--which explains the size of my readership. Even with all that time off for bad behavior I'm glad to see that I'm still going...and that the number of people with this bizarre pasttime continue to increase.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Notebooks & Letters

While wandering the web I came across one of those wonderful specialized blogs. The Moleskinerie page is dedicated to news of the Moleskine notebook. The uses to which people put these things inspires heavy note-taking, scrapbooking and sketching. The etries feature lots of close up shots of notebook pages with watercolor and pastel miniatures, in-depth discussions of good pens to use, hacks for organizing one's life around the little black book & etc.

Although I'm currently in the minority there with my use of the Miquelrius grid ruled notebook or the big sketchbooks, my current pen of choice shows up--the Pilot G2.
Among the great finds from the early days of the blog are the works of Nathanael Archer, a talented calligrapher who centers his work around the Tibetan language, but appears to also do work in Hebrew and Arabic styles. His Tibetan work is reminiscent of that of Chogyam Trungpa in its bold, fluid strokes and postmodern aesthetic.

Easter Beer Hunt

The Styn family holds its annual Easter Beer Hunt. Footage courtesy Halcyon.

Our family morphed the traditional Easter Egg Hunt into a Beer hunt when we got older. Here's some footage from the fun.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I'm such a big kid that when I came out of the church this morning and saw all the plastic eggs "hidden" on the lawn I had to physically restrain myself from picking them up.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm a grup

Somedays they just have you pegged. That's it--I'm off to the Death Cab for Cutie show at the Double Door. You guys read this.

Let’s start with a question. A few questions, actually: When did it become normal for your average 35-year-old New Yorker to (a) walk around with an iPod plugged into his ears at all times, listening to the latest from Bloc Party; (b) regularly buy his clothes at Urban Outfitters; (c) take her toddler to a Mommy’s Happy Hour at a Brooklyn bar; (d) stay out till 4 A.M. because he just can’t miss the latest New Pornographers show, because who knows when Neko Case will decide to stop touring with them, and everyone knows she’s the heart of the band; (e) spend $250 on a pair of jeans that are artfully shredded to look like they just fell through a wheat thresher and are designed, eventually, to artfully fall totally apart; (f) decide that Sufjan Stevens is the perfect music to play for her 2-year-old, because, let’s face it, 2-year-olds have lousy taste in music, and we will not listen to the Wiggles in this house; (g) wear sneakers as a fashion statement; (h) wear the same vintage New Balance sneakers that he wore on his first day of school in the seventh grade as a fashion statement; (i) wear said sneakers to the office; (j) quit the office job because—you know what?—screw the office and screw jockeying for that promotion to VP, because isn’t promotion just another word for “slavery”?; (k) and besides, now that she’s a freelancer, working on her own projects, on her own terms, it’s that much easier to kick off in the middle of the week for a quick snowboarding trip to Sugarbush, because she’s got to have some balance, right? And she can write it off, too, because who knows? She might bump into Spike Jonze on the slopes; (l) wear a Misfits T-shirt; (m) make his 2-year-old wear a Misfits T-shirt; (n) never shave; (o) take pride in never shaving; (p) take pride in never shaving while spending $200 on a bedhead haircut and $600 on a messenger bag, because, seriously, only his grandfather or some frat-boy Wall Street flunky still carries a briefcase; or (q) all of the above?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Design Interviews

Karim Rashid interviewed in Fab. It's a nutty Warholesque interview that reminds me for some reason of Jubal Early in Firefly licking one of the struts of the ship's cargo hold.

[High heels]
High heels are kind of misogynist, so if I’m going to make women walk around in high heels I might as well give them some comfort. I made the most comfy high-heel shoe to be worn. It is made out of three-part injection mould and it has a vanilla smell that lasts for two years.

[Blue collars]
If you want to be a good industrial designer, you need to go to a lot of factories and see how things are produced. I used to go to trade shows for machinery, to look at the way things are made. I would look at a machine that would do thermaforming and I would be so inspired by it. To this day I allow machines to inspire me.

Bruce Sterling in Metropolis. It reeks of nostalgia for five minutes ago.

The Art Center kids were challenged with a small budget, a tight schedule, and a need to do something really good for their portfolio--something impressive, something worthy of public display. It was never made entirely clear to them what "good" meant. They had to sop that up from the thick smog of cultural values in the Art Center air while shut up tight with their teeming fellows in the Modernist steel monastery.

Those students work harder than oxen. By show time at the end of the term, they're physically collapsing from their own ambitions. They grieve. They tremble with burnout. They slumber on the library carpets. They change a lot. Designerhood steals over them. It's like character transformation in a novel. That ditzy illustration chick, who shambled in wearing her Goodwill dresses, somehow develops her own look; she's still a freak, but now she's all together about it. That digital-arts kid, twitchy from his misspent youth of computer games, somehow learns to exude geek chic. He once had a thousand-yard stare. Now he's got the polished arched-eyebrow look of the cell-phone techie on Verizon billboards. You can't teach that to anyone--it's self-inflicted. What happened to them? They have recognized certain aspects of their pre-designer selves that, to their newly trained eyes, are no longer apt and fitting. So they prune those parts off. They take the gum eraser to it. They X-acto it. They mill it down to sawdust over in the machine shop. It's spooky. Even their parents can tell.

Nobody ever told me or ordered me to do anything at Art Center, ever. This benign treatment truly fertilizes one's eccentricities. For my last term there I constructed a giant mobile out of steel wire and PVC pipe inside an abandoned wind tunnel. Why? Because it wasn't there, that's why. I'm laughing about this now, but it's a rueful, wiser laughter. I never learned so much so fast as I did while brandishing those pliers

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Un-interview

I the course of explaining why he doesn't like interviews Doug Coupland gives a great one to Morrissey.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

One Love

We are all descended from everyone. Everyone who has descendants.

Now think about your direct ancestors living 40 generations in the past, in
about the year A.D. 1000. The size of that group is harder to estimate. But as
two co-authors and I explained in Nature in 2004, that group included many millions
of people. Forty generations ago, almost everyone living today had ancestors in
Europe, Asia, and Africa, and many present-day Asians, Europeans, and Africans
had ancestors in the Americas because of the continual exchange of mates across
the Bering Strait.
It gets even stranger. Say you go back 120 generations,
to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature
paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants
living today. And if you compared a list of your ancestors with a list of anyone
else's ancestors, the names on the two lists would be identical.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Best & Worst

This might be the worst thing ever--or just the funniest:

A stewardess caused panic by repeatedly screaming "We're going to crash" when a packed plane hit turbulance.
The Virgin flight hit bad weather three hours into a journey from Gatwick to Las Vegas.
Some passengers were sick and others thrown from their seats as luggage, drinks and trays were tossed around.
Those using the toilet at the time were stuck in the cubicle while others prayed and cried.
And their ordeal was intensified by the screaming stewardess.
Passenger Paul Gibson told The Daily Mirror: "She began screaming every time the plane shook.
"She shouted at the top of her voice, 'We're going to crash! We're going to crash! We're going to crash!"
The un-named woman - in her mid 20s - also lobbed sick bags across the cabin when poorly passengers screamed for more.

This really is bad:

Villanova basketball star Allan Ray had his eyeball literally poked out of its socket by an opposing player on Friday night. Ray has been treating the injury with eye drops, and he planned to meet with doctors on Monday to find out if he can play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. What should you do if your eyeball comes out of your head?

Get it put back in, and soon. The longer you remain in this rare condition—known as "globe luxation"—the more strain you'll put on the blood vessels and nerves that connect your eye to the rest of your head. Your luxated globes will also be susceptible to corneal abrasions or inflammation, and the feeling of your eyelids clamped down behind them won't be pleasant.
You should be able to get your eye back in place without serious, long-term damage. (If the ocular muscles tear or if the optic nerve is severed, your outlook won't be as clear.) The treatment for globe luxation is pretty simple: Doctors apply some topical painkillers, hold back your lashes, and poke your eyeball into its socket by pressing on the white part with gloved fingers. (In some cases, they'll use a simple tool like a bent paperclip to shoehorn it back into place.) You might get antibiotics, lubricating drops, or steroids to follow up for a few days while your vision returns to normal. If your doctors can't pop your eye back in—because you've got too much swelling in the socket, for example—they'll give you an eye shield and consider a more invasive procedure.

This guy is really really good:

The ambulance stopped and Jadick peered out at the first real fire fight of his life. There were not two wounded men, but seven. As a middle-class kid growing up in upstate New York, Jadick had avidly read about war, and even applied to West Point. But he flunked the physical—poor depth perception—and went to Ithaca College on an ROTC scholarship instead. He had served as a communications officer in the Marines, but left the corps after seven years, bitter that he had been left out of the fighting in 1991. Attending medical school on a Navy scholarship, he had never seen or experienced real war—the kind of urban combat that can leave 30 to 40 percent of a unit wounded or dead.

"I can't tell you how scared I was," he recalled. "My legs wanted to stay in that vehicle, but I had to get off. I wanted to go back into that vehicle and lie under something and cry. I felt like a coward. I felt like it took me hours to make the decision to go."

But he got up and went. He felt as though he were "walking through water."

And that's the beginning of how he saved 30 lives in the Battle of Fallujah.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


I bought a new scale this week that has a bunch of bioelectric moitoring capabilities to it. It shows not only weight but also body fat, hydration, & bone density.

It should also insult you if you gain weight: "Hey, there Fatty. Watch where you're steppin'."

However, it looks like I won't be needing the insult function, as I've dropped ten pounds and cut a percent and a half body weight since last fall. This leaves me feeling much more myself, and a little more yummy.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Even more Tales from the EL

There is a madman on the train.

The man is tall and clothed entirely in the peculiar yellow color I associate with Carhartt jackets and Timberland boots. His rich accent and etched facial features are those I associate with East Africa or certain islands of the West Indies. His voice is louder than anyone's gets on the train except for tourists and madmen, and he is clearly not visiting.

"...In 1917. 1917. 1917. How can you not see, it has been going on since 1917. Every day it gets worse. EVERY DAY. Pan Am. Libya. The PLO, Amelia Earhardt. 1917, they killed Archduke Ferdinand in the street. IN THE STREET. A whole war. Planes falling from the sky. Nobody does anything," he argues vehemently, waving his arms, imploring. He is talking to the air, to the bones of the train itself.

Everyone riding in the car pretends nothing is happening, closed inside themselves, because that's the way sane people ride the train, when they'd rather not deal with shouting madmen on the way home from work, and think that if they can pretend nothing is happening then nothing will happen. I am one of these people. We are arguably crazier than the madman.

The man in yellow says, "they go on killing people. Nobody does anything. I am a Catholic and I am proud. I make $40 an hour, and I [something] the pipes FORTY STORIES UP. George Bush is the WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD. THE WORST!"

At this point, I'm starting to think maybe he's not crazy, just a Democrat. Unfortunately, my stop comes up before I can hear any more, but I watch the train pull from the station, the man in yellow waving his arms and shouting, the other passengers pretending not to cringe. I almost feel sorry for him because no one is going to try to stop him; his paranoia will go unfounded, making him both true completely mad at the same time. Oppression would at least mean that he's sane.

The next day, I saw a man wearing a bowler hat. So, it's true, there's something different every day.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Link Roundup

Photobooth Yearbook Rice 1970 (via Boingboing)

My coworkers couldn't believe that Posh Spice has never read a book. Its like not having sex or never having climbed a tree. One can conceive of it happening in this life--but why?

Malcolm Gladwell's blog.
I am huddled by the computer helplessly consuming the crack sold to me by a cluster of short pushers in khaki sashes with little badges on them. Mmm--minty.

Another Story from the EL

To the guy with the wandering hands standing immediately behind me on the Brown line this morning all the way to the Loop :

Either you developed a spontaneous crush on me, or you're the world's worst pickpocket. Since I've still got my wallet, I'm thinking its the former.

Stories from the EL

I sat next to Santa on the Red Line.

No kidding.

Older guy, in that hard-to-tell-what-age phase. He says, "Did you see that group of people who won the lottery? I think that's great. It's so awful when just one person wins."

"Yeah," I say, "once you've got past the first ten or twenty million, what're you going to spend it on?"

"I could spend it," he says.


"Well, first, I'd go into work wearing my dad's coat," he heaves a sigh, "then, I'd buy bicycles for every kid in town, find out if people were in need, send a lawyer over there to make sure they were above board, and get 'em taken care of."

He continues, "I remember there was a guy who did that, you know, gave a bike to every kid in his hometown, rented out the football field, and had a truckload of bikes sent over there for 'em to pick out."

"That's awfully nice," I say.

"Sure, I'd do that all the time...I play Santa Claus every Christmas, why not do it the rest of the year?"

"Well," I say, "this is my stop, but I hope you win."

"And if I don't, I hope you do," he says.

So I bought a ticket, and if I win, it's bikes for everyone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I've seen things

First run of the season, due to a persistent series of upper respiratory hoohah. Valentine's Day, and a very clear night with a full moon rising out over the lake. Two lines of planes making final approach to O'Hare--one on either side of the moon--hanging against the sky like strands of Christmas lights. It reminds me of my favorite quote from one of the all-time great movies:

Batty: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die. -Blade Runner
When I woke up at 5 in the morning, my first coherent thought was, "I miss waking up at 10 in the morning."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

In Cold Blood

My friend Joyce is a hard woman in many ways. Her husband, the Platypus, likes to bounce quarters off her abs.

Tonight, she called me and asked, "When are we going to do our dive bar project?"

"It's not our project, Joyce," I said. "It's more something you and Eric want to do. I don't like going to dive bars. I end up getting into fistfights and waking up next to women in Jagermeister hats."

"Yeah, sure. I bet you go to dive bars all the time."

"I'm trying to cut back."

"Have you seen Capote yet?" she asked, "because you remind me of him."

I'm shooting for Viggo Mortensen levels of manliness, but I'm willing to accept that I come off as, say, Matthew Broderick. Truman Capote is not where I'm placing the energy, thank you.

The woman is hard, I tell you.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Groundhog Day

Sixty children on a field trip
Jump out of their skis with excitement
'Cause, Hey, they're on a fieldtrip
Standing outside the Corner Bakery
About to eat lunch out and what's
More there are window washers
Above putting on a show just for them
Business people walking by in formation
Talking into cell phones just for sixty
Kids jumping out of their skins watching
The floor show

The guy outside the Borders looks like Jesus
He's holding breath mints
Not asking for money
Jesus looks tired
Jesus looks tired
(and maybe a little misplaced)
You'd look tired too at two thousand and five
Mother Theresa used to say
Every day I try to see Jesus in everyone
I meet, Jesus in all his uncomfortable disguises
So all the way back from lunch
Even the people who don't look
Like the guy who looks like Jesus
Look like Jesus to me

Except the old woman
Selling papers from a wheelchair
If it were a little warmer
She wouldn't need the jaunty hat with
Many peaks and wouldn't look
So much like the moon wrapped in a patchwork
Rainbow coat
Nor so much like a fairy grandmother

After I get off the train
Because I tripped and slashed
A single fingernail across
The bindi of a kindly Indian lady
The three punk kids
One with prodigious sideburns
Tells stories of nomad classrooms
Our school is too full they say
So whole classes just wander the halls
Following a teacher
The second with a backpack full of
Sketchpads asks If I fell on the tracks
Would you catch me? Would you give your
Life for me? For a stranger? The first one says
No, runs slowly in a circle
We are all running
We are all running to our death
Slowly, slowly
The third points at the incoming train
Asks where do all these businesspeople come from?
From floorshows for schoolchildren.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

RIP Nam Jun Paik

"The future is now."
- Nam Jun Paik

He made the future with video art before anyone. You couldn't stare at his art too long without vertigo or eyestrain--but you felt compelled to look around it for a very long time indeed.

Mark Rothko's Seagram's Paintings

The story of how nine paintings commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant ended up at the Tate:

The Rothko murals at Tate Modern are lovely in their oppression, erotic in their cruelty. These are paintings that seem to exist on the skin inside an eyelid. They are what you imagine might be the last lights, the final flickers of colour that register in a mind closing down. Or at the end of the world. "Apocalyptic wallpaper" was a phrase thrown at Rothko's kind of painting as an insult.

I think Apocalyptic Wallpaper would be a great name for a band.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Snapshots II

  • An elderly black man sits in a wheelchair, propelling himself backwards along the street with his feet. On the back of the chair, a tuba, stuffed with plastic and flowers--to protect the instrument from the rain, or to use it as a planter?
  • Along the lakeshore, the trunk and branches of a tree support a fine frosting of snow. During the day's thaw, a three inch gap has melted between branches and trunk, turning the snow into a holder of negative space, an exoskeleton.
  • The sign in the picture says: "If you see something suspicious, that's how New York got started."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


  • New job kicking my ass as expected.
  • On the EL two young women serenade the crowd with Imogen Heap's Hide & Seek.
  • The woman threw her arm in the air to wave goodbye, flinging her engagement ring into the space behind a row of file cabinets. When we came across them, a crowd of ten of her coworkers were trying to retrieve it using coathangers. Two or three of the women were perched on top of the cabinets. Others stood around, laughing and chattering. If it had gone on much longer, I suspect that they'd have ordered pizza and canapes. As it was, a guy with a dolly inched the cabinet out, and a piece of gum on the end of a wire hanger did the trick, to the sound of a standing ovation.