Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Romantic Tuba of Floyd Cooley

Floyd Cooley
Originally uploaded by Ernie Uszniewicz
How did this album not make it to the Billboard top 100?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Monochrome Weekend: T. Rex

From Wikipedia:

"Sue" is the nickname given to FMNH PR 2081, which is the largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever found. It was discovered in the summer of 1990 by Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist, and was named after her. After ownership disputes were settled, the fossil was auctioned in October 1997 for $7.6 million, the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur specimen, and is now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

More black and white photos at:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The 2009 Diagram Prize

Every year, the British trade magazine, The Bookseller, awards the Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year. A record 4500 people voted in the 2009 competition, and the winner is Crocheting Adventures With Hyberbolic Planes by Dana Taimina.

From the Christian Science Monitor web site:
Winning author Daina Taimina, an adjunct associate professor of mathematics at Cornell University, told the Telegraph newspaper that the title wasn’t her original plan. “When I was writing the book, my husband was doing the layout and had to save a file, so he asked me for a title. Since I was expecting the publisher to come up with a great title for marketing purposes I told him to put whatever he wanted and this seemed very appropriate.”
Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes won decisively with 42 percent of the vote, beating second place finisher What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua? By Tara Jansen-Meyer by 12 percentage points. My personal favorite, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, received a disappointing eleven percent.

The Bookseller received a record 90 submissions to the 2009 contest. Horace Bent, custodian of the contest, cited Twitter as the reason for the tripling of submissions compared to the 2008 competition. As a result, he had to create an intermediate "very longlist" of 49 entries before a panel of judges could produce a shortlist of six for voting.

How to Avoid Writing, Ver. 2.0

Voltaire. Detail from an engraving by Baquoy (ca. 1795).

Back in 2007, I posted an essay titled "How to Avoid Writing." A couple weeks ago, I read in the local paper that the creative writing department of a local university was holding a contest. The winners would receive tickets to a reading by David Sedaris. I didn't know much about Sedaris, but I thought I'd take a crack at the contest, so, on the advice and with the editorial assistance of my son the former English major, I did some major revision of the 2007 essay. I won second place. Here is the revised version:

Those of us who are compelled by temperament, neurosis, or outright madness to put pen to paper or bang away at a keyboard often suffer from a stronger urge, which is the compulsion to avoid writing. Why should this be? If I don’t want to write, why don’t I just do something else with my time? I could polish my spoon collection, shampoo my pet wombat, or water my okra seedlings. But I feel I must write. As inadequate as I feel when writing, I may feel even worse if I don’t write. How can I call myself a writer if I am not writing? So, then why do I avoid it? Perfectionism is a factor. If I am not able to produce verbiage on a par with John Updike, with flawless use of simile, metaphor, gerunds, and undangling participles, why bother? The blank page reflects my anxiety, guilt and self-doubt. I am reminded of the brilliant humorist Robert Benchley, who one day rolled a fresh piece of paper into his typewriter and typed “The.” Different versions of the story have him staring at the paper for a prolonged period of time, then smoking his pipe, going for a walk, joining a poker game, meeting up with friends, drinking, or some combination of these activities. When he returned to the typewriter, he stared for a while at the solitary word “The,” finally added “hell with it,” and quit for the day.

Numerous impediments may get in the way of writing. You need to be prepared. If you chose to scribble your thoughts on paper, you need to remember where you left your favorite pen. If you use a computer, you need to know which of those little sliding things at the top of the computer screen produces a hanging indent. Indeed, you should know what a hanging indent is, and how it should be used. Research such as this takes time. Should I just launch into an essay or short story without knowing how to turn off that cartoon paper clip that thinks it knows what kind of document I am typing and cloyingly offers to help me write it? I think not, and wading through help menus takes time.

Beyond the pure mechanics of writing, it is necessary to have in mind something to write about, and to have in-depth knowledge of the subject. Aye, there’s the rub. Cable news pundits may pontificate on any topic at will without rigorous study of the issues, but as for me, knowledge is power. As Albert Einstein once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind. Don’t be caught with your intellectual knickers down!” Or was it his cousin Manny Einstein who said that? No matter. The point is, before fanning the fires of creativity, the writer must make sure his mental tinder box is full of wood shavings and gently-used toothpicks. The writer must be always prepared, ready at a moment's notice to produce a paragraph by rubbing two Boy Scouts together. He must be ready to spend as much time as necessary to hone his craft—not by writing, but by doing other things that seem dreadfully important at the time.

For instance, take the time I sat down to write about a letter that was handed down to me from my grandmother. Her brother had written to her while he was working away from home, early in the twentieth century. He mentioned in the letter that his scalp was itching because he had rabbits, and that my grandmother should be careful because there may be rabbits in the letter. Holding the envelope in my hand, I was fairly certain even a baby bunny couldn’t fit in there. I was absolutely sure that a fine upstanding young man like Great Uncle Charles would not have been in the grip of delirium tremens, longing for a drink of rotgut whiskey while imagining small furry mammals crawling over his head. My best guess was that “rabbit” was a slang term for head lice. Is this common knowledge? It wasn’t to me--what a wonderful opportunity to dive into research and avoid writing!

In days of yore, research involved going to the library to riffle through the card catalog and pore over The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Those quaint practices have been rendered obsolete by the internet. It is interesting that as I type this essay on a laptop computer wirelessly connected to the internet through my home network, squiggly red lines appear under the words internet, wirelessly, and even squiggly, indicating these words are unrecognized by the word-processing software. I can understand how squiggly may be suspect, as it is a lame word, but perhaps it is time for internet and wirelessly to become accepted parts of the lexicon. Or perhaps I just need to upgrade from Word 97.

But I digress. Being connected to the World Wide Web, I go to the modern equivalent of the card catalog and The Reader’s Guide—Google (another red squiggly line appears). I type in “rabbits” and “lice.” References to scientific experiments involving the two species appear, but not too far down the list is a link to an article by P.J. O’Rourke published in The Atlantic in 2003. The essay is an account of his daughter’s infestation by head lice and includes facts he had gathered by researching the topic in the New England Journal of Medicine and other sources. One of his sources was The American Thesaurus of Slang, published in the 1940s, which gave the following synonyms for lice: seam squirrels, shimmy lizards, and pants rabbits. I believe these sobriquets apply to pubic lice, more commonly known today by the trans-species appellation crabs.

Ah, now, armed with knowledge, I am ready to write. Or am I? Should I not go to the primary source myself? Of course. Perhaps The American Thesaurus of Slang is in the public domain and available online. I Google the title. Alas, no electronic version is available, but there appears a link to, which tells me that a tangible copy sits on a shelf at the local campus of Indiana University, a tantalizing 13 miles away. Should I go? No, wait. In the endless list of links produced by Google is a review from a librarians’ journal. I must read it to know if it’s worth the effort to go on a quest for the book. The reviewer is gaga over the book. I must have it. Alas, I don’t have checkout privileges at the university. I go to the public library catalog online. The library doesn’t have The American Thesaurus of Slang, but does have a copy of the more recently published Thesaurus of American Slang. Maybe that’s close enough. Another blessed respite from writing calls to me. I could drive to the library, find the book, perhaps browse the CDs in the Sights and Sounds section, and maybe read a magazine. No, I tell myself sternly, I must write.

But first, I’ll see if a copy of the older book is for sale. After all, any writer worth his salt should have his own copy of this invaluable reference material. A search at reveals that the book is out of print, but a few used copies are available, ranging in price from less than eight dollars to more than a hundred, depending on condition. Thirty to fifty dollars would buy a copy in good condition. Hmmm…have to think about it.

And so, I push back from the keyboard with a sense of deep satisfaction. Mission accomplished! I have avoided writing—sort of.


The author is grateful for the editorial assistance of Daniel P. Cory, J.D.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

William Eggleston

We spent last weekend in Chicago and spent some time in the Art Institute on Saturday. We saw an exhibit of William Eggleston's photos. He is known for making dye-transfer prints and introducing color to fine art photography. One of his more famous photos is this shot of a tricycle in his hometown of Memphis.

Memphis 1969/70 by William Eggleston, on display at the Art Institute of Chicago

As I looked around at other prints that I hadn't seen before, I was reminded of a few pictures I have taken over the last few months. For what it's worth, below are pictures I took of Eggleston's prints followed by my own photos.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Monochrome Weekend: 3 Oaks Station

On the railway between Chicago and Detroit, the Three Oaks, Michigan station is now a gift shop. Captured with a Brownie Hawkeye Flash camera and respooled Kodak Tri-X400 film, developed in Diafine.

More black and white photos at:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not Your Average Tuba and Accordian Duo

I have become obsessed with Flickr. I enjoy posting photos there and seeing how many people view them. One feature I discovered is the ability to create galleries. You can pick other Flickr users' photos and put them together in groups of eighteen. My most recently assembled gallery is "Tuba Madness." Why? Because I'd already done sousaphones ("Sousaphones Through the Ages"). When I searched Flickr for tubas, one of the pictures which turned up was titled "The Itinerant Locals" and showed a family posing with a tuba. One thing led to another, and I found out the band is based in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and plays in a local establishment called the Brauhaus, and they also tour. They are getting ready for a national tour by train! So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present this video of the Itinerant Locals, an example of unbridled self-confidence.

to my Flickr galleries.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Monochrome Weekend: Pontiac

1949 Pontiac Chieftain, with Silver Streak straight-8 engine and Hydramatic transmission. Captured with a Nikon D90 and Lensbaby Composer. Postprocessing with Silver Efex Pro.

This was the family sedan when I was born in 1952, and I'm pretty sure I would have ridden home from the hospital in this car. When it stopped running, my dad pulled it back into the woods on our farm, where it still sits, along with the '55 Pontiac that took its place.

Here a link another photo showing both cars, and a poem I wrote about them.

More black and white photos at:

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Monochrome Weekend: Wright Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois

More black and white photos at:

Skywatch Friday: Monona Terrace

For this week's Skywatch entry, an picture from the archives, taken in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001 with a trusty Canon PowerShot S100 camera.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hawaiian Hits

Judging from recent activity on this blog as documented in the Feedjit Live Traffic Feed, somebody in Honolulu must have given a homework assignment on Joseph Conrad and the phrase "lugubrious drollery." Eager students should check the sidebar on the right to see the phrase in context and to see definitions of the words.