Friday, January 31, 2014

Less than Perfect

I stumbled across a web site which offered to be my “personal grammar coach.” Just what I needed! They allow you try the service (in a limited capacity) by pasting a section of text in the box. I copied a few FITK posts and received various “ratings” from 60 to 70 percent of what I assume to be “perfection.”

Just to make sure the service was legit, I pasted some excerpts from F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories. They did worse! I made one final test—with the final paragraph of Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart. It got 82% and would have probably gotten 100% if it hadn’t been discounted for its use of archaic language.

It looks as if my writing has a ways to go.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Village Smithy

Grand Marais, Minnesota, 2009

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
~ Longfellow

An old style blacksmith's shop that I spotted on vacation a few years ago; I just had to peek through the dirty window. It was so dark inside I couldn't really see much so I set the shutter as slow as I dared and hoped for the best:

There's a story there, I'd bet that Jono knows it.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Miniskirts and Ibsen

Colorado Springs, October 2013

I’d been trying to extend summer into October. It was working pretty well; I’d left cold, drizzly Minnesota, going south, and my streak of good weather had lasted for a week. I was in Colordo Springs, walking down the Colorado Avenue Arts district, sharing the sidewalk with other tourists and a mini-skirted model. Life was good.

I stopped in a Goodwill store and ended up in the book section. A group of people, obviously a focus group of some sort, were nearby discussing the store’s layout. A woman in the group saw me browsing and asked point-blank: “What are you looking for in books in a Goodwill?”

I was holding a collection of Ibsen’s plays. We chatted a bit, she seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. I mentioned that I was on the hunt for works by Scandinavian authors. Suddenly, the only man in the group, evidently sensing that his authority was being undermined, took charge of the conversation by sarcastically interjecting “How's that workin’ out for ya?”

I put the Ibsen down and walked out.

A used book, even if it was Ibsen, isn’t worth getting into a pissing match with some yahoo.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rendezvous with Box MC 1088...

Tumble Timbers,  New Jersey

I was doing some research on a future writing project when I found this archive. I looked through the list a couple of times before it dawned on me that it has exactly what I was looking for. Photographs of a certain artist’s studio, from the first part of the twentieth century. Not only did it have what I was looking for, but its location was a mere half-hour away! I made an appointment to examine Box MC 1088 and went in the next day.

The facility was first-rate and, after a brief orientation, I was shown to a desk where the box and its contents awaited. I lifted the lid and there they were—dozens of photo album pages in mylar sleeves. There were also two books not on the inventory. As I sorted through the loose sleeves, I quickly came to the realization that these weren’t just photo albums, they were the artist’s personal albums. I also realized that there were only two of the five that should have been in the box. Grrrr.

At any rate, something was better that nothing, and I soon became enraptured by what I saw. Although the studio I was looking for wasn't there there was a shot of an earlier one:

Tumble Timbers, New Jersey

And there was this loose picture of the artist herself with her favorite model, with her penciled note on the back:

Mamaroneck, New York

Gulp. Nothing like being face to face the object of your desire, 90 years removed. I looked through the books as well. They were samples, mock ups from the publisher, full sized but with only a few chapters printed and the rest of the pages blank. The artist had used these blank pages for notes and pencil sketches; I was stunned. I reported the missing items and was told to contact the librarian, they may have been misfiled. That is a project for another day.

Images: Robert Janssen, circa 1929

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teeny Bopper Field Trip

Minneapolis, 1976

I had been “volunteered” for my little sister's photo class field trip, hosting a mix of boys and girls from 12 to 14. We went down to an area of Minneapolis called “Old Camden” which had once been a thriving business district but had been little used for many years. Part of it was on a flood plain which had reverted to its natural state.

The kids had fun. It was an adventure and educational, although the amount of photographic instruction was minimal. It was just an excuse to get out and run around. But in away it was a trick, a trick done to enable these kids to be able to directly apprehend reality.

It was one of my best days.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Front Porch

Wright County, Minnesota, 1979

The puzzle of partners occupied our attentions in the summer of ‘79. Trips to the country were a big part—we were all trying to suss out who we would join on our journey through life. I was already out of the mix, but these folks were still trying. It would all be figured it out in a couple of years, at least for their first marriages. In love there is no shame in trying and failing.

“Till death do us part” goes the wedding vow, and that became a fact as well for some.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ecce Homo

Caitlin Karolczak

Adam, The First Man Exhibition
NHCC Joseph Gazzuolo Fine Arts Gallery
January 13-31, 2014.

Linda Dobosenski, Caitlin Karolczak, Kyrie Kotlowski, Heather Mortensen, and Jean Loy-Swanson.

Alternative perspectives to traditional forms are offered by a group of artists with diverse female views of a male world. The artists challenge the viewer to consider new perspectives of visual beauty and male role in our culture. The work is presented in a variety of media including photography, fabric, painting, drawing, and mixed media sculpture.

This exhibition follows in the footsteps of the exhibition "Masculine / Masculine, The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to Present day" at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France. A review of the exhibit states "While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment." "Adam, The First Man" is an exhibition conceived with exactly this thought in mind.
~ from the exhibit catalog

It isn’t often I get a mid-week invitation to a provocative art opening. Braving the wind and snow, I set my course for the wilds of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and was rewarded with a small, yet intense show celebrating the nude male form. The rumor was that the show was instigated by women in the school's nursing program who had enough of the female nude in the school's exhibitions; turnabout was fair play. There was a good mix of work on display, nothing that would cause a riot, although some provincials might disapprove.

The most dramatic pieces were the oil paintings by Caitlin Karolczak, I’ve written about her before. This show’s thematic unity made her work appear even more powerful. We talked about the role of the male nude in art and how things are changing and how the naked male figure is still a challenge to many viewers.

Art should be challenging.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 4 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Infernal Machine


Cabin fever is rampant in this year of the polar vortex. In order that I not completely succumb to entropy I've dusted off our venerable Nordic Track—a piece of exercise equipment that was popular in the late eighties. The idea of the machine was to simulate cross-country skiing, exercising legs and arms simultaneously, giving a whole body workout on a machine that one could fold up and store under a bed. I remember the day I got it—right from the factory. They were seconds, so they had a young woman who would test them to make sure they were functioning properly. There was a line of buyers waiting, she had her work cut out for her. And she was amazing. Zip, zip, zip, I don't know how she managed to keep it up all day, but her efforts resulted in a glorious physique.  Nordic Tracks are fairly expensive new but used ones can be found for a few dollars at the thrift store.  It was a well-engineered piece of equipment, mine still works as good as the day I got it.

I’ve had a life-long allergy to exercise, but spending a winter sitting on the couch will surely kill me. I've tried and failed at cross-country skiing, and am too lazy to snowshoe.  So I will trudge away in my basement, dreaming of summer—and of the woman who once showed me the way it's properly done.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Movies - II

CBS Films

Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013
A film by the Coen Bothers

The Coens have “done winter” before, in their icy-black comedy Fargo, but this time the laughs are few and the blackness is grayer. Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a not untalented “folk singer” who can't seem to catch a break—he’s too busy sabotaging his own career. Taking place over the span of about a week, Llewyn bounces from one couch to another while alienating people who are his supporters, losing a couple of cats, and taking some hard knocks along the way. This film is a character study, with nuanced performances all around. The cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel) is moody and evocative. The best “feel bad” movie of the year, it is another great film from greatest brother duo in the history of film direction.

Underlying the film lies a rumination on success, failure, integrity and authenticity.  Llewyn has integrity and failure, but no authenticity or success. It is a question posed to any artist who must not only sell his art, but also himself. A young Bob Dylan appears at the end of the film, marking the end of an era which is seems to be over for Llewyn. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, suggesting either that Llewyn has come to grips with his failure and is ready to move on or he has embraced a cycle of failure as the price of experiencing artistic success.

Highest recommendation.

20th Century Fox

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 2013
A film by Ben Stiller

This is the other “holiday” movie which I saw this season, it is a considerably lighter and brighter (PG rated) film that I simply had to see in the theater—the middle of the film was shot in Iceland—and man, did they ever let it shine! Walter Mitty is an archivist for Life Magazine who has difficulties in engaging with reality at times. He has an interest in co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but doesn't have the nerve to act on it. Walter ultimately finds his “mojo” through a series of real-life adventures involving a mysterious photographer and a lost negative. It has some elements of fantasy and the shifts between reality and Walter’s imaginings are handled well. It is pleasantly non-raunchy. The film has a surprisingly satisfying ending. Walter learns the value of his own regular life, finding himself in the process and is finally able to start a relationship with Cheryl.

But forget all that analysis. Iceland is the real reason to catch this film. Lots of helicopter shots of the country (Iceland is also used as a stand-in for Greenland and Afghanistan) and an extended scene between Stiller and my favorite Icelandic actor, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (pictured above). This film is a must for Icelandophiles—Iceland has never looked better on screen—and is a pleasant (if not terribly challenging) diversion for any non-jaded film buff.

One side note: Although both of these films were shot on film (and are gorgeous to look at) there have been rumors that traditional film manufacture and processing may soon cease, as early as this year! Both Stiller and the Coens have mentioned that these are probably their last movies shot on film. Secret has a sub-theme about the conflict of digital and analog photography, while Inside was post-processed to give the movie a very "60s Ektachrome" look.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 6 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter Movies - I


Summer Interlude, 1951
A film by Ingmar Bergman

Long, cold winter nights usually bring out the Melancholy Scandinavian in me. In order to appease the dark gods I watch an Ingmar Bergman film. I've seen many of them but the earlier releases are hard to come by so I was intrigued when I saw a DVD of this title in my library.

The film takes place in two time frames, set twenty years apart. Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) is a aging ballerina who knows her days as a performer are numbered. She is romantically pursued by a reporter but shuts him off when there is a chance of intimacy. She takes a ferry to a summer home in the Stockholm archipelago where she remembers a youthful affair.  The affair is ended by tragedy, and Marie ends up under the spell of her creepy "uncle" who encourages her to build an emotional wall to prevent her from being overcome with grief. Many of Bergman's standard tropes are on view here: shots with mirrors, corrupt clergy, chess matches, grotesque characters. The scenes of the young people in love are sometimes naive and quaint yet at time passionate, possessing a subtle beauty, revealed by the cinematography by Gunnar Fischer (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night). The images are worth watching for their own sake.

IFC Films

The Saddest Music in the World, 2003
A film by Guy Maddin

Set in Winnipeg in the winter of 1933 (where the snow is eight feet deep), this strange, dream-like fantasy has to be seen to be appreciated—a description can hardly do it justice. It was very loosely based on a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro. Baroness Helen Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) announces a competition to find the saddest music in the world—a publicity stunt to promote her brewery. What follows is an inspired sequence of performances, coupled with a back story involving Helen, an American producer, his alcoholic father (who had amputated Helen’s legs in error) and a pair of prosthetic glass legs filled with beer! A perfect winter film, mostly black and white, with portions shot on super-8!

Monday: Inside Llewyn Davis, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Know Your Elements #32 - Germanium

I’ve used the recent cold weather as an excuse to stay indoors, spending an afternoon sorting through a couple of hundred old transistors which I had purchased 20 years ago at a yard sale. When I was a teen I built a few “fuzz-tone” guitar effects (as heard on The Stones’ hit record Satisfaction). I thought it might be fun to see if I had the right parts to build another one. The critical part was a now obsolete germanium transistor—the first practical solid state amplifying device. I found that I had a couple of dozen suitable models, the 2N1309 pictured above were probably my best bet, being military grade (JAN= Joint Army Navy) and of newer manufacture (date code=6922, twenty-second week of 1969).  Some of these transistors have been recently offered for sale at $80 each! I'm not sitting on a gold mine, however, for the germanium crystals used in them is not stable; most of these new old stock transistors are "leaky" (or dead) and they really aren't that rare (wishful thinking on the seller's part?) They are still popular with boutique guitar effect makers for their flaws contribute to the sound. I just might breadboard a circuit to see if the ones I have are any good.

The Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev predicted Germanium’s existence in 1869, but it took nearly twenty years for it to be discovered and analyzed. Germanium continues to be used in electronics. It was declared a “strategic and critical material” by the US government in 1987. It is usually alloyed with other metallic elements to produce materials with unique properties. It is a vital element in the manufacture of fiber optic cables, solar cells and infra-red sensors. It is also essential for wireless devices. You probably have some germanium in the phone in your pocket or purse!

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Doing the Math

Helgafell, October, 2012

While some may consider it gauche to discuss money in a blog-post, when describing travel plans sooner or later a monetary reckoning must be made. The Weaver and I had discussed a trip to Iceland in the coming summer. We could afford it and our hearts both said “Go for it!” Still, before I reserved lodging and transportation (how easy it is to make that simple “click”!) I made a breakdown of estimated expenses. In my previous solo visits, I had certain economic advantages: minimal lodging, no vehicle, flexible plans and shoulder-season rates.  This trip would be full fares for two, with a car and a bigger lodging and meals allowance.

The tentative trip was to be from July 11th through July 22nd, non-stop flights, MSP to KEF and returns. I had found a magnificent summer cottage for let that was situated about 40 minutes outside of Reykjavík. We would stay there for seven nights, followed up with three nights in a studio apartment in Reykjavík. The cottage would be great as a base for touring the countryside while the apartment would allow us several days to do the town.

   Here's the breakdown:

   Airfare (including fees)................$2300 ($1400 if I used my credit card miles)
   Car Rental (including est. gas)....$1500
   Cottage rental..............................$1180
   Apartment   rental.......................$720
   Food (est.)....................................$1200
   Misc (est.).....................................$500

   Total..............................................$7400 ($6500 using cc miles)

   Ouch. The killer is the car rental. Airfare is also quite a bit higher in the peak season, but lodging is actually pretty reasonable—actually a little less than other "destinations" not nearly as exotic. Food is high, similar to Hawaii for an example, but that is to be expected, the estimate includes a couple of “nice” restaurant meals.

We could shave off $300 if we didn’t have a car in Reykjavík, If I used my credit card miles, and if we didn't stay the extra nights in Reykjavík. We could probably get the cost under $5000 (but what fun would that be?) In contrast, my solo trips (off-season, with credit card miles) have been around $2000 for a similar length trip.

One other option would be to go with another couple, it would cut lodging and car expenses almost in half—any takers?

We decided to pass on it this year but next year, barring unforeseen circumstances, looks like it will be a go.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 8 

Friday, January 03, 2014

This Bud's for You…

Workers installing sign, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2013

Something which stood out on my recent trip to Colorado was the proliferation of “Organic Medicine” stores springing up throughout the city. Now that Colorado has legalized Marijuana for recreational use I can imagine that there might be even more outlets, although it seemed as if they were on every corner already. Some even had signs, hand painted like the old grocery store banners (1/8 ounce = $28!). I suppose it is just another form of produce. Adjusted for inflation, the prices seemed about the same as they were in the seventies when I was a casual user.

I remember the last time I smoked pot ªalmost thirty years ago!), when I had discovered a forgotten old joint in a desk drawer. It didn’t do much for me then although I’m sure that its potency had faded. The stuff they are now selling in Colorado is certainly better than what we had access to in the 70s, but how much potency do you need? I never used to take more than a couple of hits, I figured if two puffscouldn’t do it, it wasn't worth the trouble. Any more and the rest of the day was shot. It isn’t that smoking dope was a bad thing, rather; it had became pointless.

Maybe I had been weaned?

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Imagine 2014

I am thankful for another year to be added to all of us, so we can keep growing and enjoy the beauty of life.

What is Beauty? It is what you love. Walk with awareness, dance with joy.

I am indeed indebted to every one of you, without you I would not be here. So, in gratitude, I would like to share an affirmation with you:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for a beautiful day.

Today is the beginning and the foundation of an exciting, interesting and magical life. We are healthy and whole. Every part of our body is rapidly rejuvenating, revitalized and cheered. May we make the new year's right judgement—the right moves at the right time and the right place for ourselves and others—and make this planet earth an oasis for the universe.

For the good of all concerned, so be it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I love you.

~Yoko Ono, at the lighting of the Imagine Peace Tower, Reykjavík, October 9, 2012

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

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