31 March 2009

All of your Snuggie questions answered at Gizmodo

If you haven't yet seen the hilarious mess that is the Snuggie, you are missing out. Jason Chen over at Gizmodo has posted an estimable review and comparison of the various monk-habit/Jedi knight/hospital gown products that seem to be designed for lounging in frigid climes. I'll leave it to the article (and its large and growing comments section) to answer the question "whatever happened to wearing a sweatshirt?"

(Be warned: as well as being an excellent technology blog, Gizmodo is dangerously addictive for the gadget-minded and if not used in moderation, becomes a humongous time-suck.)

(photo via Gizmodo)

24 March 2009

NOVA: Extreme Ice Survey

The first showing of the PBS NOVA episode "Extreme Ice" was tonight. I am not a scientist, a climatologist or political agitator but the show itself was compelling. James Balog is a photographer and scientist who photographed disappearing glaciers around the world for National Geographic (June 1997 cover story: The Big Thaw"). Since that time he has installed cameras in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and the Rockies, each taking one time-lapse photograph per hour, every hour, over the course of years. The resulting footage is astonishing, documenting the retreat of glaciers that is claimed to be at eight times the normal historical rate. There are photos and video at Extreme Ice Survey's site. The entire program will be available at NOVA's site beginning March 25th.

(photo via PBS.org)

18 March 2009

A quick trip to the U.A.E.?

I know--all the cool people are in Austin, TX, for the South By Southwest Music Festival. But if you happen to be slumming in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, be sure to drop in on the Henri Cartier-Bresson show at the Emirates Palace. Bresson's photos The Europeans, 1929-1991 are on display through March 31.

If you are too, err...busy to make it over, there is an excellent collection over at Magnum Photo's site. Since Bresson was one of Magnum's founders you might expect them to have a stellar collection and the site doesn't disappoint. In addition to Bresson, you can find legends such as Robert Capa, Susan Meiselas and W. Eugene Smith. Magnum does have all the photos stamped with multiple watermarks, which lessons the enjoyment, but these are some of the best photo-journalists in history here, and there's no charge for checking out their portfolios.

If you're not already in Abu Dhabi, that is.

(photo: SPAIN. Valencia Province. Alicante. 1933.
Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)

Literary March Madness: TMN's Tournament of Books

There's a book smackdown going on over at The Morning News, a site I keep going back to. In the Fifth Annual Tournament of Books, distinguished critics and authors are asked to compare and contrast two notable books from the past year and declare a winner. It makes for fun reading in itself, and may give the casual reader some bedside stand books to add to their list.

Some of the judges are more entertaining than others. In one bracket selection the late Roberto Bologno's acclaimed epic novel 2666 is pitted against Fae Myenne Ng's Steer Towards Rock:

He drives back up the court, the crashing of his mallet-like feet almost buried beneath the thunder of the crowd. The first book of 2666 involves obscure literary critics devoted to a mysterious, obscure German writer. He’s playing right to his crowd—all the obscure literary critics and wannabe obscure writers in the stands lunge to their feet—they’re eating it up! His victory seems absolutely assured!! Wait a second… he tries a single sentence that runs for six pages uninterrupted! But there’s no reason for it except to showcase his virility and bravado. Some of the crowd bellows ecstatically, but there are scattered groans and boos. 2666 is so distracted showing off that he drops the ball. He had it and he threw it away! Why, 2666, why??

There's a PDF bracket available, and the option to chime in yourself (titled "The Peanut Gallery"). All in all, a lot of fun and cheaper than Cliff's Notes. It's an easy way to brush up your water-cooler dialog arsenal.

17 March 2009

Library of Congress Photos at Flickr Commons

There's a gorgeous set of photo-lithographs over at the Library of Congress's photostram at Flickr Commons. Most of these were taken and published between the 1890s and 1910s.

The description at flickr:

Published primarily from the 1890s to 1910s, these prints were created by the Photoglob Company in Z├╝rich, Switzerland, and the Detroit Publishing Company in Michigan. The richly colored images look like photographs but are actually ink-based photolithographs, usually 6.5 x 9 inches.

Like postcards, the photochroms feature subjects that appeal to travelers, including landscapes, architecture, street scenes, and daily life and culture. The prints were sold as souvenirs and often collected in albums or framed for display.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division assembled its collection from two sources that provided prints in mint condition. In 1985, the prints of Europe and the Middle East were purchased from the Galerie Muriset in Switzerland. In 2004, Howard L. Gottlieb generously donated the North American views.

Additional photochroms can be found in the online collections of the Zurich Central Library, www.zb.unizh.ch/ and other archives.

It doesn't sound particularly sexy, but the photos are incredible. If you are at all visually oriented, mosey on over to the collection and check it out. Bonus: images are copyright-free.

06 March 2009

"I Screwed Up" Take 2

You have to love politics. I guess. Thing is, it was supposed to be different this time--the O-man was supposed to have all of his bases covered. He knew how not to bait the Iranians, how to smooth ruffled diplomatic feathers, right? He has PEOPLE.

So, it actually brought a smile to my face to learn about the faux pas that has the British press in an uproar (well, as close as they get to one over there). Apparently, the Obamas' gifts to UK head cheese Gordon Brown were entirely inadequate. To put it in perspective, Brown's gifts were a pen holder carved from the wood of the sister ship of the Resolute. The famous oval office "Resolute Desk" was carved from the wood of the eponymous ship, an abandoned British vessel that was found by an American ship and returned to England. Queen Victoria commisioned the desk from a master Brit wood-smith and presented it as a gift to President Hayes in 1880. Brown also presented Obama with a first-edition of a seven-volume Winston Churchill biography. Entirely fitting gifts sure to win the heart of any sensible statesman who has probably spent too much at Levenger lately, anyway.

So, what to give in return? Let's see...how about a 25 DVD set of classic USA cultural imperialist movies? Yes, our diplomatically savvy leader had a special collection of Yankee cinema assembled by the American Film Institute. I won't go over the whole list but included were The Grapes of Wrath and Casablanca. Now, I'm no culture snob--I love cinema--but really...really? I have to think that the task of gift-buying was outsourced to some Congressional page or other (maybe it was a GOP dirty trick).

And I can't resist free-associating:

Original Brain-Storm (Gifts for G. Brown):
  • One-year Netflix subscription with deluxe package (monthly:4 packets Orville Reddenbacher microwave popcorn, Papa Murphy's pizza pack with 2 liters of Coke, cheezy bread, cinnamon bread).
  • 24: The Complete First, Second and Third Seasons (bonus Abu Ghraib special features edited out).
  • Guest-star for one year of The Hollywood Squares.
  • Two-year! subscriptions to: Reader's Digest, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal.
  • A weekend at Disneyland for the whole family (airfare sadly not included).
  • 1-Month supply of Extenz, the simple pill that makes a man 'larger'.

You have to love politics.


Here's looking at you, kid.

04 March 2009

Long Day's Journey: David Foster Wallace piece in The New Yorker

If you page back through this blog you will find an entry on David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in September last year. You'll also notice it knocked me off the rails enough to stop blogging for awhile.

Now comes an article titled "The Unfinished" outlining Foster's career and his long battle with depression. It is a sad tale, but not a particularly surprising one. Still, it is compelling for a fan of Foster's work to get some more insight into not only his death, but his writing habits and career. There is also an excerpt from the manuscript Wallace was working on for years prior to his death, "The Pale King".

"The Unfinished" is long, as per TNY standards, but worth the reading. Wallace's battle with depression and his search for a solution are somewhat depressing in themselves--it is not as if those around him weren't aware of his condition. Indeed, his wife and family went to extraordinary lengths to monitor his psychic state.

It is only the more disappointing that Wallace seemed to have found a new style he thought may have been more honest.

The Pale King is to be published later this year.

03 March 2009

The Genius of Photography &c

A friend's Facebook upload of Dorothea Lange photos sent me to YT to browse around photography documentaries, whereby I stumbled on some of William Klein's stuff.

I have to admit to being a photography neophyte, so the recent BBC 4 series "The Genius of Photography" was revelatory. Though the US network Ovation chopped the show up into bits and pieces, some of the YT uploads appear to be more complete. Episode 4 was a favorite. Here's the first part:

The show introduced me to William Klein, Robert Frank and William Eggleston, for which I remain eternally grateful to the BBC and the producers of the series. While watching the Genius clips, I also ran across a William Klein vid that was quite good--Klein speaking about his work:

Lastly, I video montage of Robert Frank's photos (mixed with some photos taken of him). Set correctly to period tunes (Charlie Parker, I believe).

I'm waiting for the DVD of the Genius series to be released here. Until then the YT clips will have to suffice.

02 March 2009

Strangely compelling video

I don't normally steal stuff directly from BoingBoing, but this video is just too good to pass up. When I saw the time was over seven minutes I was sure I wouldn't watch it all the way through, but it has some of the linear storytelling of the best films sort of built-in. The Netflix preview would read: an American student in Japan gets the whacky idea of putting her video camera on a sushi conveyer belt. Various reactions from the diners make up the heart of the film. PG.