Monday, July 30, 2007

Opinions, Not Mine

Last night I joined Cesar for a concert of Indian classical music that was taking place in his neighborhood. As it happened, the inimitable Sanjeev was the only person among our circle of acquaintances to show up.
Inquiring as to one person who might have been there, Sanjeev asked "Where's ---? Is he suicidal again?" As Cesar and I were not sure whether to take quite such a dim view of things, we declined to speculate. Deprived of any details on this exciting topic, Sanjeev turned his attention to one of his favorite topics, the "inanity" of Cesar's conversation. Ah well. At least he has ceased asking me which languages I am fluent in.
Sanjeev categorized the concert as merely ok and not something that grabbed him. Being ignorant about Indian classical music, Cesar and I were content to enjoy it.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Weekend Work

Some people work on the weekend; some people don't. The average grad student, of course, works at pretty much any time of day or night, any day of the week, which is both an advantage and a curse (as you wish to envision it).
This weekend's task around here is to see if a journal article can actually be completed out of the mass of pieces pulled from the dissertation; the thing would have to arrive by mail by August 1 so we're looking at overnighting it even should it prove possible to finish the thing.
Of course, I have known about this journal's deadline since the middle of May. In mid-May I was trying to wrap up my Prague research; in mid-June I was presenting a paper at the Tate Modern and returning to California; in late June and early July I was trying to get a couple of chapters into something approaching a condition that my advisor would find readable. So, in late July, here we go with this project.
It is one of those eminently possible projects... it requires no new research and not a lot of utterly new text. I'd say it is close to being a real article. But will I manage to give it that glossy finish of the publishable history article? The journal in question publishes readable, interesting studies, and it would be a fine place to publish.
Well, we'll see how much more revision I can stomach. Maybe yesterday I finally got it past its major cut-and-paste reorganizing stage and can concentrate on perfecting it. One never knows quite where one is in the process until one is on to the next stage. And Toyen is probably exerting beyond-the-grave pressure to keep this in draft form.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Orion In His Yard

Orion has not been featured on this blog nearly as much as the enchanting Calypso Spots, and this is solely because he's the new rabbit in the household. But considering that he's now been living here for nearly a year, that's no longer any excuse for refraining from showing him in action.
Orion is perhaps most often to be seen in the company of his Significant Other, but he does spend a certain amount of time each day doing his own thing. In this case, Ms. Spots merely happened to be momentarily out of the picture, as they were both determined to dine on fallen apples (cleverly placed under the pear tree to distract them from the pears above, which they like to chew off) rather than going indoors right when it got dark. I was hoping to capture the eerie gleam of their fur in the gloaming. This was somewhat successful.
Both rabbits are very fond of taking a little nap under this camellia, although Ms. Spots is more often to be found there than Orion.
When Ms. Spots is not handy to lavish attention upon, Orion settles for licking his front paws. They are very elegant paws and much slenderer than those of Her Abundance, as Orion was genetically intended to be a smaller rabbit than she is.
Fortunately, most photographs do not suggest just how large Orion has become. The vet put Ms. Spots on a diet awhile back and evidently all the weight she lost has gone straight onto Orion. I really did not think that the American obesity epidemic was going to be a problem among the lapine population, but Orion is determined to eat his way through as much hay, lettuce, parsley, and fallen fruit as he can manage. I can only hope that once we move to Pittsburgh and leave all this fruit behind (as well as the camellia leaves, the lemon leaves, the jasmine, and all those other garden delights), he will revert to a normal avoirdupois.
Whatever his weight, Orion is an excellent rabbit and is really starting to shed his stray-rabbit wariness. (Of course, this has never been an issue in his passionate affair with the voluptuous Ms. Spots. Three cheers for rabbit spaying and neutering, which allows the lovers to cohabit without starting a tribe!)

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Plum Pie

This evening I made the fourth of these. Assuming one has a plum tree, plum pie is easy (although extremely drippy in the plum-slicing stage). These yellow plums aren't especially tart, and I use them when they're practically liquefying, so the recipe goes something like half a cup or so of tapioca and about 3/4 of a cup of sugar, onto which one slices lots of plums and occasionally stirs the mess. Somewhere along the line I start preheating the oven to 400 (that's Fahrenheit). When there seems to be about enough glop to fill the pie shell, I pour it in, and, if necessary, add a few more plums. We've tended to have blueberries in the refrigerator, so I add some of those for decoration. All the better if they're slightly dried out, because then they can absorb some of the plum juice.
I put the pan on top of a cookie sheet to minimize the drip issue, and bake for about 40-45 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 and let it go a little longer.
The results have been well received by my writing group and the returned Parental Units.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Moving Right Along...

The latter part of this month seems to be filled with exciting tasks like dental hygiene, smogging the car, and attempting to write journal articles that might not get summarily rejected.
Well, and working on Orion to be as much of a Glutton for Petting as Ms. Spots (he is getting the hang of having rabbit massage).
And making the occasional plum pie so that not all of the fruit has to be given away or fed to voracious lapines.
It's a thrilling life.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Animal Communication

Well, enough of fashion and soap for now and on to more inspiring matters. Those who know me well have probably noticed that in the past ten or twelve years (my most recent period of cohabiting with rabbits), the topic of animal communication has come to fascinate me. If I were just at the beginning of adulthood and trying to choose a career to support my passions, I like to think that it would be something relating to the natural world and better understanding it or repairing some of the damage humans have done to it. Exactly which direction I'd go in this re-imagined life isn't that clear, but I would certainly be drawn to learning more about how animals think and communicate, both among themselves and with humans.
In my earlier experiences with rabbits, I formed deep attachments but didn't really pay close attention to what they were trying to tell me, which at times was something as simple as "Put me down, your lap isn't a litterbox!"
When I went back to living with rabbits in the 1990s, after I had learned that the House Rabbit Society had discovered all kinds of important things about rabbit care and happiness--information my family would have benefited from in our earlier experiences with rabbits--I went about things with a more observant approach. When I brought my new rabbit home and he promptly wet on the floor near the washing machine, I was pleased that he had chosen a perfect place for me to put the litter box. Over the two-and-a-half years of his appallingly short life, he carefully but very playfully worked to teach me basic things. Ink, and to a much lesser extent his doe Penelope (who was not very patient about the stupid human), practiced a kind of interspecies sign language with me, and every time I grasp a new bit of this gestural language, it astounds me how slow I was to pick up something so obvious. Pointing at an empty dish is pretty straightforward, but what about briefly biting the rug and doing a little dig at it? This can also be a request for something to eat. And for quite awhile I thought the rabbits were being foolishly indecisive about whether they wanted to be inside or out, when of course the real message was that I should leave the door open.
Both Ink and Penelope were very intelligent, but in completely different ways, just as their personalities were utterly different. Ink, who had been adored from the start, had a warm-hearted, athletic, comical nature. He loved to lick my face, and he loved to make his humans laugh. Penelope, who had to learn to be petted other than on her head and that there was a world outside the cage, was clever but a little warped. If she thought you were making any kind of joke about her, she grew very angry. Still, every now and then she did something quite intriguing. At the time I got her, Ink was barricaded out of the living room with a big piece of cardboard. Despite his generally high physical intelligence, he was baffled how to get past the thing. Then, one day when he was in the back yard and Penelope (as yet unspayed) was out of her cage, she discovered the cardboard. With brilliant simplicity, she went to one end, grabbed it in her teeth, and shoved it aside so that she could go into the living room. And the very next time Ink was indoors, he hopped right over to the cardboard and followed her example. How did she tell him her trick? I assume it wasn't just that he smelled her saliva on the end of the cardboard. He knew exactly what to do, without having seen her do it.
I could never quite persuade Ink that it was important to come in at night, so we had ongoing disagreements about this. George, however, despite not initially seeming very bright, immediately understood that when I said I needed him to go in, he should either do so immediately or might be able to get away with another 15 minutes or so outdoors. It didn't matter whether I told George that I needed him to go in so I could run an errand, or that he needed to go in before dark. George always either got up and went in right then or did so within 10-15 minutes.
I make no claim to being an expert at communicating with animals, although from time to time I surprise myself by doing something like having a chat with a wild rabbit who comes closer to hear more about my rabbits at home. I do think that animal intelligence has long been underestimated simply because each species thinks somewhat differently and has different interests and goals (dogs and rabbits both like to please those they love, but few rabbits see any point in coming when called, unless perhaps just as a greeting to a favorite returning human). How do animals communicate among themselves? Obviously more subtly than just via the gestural language employed to communicate with humans, although gestures are also very important.
While I don't tend to have a lot of time to read about animal communication, every now and then I run across something interesting on the topic. Today's recommendation is, which has a wide range of fascinating material about a group of birds, rabbits, cats, dogs, and other animals who all live with the same pair of humans. I haven't fully explored the site and its links, but I quite enjoyed the parts I did read, which of course included the rabbit sections.
Hey, every grad student needs a few new ways of taking a break from writing chapters and journal articles...


Monday, July 23, 2007

More On (Moron?) Youth Fashions

For those who followed the discussion of recent grotesque fashion trends some of us had awhile back, I proffer a link to a post on What's Worse, Muffin Top or Whale Tail?
The blog notes, with all-too vivid photos:
"Australia's Macquerie Dictionary recently named 'muffin top' their word of the year. As most of you know, muffin top refers to the roll of fat that overflows out of the top of low-cut or too-tight jeans. It beat out the American Dialect Society's nomination of 'whale tail,' which names the part of thong underwear that shows over the waistband of low-cut (you again?!) pants."

You get to vote which strikes you as the more egregious fashion infraction, which I have to say is a tough call but not quite impossible. I don't see the point of stuffing yourself into pants that are too small and making yourself look fat and lumpy even if you're actually slender, but the whale-tail look is just gross. And I speak as one who has worn her share of low-cut pants. They can look very sexy, but so often they just look stupid.
In my sometime role as social satirist, I do regret not having photos of various bizarre sights observed in Prague and Brno, like the woman of 60 or 70 seen wearing a see-through black skirt and top over bright red underwear at Brno's Hotel Grand bus stop, or the international student who, not content to wear exceptionally low-cut pants, spent her time standing around with her hand down the front of them (I'm not sure she advanced past the beginning Czech class), or the young Czech who stood on the tram pulling her underpants up well above her jeans in both front and back. Of course, on the male end of things, the Czech habit of gardening or working on the car clad only in speedos is well known. For some reason one only sees older, fatter Czechs working outdoors in their underwear (both male and female). While one might not always agree with Czech youth fashion choices (black underwear beneath white clothes, too much icky pale pink, obsession with camouflage fabric), it appears that younger Czechs eschew their elders' favorite form of physical display. Or maybe they just don't work outdoors much.
I will say that the Bay Area has not been all that striking in the bad fashion department this summer, although there are still far too many youths shuffling around in pants designed for the extra-obese. More humorously, there was the conversation overheard on BART in which one college student expressed her shock that her companion had (horrors) used the same soap on face as on body (an error apparently right up there with picking your nose at the dinner table or eating soup down on the floor out of the dog's chow dish). Let's just say that I had a hard time not laughing out loud at anyone that pretentious. Does she use a different kind of soap for her right and left hands, too? After all, the dominant hand clearly needs a different cleaning regimen than its less-skilled mate, as it doubtless encounters more dirt. (Yes, yes, I do realize that there are situations when one wants a special soap... I am intimately familiar with the acne soaps of the past... but this was not a chat about medicated acne soaps and their ilk.) This young woman was evidently the spiritual cousin of one I overheard a few years back discussing her 300+ shades of nail polish and her "mascara drawer." Yep, a different shade of polish for every day in the year and a whole drawer full of mascara. Well, I guess a person could use these things as art supplies. An inventive person could do quite a bit with 300 shades of nail polish. (And now all my friends can tell me that I'm a barbarian for using the same kind of soap on all my skin and for only owning five or six kinds of nail polish which for that matter have been in storage for the past two years, and that the underwear I prefer is, as one of the Czech condom makers asserts, seriously lacking in appeal.)
That's enough on fashion for now, I feel certain. I can sense the instant karma headed my way like an electrical storm.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Summer Fashion?

Since it is summertime, I suppose it is as good of a time as any to display these photos of mannequins attired in what one Brno department store apparently envisioned as the latest fashions around this time last year.
They didn't strike me as anything I would wear then either. Or is it just that sepulchre-white mannequins aren't the smartest choice for displaying summer clothes?
In any case, on the rare occasions that I bought clothes in the Czech Republic, I'd say that Sanu Babu (Asian imports) had the most appealing cheap gear (much of which, to be sure, did not seem designed to fit live humans) and Nostalgie had the most elegant yet relatively affordable designs. But where did Nostalgie move to last December? Neither I nor, apparently, any of its other customers, wrote down the new address while it was still posted on the door. It seems to have disappeared, we know not where.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The So-Called Soul Quiz

You Are a Visionary Soul

You are a curious person, always in a state of awareness.
Connected to all things spiritual, you are very connected to your soul.
You are wise and bright: able to reason and be reasonable.
Occasionally, you get quite depressed and have dark feelings.

You have great vision and can be very insightful.
In fact, you are often profound in a way that surprises yourself.
Visionary souls like you can be the best type of friend.
You are intuitive, understanding, sympathetic, and a good healer.

Souls you are most compatible with: Old Soul and Peacemaker Soul

Then again, maybe I'm just intended to spend lots of time providing rabbit massage to Calypso Spots, the Glutton for Petting.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


One of the fine things that Cesar, John, Monica, and I encountered on the Fourth of July was the band Gaucho playing at a small bar on Valencia called Amnesia. There was no cover charge and there were some very fine dancers.
Since both Cesar and I are fond of dancing, we decided we ought to give this another try. Although we tried to persuade John, Steve, Megan, Monica, and I'm not sure just who all else to come along, they couldn't get themselves together. Megan at least at the sensible excuse that staying up late on a Wednesday night did not go well with rising early in the morning for her newish job in the scintillating nonprofit sector. (Cesar has an even newer job, also in the nonprofit world, but being somewhat older I suppose he is less concerned about these things, although similarly reluctant to stay up very late.) In any case, Cesar and I were the only ones to hie ourselves down to Amnesia last night.
The place was packed and overflowing, and the band was taking a break. I was a little uncertain that we would manage to find space to dance once the band returned, but we did manage to squeeze ourselves in. Gaucho consists of (at least) an accordion, guitar, clarinet/saxes, bass, and drums, and they play a very danceable mix of stuff which I'm not entirely sure how to categorize. They seem to attract a mostly under-40 crowd of friendly-looking characters and I felt quite at ease. Due to the lack of space, one could hardly help running into other dancers, but everyone was very pleasant about it. My dance skills, which don't get all that much practice, mostly returned to me within a few minutes.
I am hesitant to recommend that anyone else try to squeeze themselves in, but it was very enjoyable and I hope to go back next week.
As for today, nothing whatsoever has been done on my dissertation because I was due at the dentist at 10:00, went from thence to Greenwich Yarn, met John for lunch and other entertainments, after which we went over to compile his parents' medications for the coming week (I am glad that my parents can handle their own medications), and so on and so forth. We still have hopes of working on the Janáček duet that I was carrying around in my backpack all spring, so John lent me a recording to work with since I don't have a piano... Yes, Julia, we are moving slowly on this project, are we not? And Megan is supposed to wend her way over for supper and whatnot...

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Wild Coast of Bohemia

We've just recently had a nearly simultaneous discovery, where design blog Wild Coast of Bohemia came over here and I went over there. I suppose it's one of those matters of timing.
Anyhow, Prague fanciers and others who can't resist a visual feast ought to head over there. Just now there are some gorgeous photo essays of Prague doors and such at Doors of Prague, Doors of Prague Part 2, Art Nouveau Doorfest, Doors of the Day, a door in Český Krumlov, The Big Baroque Birds, an old door, Door Handles of Prague Today, and Doors of Prague from Inside. If that sounds like a lot of doors, well, yes it is, and they're all magnificent! These are the kind of photo essays I never quite got around to doing, partly, no doubt, because I knew other people would do them and do them better than I would. So here you go! And besides photos of beautiful doors, you can find neat tarot cards and other items.

Meanwhile, alert shoppers might like to check out some of the latest Archelaus cards, like the new Condolence card (shown here in an unnaturally blown-up manner since I couldn't get the table to code properly):

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Fortune Card

My friend Betty has decided to embark on teaching classes intended to stimulate creativity and growth. She says,
You'll create one or more vision statements for yourself, for your relationships, your work, and the world. These will focus on bringing you to a place of optimum health and vitality in all areas of your life.
You'll practice the techniques that will create these visions. These techniques include using special (and very simple) breathing techniques, visualizations, tarot, past life regression, directed energy activation, dance, music, drama, art, song, writing, and story-telling.
You'll practice forgiveness and gratitude exercises to create space for your new visions.
You'll participate in rituals that will help you embody your vision and connect this vision with your source of divine/moral guidance.
The idea is to bring more JOY into your life and eliminate stress. We plan to tap into your creative unconscious and use this valuable resource to transform your life, your relationships, your work, our world.

That sounded like a good thing to me, so although the classroom site is rather far away and I don't have a lot of extra time (or feel especially blocked at the moment), I went down last night to check it out and give some friendly support.
Well... it soon became clear that a trip to Palo Alto during rush hour requires about two hours even if the traffic isn't unusually slow, so I don't suppose I'll be going to the rest of the sessions, but it was nice to see Betty in action.
Betty began by leading us through a relaxation exercise. I confess that my results with that kind of thing are mixed; sometimes I just plummet into trance and am not all that anxious to return, and sometimes I don't really take to the imagery. This time I wasn't in a very receptive mood after having to deal with traffic and arriving late, so the last thing I wanted to hear was that we were lying on a sandy beach. Sandy beaches are not really my thing. I mean, I don't hate them, and now and then I enjoy them, but in general I find them less than pleasant. All my memories of disagreeable beach experiences began to well up... all those childhood walks from the car to the water across burning asphalt, concrete, and dirty scorching sand filled with garbage (I'm not sure why we didn't wear sandals, but we didn't); the sting of saltwater in my eyes; the worse sting of jellyfish wrapping around my legs; the impossibility of getting the sand off for the next day or so because it was filled with little flat blackish bits that stuck to the skin after showering and scrubbing. As I recall, it didn't take too long for me to suggest to my parents that we not go to the beach. At least the sand in my sandbox didn't adhere to my skin semi-permanently.
So... there I was trying to replace the well-meant beach imagery with something more pleasant, but next thing I knew we were moving on to the visualization part. We were to see what we visualized for our so-called vision statement.
Having had to read all too many corporate and nonprofit "vision statements," I'm afraid that this too prompted a mildly negative reaction, especially since I couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to have a vision statement about, but I tried to let that go and let the images come.
As it happened, the only thing that came was the image of myself writing by hand, completely oblivious to my surroundings. (We were supposed to be getting lots of rich sensory detail to write down.) Since all around me, people were scribbling away with lengthy descriptions of their visions, I felt a little peevish, but on the other hand I figured that an image of myself writing was as good as anything else. After all, I'm a writer and I'm writing a dissertation at the moment.
We were supposed to pair off and discuss our visions in the hope of fleshing them out and better understanding them. My partner had a long outburst of unfocused joy and excitement, which seemed to be just what she wanted, so I was encouraging about it. I figured she knew where she was going with this. She was nice enough about my one-liner but I got the impression that she thought perhaps I had trouble being open to joy and optimism. Well, no, not usually, in fact I tend to be more optimistic and contented than otherwise, but I wouldn't say I spend my whole life in a state of nirvana. After all, I have to deal with things like rush hour traffic and long conversations with friends who don't want to be persuaded that their lives are not actually an unrelenting hell.
Having done our vision statements, we moved on to each choosing a tarot card. Now this, I think is Betty's area of particular brilliance. She's good at lots of things and has studied all sorts of alternative techniques for healing and awareness, but I've always found Betty to be to be a remarkable reader of tarot cards. She uses the Voyager deck, which she knows intimately.
I suppose that over the years there must have been a few times when the cards I chose at Betty's behest didn't strike me as apropos, but it can't have been very many, and perhaps those cards were more suitable than I realized at the time. I recall, for instance, that when we did tarot readings before I went away to graduate school, I got what seemed like a gloomy set of cards emphasizing the Hermit. Since I was looking forward to beginning this new adventure, I was perturbed at getting a set of cards that suggested I was going to spend a lot of time sequestered by myself and not feeling especially happy. Betty tried to put a good spin on it by pointing out that graduate school does require some hermit-like behavior, but she didn't claim that I'd enjoy myself. And in truth while my next year or so wasn't miserable and I did just fine in school, I did feel remarkably isolated and spent a lot of time on the phone and emailing with people I had left behind.
That was the only time, I think, that I've had a less than encouraging set of cards in the whole time I've been in grad school. With strange consistency, I pull cards that agree with my general feeling that life is going along very nicely for me and that generally I'm doing the right thing.
Since I was not really in an ideal frame of mind when I pulled my one card from the deck last night, I was afraid it would end up mirroring my temporary irritations, or suggest that I was neglecting my personal life in favor of academia, or some such disagreeable thing.
But no, I got Fortune, which in the Voyager deck relates to reaping the fruits of hard work, growing, expanding, and generally enjoying success. I got a good sense of the basics from the description in the instruction book, but Betty, as always, gave a wonderfully sensitive, encouraging, and personalized poetic reading... which, of course, she did for everyone in the room. Not all of the cards were so positive, but all of them seemed to relate to the chooser's life, so as usual it was a pleasure and an education to listen to Betty interpreting each person's card in relation to their goals and challenges.
If I could finagle Betty into doing a reading for me every six months, that would be a fine thing!
Meanwhile, I see that according to Rob Brezsny, my horoscope is:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): How should we visualize the phase you're in? Are you coming back home after a harrowing journey to the abyss? Or are you about to launch a quest straight into the heart of the dawn's blinding promise? Paradoxically enough, Leo, you're doing both. You're coming and going at the same time. You're graduating from an ancient lesson and beginning a new course of study. Hints of the future are mingled with the last gasps of the past.

I'm open to suggestions as to what exactly I'm graduating from and what I'm beginning. I don't think this is just about grad school.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Teige and Studio

Studio, which was published by the tireless Otakar Štorch-Marien, appeared in 1929, filled with glossy stills from films of many countries and articles by a fair assortment of recognizable names. Naturally, Karel Teige wrote at length on film aesthetics (Teige always, it seems, wrote at length, at great length, and at even greater length).
It would appear that Teige got quite a few contributor's copies of the magazine, possibly in lieu of cash since I suppose the practice in paying in copies rather than cash cannot be one that began during my own writing life. In any case, he had spare copies lying about, which he eventually put to good use when he took up collage.

I'm not sure whether there was a second year of Studio. It must have been expensive to produce and once the Depression hit (it hit Czechoslovakia as well as the US), Štorch-Marien began to have trouble keeping his publishing empire afloat. By the mid-1930s he was in bad shape. And that was right around the time Teige became a surrealist and took up collage.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Silent Armadillos

In honor of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (I attended Camille and Beggars of Life last night with Cesar and Jeff), I offer this fine photo from the 1920s Czech film journal Studio. Not only does it include Richard Arlen, who along with Louise Brooks and Wallace Beery made Beggars of Life a highly worthwhile experience, but it is the only instance I have ever seen of anyone petting an armadillo.
Armadillos are perhaps best known as animals that seem to get run over frequently on Texas highways (is this somehow, by any chance, related to all the people who are legally executed by the State of Texas?), but I rather like them and they also have their place in surrealism. I gather that one of Dora Maar's more bizarre photographs is merely a portrait of a very young armadillo.
Well, anyhow, the film festival seemed to be packing in the silent-film afficionados and I am guessing that the Castro, which is a pretty large theater, sold out both shows. We were very pleased with both features and also the accompanying shorts. Although... I regret to say that none of us were among the lucky few to find a voucher for a free "Camille" pillow under our seats.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More OCR Adventures

Perhaps it is masochistic of me, but I have not yet grown thoroughly sick of digitizing and running OCR on difficult documents. This may be a character flaw, or it may be a form of dissertation avoidance.
The project of doing OCR on Robert Benayoun's Erotique du Surréalisme proved much more troublesome than anticipated. ABBYY does recognize French nicely, but evidently, due to lots of captions in small print, I should have used a higher resolution than 300. Benayoun also uses a great many words which are not in ABBYY's dictionary. I was going to start adding some of them, but discovered I had to answer too many questions about each word (is it a noun? is it masculine or feminine? etc.) to be sure that I was going to set most of the words up properly so that all of their forms could be recognized (my French is good, but perhaps not that good). The numerous illustrations also posed a problem because ABBYY was sure that it could see random bits of text within most of them. Having to delete out all that extraneous stuff was a time-waster, plus someone had made some markings here and there in the margins and done some underlining. I was vastly relieved to finish that project, and stop having to hand-rotate pages that hadn't been recognized properly, and stop telling it, yet again, to ignore all instances of the word androgyne.
In a fit of dementia, I thought that the 1927 anthology Fronta would be a suitable task. The fact that it is just slightly larger than the scanning area did not prove a problem, nor (thus far) has the binding been too tight. It does, however, make me curse the typographic habits of the 1920s avant-garde.
Not only is the text trilingual (ABBYY can handle that), but the layout is an OCR nightmare. No capitals are used, which causes two problems: first, since no sentence begins with a capital, ABBYY helpfully interprets nearly every period as a comma. Second, since German capitalizes its nouns, every German noun has to be dealt with as "ignore all." Typographers of the 1920s were also very fond of using extra spaces between letters to denote emphasis; I am not sure what they had against italics, but clearly they were staunch foes of italics. Well, I must admit that ABBYY is pretty good at recognizing words out of all this wide-spacing, but one cannot expect miracles from it. And if I don't have it recognize these as words, none of the words will be searchable. The OCR under the image has to make sense rather than slavishly copying the layout of the original. And then there are lots of big black bullets separating the different languages. These almost never OCR as bullets because they are so big. Whether rendered as a 9, a 0, or what, each one has to be deleted out. After 16 pages of this, I am annoyed with Zděnek Rossmann, even though on other days I think he was a brilliant designer.
I suppose, however, that I will gradually continue since (Fronta being relatively rare) my efforts will eventually benefit some population greater than just myself.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Life at the NRLF

The Northern Regional Library Facility stores quite a few of the books and journals I need. I suppose most people use it by having their materials paged by their university (which makes sense if one is in Santa Cruz or Davis), but since the NRLF is just down the road, I prefer to go there myself.
Everything comes within half an hour or so, often within ten minutes. This is much better than combing the stacks wondering why on earth nothing is on the shelf, although the latter technique does turn up interesting titles I had never heard of.
In recent years, the NRLF has done some remodeling so that there's quite a large reading room with lots of electrical outlets. It's a very agreeable place to work and the books can either be checked out to go home or reserved to use another day, so it has the advantage of a library carrel in that everything found need not be taken home.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Woods in Berkeley

Although I spend most of my Berkeley days in the libraries, with a few cafe breaks, the trees on campus are actually one of my favorite things there. (One? well, as a collective.) Although I'm most familiar with just the one short stretch of trees that comes between Berkeley BART and the main libraries, which is where these photos were all taken, my occasional visits to other libraries provide a chance to enjoy whole new sets of woods with somewhat different species. I think most of what's shown here are oak, eucalyptus, and maybe a few conifers, but elsewhere there are lots of redwoods and pines.

I've come to the conclusion that I am actually quite fond of eucalyptus trees, even though I tend to associate them with Southern California. (Let's say they're one of the positive things about Southern California. One of the few positive things, although I admit that the region has improved vastly since the days when I was forced to live there.) They originated in Australia, and the legend I heard in my youth was that someone brought over the wrong kind and the groves meant for timber could only be windbreaks and ornaments. Whether this is true is another matter. I wouldn't say I find the eucalyptus trees of California so much ornamental (one mainly sees their trunks and some hanging leaves) as comforting in the vast, impersonal sense typical of large trees (which in the wrong circumstances would be alarming more than comforting). In warm weather, and even in the not-so-warm weather typical of Berkeley, they exude a pleasing fragrance which, because it is warm, has little in common with the cool sensation of the eucalyptus oil in household products, any more than the scent of fresh pine sap in warm weather quite resembles pine-scented items.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Spotted Pair Investigates Smelly Human

Portions of the sunburn I incurred on the Fourth of July were rather unpleasant, as is so often the case. My usual remedy is a mixture of Noxzema and aloe vera gel, liberally applied, and this works amazingly well. But the treatment needs to get started right away.
By some strange chance my mother actually had a bottle of aloe vera gel in the closet; I think this is because I taught her to use it on George when his skin got irritated. It seems, however, that every summer I end up buying a new jar of Noxzema for my annual case of sunburn, as the previous year's jar, like various other handy supplies, disappears into some box or other out in the shed.
I meant to buy a new jar of Noxzema, since I've never run across any of the old ones, but before I got around to it I went hunting for the various pairs of shoes that I left here before going to Prague. It was not all that clear which box might have which shoes (I am still hunting for one pair), and in the search I actually found an elderly jar of Noxzema. I suspect it to be the jar I left behind when I started grad school.
Torn between joy at not having to buy yet another jar of a substance that gets only occasional use, and irritation at discovering all sorts of medicines that my parents could have been using up but which are now long expired (I imagine they have had much more use for 600mg Ibuprofen tablets than I have), I slathered the stuff on the afflicted areas and went back to work.
An hour or two later, when I gave the rabbits their evening treat and lay down to pet them, they both took an unusual interest in my body. Ah! what fascinating hands! such calves! we must climb all over our human tonight, she is so intriguing!
While I kind of like the eucalyptus-and-menthol odor of Noxzema myself, I would never have imagined it might appeal to rabbits. They appeared to find it an especially pleasing scent.
It's my understanding that the portion of the lapine brain devoted to the sense of smell exceeds that of dogs, which as everyone knows far exceeds that of mere humans. One can only wonder what sort of enchanting message rabbits find in Noxzema.


Saturday, July 07, 2007


Since the dissertation involves quite a few different tasks besides running OCR on digital photos, and as I wasn't sure what would be the best project to test ABBYY on next (the Brouk book, while the sample page was excellent, proved to have such a tight binding that my photos were not a good beginner project), things languished a bit despite the shortening time available on the demo.
In the meantime, however, I bought a new scanner. I had given the old one to My Sibling when I went to Prague since a portable one was desired for visits to Library of Congress.
The new scanner, a CanoScan LiDE 70, is much like my previous portable scanners, although I think it is somewhat bigger and heavier. I will not pretend it is a high-end piece of equipment, but I'm pleased to note that it seems much faster than the old one. When one has a lot of scanning and/or is wrestling with heavy art books, one does not wish to spend forever holding the book to the scanner. The longer you hold it, the greater the chance of slippage.
I had borrowed a copy of the first edition of Nezval's Řetěz štěstí, which has a cover and frontispiece by Toyen. While in Prague, I had photographed the pictures and taken a quick look at the text, but I knew I could read it in the US, so I didn't get very involved with it there. Now, with the NRLF's copy at my disposal, I decided that this was a good test project.
Scanning books using Acrobat is rather tiresome since for no good reason it keeps reverting to black-and-white. It is not fun resetting the scanner software to grayscale or color for each scan. I hope this has been fixed in the newer versions of Acrobat.
Scanning with ABBYY, however, went very smoothly once I got it to recognize the new scanner, which took much longer than I thought should have been the case. One has the choice of using either ABBYY's interface or the scanner's; allegedly there are advantages either way. I decided to go with the scanner's interface.
Řetěz štěstí is not a particularly long book and it was small enough to scan as spreads. The NRLF copy was ideal for scanning, in that it was neither in bad shape nor so pristine as to provoke fears of damaging it. It had the original binding rather than one of those dreadful library bindings that are so tight the reader can barely open the book. (I returned the NRLF copy of a Květoslav Chvatík book because it was too tight to bother trying to read. Some other library will doubtless have a better copy. I meant to tell the librarian it ought to be rebound, but forgot.)
ABBYY creates thumbnails on the left of the screen as one scans, which is reassuring. This gives some idea whether one has inadvertently done a really bad scan, or if the settings need to be adjusted.
After about an hour, Řetěz štěstí was scanned, but of course that was only the beginning. The OCR part was next. I had set it to recognize and flip everything right side up, which it did nicely. I did not time this phase, but while it seemed longish, it wasn't terribly and in any case I didn't have to sit at the computer and watch it run. Some rabbit petting was accomplished, which vastly pleased Calypso Spots.
The longest and most tedious phase was that of checking the text. Since I was going to save the scans as a PDF with the recognized text "underneath," this was not absolutely necessary, but I decided to see how accurate my results were.
The original book being neither tight nor spotty, there were not too many instances of random dots and splotches being read as possible text, and the letters near the gutter didn't suffer too much. On the whole, ABBYY did a very good job of recognizing the text correctly; most of what it flagged as questionable was actually perfectly correct, although there were enough errors that I was definitely improving the accuracy by checking the result. This was most significant in that, for reasons utterly unknown to me, ABBYY seemed to believe that Štyrský was actually spelled with two long Ys rather than just one. Štyrský is mentioned rather often in the text and his name had to be corrected every time.
The other notable thing about checking the result was the discovery of just how much Czech spelling has changed since 1936 and how much richer Nezval's vocabulary was than the ABBYY dictionary. Since most of what I read in Czech is from before 1940, I don't normally think much about how it is spelled. This exercise, however, really brought home why many of the words I look up aren't to be found in my electronic dictionary. Czech spelling claims to be phonetic, and on the whole it is, but let's just say it's often hard to tell whether something is spelled with an S or a Z. Quite a few words seem to have gone from an S spelling to a Z spelling. Words that once had an E often now have an A, which explains why ArtificiElismus is now spelled ArtificiAlismus.
As is customary with OCR software, there is the option of adding new words to the dictionary, but I decided not to get involved in trying to add a lot of Czech words, so I hit the Ignore All button a lot.
This is not the sort of project that the sane person undertakes in one sitting, so I did various other things during the day. All the same, I did finish before it got dark out. I now have a very nice searchable, annotatable PDF of Řetěz štěstí to read at my leisure.
Next in line is Benayoun's Erotique du surréalisme, which should go faster since it is in French and mostly pictures. I had been looking for this for years before finding it, which is mystifying as apparently it has belonged to UC Berkeley for ages. Their online catalog is not fully reliable, I fear. I don't know how many books I've searched for on title and gotten null results, only to re-search on author and get the listing immediately. (I only discovered this simple trick this summer.)

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Ms. Spots Gets Chewy

Over the weekend, the rabbits decided it was time to test my patience by attempting to stay in the back yard after dark (when raccoons and other predators could well come over the fence and attack). Orion had to be carried in the first night and Ms. Spots took considerable persuasion both nights.
On Monday, however, both rabbits seemed to feel that it was unnecessary to persist in this behavior, and came in early, as they did on Tuesday as well. Ms. Spots did get a little irritable during the day on Tuesday when, having to go to the doctor's first thing in the morning, I did not let them out for a morning adventure. And when Ms. Spots gets irritable, she requires paper to tear up.
When we lived in Pittsburgh, Ms. Spots had free rein of all the junk mail and several outdated phone books, which she attacked on an almost daily basis. After all, she was young and energetic, her mate couldn't run around and play with her, and there was no yard to explore (well, not a practicable one; all it was good for was composting the litter).
In California, Ms. Spots does not seem to get very chewy, but my parents have allotted her the bottom shelf on one of the bookcases, where they put magazines that they would sort of like to keep but will not be upset if get destroyed. Prevention and Newsweek seem to be the main items in this category.
Not being let out on Tuesday morning caused a small amount of chewing, but my disappearance for 26 hours on the holiday prompted a considerable amount of chewing and strewing. Ms. Spots is still a little huffy about my leaving her and Orion alone for that long without treats or excursions and with only the radio for company. She is, however, as pettable as usual.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

How We Spent the Fourth

I can't say I have any special habit regarding the Fourth of July, which, for those not familiar with US holidays, is Independence Day. If the circumstances are right, I enjoy watching fireworks, but California has not yet managed to show me a good fireworks display, and this is despite my family having moved here when I was eight years old. I'm not saying California has none to offer, but in the Bay Area the weather is always chilly at night and fog and distance generally obscure the numerous shows. About the best I've managed was to get high in the Berkeley hills and stand on the road seeing four or five tiny explosions in various distant places. That doesn't live up to my recollections of warm midwestern nights with dramatic close-up displays in the park, seen after a nice picnic on a blanket.
John, however, makes a tradition of getting together friends and going to Dolores Park to watch the San Francisco Mime Troupe. For some reason this year was the first time in our acquaintance that we were actually both in the Bay Area on the Fourth, so this was the first time I went. (I had, of course, seen the Mime Troupe on other occasions over the years.)
An excursion of this sort, naturally, requires food. Had I been a little more enterprising, I would have made my first potato salad of the season, but I did not manage to get to the grocery store. The last of the apricots had to be dealt with, so I made pie #3 in the series. The pie was too drippy and the pan too fragile to take to the park, so Cesar, John, and I ate most of it before leaving. They seemed quite taken with it, I am glad to say.
John requires sufficient coffee before embarking on any venture, so we had to stop at his current favorite purveyor before getting very far on the road. Cesar lectured him extensively about this addiction, no doubt for my entertainment. I am quite familiar with John's coffee habit, of course; even my mother knows that she can give him multiple refills late at night without causing meltdown. A second cup of coffee, John assured us, prompts him to feel a great love for humanity and an optimism about world peace. I inquired whether he thought our president is not drinking enough coffee, but he replied that some people have congenital defects.
Outside the cafe, I noticed this interesting display.
Dolores Park was filled with picnickers, a great many of them gathered around the Mime Troupe's stage. We did not get ideal seats and ended up laying out our blankets in the sun a ways behind the sound booth. More agreeably, we were near the chair massage vendor, so John bought massages for me and his friend Monica. I realized that it was probably the first time I had ever had a massage when I didn't seem to be in dire need of one. Life in Prague must have had a beneficial effect despite all that daily carrying of laptop and camera.
The Mime Troupe is a San Francisco institution. We discovered that this year marked something like its 48th anniversary, which we found mindboggling; I think we had all assumed it began in the 60s or 70s. We don't know why it's called the Mime Troupe when as far as we know it has never, ever done anything in mime. Its specialty is political theater, which is done with a lot of broad humor and wild musical numbers. This year's offering, about media coverage of the Iraq war, struck me as one of the better ones I've seen. I can't claim to be a connoisseur of their oeuvre, but John also thought it was pretty good. Cesar thought it recycled one of their favorite themes, that of the journalist who sells out and has a crisis of conscience, which I think is true, but I don't really expect anything stylistically new or remarkably subtle from the Mime Troupe. I was content to see Dick Cheney humorously portrayed.
After the show, many people gave it a standing ovation. I will say that while I think Americans are a little too inclined toward this form of praise, their expressions of appreciation after performances are weak in comparison to the Czech need to clap for fifteen minutes after every show. Applause is a fine thing, but the Czechs seem to feel that it would be insulting not to try to get the performers to do three encores and eight or ten separate bowing sessions with huge quantities of bouquets.
One thing that did surprise me at this performance, however, was the behavior of the people seated in front of us. The woman who had first staked out the spot spent most of the performance either working on her laptop (!) or reading fashion magazines. For awhile she was joined by a female friend who had a small child who skillfully managed to stand directly in front of my line of vision no matter how I moved around. After awhile mother and child departed, having seen perhaps 20 minutes of the play. The next arrival was a stocky young male in a Bob Dylan Tshirt. He appeared to be the mate of the magazine reader. While he watched a certain amount of the play, he read a book during much of his tenure on the blanket. After his departure, mother and child returned briefly, then the magazine reader apparently decided that she had saved the spot long enough and packed up and left. The play lasted at least another fifteen or twenty minutes. I grant that Mime Troupe shows don't require terribly close attention from audience members and that it is normal not to watch absolutely every minute of the show, but since there were many other parts of the park to sit, I wasn't really clear why these people wanted to be in the Mime Troupe audience if they were barely going to watch any of the show. I don't really think that going to the Mime Troupe is quite the same "go to be seen" type of event as theater was for the rich in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's true that our magazine reader was an attractive young woman who must have been quite uncomfortable in her black outfit and high-heeled sandals, but far more people would have been watching her elsewhere.
After the show, we moved to a shady spot to finish the wine and cheese, then embarked on a walking tour of unfamiliar parts of San Francisco.
Cesar had heard of a tree not far from the park where people allegedly left ribbons with wishes. We were not very optimistic about finding it, but it really does exist. People had left wishes in a wide variety of languages, and we read about desires for healthy babies, happiness in love, and so forth. The ribbon box was empty, so Cesar pulled some thread out of his backpack and we tied paper wishes to the branches. (I refrained from reading my companions' wishes.)
Unfortunately, at this point all my camera batteries gave out. I think the heat was to blame. It was unfortunate, as we encountered a great many photo-worthy sights in the next few hours. Monica took us to a hillside slide (we each went down a couple of times and skinned some elbows in the process), then further uphill to a community garden, on a visit to her landlady (who has a delightful Ruth Asawa sculpture and a lovely garden), and all over the place to various enchanting public staircases and other interesting vantage points.
Eventually we headed back to the Mission, where John showed us a couple of alleys with a vast number of murals, Cesar and Monica persuaded us to stop and listen to an Argentinian-style band that was attracting some very fine dancers (Cesar and I danced briefly but I was footsore at that point and we were not to be compared with the other dancers), and eventually we settled at John's to watch Godard's Pierrot le fou and eat pizza. Other than all of us having sustained some sunburn in the unusually warm afternoon, we were very pleased with our day.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why Career Planning Is Time Wasted

A thought-provoking article (and good discussion in the comments) suggests that in some ways, people waste their time trying to plan their careers.
In general, I agreed with the author... people don't tend to know what they might want to be doing later, and what seems like a good idea now might not be down the line. It's ridiculous when job interviewers ask what we envision ourselves doing in five years, and I have no idea what kind of absurd things I've made up when asked this question. I mean really, surely they didn't want to hear that I envisioned myself far from their boring rent-paying job and was hoping to have a good book contract lined up within five years (OK, I may have admitted this to a select few interviewers who were clearly intelligent enough not to take it as an insult).
At the same time, some of the comments made excellent points in favor of planning. It's important to know your interests and aptitudes, and of course certain types of work require considerable education and training. Just because I once envisioned myself becoming an archaeologist, paleontologist, AND astronomer does not mean that I continued to suppose this was possible once I had passed the age of ten or so. The notion of being a ballerina, fortunately, was routed from my brain even earlier when I quickly discovered I had no aptitude whatsoever for ballet and that it was not really quite what I had imagined it to be.
I like to think, however, that most of us have aptitudes for quite a few things, and this is where the career-planning issue comes into play. One has to at least think about the matter now and then, but obsessing about it seems rather fruitless. The main thing seems to be to come up with something that will be reasonably interesting and pay the bills, or else that something that pays the bills has to be found to subsidize doing something more interesting.
And there you have my life's career-planning wisdom in a nutshell. Initially I stuck to the second strategy, now I'm giving the first a try. I don't think one is better than the other, but after awhile a person gets tired of all those low-interest, low-pay jobs (even when they are punctuated by some higher-interest, equally low-pay jobs). If people are willing to pay me for doing something relatively interesting, who am I to say no?
And now back to petting Ms. Spots.