Sunday, December 1, 2013

George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

This book is a bit of a scam, actually. The 110 "Rules of Civility" that are presented were not authored by Washington, but are somewhat older, traced back to a text written by Jesuit scholars in the sixteenth century. The editors of this book suggest that Washington had to hand-copy these rules at some point in his education, and that they may have had some influence on him. I suppose in that sense we can say he "wrote" them, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. The rules are a mix of the timeless ("#40: Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savours of arrogancy.") and the archaic ("#57: In walking up and down in a house, only with one in company, if he be greater than yourself, at the first give him the right hand and stop not till he does and be not the first that turns, and when you do turn let it be with your face towards him."). But mostly it is advice that is still good advice today. Dramatically, the final rule is a real capper, "#110: Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." 

In order to better connect this book to George Washington, the editors then tack on four of his recorded speeches. This includes some farewell addresses to the army, his inauguration speech, and his, uh, exauguration speech, or "address at the end of his presidency." Generally, these were somewhat dull and predictable. But the final speech had some notes about the nature of the Constitution and the dangers of party politics that were striking. Check this out, for example:
Let me ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party ... the common and continual mischief's of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. 
If there is a better description of what is happening in congress right now, I haven't seen it.  So, hey, congress! If you won't listen to the current president, at least listen to George Washington, will ya? Set aside your party nonsense for the good of the country. After all, it's the civil thing to do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Haunted Bookshop

Argh... what a disappointment this book is. I had so loved it's predecessor, Parnassus on Wheels, and the notion that such a wonderful book would have a sequel where the same characters now operate their own bookshop, and that the sequel was much longer than the original -- well, I very much was anticipating a really wonderful experience. And... well... no. Perhaps familiarity breeds comtempt, but it is much more than that. The first book was such a wonderful fantasy... riding the rural countryside in a horse-drawn cart, selling great literature to one farmhouse at a time. The sequel is set in New York City, and while it starts with some high-minded discussion on the true value of literature and its relation to bookselling, it quickly devolves into a third-rate detective novel. Probably the best part of it are the little glimpses it gives into the daily life of 1919... yes, young men smoked pipes regularly. And yes, people would roast marshmallows over the gas jets they used to light their houses! Anyway, it was wonderful to see Roger Mifflin again... but it would have been nice to hear more from his wife, who, after all, was the protagonist of the first book. Honestly, what this needs is a third book to wrap it all up. Christopher Morley is no longer with us... but, wow, what a NaNoWriMo that would be!

An Adventure in Space and Time

I've been a Doctor Who fan for a long time. Well, a relatively long time -- I came to the show kind of late, I didn't start watching it seriously until about 1978. In the past few years, I started collecting the DVDs from the beginning, and at this point have watched all the first and second Doctor episodes, and am into the third. I was very pleased that as part of the 50th anniversary of the show this weekend, the BBC produced this wonderful little movie that tells the story of William Hartnell, Verity Lambert, et al, creating Doctor Who. One thing that is singularly remarkable about the show is how much was defined in just the first few episodes. I was especially interested in the implication that the "surly doctor" from the pilot was Verity Lambert's mistake. Novices seem to so often create unlikeable protagonists, and then reverse that decision when it isn't working. Jason VandenBerghe once told me he thought that novices do this because it seems like such a fresh idea -- only later do they realize that no one does it because it doesn't work.

The best part about this for me was how much dignity it gives to William Hartnell. Nowadays, people often look back on Hartnell with disappointment. They accuse him of being egotistic and arrogant, mock his failing faculties and mannerisms, and shake their heads about the show being dull. What a refreshing relief to see Hartnell get his due, a respectful biopic that appreciates how difficult it was to create something that has lasted for fifty years, and will surely last for generations to come.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

King, Queen, Knave

I enjoy Nabokov a great deal, I'm not sure why. It has something to do with how he narrates, the way he lets us see the world through his eyes. I like his books best when they focus not on events, but on the thought processes of his characters. And this, his second novel, gives plenty of opportunity for that, having more or less exactly three characters. Every time I read his work, it makes me think about the nature of storytelling. He performs a marvelous piece of sleight of hand in this one, gradually letting the characters shift roles and (spoilers ahead) letting the antagonist become the protagonist, and the love interest become the villain. I can't say I've every experienced anything quite like that. I wonder if Nabokov was thinking this way, likening his characters to cards in a deck, and then performing a magic trick with them? Also, quite unexpectedly, the art of creating humanoid robots becomes a key part of the story... check this out...
The secret of this motion lay in the flexibility of voskin -- the very special stuff with which the Inventor had replaced live bones and live flesh. The two pseudopodia of the original voskiddy seemed alive not because it moved them (a mechanized "strollie" or zhivulya are after all no rarity, they breed like rabbits on sidewalks around Easter or Chiristmas) but rather because the material itself, animated by a so-called galvanobiotic current, remained active all the time -- rippling, tensing, slackening as if organically alive or even conscious, a double ripple grading into a triple dapple with the smoothness of reflections in water. It walked without jerking -- this was the wonder of it. 
Anyway, at first I thought this was going to be a rather straightforward and dull love story... but it changes directions again and again, and I found myself quite haunted by it. I can't say I'm sure how I feel about it, but I know I can't stop thinking about it. The characters and scenes won't go away, and I'm sure that Dreyer with a pistol was in my dreams last night.

And of course, there's a dash of chess and butterflies.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Bucket of Blood

I *love* this movie. I've watched it several times in the past, and it was on TV the other night for Halloween season, and I gladly watched it again. And I enjoy it every time. I stare deeply into its eyes, and it stares back, unafraid, and every time, I see something deeper, something I didn't see before. It's funny, I constantly am meeting people who have read my game design book, and not one time has anyone asked about the quote in the frontispiece:
I will talk to you of art,
For there is nothing else to talk about,
For there is nothing else. 
Life is an obscure hobo,
Bumming a ride on the omnibus of art.
                                                              -Maxwell H. Brock
It's a very bold statement, perhaps the boldest statement possible. And yet, no one who has read it there has ever occasioned to ask me who Maxwell H. Brock is. And I'm sure you don't care either. But I'll tell you anyway. He's nothing more than a fictional character in a low budget horror movie. But this is no ordinary horror movie -- this is a movie that somehow, in its ridiculous simplicity, explores the hall of mirrors of what it means to be an artist. And I think, quite possibly, more than all the philosophers and art historians and media digerati combined, this movie gets it right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Social Game Design

I'll be honest -- I wasn't expecting much from this book. The authors (Tim Fields and Brandon Cotton) freely admit they wrote it in just 14 weeks. I don't envy them the task of trying to write a book about something changing as rapidly as the world of social games. The book came out a year ago, and already, by not talking about the clever structures of Puzzle & Dragons and Candy Crush Saga, the book feels terribly out of date. And by no means, overall, can I say that it is a great book. However -- it has some great parts. The chapters that summarize monetization methods and business terms for social games are completely worth the price of admission. Without a doubt, these chapters present these more clearly and succinctly than any other source I have found, and I very much plan to make them required reading in my game design class. In short -- this book is worth a hearty skim, and also worth keeping around for reference if you are working on social or F2P games.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

One-Handed Basket Weaving

I had heard of Rumi, but not really read any of his works. I found this little volume in a second hand shop, and thought I would check it out. I was absolutely stunned. How could poems written in the middle east in the dark ages simultaneously cut to the heart of Christianity and Zen Buddhism while sounding as modern as if they were written yesterday? Consider this, for example:
Singular & Plural 
As human beings have an intellect
beyond the animals, so True Human Beings
have an intelligent soul
beyond ordinary awareness,
and it is all one thing,
their knowing and doing.
David didn't build the temple.
His son Solomon did,
but David built it too!
We speak of saints and prophets
and awakened ones in the plural,
but that's not the way it is.
Dogs and wolves are competitive and disparate,
but the lions of God have one soul. 
I mean, that doesn't sound like 13th century poetry to me. Weirder still, read The City of Saba, and try to imagine that it was not written today, but written a thousand years ago. So, how can it be? Is Rumi a time traveller? And the answer is: well, it isn't 13th century poetry, not exactly. This is a translation by contemporary poet Coleman Barks. Weirdly, Barks does not read Farsi. Rather, he'd been reading the English translations of the original poems, and felt they seemed stiff, and well, not what they really wanted to be. So he undertook to translate the literal English translations into poems that felt more true. Interestingly, he's done this with the help, approval, and encouragement of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi mystic from Sri Lanka who has read and studied the originals. Somehow Coleman first met Bawa in dream, and then later in real life. Anyway, I find the poems intensely thrilling. They feel alive and wonderful and clever and true and wise, everything that I seek from poetry. Rumi wrote A LOT, and Barks has gradually been working on his own versions for decades, so there is much of it to explore, and I'm looking forward to that. And while I get a lot out of the poems, I think I might get even more out of the success Barks has had with his intense boldness, and his Emersonian resolve. It is just more evidence to me that when something feels true, though the world may tell you it is wrong, you should follow it with all your heart and soul. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

I've been a Zappa fan for about 25 years now, and though I've had this album since college, I never really listened to it. Partly the creepy cover keeps me away from it, and then the first track is just a painful cacophony. There are definitely some solid songs on here, but there is no unity to this album -- things don't feel connected in any way, and compared to other Zappa albums, it's not much fun to listen to. Better, probably, to just pull the good tracks out and stir them into your MP3 player.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Mummy Market

I last read this book maybe 35 years ago. At the time, it meant a lot to me -- I believe I must have checked it out from the Riverview School library at least three times. In any case, it made a deep impression on me. So many elements in it have haunted me my whole life -- the independent schoolchildren who manage to rid themselves of their cruel caretaker, the treehouse, the password, writing down instead of sideways, the search for their true mother, and most of all Mrs. Cavour. She is the elderly neighbor who serves as mentor to the children. In this book, I first learned about Latin, as Mrs. Cavour uses many Latin phrases in her Wisdom. Not too long ago I tracked down the magic chemistry set books, remembering that the old lady mentor in that book speaking Latin... but now I realize that the two characters became fused in my mind. Perhaps Mrs. Cavour's greatest piece of wisdom: "There is no joy in an unequal battle." What I remember most about this book is that it was the first time a book made me cry.

The most mysterious part of this book is the author. Nancy Brelis appears to have written no other books. The writing in the Mummy Market is beautiful and inspired. The inside of the book is like a holy place. It was published in 1966, and does not seem to have been reprinted. It was quite difficult (and expensive) to get my hands on a copy. How is it that the world did not embrace this magical book? Apparently, a movie of the Mummy Market was made, "Trading Mom", 1994, in which Brelis gets a writing credit. But who was she? Internet poking reveals her husband was a journalist named Dean Brelis, and they had a daughter named Tia Brelis who was the director of Trading Mom, but she appears to have directed no other films. and I can find no other information about any of these people. It's very strange. Perhaps, as Mrs. Cavour explains, it is an example of a contemporary enchantment. Perhaps we all knew who Nancy Brelis was, but have forgotten, somehow. 
"Naturally you don't remember her. Memory would break the spell. That is the way of enchantment," said Mrs. Cavour. "When you do break it and get her back, you will remember quite clearly. She isn't lost, you know. Only mislaid." 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Under the Big Top

As a former professional juggler, stories about the circus are always interesting to me. I never toured with a big tent circus, only with little performing troupes. Some of my friends used to tour with big circuses, and they would all say the same thing, "God, the politics!" And this book, by writer Bruce Feiler, completely backs that up. He took a job as a clown with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. circus for a season, and carefully interviewed every act. The book gives a magnificent picture of the realities of the circus, the incredibly hard work and challenging conditions, and the politics natural in what is effectively a small travelling village. One thing that I had never realized -- the backstage arrangement of personal trailers is generally set up the same in each venue, so that it really is like a little neighborhood that is always laid out the same way, even though the neighborhood is in a different city each week. At times, the book gets a little full of itself, and I got the sense that the author, realizing that his book had the structure of Moby Dick, hoped to make it equally weighty. I can't say it is that weighty, but I will admit that I teared up at the end, and that I was quite pleased to learn so much about touring with a large American circus without having to do all the work!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Zero Hour!

This is a pretty straightforward 1957 suspense film, with a somewhat ridiculous plot. See, this former WWII pilot named Ted Striker ends up on a commercial airline flight during a storm, and due to an unexpected mass poisoning on board to everyone who chose the fish for dinner, both pilots are unconscious and he has to OH MY GOD THIS IS EXACTLY THE PLOT OF AIRPLANE!

First, I want you to check out how EXACTLY this is the same movie as Airplane!

I must have seen Airplane! maybe ten times, and I had no inkling that it was so directly satirizing this obscure movie. When Airplane! came out, it was a revelation. The world had never before seen a film that had so many gags per minute. Mel Brooks has talked about how it changed everything for comedy movies -- post-Airplane!, the pressure to cram in more comedy per second became intense, and if you didn't, your movie looked old-fashioned and out-of-date. When Airplane! came out, it was truly a wonder -- how could they have such structure, and be so zany? It was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Now the secret is obvious -- they were able to have both insanity and structure by completely borrowing the structure from Zero Hour! I don't think this diminishes the film in any way, but it gives some hint to what makes for good comedy.

Interestingly, I made a similar discover about another, similar film: Mel Brooks' 1974 film, Young Frankenstein. Again, I had assumed that this comic masterpiece was a completely original take on the 1931 Frankenstein. I was shocked to sit down and watch the 1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and realize that Young Frankenstein is very much a satire of that much lesser known film, in which a man afflicted with lycanthropy seeks out Doctor Frankenstein's castle, with a hope of curing himself. Sure, there's no Wolf Man stuff in Young Frankenstein, but the rest is all there. Some of the dialog, much like Zero Hour! / Airplane! is also a direct lift into Young Frankenstein. Also notice this... Airplane! came out 23 years after Zero Hour!, and Young Frankenstein came out 28 years after Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Maybe that's just coincidence, but it would seem that there is a certain amount of comedy magic in making a strong parody of something that is 25 years behind you. That seems to be the same formula that both Happy Days and That 70's Show used.

I know -- this makes me seem nuts, and I probably think about this stuff too much. But I like to think this happened: In 1966, Woody Allen made What's Up, Tiger Lily, where he overdubbed a Japanese film. Mel Brooks saw it, and said, "That's kind of funny, but it could be much stronger", and reached back to the 40's to grab Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and used it to create Young Frankenstein. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker surely loved that film, and thought back to their childhood about the ridiculous Zero Hour!, and used that to make Airplane!

Creative process is a secret thing -- but every time I tease out someone else's, it gives me more confidence about my own.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jugglers Galore

This is a book to get lost in. I found it at the recent IJA festival, where the author, Paul Bachman, was curating an incredible collection of historical juggling props, photos, and paraphernalia. Paul self-published it via, and the result is a handsome hardbound volume with a charming homemade feel. The paper is soft, almost a kind of pulp paper, but it shows the pictures nicely, and doesn't have that slick, chemical feel that so many art books have. Instead it is light and pleasure to hold and flip through. Personally, it has reinvigorated my interest in plate spinning and balancing -- a branch of juggling that has fallen somewhat out of the limelight. I feel certain it is the kind of book that one day a child will discover on a grandparent's bookshelf, and be lost looking through the hundreds of amazing pictures, emerging hours later, changed forever, the dream of juggling permanently imprinted on their soul.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Flat as a Pancake

I mainly bought this album for the cover. I mean, the front of the jacket is cool, but the back of the jacket is awesome. I wasn't too into the music, though. There wasn't too much that was special or unique about it -- just kind of 70's straight ahead Mellotron rock. The best song was probably "Brother Jacob."

But it did make me want to eat pancakes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

I was excited when I first found this Rick Wakeman album, and realized that the title wasn't arbitrary -- it actually contained six tracks, each one dedicated to one of Henry's wives! But, upon playing it, I learned it was all instrumental prog rock with no lyrics, and the connections to the wives, well, it wasn't obvious to me. So, if you like the sound of a Mellotron, well, maybe this is for you.

Monday, July 22, 2013


This album is amazing. It sounds just like the cover. And it has a song on it called "Stargate." I think I'm going to listen to Stargate by Starcastle while I play Stargate and Star Castle at Babycastles.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Berberian Sound Studio

I'll be honest. This very arty film bored me. I felt like it was trying too hard, and repeating its message too much, and I kind of felt like I was looking at a situation where filmmakers are so in love with filmmaking that when they make a film about filmmaking they feel like it is okay to forget to edit the boring scenes, and the critics (mostly film school grads) feel like they have to say the film is so clever, etc., etc. And I was prepared to leave it at that. I mean, it was kind of fun, and kind of clever, but, jeez, it just went on for so long. (Not really long, only about 90 minutes -- but I came out convinced I'd just watched a 150 minute movie).

However -- I went with someone who felt differently. My filmgoing partner came out nodding, saying, "Yes... I know exactly how that feels." I asked questions, and he explained to me that the notion of being trapped in a situation where you are not brave enough to escape, even though you know you could, and you see it, each day, corrupting you more and more, was something he could completely relate to. I didn't grasp this at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated the film. And I must admit, though I was bored in the theater at times, I find the images, moments, tension, and the gradual slipping away of reality staying with me.

The Way Way Back

This was kind of a hard movie for me to watch -- a bit too much of it happened to me, one way or another. The whole thing was well crafted, and well acted, with no wasted moments. The most fascinating thing about it for me was the way they used 70's and 80's cultural elements (the station wagon, the girl's bike, Pac-Man, Candyland, REO Speedwagon, a plot that matches Meatballs pretty closely), but put them in a modern context. It was a way for the filmmaker to say "This is a film about my childhood", but set it in the present day. I can't say I've ever seen anyone do that before. Having been on that vacation, and in that station wagon, and having had my self-esteem saved by a theme park, this film meant a lot to me. I rarely listen to director commentary, but I can't wait for this to come out on DVD, because I'd love to hear details about how they decided to put this together.

And, unbelievably, Water Wizz is a real water park.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Parnassus on Wheels

I have fallen in love with this series of novellas from Melville House. My favorite so far is definitely Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley, a tale of a travelling bookshop. I'm not the kind of person who often re-reads books, but I found myself re-reading chapters of this one, just after I'd read them. Almost anything I say about the book is a spoiler, so I won't say much! I've never read anything that quite so captured the magic and love of sharing good books as this does, and the notion of adventuring on the open road in a horse drawn cart is equally exciting. Really, just about everything I like is in here -- there is even a mention of my secret hero, the Sage of East Aurora, Elbert Hubbard! And how thrilled I was to learn that there is a much longer sequel, The Haunted Bookshop, which I am very much looking forward to. I'll leave you with Roger Mifflin's business card:

Roger Mifflin's Travelling Parnassus 
Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old;
Books, the truest friends of man,
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books to satisfy all uses,
Golden lyrics of the Muses,
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming,
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us? 
By R. Mifflin, Prop'r
Star Job Print, Celeryville, Va.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

I've never really been into fighting games. I mean, it's fun to button mash, but actually trying to get good at them feels like boring work to me. My daughter was all into this one, though. I'd played the original, a million years ago, and I was kind of shocked at how intricate the rules are for controlling your character, and even for winning the game. But, the normal arena mode isn't what I want to talk about -- I want to talk about a transcendent experience I had playing the single player campaign.

I mentioned that my daughter was all into this game, and part of that involves a single player platforming adventure. I walked by and heard her cursing the game, and entering some kind of game induced delirium. I asked her how it was going, and she said, "I... I don't know. I've logged 12 hours playing this thing, and... I can't actually tell what's going on." This made me curious, and as she tried to show me the peculiar nature of "The Great Maze" section of the single player mode, I became fascinated. She brought up the map, which was a set of boxes, lines, flashing diamonds, and weird faces. I asked what it meant, and she had no idea. I said, "Well, what are the diamonds?" She stammered, "I... monsters? Treasures? I really don't know... there are green ones and pink ones and blue ones, and they do different things... and I..." Now I was really intrigued. We started to poke at it some more, and I realized that the normal rules of videogames did not apply here. Old school gamer that I am, I gleefully ran for pencil and paper, to try to make sense of this bizarre world. I had to explain to my daughter that in the old days, most games required you to make maps with paper. I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me. "Okay," I said, "bring up that game map again, so I can try to make sense of this." "I can't," she said. "You can only bring up the map in certain places." WHAT? Uh... okay... "But that's okay, I need to get back there, so I can get healed." "Oh, so the healing point is near where you can bring up the map?" "No," she explained, "the map heals you." Now I was in full-blown WTF mode. I can't remember feeling this way after 1989. It was very exciting! Gradually, I made a paper map, and through experimenting, we figured out what the faces where, and the diamonds, and how you can teleport, and where the monsters were hiding, etc., etc.... and it was the most videogame fun I'd had in years. I didn't realize how much I missed not actually understanding what was going on in a game, what was actually possible! It's got me wondering about a Lens of Mystery. But you know, there is something else. Part of what makes this thing work is the absence of anything like a sensible story. Why are 30+ Nintendo characters teaming up to fight some mysterious teleporting bald dude in a world that makes no sense? The game has no answer, and it left us to have to just decide for ourselves. And bit by bit, a little fantasy of us as adventurers with the ability to take on the roles of these characters, but trapped in a weird maze started to form... as we talked to each other, I found myself forgetting about us in the living room, and thinking of us more like movie characters, trapped in this strange world trying to decode its weird rules as we uncovered monsters and obstacles that got stranger and stranger. It worked so well because the characters had so very many options, and could do so very many things. Once we understood it, and beat it, I was pretty sad that it was over. I'll be thinking about how I can capture these feelings for my own games for a long time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

I bought this book by Gordon Livingston on a whim. I'm always on the lookout for wisdom, and I thought there might be some in here. The book has the kindness to be well-organized (30 simple principles) and brief. Clearly, Doctor Livingston has seen some things in his life -- he's an MD and a psychiatrist, and he's lost two children -- one to illness, one to suicide, which is unthinkable for anyone, much less someone trained to save lives. In short, if anyone has had reason to come up with coping wisdom, it's this guy. The wisdom tends to be oriented toward older folks "The problems of the elderly are frequently serious but seldom interesting," but there is good advice for everyone here, I think. Some is richer, some is more diluted, but at no point did I regret reading it.

The deepest insight I personally took away was from #28: "Of all the forms of courage, the ability to laugh is the most profoundly therapeutic." I didn't expect much from this chapter -- I think we all understand that laughter is therapeutic. But that wasn't the focus -- the focus was on how all laughter is a form of courage. I'll be thinking about his wise words for a long time... I may get a tattoo:
Above all, to tolerate the uncertainty we must feel in the face of the large questions of existence requires that we cultivate an ability to experience moments of pleasure. In this sense all humor is "gallows humor," laughter in the face of death...We usually smile when we meet people for the first time. When we do so we are conveying more than friendliness. Smiling is an indication of "good humor," and represents an acknowledgment of the joke embedded in our common humanity: Things may be grave but they need not be serious. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Park Güell

When I agreed to go to Barcelona, I expected a beautiful European city, full of romantic sights and sounds, but I had no idea what I was in for, not really. I mean, it is a beautiful city that has tremendous respect for its past, and great swaths of it are similar to the way they were 500 years ago, surely. And it is a city that loves art. But what I could not have understood is the city's relationship with Gaudi. Never have I encountered a city where one man made such an impression. At first I thought, "Okay, he's kind of like Frank Lloyd Wright, an interesting artist/architect, and the spectacle of his bizarre eye-catching designs is a point of pride for locals, and a photo opportunity for tourists." And, that is true, I suppose, but it is only the surface of something much, much deeper. And I didn't understand it until I took a trip to Park Güell. It made me think of a comment Emerson made in his essay on Love:
The statue is then beautiful, when it begins to be incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism, and can no longer be defined by compass and measuring wand, but demands an active imagination to go with it, and to say what it is in the act of doing. The god or hero of the sculptor is always represented in a transition from that which is representable to the senses, to that which is not.
The park is on a high hill that overlooks the entire city, and is so unexpectedly large and varied that I was taken aback. The park is far too large to look at... instead, you become immersed in it, and with all the spectacular views, you find yourself looking through it instead. And shockingly, it is not out of place with the city around it. I could not escape the distinct feeling that, exploring the park, I was no longer in my own mind, but in the mind of Gaudi. And looking out at the city, I found the fanciful colors and swooping shapes were not just in Gaudi's work, but were everywhere in Barcelona. Gaudi simply set them free. Even after I left, I found myself seeing the city differently -- as if the colors and shapes were ready to erupt from every apartment building, from every bank and grocery store. I found myself seeing through Gaudi's lens, as it were. And if this were just about one man, that would be one thing -- but I think it is not. I feel like Gaudi found something special that lives in the heart of everyone in Barcelona, maybe everyone in Spain. He found it, turned it up to 11, and set it free, and a nation said, "Yes... yes, that is truly how we are inside." How else can one explain Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that Gaudi started designing in 1883, and, through the love of the people of Barcelona, is expected to be complete by 2026.

For me, it serves as a testament of what one individual can do when he can see into the hearts of his neighbors, and bring their proudest, truest selves into the light.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Whole Town's Talking

Wow! This movie is an undiscovered gem! Edward G. Robinson in 1935 -- people normally think of him as a kind of cartoon gangster, but this movie helps show his range, because he plays two roles -- a cartoon gangster, and a mild-mannered clerk who happens to look exactly like him. A comedy of errors ensues, with a lot of snarky Jean Arthur in the mix for nerd fantasy purposes. The movie is fun and funny with great directing and acting, and a lot of sharp turns and surprises, not to mention some very well crafted split screen shots with Robinson talking to himself -- quite remarkable for so early in film history.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics

When I was about nine years old, my father received this book as a Christmas gift. I was a big reader of newspaper comics, and spent endless hours poring over the collections of Peanuts comics, Feiffer, and Pogo my parents were thoughtful enough to put on a low shelf in our home library. So, when this massive hardcover book showed up, so big I could only read it by splaying it out on the living room floor, I was fascinated. I initially made a bold attempt to read it front to back, but the older comics (Yellow Kid, Buster Brown, etc.) were so baffling, I couldn't persevere. But this book gave me an exposure to things like Gasoline Alley, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Krazy Kat, Seegar's Popeye, the Mickey Mouse comics, the Katzenjammer Kids, the early days of Blondie, when all the gags were what an airhead she was, and much more. Today I'm a board member of the Pittsburgh Toonseum -- it's safe to say that never would have happened had I not found this book in 1979.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Robot and Frank

I haven't posted on this blog for ages, though I have finished a lot of things. I think it is partly because I feel pressure to say thoughtful things, and my head isn't always in a place where I'm ready to say anything thoughtful. So, I'll do some experimenting with more stream of consciousness writing, because the goal of this blog is more to be a record, and less to strive mightily for deep insights.

I enjoyed this movie, but not as much as I wanted to. It has, by far, what I think is the most realistic depiction I have ever seen of our likely interactions with AI in the year 2035. It was clever, and amusing, but at the same time the characters were mostly kind of flat and cardboard -- mostly like caricatures. Perhaps this was the intention? But as I stared down the movie, I wasn't at all sure how to fix this problem without turning the movie into something it didn't want to be.

I was most impressed with the actor who was inside the robot. That had to be a very uncomfortable job, requiring a lot of discipline. I started my Computer Science career very focused on AI. I must say this movie got me thinking about picking it up again.