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“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle”*…

 

Long before the lights from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park began illuminating the North Shore every summer, a local corporation gave the city an art show every night on the same grounds.

The Westinghouse Electric Supply Company (a subsidiary of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, or Wesco), based in Pittsburgh, moved into a warehouse facing the Allegheny River in 1948. On its roof, a giant orange and blue sign spelled out the the company’s tag line, “You can be sure … if it’s Westinghouse.”

As modernist design trickled down from the Bauhaus to Madison Avenue, most noticeably in the 1960s, corporate giants like Westinghouse began leaning towards minimalist visual identities. In 1960, Paul Rand gave the company a logo that looked like an electrical socket that also spelled out the letter W.

Six years later, Richard Huppertz, head of Westinghouse’s Corporate Design Center, wanted to emphasize the company’s sleek new identity with text-free signage on top of their North Shore warehouse. Huppertz ran the idea by Rand, who then came up with the country’s first computer-controlled sign…

Read the rest of this illuminating story at “Remembering Pittsburgh’s Most Mesmerizing Sign.”

* Walt Whitman

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As we celebrate bright ideas, we might turn to the noir side and send hard-boiled birthday greetings to Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big SleepFarewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.

Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.

- Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)

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Written by LW

July 23, 2014 at 1:01 am

“It isn’t that they cannot see the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.”*…

 

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From Zogg from Betelgeuse , “Mathematics: Measuring x Laziness²,” the latest entry in the Earthlings 101 series– a beginner’s guide for alien visitors.

* G.K. Chesterton

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As we dazzle ‘em with differentials, we might spare a thought for Sir Sandford Fleming; he died on this date in 1915.  A Scottish engineer who emigrated to Canada, Fleming designed much of the Intercolonial Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway; was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada; founded the Royal Canadian Institute; and designed the first Canadian postage stamp (the Threepenny Beaver, issued in 1851),  But he is best remembered as the man who divided the world into time zones– the inventor of Worldwide Standard Time.

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Written by LW

July 22, 2014 at 1:01 am

“There is no better high than discovery”*…

 

Be careful what you use as a bookmark. Thousands of dollars, a Christmas card signed by Frank Baum, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, a marriage certificate from 1879, a baby’s tooth, a diamond ring and a handwritten poem by Irish writer Katharine Tynan Hickson are just some of the stranger objects discovered inside books by AbeBooks.com booksellers.

I recently opened a secondhand book and an airline boarding pass from Liberia in west Africa to Fort Worth, Texas, fell to the floor. Was there a story behind this little slip of paper? Was someone fleeing from a country ravaged by two civil wars since 1989? I will never know, but used and rare booksellers discover countless objects – some mundane, some bizarre, some deeply personal – inside books as they sort and catalog books for resale.

Adam Tobin, owner of Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, New York, has created a display inside his bookstore dedicated to objects discovered in books.

“It’s a motley assortment,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for about two years since opening the store. The display quickly took over the back wall and now it’s spreading to other places, and there’s a backlog of stuff that we haven’t put up yet. There are postcards, shopping lists, and concert tickets but my favorites are the cryptic notes. They are often deeply personal and can be very moving.”

Used booksellers often take ownership of books that have been in a family or a household for decades or even generations. “It’s easy to find things in books that are very dated,” explained Adam,” Such as a newspaper advert for elastic bands from the 19th century. My personal favorite is an ad from the 1950s that reads ‘Rinsing Dacron Curtains in Milk Makes Them Crisp, Stiff, Just Like New.’”

The most valuable item discovered by Adam is a letter written by C.S. Lewis - author of the Narnia series – but his monetary finds have been limited to a $1 note now pinned to the display.

Eager to learn more, AbeBooks.com asked its booksellers to reveal their finds. You might be surprised to learn what people will leave inside a book…

Discover this buried treasure at “Things Found in Books.”

[TotH to @MartyKrasney]

* E.O. Wilson

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As we rifle through the volumes in our libraries, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1887 that there occured an event that would surely have warmed Dr. Wilson’s heart:  an enormous “rain of ants” at Nancy in France.; “most of them were wingless” (Nature, 36-349.. as quoted in Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned).

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Written by LW

July 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“A self-made man may prefer a self-made name”*…

 

In the Museum of Chinese in America, two blocks north of Canal Street in New York City, a small, illuminated tile informs visitors that “sometime before 1865,” a Chinese American squirrel trapper known as “Poison Jim” found the mustard plant “growing weedlike in the Salinas Valley.” By selling the seeds, he “unintentionally turn[ed] mustard into a commercial crop” in the United States. A textbook published in 2010 repeats the story, with Poison Jim making and selling mustard until it “became a major California product.”

“Poison Jim Chinaman” was first documented by the little-known writer Owen Clarke Treleaven, who published a six-page story about him in a 1919 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine serving middle-class readers a diet of human interest pieces and folksy caricatures of the American West long after its wildest years were behind it. Writers glibly peddled stereotypes about the multiethnic fabric of frontier societies; the issue in which Treleaven’s story appeared also included an article on “Queer Korean Superstitions” and a poem called “Loleeta—An Indian Lyric”…

Read the spicy story of Jim’s story, in it’s entirety, in The Awl: “The Legend of Poison Jim, the Mustard King.”

* Learned Hand

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As we take our mustard with a grain of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Mark Twain published his account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” aboard a retired Civil War ship, the chartered vessel Quaker City, through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers– The Innocents Abroad.  Masquerading as an ordinary travel book, it cinched Twain’s reputation as a humorous observer; it was his best-selling book during his lifetime, and is one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

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Written by LW

July 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“If lightning is the anger of the gods, then the gods are concerned mostly about trees”*…

 

Lightning strikes around the world– in real time.

* Lao Tzu

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As we reach for our rods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the U.S. detonated an atomic weapon on a test range in the Yucca Flats in Nevada-a  test of the Air Force’s AIR-2 Genie missile with a nuclear warhead, part of the Plumbbob series, the biggest, longest, and most controversial test series in the continental United States: 29 tests, of which only two failed to detonate.  Exactly seven years later– on this date in 1964– the Soviet Union performed a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakh.

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Written by LW

July 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

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