History of the Button

My friend Bill has been developing a history of the button over at the aptly named historyofthebutton.com. Bill works at Ziba Design, a hothouse for playful ideas, tech, and design.

Bill's button site (I guess I could call it a blog) is lovely in its simplicity, but figuring out what's up with the button has been anything but simple. He writes about portability, the semiotics of buttons, phrases involving buttons in popular culture, and about a million other things.

Bill is all about this kind of inquiry: I can still remember a series of posts back at fluxion.com where he explored everyday-household-ojects.com, so like "fork.com" and "spoon.com," and then wrote about all the bizarre things he found on those sites. This button page is terrific, and I very much expect it to become a book.


Another No Skateboarding Icon

JC in Seattle sends me this image (taken in Corvallis) and passes along the funny comment in his email: "When I saw the sign at first, I thought it was stating No Pickles."

I would say something about my favorite pickles, but I have a meeting in about one minute. Maybe another time.


Wax Cylinders

My librarian sister just turned me on to this sound archive at UCSB where, check it!, a number of wax-cylinder recordings have been digitized and hung online.

So far my favorite recording of the bunch is the pau o'hula from 1903:

Just listening this morning and appreciating the scratchy richness of the wax, thinking about the grainy goodness of my manual typewriter, and then the pleasures of an irregular kerf left behind by a handsaw.

Another fun recording is the duet "I Don't Believe You," which is from 1911 and sung by Ada Jones and Billy Murray:



Spent the last week on the East Coast and, surprisingly, away from email and the web. For a week. I did have a shortwave radio, so there is no need to email me to say there is another war in the world.

Re: being away from email and the web for a week: No worries. After the shakes go away, it's really not that bad.

Came across some interesting landro-signage in a laudromat out on Long Island.

The first image includes a secondary "correction" (in blue) and the use of red to indicate stress. I like the red in this and a number of the other signs.

An instance of written metathesis in this one ("floding")—I also like the internal caps on "Clothing Only" that work like a subtle eh-hem!

More of the red lettering I was talking about; here it does a great job of emphasizing what's most important in the sign. The single quotes on "'Correct Temp'" are a bit puzzling, unless you've seen them used to indicate emphasis in this way—something circulating in the vernacular. A friend in Seattle once pointed out a sign that read: "Do not leave "shoes" on the landing," and now that I know to look for it, I see quotation marks used this way all the time in signage.

(Edited to Add: Also check out the word spacing used to enact right-and-left justified margins.)

And a shift to the regularity of stencils in this somewhat newer sign, while still preserving the diversity of multiple colors. I like how the stenciled letters float on, above, and below the typographic baseline.

For more reasons than one, it's good to stop and do some laundry once in a while.


Chanterelles Galore

A couple of days of hard rain ... a flooded basement ... I think to myself if wild mushrooms were growing in the nearby parks, this might as well be the Pacific Northwest. Welllll, out on a walk this morning at/in [location shall remain undisclosed, following the Foraging Code], bp and I harvested a gigantic bag full of chanterelles.

Though it doesn't focus specifically on fungi of the Mid West (is there any guide that does?), by far my favorite field guide to mushrooms is All the Rain Promises and More, a useful guide with lots of funny pictures—but also a guide that doesn't take itself too seriously. A few late-nineteenth-century bird guide authors mention which birds are tasty and which ones "clammy" or "tough," but this mushroom guide goes so far as to provide recipes. Why not?

To preserve the delicate flavor of the chanterelle, I'm all about sautéing the batch in a squig of olive oil, applying salt and fresh thyme, and then transporting the mound to crisp toast. I've had them sautéed in champagne, but that produces some kind of flavor-mojo that goes right by my palate. This morning, the olive oil and thyme did the trick.


"Carolina Parrakeet"

Wrapping up a chapter draft and scanning various images, I come across this illustration of the "Carolina Parrakeet" (we spell it "parakeet") in William Baily's 1869 Our Own Birds. I'm stunned.

I have this sort of dismal sense that the prominence of the extinction story of the Passenger Pigeon, coupled with the revival myth of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, is keeping what we've done to gorgeousity unknown.

CRCE Videos

I've been looking for local web sites that document the physical landscape of my campus and have found quite a few, but this video from CRCE, the campus exercise center modeled on a cruise ship, takes the cake.

(Revision: more here)


New Site

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a beta version of my new site up and running, and I spent much of the day making minor tweaks and redirecting links.

I found that I accidentally created the possibility for a kind of infinity window on a page that syndicates my del.icio.us page:

Kinda cool.

If you've encountered problems with the new site, it would be a huge help if you let me know (in the comment section here or via email). I loaded the new pages quickly on a PC, but since I put it together on my wide-screen Mac, there are sure to be some oddities in/on various browsers/machines.


Anti-Skateboarding Signage

A few years ago, I posted an image titled "skateboarding.jpg" to a site I was keeping up about signage on the U of Washington Campus.

(click image to enlarge and see funny added response)

A couple of months later, I started noticing some out-of-control traffic on my site, like way more than the two daily visitors I've grown accustomed to (thanks Mom and, well, Mom). It turned out to be the skateboarding.jpg image, and I soon found that it had prioritized to the number one position if you did an image search for "skateboarding" on Google.

Oh the joys of fame.

I still have the image up, but it now resides behind the U of I's Berlin-wall-esque firewall and cannot be reached by the tentacles of Google. But who's bitter?

Annnyway, what I always liked about the image was the way it seemed to celebrate or respect or somehow get skateboarding in the very representation of prohibition. This is to say, that the sign was so unlike similar anti-skateboarding signage with visually impoverished representations of what skating is all about.

Take this one for instance, spotted on a recent walk about Portland:

(click image to enlarge)

It prohibits skateboarding while dissing it, almost, through the utter weakness of its iconography. Who skates like that, anyway?

In looking around online, I found a few other anti-skateboarding signs that render skateboarding as rad. (Click any or all to enlarge.)

(commentary on the original .jpg)

But I don't quite understand these signs. On the one hand, they could be said to specifically reference "trick skating" (or whatever you want to call it; Iain Borden has a great book about skateboarding, space, and everyday life, by the way), as opposed to transportational skating, with all the rad skaters being depicted—but the rad skaters seem also like way too supportive of the sport/activity for prohibitive signage of this kind.

There's just such a contrast between saying "no dull skateboarding" and saying "no bad-ass, rad skateboarding like the kind in this picture."


Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint

Have you read Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint?

Of the eight books by Baker that I've read, I place this one in the running with Box of Matches and Vox for award of The Simplest. At first I thought that impression came out of the fact that the book is a dialogue between two people (like Kiss of the Spider Woman), but Baker's Vox worked that way, too. And it doesn't get much simpler than Room Temperature—guy feeds baby; guy thinks while feeding baby. But what strikes me as simple about Checkpoint is that it seems to be about just one thing: how it can feel to be a powerless citizen and sponsor of a particularly atrocious war.

Why Baker's one of my favorite writers comes through in this text as much as any of them, though the subject matter is a little bit dreary (his intention) marking the book as not my favorite:
  • he demonstrates an almost religious attention to everyday idiosyncrasies of the mind and of spoken language
  • every book has a different structure and style ... I really like that
  • and then there is the simplicity

Turning the last page, the major-bummer-of-a-thought came over me that, like so many other artists in 2004 (Eminem and Michael Moore come immediately to mind), Baker put this book out hoping, I'm guessing, to do something. The book clearly tries to oust Bush, to end the war, and then here we are, years later, and the bombs are still falling.



Norton Field Guide to Writing

For a while now I've toyed with the idea that writing handbooks try to be the field guides of academic writing (or the writing classroom), but when planbreaker loaned me a copy of the Norton Field Guide to Writing a while back, I was surprised to see the connection being made so obviously—both with the title and choice of cover art.

(Herring Gull? Western? It's hard to tell ...)

While busting out a term paper can be a reference-heavy activity, handbooks only seem to me to imagine themselves as indispensable to the most routinized enactments of the activity in the way that field guides are (and many handbooks do this, gussied up as they are with quick-reference elements such as thumb-tabbing and color-coding).

Field guides, if you've fetishized used them, are central to activities with high and singularly focused reference orientations. Cookbooks, though not called guides, work in this way sometimes and for some people, but the regular and routine accomplishments of academic writing do not integrally depend on the handbook to the extent that field guides get depended upon. At best, I'd say the handbook is tangentially useful, and with so many online resources these days—hardly even that.

That does not keep so many of our fyc texts from being shrink wrapped with a handbook, which to my mind is kind of like bundling a new iBook with one of those old-school thick manuals: a practice that died out years ago. (Okay, maybe not the best comparison, but anyway ...)

I think the handbook as a genre that gets used (not just sold) is either toast or, for those invested in keeping them around and having them actually get use (two different things), new pedagogies in support of justifying their sale would need to focus on the alteration of the reference orientation in undergrad-level writing. So this would not be about learning to use the handbook, but learning to conceive of and practice writing with a newly magnified reference orientation—something that seems to me kind of bleagh.