Saturday, June 30, 2007

fine food

fine food
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Along Jackson in the Loop

Chicago, IL

sisterhood of the traveling socks

Day 177 ~ SOTTS!
Originally uploaded by ambrosialove.
2. When you get the socks, feel free to wash them...but not if you have one of those washers that eats socks. That would suck. You are not obligated to wash them before sending them to the next person.

From THE RULES of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Socks Flickr Group.

Twenty-two pairs of feet so far. Wanna see some more? (Slideshow contains judicious nudity, and some outright goofiness, just like you like it.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

ritual bloodletting, &c.

Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Narthex/equusignis is thinking (some very interesting things) about Copan »

and so it begins

  With the first experiment »

fly girl

fly girl
fly girl
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
I've had my eye on this old aircraft hanger at Detroit International since I first passed through the Motor City. Finally pulled over this afternoon to grab a quick cameraphone shot on my way out of town.

Appears to be mostly abandoned with some minimal activity -- a lot of funky, older, rusty cars parked around in a random fashion.

Required dodging through the wide open gate in the barbed wire fence to get into the lot.

No lock, no problem, right?

Maybe not.

As I was heading back to my rental car an official looking guy in a official looking vehicle intercepted me and asked, in an official sounding voice, "Can I help you?"

"I was just shooting the letters," I said, gesturing to the sign.

"For.....?" he asked skeptically, seemingly unconvinced that this was an innocent activity.

"For me," I said, flashing him what I hope is a sweet grin and thinking "turn on the magic, girl -- this guy has a TSA badge and the power to detain." (I'm running on three and a half hours of sleep -- I'm in no mood to be detained. And I'm in no mood to give up my pics.)

"For you?" Incredulous.

"I collect letters."

"You *collect* *letters*." He leans on the language, but now he's smiling.

I nod, thinking, "magic, baby. turn. up. the volume."

We talk about this for a little while until he cracks a grin wide, wondering, I'm sure, why anyone would collect letters, and says, finally: "All right, then."

And then low and sweet, as he removes his vehicle from my path, "You have a good day."

And I walk away thinking: It's good to be a girl.

(Not too happy with this shot, though -- gonna mess with it a bit when I get home.)

Posting by cameraphone from Detroit Int'l.
Nearly home.

([update] Little levels work. Much better.)

outbound (again)

outbound (again)
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Outbound to Detroit. Got in three and a half hours of sleep -- although my REM'ing was cut off at the knees by the 4.30AM alarm.

Best part of the brief stopover in Chicago between NY and Detroit was the belly full of Bela Fleck that I squeaked in for at intermission (would have preferred the whole show, but thunderstorms at Newark had a different idea).

Now this. And then home. And the weekend.

Posting by Sidekick from NW Flight 967.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

haiku for the hell of it

the universe birthed
matter dispersed; one wonders
why it grows so cold

bumper to bumper

Not responsible for rubber or plastic bumpers.

Spotted on a parking lot sign in Chelsea.

But the other bumpers? We've got those covered.

remote office

remote office
remote office
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Being stuck in Midtown due to a flight cancellation meant that I made the Rose Main Reading Room at the NY Public Library my office this morning.

Pure blue heaven.

Only something like lunch with the inimitable jkonig was strong enough to drag me away from that place.

Now to Newark to catch my flight.
Wish me luck and clear skies.

coming soon

The tortilla is going to be pretty good.

Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco, commenting in the Wall Street Journal this morning when asked what he's "most proud of" in the Tescos that will soon open across America.

To understand the importance of a good tortilla, see Rodriguez's breakfast tacos, below. This could be big.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

upside | downside

Well that's kinda nice: one of my pics made the Gaper's Block home page today, the one from the Wabash YMCA in Bronzeville, which kinda sorta makes up for the fact that I'm stuck in Midtown Manhattan without any hope of getting home for the next two days.

Kinda. Almost.

Had the foresight to pack a toothbrush on what was supposed to be only a quick day-trip -- but my brilliance didn't extend to bringing a hairbrush. Or an umbrella. Doggoneit.

Lucky for me the Gap just happened to be running a sale on T-shirts and underwear. And this is Manhattan, after all, so I can have a hairbrush if I want it. But I think I'll go the chopstick route (long-haired traveler's tip: always pack a chopstick. for when you don't pack your hairbrush.)

[Update] After forty-five minutes on hold I landed a return flight tomorrow night, which may just let me squeak in in time to use my ticket to see Bela Fleck after all. Not so bad. Excepting that there's the flight I need to catch to Ann Arbor first thing Friday morning. Early.

Week's turning into a bruiser.

the boys of summer

I thought, 'My what fabulous cheekbones, and how that little cap sets them off.'

Photographer Andrea Modica commenting on what motivated her to shoot her baseball series.

As quoted by Alec Soth in his wonderful post on Erotic Baseball Photography (featuring an especially tasty Eadweard Muybridge).

nothing like

nothing like a hot bath
in a cold world

-- Bukowski

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Took this shot just last month at Camp Richardson on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe -- which, I've just learned from InciWeb, has been evacuated because of the fire that has consumed 3,100 acres of the surrounding area, and is still raging at full speed. (Note the dry tinder pine needles that are everywhere in this shot -- and everywhere around Lake Tahoe, where the fire hazard was at "very high" or "extreme" while we were there.)

I didn't know it when I booked it, but my mother and her family spent two weeks every summer at Camp Richardson when she was a kid. This last month we got ourselves a small cabin called "Willy's Knight" (I really don't know why it was called Willy's Knight -- strange name for a cabin) that was just a stone's throw from the water, with a sweet little porch that was perfect for sipping coffee (while wearing a kick ass cowgirl hat) and watching the sun rise over the lake.

I don't know if it'll be there in the morning.

colors of the alphabet

a found poem

Some people
a brain anomaly
that makes it so

If they read the word
in blue or black text

They can't tell
which one is actually
blue ink

There are all kinds of
with smell and colors
of the alphabet causing
people to [taste] a color
or [see] a taste

It has to do with what
is close to what
in the brain

And perhaps we all have this
just a little bit

Found in an email from a friend who has requested anonymity, but was kind enough to allow me to publish just. this. little bit.

cure what ails ya

Even the BBC's getting behind echinacea now »

Shot at the Morton Arboretum.

Thanks to corydora for the link.

Monday, June 25, 2007

the best thing

balsa wood airplane
Originally uploaded by Ray G.

It's with a heavy heart that I announce Part VIII in The World’s Best Mechanical Engineer Explains It All for You series, with our Special Guest Star: The World's Best Mechanical Engineer.

Why the heavy heart? This is the last of Joe-Henry’s questions for the World’s Best Mechanical Engineer. If we’re going to keep this thing going we’re going to need more questions, gentle reader. There’s a comment box below – please, if you value the dispersion of mechanical engineering know-how across the blogosphere: Use it.[1]

Of course, on the upside, the World's Best Mechanical Engineer has promised to ask Joe-Henry a few questions once this series wraps up.

The last unanswered question you asked was:

Q. What's the best thing about being a mechanical engineer?

A. We'll jump straight to the experiment on this one. You will be an aerospace engineer for a day. I will be a marketing guy for a day (ick).

As your marketing director, I tell you that I want you to design a balsa wood airplane with a 12 inch wingspan. This is just how it works in real life except the marketing director will say something vague and nebulous like, "I want an airplane just like the Competition's -- only better". It's a good thing I'm your marketing guy.

You don't have to build an airplane if you don't want too. You can build something else instead, like a boat. But my experience is that if the marketing guy asks you to build an airplane and you build a boat instead, they get very upset, even if it IS a great boat. You'd be surprised how often this happens.

So hop in the Galaxy and go to the hobby shop with your Mom.

  • You'll need a sheet of 1/8" thick balsa wood (usually 4" wide by 36" or 3" wide by 36").

  • Also buy a stick of balsa 1/4" x 1/2" or 1/4"x1/4". They'll probably be 36" long also.

  • Get some Elmer’s glue and some modeling clay.

  • You'll need a little bit of sandpaper, but your Mom's nail file will also work if you use it when she's not looking.

  • Also have your Mom buy a small x-acto knife if she doesn't have one already.

  • Also buy 3 Mountain Dews (4 if your Mom wants one).

You should have enough materials to build two planes. Your Mom may complain that this is like $15 worth of stuff to build a balsa wood airplane. Assure her that prototypes are always expensive -- the production model will be much cheaper (she doesn't know this, she's not an engineer).

When you get home, measure out a 6" length of the 1/8" balsa wood. With a magic marker, lightly draw the shape you want your left wing to be on the balsa wood. YOU get to decide the wing shape because YOU are the aerospace engineer. Don't get too wild with the first design, save the more advanced designs for the second airplane. Have your Mom cut out the wing with the Exact-o knife. Lay it on top of the balsa wood sheet and trace it with a magic marker. Have your Mom cut it out, this will be your right wing.

Use the sandpaper to round the front edges of the wings off. Then use the sandpaper to sand the rear edge of the wing to a point (sand off the top rear corner of the wing). You are trying to give the wing a little bit of an airfoil shape. See the picture of the rounded front wing edge and the tapered rear wing edge.

Round the front edge and taper the rear edge of the wing.

This is the point where most science teachers would talk about the Bernoulli Principle being the explanation for why airplane wings lift the plane. But it turns out that's not really the main reason. It's just that Bernoulli's public relations department did a really good job convincing people that this was the main reason. In reality when flying the wing is tilted just a little bit back. The force of the air hitting the bottom of the wing pushes up on the wing.

The tail will be one piece. Make it about 1/3 the length of the wingspan (12"/3= 4"). Again: You get to decide the shape. Now make the rudder 2" long. The wood grain on the rudder should run vertically so it will be strong. As always, You get to decide the shape.

Now you will glue the wings together. You made a separate left and right so that you could put the wings at an angle compared to each other. This is called a dihedral angle, and it makes the airplane much more stable. Hit your Mom up for a stack of coins. Lay one wing on a sheet of paper. Put some Elmer's glue on the mating surface of the other wing, then use the stack of coins to prop the wing tip up off of the surface of the table about 2.5".

Prop the wing with coins to create the dihedral angle.

On another sheet of paper, glue your rudder to the top of your tail. Use the unopened Mountain Dew cans to hold the rudder in a vertical position. (See pic).

Use Mountain Dew cans, the Engineer's friend, to hold the tail square.

Pop open the other two Mountain Dews and take a break while the glue dries.

Cut a 12" long piece of the 1/4" thick balsa stick to be the fuselage of the airplane. Glue the entire tail assembly to the rear of the fuselage. Use coins to make the tail level.

After the tail has dried, glue the wings to the fuselage a couple of inches behind the tip of the plane. (See picture). Hit your mom up for a fistful of coins to use to hold the wings and tail even while the glue is drying. R&D costs money.

Use coins to level plane wings and tail.

The last step is to balance your plane using modeling clay. The plane should balance on a pencil placed under the middle of the airplane wing. Add modeling clay to the nose or tail of the plane to make it balance under the center of the wing (see picture). You'll probably have to add weight to the nose.

Plane should balance under the center of the wing.

Now take your plane outside and gently throw it against the wind.

STOP! The anticipation the second before the plane leaves your fingertips, and the satisfaction when it flies.... those feelings are the best things about being a mechanical engineer.

If the plane dives into the ground, move weight to the tail or remove weight from the nose. If the plane stalls (climbs quickly, almost stops in the air, then dives towards the ground), add weight to the nose. If it banks to the right, add clay to the left wingtip. If it banks to the left, add clay to the right wingtip.

A college professor once told me that design is an iterative process. Iterative means you do something more than once, and each time you do it you get closer to the right answer. Build another plane with the other half of your wood. Change all the things you didn't like about the first design. Experiment with your wing design. Put Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit on the stereo. Dig being an engineer.

Your pal,

Ed.: aka The World’s Best Mechanical Engineer

Also in this series:

[1] I should add, the World's Best Mechanical Engineer is under no contractual obligation to answer any more mechanical engineering questions -- heaven knows if he even has time -- but we won't know until we try now, will we? Comments. Below. All yours.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

calling all crafty girls

Coming soon: Handmade Nation, a documentary about the rise of D.I.Y., art, craft and design »

MySpace page here »

It kinda feels like the world is coming around to our way of thinking.

— Crafty girl Jill Bliss of, as quoted in the sneak preview

particulate matters

We were hoping to have a particle collision this year, but oh well -- next year.

Paraphrasing my friend the sometimes-constable, mostly physicist, who's just back from Cern.

(You'll have to forgive me, but there's nothing quite like making small talk with a particle physicist. Now if I only understood a word of it...)

koko & lonnie singing in the trees

kaminaljuyú cloud ridge
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Koko Taylor, if you’re wondering, is tired. Of the tunes she belted out for us last night in the perpetual solstice twilight of the Morton Arboretum, the only one that carried any heft and heart was her closing number -- her lullaby “Bye-Bye”. She sang it like she meant it – like she was ready to be done.

The Queen of the Blues has been at this a long time, after all, and her health isn’t what it was.

Fortunately she was wise enough to off-set her stiff footed stomping with that old diva’s trick of filling the stage with beautiful, talented men – the Koko Taylor Blues Machine carried her through with some gorgeous, supportive playing -- but even with all that support she still found room to berate them, like a babushka, when they cut off one of her tunes too quickly instead of tamping it down to something mellow she could speak over for awhile. Reviews from the Blues Festival a few weekends back were tepid, so it was expected, but a disappointment still.

Love you, Koko. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

Lonnie Brooks, on the other hand, who opened for Koko (and opened it wide), brought it home for the people. Great playing, great delivery – the kind that makes you dance in ways before unknown – like a body possessed. New moves with each new tune, as Lonnie sang his way through the great Blues trinity:

  1. Gettin’ none.

  2. Gettin’ some.

  3. Gettin’ ready to get some more.

Brooks was ushered in by his son, Wayne Baker Brooks, and a fellow named Andre Howard on bass – all told these good men held this girl close and cradled her for close to two happy hours. Yes, please. I’ll take me some more of that.

The biggest disappointment of the night was the audience, of course. I say “of course” because we were in the Western suburbs. This was my first experience on the Morton Arboretum’s Concert Lawn, not a bad venue, but big and broad like these lawns generally are, without any retaining walls or landforms to capture the applause and excitement into the kind of loop that feeds the crowd into further frenzy. So what little expression could be eked out of our mostly-white, mostly-suburban, mostly-middle-aged brethren dissipated on the air.

But the blues wouldn’t be the blues if there wasn’t something to kvetch about. The cursed 17-year cicadas kept their distance after all, and when the sun finally set the fireflies came out, punctuating the cool air with their brief bursts of flame.

Not a bad night.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

anali appreciation day

Many many thanks to Anali over at Anali's First Amendment who has conferred detritus and her author with the "Thinking Blogger Award".

Thank you, Anali: so kind and generous.

I'm on the hook to nominate five thinkers of my own, but to my shame and embarrassment it's Saturday, and all I'm thinking about are the LOLCats at I Can Has Cheezburger and the Zimmers over at YouTube.

So I'm gonna sit on my chits for awhile, and hand them out slowly.

But don't you think for one minute that I'm not thinking about it.


Video: The Zimmers cover My Generation for You

(Learned of the Zimmers cover of My Generation through YouTuber geriatric1927, who showed up on the radio this morning.)

lincoln does this

a found poem

He visits
the immigrant owner
of the Thai Little Home
in Chicago


as a gesture of reverence

puts out
a complete Thai meal
every morning
next to
a small statue
of Lincoln
on the bar

the business goes up,
never down,
no matter what.

He tells the author

Lincoln does this.

Found in William Grime's review of Andrew Ferguson's new book Land of Lincoln, in yesterday's New York Times.

p.s. According to MetroMix, the Thai Little Home Cafe has relocated to Arlington Heights.

Friday, June 22, 2007

still speaking of zombies

The King Of Zombies
Originally uploaded by Cåttberry.

I don't know how Zombies managed to emerge as today's theme, but it seems they're crawling out of the woodwork, so I'm just going to take the advice of a friend of mine to ride it, baby -- and promote a locally-produced TV pilot to boot.

This just in from Gaper's Block:

Zombie Prom
Zombie Prom is a benefit party and world-premiere screening for "Fang!," a locally produced independent TV show about a vampire chick and her spooky, kooky hijinks. Dress up as a zombie (or a vampire -- ooh, or a zombie vampire!) and enjoy cheap drinks and the beats of DJ Casimer Pascal and Scott Masson of Office. At 9pm, watch the world premiere screening of the "Fang!" pilot. Doors open at 8pm at the Heart of Gold, 3036 N. Lincoln; cover is $5, 21 and over. (Creepy costumes and zombie flair encouraged, but not required.)

More Zombies @ detritus »

Or mix your own Zombie over at ExtraTasty -- a social drinking site brought to you by the dreamers and believers behind, the Chicago-based skinnycorp folks.

speaking of zombies

Me: So you can keep your project work going?

AMB: So I can keep my humanity.

What my newly minted M.A. brother said when I asked him why he was negotiating for a four-day work week with his new employer.

That's my brother: Master of Arts. Zombie Master.

pastoral pleasures

Happy Furry Friday!
Portrait of one of the twin lambs

Originally uploaded by Cryptia.

The movie is essentially a silly, grisly elaboration of a simple idea: What if sheep started running amok, feasting on human flesh and turning their victims into huge ovine zombies?

From A.O. Scott's review of Black Sheep in today's New York Times.

I've developed a fondness for zombies ever since accidentally channel surfing to a cable broadcast of Shaun of the Dead. It's not so much the creatures -- it's the anxiety and actions that they stir up in those around them -- the I DON'T WANT TO BE A ZOMBIE impulse that leads to kerosene soaked barricades and mad-dashes across zombie infested spaces.

Because, really, who does? The thought crosses my mind every morning when I slog into work.

Black Sheep opens in the U.S. today. If you go that way you might want to follow up with Netflix chaser: classic Night of the Living Dead on DVD. Interracial zombie slaying, way back when. And if I'm remembering right, they light the night scene with strobes, rather than shooting in filtered daylight (but it's been awhile -- I may be remembering wrong).

Or, if your tastes tend to a different kind of pastoral, a fresh (and French) Lady Chatterley also opens stateside today. Good reviews so far: not as earnest as the book (it's based on earlier iteration), with all the dirty bits left in.

Welcome to the weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

tender buttons

I don’t remember exactly how I came by this shirt, a classic Aloha from Hawai'i. I have a vague recollection of my grandmother pulling it, musty, from the closet many months after my grandfather had died, and asking me did I want it?

Of course I did.

It’s so unlike anything I remember my Bompa wearing: he loved fine clothes, but his passion was for the texture, touch, and feel of the fabric. It’s not so much that I don’t remember him wearing bold colors and patterns as it is that I remember him being very finely tailored, always -- which made him nice to hug.

I remember his excitement when he called me over to show me the camel hair coat that he had just bought for himself -- it wasn't enough to say "beautiful, Bompa" -- we reviewed every stitch and seam of that jacket together. And I loved every minute of it. It's why I bought one for myself, years later. It's why I think of him every time I put it on.

Even his stories were populated with scenes from the wardrobe: Like the time he had a suit made for my father in Hong Kong while he was still a teenager – and my dad grew so fast that he outgrew the suit before he had a chance to wear it. Or the time that my Bompa pulled out his Stetson to show to a friend from the Philippines, and how his friend misunderstood and took the show-and-tell as a special honor – and believed the hat was my grandfather’s gift to him.

Of course Bompa followed through, and of course the hat went home with his friend. And of course he grieved when he told that story. (He really loved that hat.)

I remember too, spending the summer with my grandparents during my freshman year in college, and my grandmother becoming deeply involved in the planning of her high school reunion. Turned out an old boyfriend of hers was on the same organizing committee, and paid her generous amounts of attention. My grandfather’s response was to go shopping and return with a stunning skirt and sweater set for my grandmother: dressing up his beautiful bride with pride. Grama ate it up. We didn’t hear much about the old boyfriend after that.

So although I can't remember him ever wearing anything this bold, I do remember him boldly loving Hawai'i, and that's enough to make me love this shirt.

His Aloha is a sturdy cotton – unlike the silk or rayon that Aloha shirts were traditionally made of – with a stamped print pattern and tender Chinese coin-like buttons. I was reminded that it was stashed away in my closet when I was poking around the Patagonia site and found an essay in honor of the Aloha Shirt. (Alongside Patagonia product of course, but they’re not a bad bunch of shirts, if you like Aloha Shirts; and the essay itself is worth reading for this clip alone: "He told me that in life there are two kinds of people; people of substance and those with little or no substance, and that you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit no matter how you slice or dice it.")

I’d always assumed that Bompa’s shirt dated to the 1950s, when my grandparents spent a good amount of time in Hawai’i, but according to the Gerry Lopez piece it was around that time that the manufacture of Aloha shirts moved away from the islands (he doesn’t say to where – Asia maybe?) where they could be created more cheaply.

So I either have a rare shirt from before the decline of island production, or one of the shirts that re-emerged after the craft returned in the late 60s and early 70s. Or a shirt with a label that lies when it says “Made in Hawaii.”

Either way, it’s my Bompa’s.

Bompa was not a tall man, and given that I’m quite a tall girl, you’d think I’d be out of luck trying to wear one of his old shirts. But lucky for me it’s my legs that give me that height, and my torso, it turns out, is exactly his size (as are my hands, as I learned when I held his hand while he was dying – they were perfect twins, his hand and mine).

The shirt, I'm happy to report, hugs me just right.

On this Day

Aloha is a Hawaiian greeting that encompasses the meaning of love, mercy and compassion. Having the aloha spirit meant living and giving these virtues. The aloha shirt is a symbol of the aloha spirit, and when a person wears the shirt, he also wears the aloha spirit.

— Gerry Lopez in Aloha

showing up, part 2

You’re an American. It’s not always easy.

What Walter Schretzman says to those who try shirk jury duty through any one of a collection of excuses like dying relatives or lost income. As reported in The Villager.

Walter Schretzman is the silver-haired leader whom John Hodgman captured so beautifully in his recent jury duty postings on his blog, good evening »

showing up, part 1 »

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

faves from the world's best mechanical engineer

The Ride
Originally uploaded by thepres6.
Part VII in The World’s Best Mechanical Engineer Explains It All for You series, with Special Guest Star: The World's Best Mechanical Engineer.

I'm postponing the answer to number 7 because it's going to take a little preparation to answer it correctly.

Q: What is the favorite thing you've designed?

A: That's like asking what's my favorite work of art in the Louvre (the Louvre is a big museum that the French think is the best). [Ed. I think J-H has put in some time there: we’ll wait for him to comment.]

Here's a few of my fav's:

  • A cargo loader that you drive up to the airplane and unload big 15000 pound cargo containers (think of putting all the kids in your class AND the school bus in a big box). I liked this project because we worked on it for a long time and really perfected a lot of the machine. It would even tell you when there was something wrong with the electrical system, and what was wrong.

  • A machine that generated electricity when you drove over it in a car. I liked this project because it was the most original idea that I have ever worked on. It was also a project that at first I thought was a bad idea, but as I did the math and figured out what was possible, I eventually decided it was a good idea after all.

  • A machine for harvesting Spinach. I liked this project because it was quick and the design ended up being elegant. Elegant means both simple and beautiful at the same time. Tell your Mom she's elegant when she's dressed up. She might buy you a Mountain Dew. The machine has a saw, blowers, shakers, conveyors, and drives like a tank. But it has no electrical complexity at all, no computers or controllers. Most mechanics can fix it even if they've never seen one before. If they can't fix it they shouldn't be mechanics. They should be politicians.

  • I also did some consulting for a motorcycle company helping them improve the reliability of their motorcycles. It was interesting because I learned a lot about instrumentation. Instrumentation is when you put special sensors on a machine that tell you things like how fast they are vibrating, how much they are stressed, or how hot they are getting. This is super useful if a part is failing and you can't figure out why. This job was also cool because it makes people say things like, "OOOH MOTORCYLCLES!". Their eyes light up. Sometimes the women swoon.

Pop open a Mountain Dew (your Mom should be stocking it by now) and check out pictures of some of the machines I've designed at

Your Pal,

Ed.: aka The World’s Best Mechanical Engineer

Also in this series:
get it in gear
busta dew
holy hydraulics, batman!
solenoid spectacular
springs & things
the world's best mechanical engineer explains it all for you

what's for dinner?

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Fascinating photo essay on what the world eats »

Voyeurism alert = high.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio

another brick in the wall

Part of our university will be on the Mexican side of the fence.

Would the students need to show a passport [between classes]?

Antonio N. Zavalena, VP and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas branch in Brownsville, commenting in this morning's New York Times on plans to erect a fence along the 370 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico, which the U.S. Congress has just authorized the Department of Homeland Security to build.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

a very good day

Some time back I posted on Trudy Blom, who photographed the Lacandon of Chiapas, and who was the life force behind La Casa Na Bolom in San Cristobal de las Casas. Several nice things happened as the result of that post:

The playwright, Alex Finlayson, stopped by to mention her play about Trudy, which relies on Ms. Blom’s photographs, and for which she needed to secure permission to use in order to stage her play.

Then Maria Luisa Armendariz, Chair of the Board at Na Bolom, paid detritus a visit and left a lovely comment:

Dear Sutton:

I have to say I’ve seen must of the pictures taken in Na Bolom. I am becoming old because I knew Trudy very well and I loved her very much. That’s why, I believe, I take her place now when I am the president of the Association she created to take care of the house and the projects she held in the Rain Forest of Chiapas.

I saw your pictures and I entered in this blog just to say Thank You. For creating, for finding what is not easily seen, for creating and capturing a moment of light... you made an incredible job.

It is fantastic, thank you.

We are here, I guess our children will come after us, and we just hope we find the strength to maintain this beauty.

Maria Luisa

And then yesterday I received an email from Ms. Finlayson, letting me know that the post had acted as a bridge to connect her with Ms. Armendariz, and that, as a result, the board of Na Bolom has granted her permission to use Trudy’s photography for her stage production.

All of which makes for a very good day.

[update] I've learned from Alex that Ms. Blom spelled her name "Trudi" -- I expect at some point I'll scrub these entries and make the correction -- in the meantime I'll just apologize for the typo. :)

p.s. Slideshow courtesy of Alex who has posted some of Trudy’s photographs on Flickr – so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

and an update: I've been spelling Ms. Blom's name all wrong -- Alex tells me she spelled it "Trudi."

on your back, baby.

morning paper, 2
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Anali reminds me that today is Juneteenth. Now an official holiday in her home town of Boston, Juneteenth commemorates the day “in 1865 when the last slaves learned they were free.”

Took awhile to get word out. No Internet back then.

Growing up west of the Mississippi one doesn’t see a whole lot of evidence of our history of slavery in the landscape. (We’ll save the discussion of the Reservation System for another time.) We western kids are the children of Manifest Destiny – the offspring of those who slogged out this way, early in wagons or late on airplanes, to build something bigger, something more, something new.

I wasn’t aware of it growing up – that thread of entrepreneurship that drives so much doing out West. It was all I ever knew. But I feel the absence of it, having inched East to Chicago, which boomed once and still gets along in its own old school way -- but the spirit’s different here: it’s not as raw. It’s not as eager. It’s a little bit tired around the edges. (Although maybe I'm just hanging out in the wrong neighborhoods.)

Traveling down to Gloucester, Virginia last summer for a friend’s funeral I was struck by something entirely different -- the sense that development around there stopped mid-stream, some time a long time ago. I don’t know how persistent that sense is across the South, but in the pocket I visited there was the sense of a boom interrupted – lot of activity, building, and commerce that seized up and slowed at a particular point in time.

I chalked it up to the end of slavery. I could be entirely wrong. But right or wrong, the realization mattered to me then because it brought home the economic face of enslavement: we built this country on the backs of people who were not compensated for, and did not consent to engage in, that labor.

Growing up as a white kid in America I learned about slavery, of course, but always as something distant and far away and highly emotionally charged. In school there was only the briefest conversation about the economic benefits of slavery -- and when it was touched upon, it was “the South” that reaped those benefits. As if the Northern economy didn’t profit at all from bloody hands. The story of slavery was framed simplistically as good versus evil and then settled, heroically, by our man Abe.

Human rights entered into the conversation as something innate and understood – but never dissected, and never connected to the larger, global conversation about human rights, that continues even today.

And never, in the course of my secondary school education, was the story of slavery dovetailed with the story of labor rights. Aren’t they different facets of the same struggle?

My point: the story of slavery in America has been, in my experience, segregated from so much of our larger story. As if, because it belongs through ancestry to people of African descent, that it doesn’t belong to the rest of us, doesn’t impact the story of our 40 hour working week, the right to choose how we will apply our labors and earn our keep and feed our families and find our fulfillment.

I’m still looking for the thing that I want to do with my life. I’m still searching for work that is more calling than calling card – and the fact that I have the cheek to think I can claim something “fulfilling” for my work, is because I’m an American, and because it’s been drilled into me since day one that we make our way in this world through the work we do.

Work we choose. Work that matters. Work that we have a right to be compensated for. A right that we have no right to deny to anyone.

Slavery is my history too, and it’s what I define myself against. It's what I never want for myself; it's what I never want to inflict on anyone else.

Each of us is free to fly or free to f*ck it up all on our own. Because we're free.

Happy Juneteenth. Get the word out.

p.s. As of 2004, 27 million people remained enslaved against their will. Not sure what the numbers are today -- not optimistic that they're any better.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Playing Cards
Originally uploaded by ccarlstead.
When a girl's got a day full of nothing but Still Life with Dry Erase (and spreadsheets. did I mention the spreadsheets?) she finds ways to stay entertained.

John Hodgman's on Jury Duty. Fun. (If you like that kind of thing.)

redelvis is twittering from the World Series of Poker. Fun. Fun. (Even if you don't.)

p.s. More from Hodgman here and here.

still life with dry erase

still life with dry erase
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
'Cause sometimes that's all a girl gets before 5.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

make it neue

Originally uploaded by Michael Surtees.
Before you laugh about the fact that I attended the Gene Siskel Film Center screening of Helvetica [1] last night – a documentary about a typeface – you should know that the event was sold out. As were both screenings the night before.

Of course, the room seated about a fraction of a regular movie house. But still.

I’d call myself a type wonk; my husband calls me (and did, just last night) a type whore.

Maybe because I spent a little too long pouring over cases of old type at last weekend’s Printers Row Book Fair (“you go ahead, sweetie – I’ll catch up”); maybe because I read Jan Tschihold for kicks and have a hunch that the 1949 Playbill for Kiss Me Kate that I inherited from my grandfather was strongly influenced – if not designed by -- a young Paul Rand (my money’s on the latter), who was kicking around New York at that time . (Just as my money’s on the hunch that Al Hirschfield drew the cover of the 1950 Playbill for Kizmet that hangs alongside it, carefully framed on the wall, even though when I pinged the good folks at Playbill to confirm either they said “our records don’t go back that far”).

But in truth I’m a pimp and procurer; more John than whore. I use type, devour it, expect it to please me and am willing to pay for the privilege.

I’ll spare you my reaction to seeing Zapf himself on screen; save you the discussions of weight and line and heft and containment; ascenders, descenders, x-heights and baselines; and give you just this: the movie is about more than Helvetica. And it doesn’t take sides (well, nearly not). So if you’re not a fan of the ubiquitous Swiss face, you can still have a good time.

The conflict that the movie chases down is whether or not, in design, we expect to speak through our letterforms – expect them to remain “invisible”, “like the air”, as Helvetica was described several times in this film -- or whether we want our letterforms to speak for us -- to assist the word, to shape the emotional impact that it will have on us. Do we want “explosion” to explode; the word “caffeinated” to be wired, jittery, amped up, alive? Or do we want a clarity of form that’s nearly translucent, one that allows letterforms to emerge without hindrance to become what they’re meant to be – words.

To my mind, type, for those who know they care [2], is a matter of taste, like lingerie – some prefer to cloak the form through which they realize their desires in lace, bows and ties; others prefer the barest concealment, so that the curve of the word can come through true.

Hiding somewhere in the back and forth bickering among the rock stars of typography and design who populate the movie were some interesting questions about modernism, post-modernism, and the way each generation reinvents itself, smashes the constructs that the last generation worked so diligently to create anew so that something of theirs will last them out -- but of course it doesn't. Not all of it, anyway. Because of course the next round of dreamers and believers will smash it down and begin again.

And maybe at the end of the day they come up with something that, fundamentally, is very much like the thing that circulated not too long before – maybe two, three, generations ago. Maybe. Or maybe not.

But it’s new, and it’s theirs.

And then we begin again.

p.s. There was a joke in the film about type wonks who have a hard time with period films that get the typefaces wrong – for those with an interest in these things, Mark Simonson fires off about that very thing in his classic piece, Typecasting »

[1] And you thought I was kidding.
[2] And anyone who reads is impacted by type, whether they realize it or not.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

angry, little bit melty, cookie

From Bennison's Bakery in Evanston, IL, where I just heard a guy say: "Can I have those cupcakes? All of them?"

Posting by sidekick.

stopp volden

Mikkel at Shädy Äcres has brought my attention to a story that didn’t make the American press. The original post is in Norwegian; I quote his reply to my question about the newspaper piece that ran with his picture in full:

Like many other local bloggers, we've published the name and picture of a policeman (see sidebar), one of four policemen involved in the arrest of a Norwegian-Nigerian man named Eugene Obiora last fall.

Obiora had refused to leave a social welfare office when his request for help was turned down. It was his son’s 12th birthday. He was calm when police arrived, but the situation soon escalated.

According to witnesses, one of the policemen put on black leather gloves and said: "I am going to strangle him."

Obiora was then strangled to death while handcuffed. Resuscitation was not attempted. He was left to die on the curb outside the welfare office.

One of the policemen in question has a history of racist abuse. In 1999 he was involved in the arrest of a black woman who, while working as a cleaner in a bank, accidentally triggered the alarm. As the policeman choked her, security cameras caught him saying: “You black devil”. It is documented that the same policeman also on at least one other occasion put the same disputed type of chokehold on an immigrant.

The internal affairs division just exonerated all the policemen involved, and the head of the policemen’s union had the audacity to characterize the arrest of Obiora as “good police work”.

Police have tried to keep the name of this “good policeman” secret from the public, but his identity is being made public by protesters in an attempt to put pressure on the state attorney and justice department. We felt it was our duty to participate in this campaign. We have also been busy arranging protests.

We want the four policemen tried for manslaughter, and we will not relent until that happens.

Local newspapers picked up on the story after posters showing the policeman’s face was used to advertise a public meeting on institutionalised racism. As I am one of the speakers at the meeting, they called me to get my opinion. The article questions whether my position as member of the Socialist Party’s local group for ethnic equality makes the civil disobedience contentious.

In the interview I express the opinion that I find the issue uncontroversial, since it is the Party’s official view that the policemen should be tried, and anyway the Socialist Party has room for many different opinions (local Party leaders have confirmed this view today).

Furthermore, I ask why this policeman’s rights should be more important than Obiora’s, and urge those who disagree to read the shocking witness statements. I also express the opinion that the police have brought this controversy on themselves by not reacting in the necessary manner.

Further down the page, a police spokesperson is shocked and horrified at what we’ve done.

That’s more or less it. The bikini babes[1] I have nothing to do with. You can’t pin that on me.


[1] See original inquiry.

spotted in the grocery store...

...on a package of Tang:

1/2 the Sugar 100% Juice

Uh huh.

Appears that Tang's working a new angle, now that the astronaut claim has been debunked.

Friday, June 15, 2007

T-7 and Counting

For Lolabola. Courtesy of Found Magazine.

So should I say Merde, or just break a leg?

Best wishes, too, and whole heap of congratulations, as you near your wedding day. :)

May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.

Oh: a brilliant sky above.

tufte love

What is the display about?
Losses in men of the French Army in the Russian Campaign 1812-1813

Who did the work?
Drawn up by M. Minard

Who’s that?
Inspector General of Bridges and Roads in retirement

Where and when was the work done?
Paris, November 20, 1869

What are the data sources?
The information which has served to draw up the map has been extracted from the works of M.M. Thiers, of Ségur, of Fezensac, of Chambray and the unpublished diary of Jacob, the pharmacist of the Army since October 28th.

Any assumptions?
In order to better judge with the eye the dimunition of the army, I have assumed that the troops of Prince Jérôme and of Marshall Davoush who had been detached at Minsk and Mogkilev and have rejoined around Orcha and Vitebsk, had always marched with the army.

What are the scales of measurement?
• For invasion and retreat flow-lines: one millimeter for every ten thousand men
• For the underlying map: Common leagues of France
• For the temperature: degrees of the Réaumur thermometer below zero

Who published and printed the work?
Autog. Par Regnier, 8. Pas. Ste. Marie St. Gain à Paris

Anything else?
Minard never mentions Napoleon.

If you’ve every attended one of Edward Tufte’s road shows, you’ve walked away with a reproduction of Minard’s Figurative Map of the Successive Losses in Men of the French Army in the Russian Campaign 1812-1813, and you’ve traced their route, reading right, heady in numbers (422,000 men) across the Nieman River through Vitebask and Gjat to Moscow.

And you watched their numbers dwindle by three-quarters (to 100,000 men) by the time they double back at Moscow, and you know already, at a glance, when you see that black recessive line and the plummeting temperature (21 below zero), that they will fade to nearly nothing (4,000 men) by their penultimate leg, before they meet up again with another emaciated arm (22,000 men reduced to 8,000) from their ranks.

And you just may agree with Tufte that this could be the best illustrative graphic ever designed. And you’ll undoubtedly agree with Minard that war is hell.

Another bonus of those road shows, which by corporate training budget standards are cheap at under $400/head: Tufte loads you up with his beautifully self-published books, and as he publishes more (Beautiful Evidence is his most recent title – it also contains a fold out page of Minard’s graphic – the excerpt above is from that title) you walk away with more – he’s now up to four.

Tufte’s feeling the love in the Stanford and New York Magazines this week.

Right there with you, baby.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Both of my paternal grandparents had parents who divorced. In both cases it happened while they were fairly young.

Their mothers took over the child-rearing after the dissolution, and as a result there are very few stories of either of my great-grandfathers that circulate through the family storytelling channels. My grandmother’s family moved to Seattle from Chicago when she was three, and she didn’t have any contact with her father after that. Except once.

Grama worked the movie house circuit in Seattle [1] before she was married – nothing nearly so glamorous as stage work (although I suspect, in her heart of hearts, she would have preferred to be on the screen). She worked the Fifth Avenue, the Musicbox, and another one on Pike or Pine whose name I can’t remember. She was an usherette and a box office girl in varying turns, and actually met my grandfather one disruptive night when she was working the Musicbox with her flashlight in the aisles, and some fellow brought a gun into the theatre and threatened another guy who was there with his girl. The police were called. My grandfather was heroic (of course). Another story for another time.

But the story that was stirred up this morning by an unexpected email was about the time the movie theatre was running a contest – a paid two week vacation for the most popular employee. Moviegoers had to vote, and my grandmother, who was working the ticket booth, had no idea that her former kindergarten teacher was working the corner, handing out ballots to folks on their way to see the show, telling them to vote for her friend, my grandmother.

She won the contest.

Armed with her two weeks she placed a phone call to her father in Chicago. His new wife picked up, and she introduced herself as Lars’ daughter, Margaret.

Lars’ wife didn’t know that Lars had a daughter named Margaret. Or a son named Stan. Lars’ wife didn’t know that Lars had had a wife before her.

So there was some sorting out to do.

The upshot was that my grandmother boarded a Greyhound bus and took the three-day trip from Seattle to Chicago to visit with her father for the first time in a long time. She was 21.

To hear her tell it, Chicago was heady stuff – a motorboat ride on Lake Michigan with her half-brother that was way too fast; smoking and drinking and listening to live music at a club downtown. I didn’t get a lot of details, just the sense that she was ready to come home after her time was up. Her father remains a shadowy figure in her stories – the one she tells the most frequently says much about his opinion of himself – her parents met when Lars stayed at the boarding house run by my great-grandmother Mathilde’s mother. When he left the house he left her a handsome picture of himself with a note that read: “I leave you with this picture, because I thought you might like to have it.”

I think my grandmother loves to tell this story because it offers proof of his vanity – but I don’t know if she picks up the irony that that self-assured vanity runs strong through our clan to this day. She carried the inheritance well.

So this morning I received an email from my mother, who’s digging, which has offered free access to military records for a trial period. She found a military registration card, dated two months shy of the end of World War I, that bears my great-grandfather’s name, his wife’s name, their address, his occupation, and his employer.

Not so remarkable, I suppose, if I knew these things before. But I didn’t. Except for his wife's name. So it amazed me.

He was a carpenter, working for a construction company. Not surprising, since he worked in Chicago during a tremendous building boom in which the city grew rapidly to be the largest city in the world. They lived in Humboldt Park – I knew that much already – but I didn’t know the address: 220 Wabansia. At least I think it’s Wabansia – the handwriting is a bit obscure, but through a fluke I picked up a brilliant 1890s map of Chicago over the weekend at the Printer’s Row Book Fair (chiefly because it shows the Boulevard System all mapped out) and I was able to cross-reference the street name, which before then I was trying to read as something like “Mahanria”. (Right. Probably not.)

And he’s described, but I can hardly make it out:

Height = Tall. Not surprising (says his 5 foot 12 great-granddaughter, child of his 6 foot 4 grandson)
Build = does that say stocky? Slight?
Color of Eyes = Grey? Green? Like mine.
Hair = Brown. Same.

Hello, Grandpa.

[1] The photo above is a publicity still from – I think – the Musicbox in Seattle when it just opened. That’s my Grama working the ticket booth. Pygmalion with Leslie Howard was on the marquee. Sorry such a poor shot – it’s a print from a print, shot through glass.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

thanks, matt.

I know, I know: Everybody already knows about Matt. Everybody knows where he's been. And yeah, he's lined up corporate sponsorship since his first time out of the gate.

But he still makes me happy, g*ddammit.

Maybe because he reminds me of my buddy TD4 and how he used to take "jump shots" where ever he traveled -- setting the timer and leaping into the air above some lovely, far away horizon.

Or maybe just because he's dancing. And traveling. And maybe I want a piece of that.

(blogliners: there's video in this one. you're gonna have to clickthrough.)

seize me

Those of you who were around back in November may remember a brief New York Times appearance in which I spouted off about online accessibility.

Add one more example to the list: "a short piece of animation" designed to launch the London Olympics logo into the world (because ugly babies need all the help they can get) has been pulled down from the official site because the blink rate on the animation set off seizures in epileptics.

Right. Blink = Bad.

Or rather: "blinking text, objects, or other elements having a flash or blink frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz" = bad, pursuant to Subpart B, § 1194.21 of the US Government Section 508 Standards. (Granted, it's a UK goof, but those guys are generally more enlighted than we are about these things.)

And don't even get me started on the Olympics, because I'm feeling cranky.

But on a little less cranky note: When I lived in LA my downstairs neighbor was a fiery octogenarian whose family fled China during the Cultural Revolution, and who escaped having her feet bound per the prevailing social norms because her father was particularly enlightened and wanted to see his daughter educated. She helped me countless times in extraordinarily generous ways, and was great company for sharing stories and passing time.

I don't remember what we were talking about when she introduced this little pearl, but it stuck with me and seems relevant here when we're talking about taking the time to design things right for the Web -- or to do things right at all.

She said simply: "I was taught that when you're walking down a path, and you see a branch in the way, it's not enough to step over the branch. You must move the branch aside, out of the way, because the next person coming down the path may not see the branch, and may not be able to step around it. That is just the way."

yes, it was a good trip

a found poem

Yes, it was a good trip
I have to say
we travel well together

Had a couple of mishaps
got stung by a huge wasp
the same day I fell on my backside

The food in general was delicious
and at times I looked
a bit too deep into the pan
and my stomach had his say

Some cities were nice
and some were butt ugly
but the people in general very friendly

The countryside was beautiful
lots of land
and you wonder why
there are so many poor people
without food etc.

Well, easy to answer,
the land belongs to a few
and they don't care to share

A fragment from an email received from my dear friend Luzia who just returned from Brasil where she traveled with her husband, Jovino, around the country (his home country) recording the indigenous music of small towns and villages.

As more information becomes available about the project I’ll post links here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

jesus is everywhere

dont be
Originally uploaded by blue coyote laughing.
Random Flickr'ng

if. this.

wine legs

if Semele had a mortgage
she would have been happy
to have Zeus

a quickie in the backroom
when Hera turned her head

then skirts down
back to work
a pat and a kiss

but no

too much time on her hands

it was gimme all you got
and baby, you'll be sorry
and so she was

but for her curiousity
I have this glass of red

and a scattering
of Dionysian dreams

Monday, June 11, 2007


It's wanting to know that makes us matter.

The line that stuck in my head after seeing Tom Stoppard's Arcadia yesterday at The Court Theatre.

links to this post: Pearls of Wisdom

Sunday, June 10, 2007

the southern sampler

the southern sampler
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Jambalaya, gumbo, red beans and rice, and a corn muffin.

Peach cobbler for dessert.

Posting from the Dixie Kitchen in Chicago's Hyde Park.

get it in gear

Part VI in The World’s Best Mechanical Engineer Explains It All for You series, with Special Guest Star: The World's Best Mechanical Engineer.


Q. How do gears work?

A. Gears are an entire science of their own. They have to be designed and manufactured very precisely in order to function properly. The little bumps on gears that push on each other are called teeth.

Gears are used to speed things up, slow them down, make them more powerful, less powerful or to change the direction of rotation. But the thing to remember about gears is that there are no free rides. If you use a big gear to drive a little gear, the little gear will spin faster than the big one. But it will have less torque. Torque is a way to measure how hard it would be to stop something from spinning, like if you squeezed the shaft between your fingers.

If you use a little gear to drive a big gear, the big gear would spin slower than the big gear, but the big gear would have more torque. So more speed equals less torque, and less speed equals more torque. There is always a trade. Welcome to the first law of thermodynamics.

Gears are also used to change the direction of your rotating power. Older rear wheel drive cars had the engine in front, a drive shaft running down the middle underneath the car, and a gearbox attached to the axle. That gearbox is called a differential.

This brings me to the experiment. Normally I wouldn't suggest an experiment of this magnitude, but in our current situation I don't think it will happen any slower than the other experiments.

Look on E-bay and find yourself a 1966 Ford Galaxy 500 convertible. Have your Mom buy it. She may balk a little. Here are your sales points:

• It won't go down in value, it's collectible.

• She'll look great with her hair flowing out behind her and the top down.

• It's so mechanically simple, you can fix it for her.

• By the time you're 16, gas will be so expensive you'll only be able to drive around the block once a week. That will help keep you out of trouble.

• It's the engineers’ choice.

You'll also need a pair of jack stands, a jack and of course, a case of Mountain Dew in cans. Take a spin around town with the top down, and a Mountain Dew in hand. Your Mom will feel SO GOOD she'll realize she should have listened to all of B1-67er's engineering advice. Tune the radio to an oldies station, preferably something with some soul. If you hear any song by the band "WAR" (the World is a Ghetto, Low Rider, Summer, Me and Baby Brother, etc, etc) you will reach Engineering Nirvana. Ask your Mom to spin by Radio Shack for some of that motor wire.

When you get home, have your Dad or Mom help you put the rear end of the car up on the jack stands. Set the case of Mountain Dew under the car too for added safety and to get the Mountain Dew into some shade. With the emergency brake released, spin one of the rear wheels of the car. Surprisingly, the other rear wheel will turn the opposite direction. That's because the differential (the gearbox at the back of the car) is a very special gearbox that allows the two back wheels of your car to travel at different speeds. This makes a car drive smoothly around corners. If you think about it when you turn a tight corner in your car, the two wheels on the inside of the corner don't travel very far, but the two on the outside of the corner travel a long ways. If it wasn't for the differential, your car would kind of have to bounce and skip around corners.

Pop open a few Mountain Dews and admire your Galaxy glimmering in the sun. And here's a little tip for when you're 16. If reverse isn't working too good in the galaxy, don't park with your girlfriend with the front wheels pointed downhill against a parking block. If you don't believe me, ask B1-66er: he tried it.

There is an alternative to the admittedly costly but rewarding Galaxy experiment. You can stop by Midas and ask them if they have any rear wheel drive cars up on their lifts. If so, ask them to spin a back wheel for you.

The World's Best Mechanical Engineer

Also in this series:
busta dew
holy hydraulics, batman!
solenoid spectacular
springs & things
the world's best mechanical engineer explains it all for you

[Photo credit: b1-67er, aka The World's Best Mechanical Engineer]

the relentless grid

the Fed

Rolf Achilles is a man who knows not only what the city of Chicago has been, could have been, and is -- but also what the city ought to be. All of that spilled over on our walk down Dearborn yesterday with around a dozen good folk who signed on through docomomo.

The walk originated at Mies’s Federal Plaza at the Adams intersection and terminated at Goldberg’s Marina Towers on the Chicago River. It was organized to raise awareness of Modernist buildings under threat – not yet old enough to earn landmark status, important enough that they should before someone decides to do something other than preserve them.

rolf achilles

Achilles -- who is, among other things, an Adjunct Profession of the Art Institute, preservation adviser for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, and curator of the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows –- has one of those minds that skeins up anecdotes and insights, so each stop was loaded with story. Some of the tidbits that he served up included:

What did the glass manufacturer say when Mies asked for smoky glass panes? We’ve been trying to perfect clear glass for 2,000 years, and now you want us to muck it up? (This conversation spelled the beginning of the end for clear glass panes in the American skyscraper.)

the picasso

The guy who designed the unremarkable skyscraper that faces Daley Plaza, opposite the Picasso? He did the math for Christo when he went through his wrapping stage.

Why did the name “New Bauhaus” not take in Chicago? Because Mies owned the copyright, and sued the guy who was trying to apply it here.

shimmer and shine

Where did the office cubicle debut in America? In the jewel box Inland Steel building. The cubicle was modeled after a German predecessor.

Total shrinkage when the terracotta facade was first installed on the Marquette Building? 1/8 of an inch. Total shrinkage when they went back and replaced some panels during restoration years later? 1 ½ inches. (Drove them crazy. Nobody knew how to do it right anymore.)

block 37

One of the more enjoyable stories of the walk was summoned out of the long dormant Block 37 in the heart of the Theatre District, which is just now starting to stir again with the construction of the new CBS building -- after the landmark buildings that occupied it were leveled and it lay as an empty lot for years and years. Come to find out this old strip of Dearborn, where the Goodman Theatre now sits, once housed more movie houses than Broadway, and was also the home to United Artists.

According to Achilles, David Wallerstein owned the movie distribution house UA, and while there made one of the lasting contributions to American cinema: selling exorbitantly priced popcorn and soft drinks to movie goers, effectively upping the average expense of going to the movies.

The businessman made two other essential, although questionably laudable, contributions to the American landscape: he backed both Ray Kroc and Walt Disney as they were just getting started, and he sat on the McDonald’s board where, according to the New York Times, he introduced the “supersize” product concept – a kissing cousin to the popcorn up-sell, which only just recently met its demise as the result of, interestingly enough, the pressure applied by a movie.

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