The best music video ever made: Viewing Grand Rapids

Roger Ebert ranked this of “Views of Grand Rapids” the best music video ever made. After Newsweek pronounced the city one of the top ten dying the cities in the nation, residents sang and danced back.

This world-record setting 9+ minute lip dub features every willing resident of Grand Rapids and they sing, dance, and move in formation to Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. In the background is Grand Rapids—probably all of it— including parks, office buildings, rivers, fire trucks, gymnasts and cheerleaders, guitar players of all ages and sizes, kyakers, a pick up football game in the street, marching band, swing dancers, car dealers, bands, and a mass pillow fight. Eminently viewable, multiple times. Watching it more than five times in a row is probably excessive — but who cares?

What’s the point?

I’m going to have to be the pismire here and say that while it’s entertaining, I’m not sure it’s great marketing – I got to the end and wasn’t sure what the point was.  — Comment on YouTube

The best kind of marketing there is. Marketing is about creating desire for your product. It’s entertaining and amazing. It makes you feel good. You want to see it over and over to hear that song and see all those people singing it. And figure out how they did it.

And in the background is Grand Rapids. Who knew what Grand Rapids looked like? Now “everyone” does. They will never hear “Grand Rapids”  or hear “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” again without seeing images of happy, healthy people having fun under blue skies in pristine cityscapes. If all these people could pull this off, Grand Rapids has to be a great place to live.

People will be going to Grand Rapids to visit the site — it will become a destination. If they have a job offer in Grand Rapids they will be more likely to go. Better than a home office in a less hip place. Any organization or business in Grand Rapids can have a great website by linking to the YouTube video. Current residents will be reenergized and proud — if they aren’t in the video, they will know someone who was. Everyone in Grand Rapids is now famous.

How the video was made:

Pattern in Islamic Art

Grand Mosqée de Paris, 1926
Grand Mosqée de Paris, 1926

Pattern in Islamic Art is an online archive of over 5,000 beautiful Islamic patterns. Images sortable by museum, monument, region, town, materials used (ceramic tiles, plasterwork, wood, etc.), or by architectural feature (decorative panel, doors & doorways, lattice-work, etc.) Excellent images and documentation.

Images are also available in prints.

The image above is from Pattern in Islamic Art:

Grand Mosquée de Paris
This mosque was founded in 1926 and built in recognition of the 100,000 Muslim soldiers from French colonies who gave their lives during World War I. Designed in a Neo-Mudejar style, with contributions from both Morocco and Algeria.

Piping Frosting Lace and Other Patterns

Practice piping on the rim of a glass.
Practice piping on the rim of a glass to simulate the side of a glass. Photo from Craftsy.

Piping frosting in lace patterns is one of the ways to create an elegant cake. It also takes much more practice than cutting out fondant flowers.

From and Craftsy: Everything You Need to Know About Piping Techniques

Since piping is most often done on vertical surfaces, practicing on a glass or jar gives the best learning experience. I’m not about to try this but it’s nice to know how if I ever have a few days to practice.

Learn WordPress

Chalkboard with a Lesson

Learning WordPress has just become easier. WordPress has launched a new site, Learn WordPress, directed at users, those whose site is hosted by WordPress. sites are free and have limited but often adequate features. You then pay WordPress people to fix and refine your site if it needs it, or to add more features.

I host sites on my server independently of the site, using the same software but with higher capability and more options. But understanding those options can be confusing. That is exactly why Learn WordPress is helpful. It explains the basics without confusing you with all the possibilities and pitfalls and things you may never want or need to know.

Learn WordPress Concepts

The first key to learning anything is understanding the concept, the idea. What does this do? What is it? And how does it work?  The Learn WordPress website gives you the essentials in Plain English — a rare commodity as soon  as anyone says, “software.”

In addition to help when you are starting from basics, some pages will always be useful. The Glossary explains blogs, carousels, categories, pages and posts, responsive themes, etc.  Get Flashy explains widgets, the little boxes that can be added to sidebar to add images, slide shows, search boxes, subscription forms, etc.

The Get Configured page lists resources to find images. Images are very important on websites and the perfect images takes time to find. It can be useful to find the images you want to use without paying  by the hour for a designer to look for them.

Testing WordPress

It might also be helpful to set up a site for yourself as a test, even if you are going to hire me to design and host your site. It’s a good way to learn so you can update your contact information and text  information quickly and less expensively after I set up the site.  Then I can manage the software upgrades, add capabilities, do monthly maintenance, and trouble shoot.

Logo from WP Beginner

If you intend to take over your site completely this is a good site for leaning how to manage it: WPBeginner: A Beginner’s Guide for WordPress.


Perfect Profile Pictures

Not Just for Dating Anymore

Cartoon-Style Drawing of an AngelWith the growth of social media for networking, the profile picture has become a major decision for anyone who participates. Which picture will people click on in LInkedIn? Who will follow me in Twitter? Am I turning people off with my stern look on Facebook? Is my smiley smile too smiley? What do I do with my eyes? What should I wear.

On OKCupid, “the Google of Online Dating,” the profile picture had 90% greater influence than the profile text. Even if you aren’t looking for a date, they are still very important. I’ve never, for example, followed person without a profile picture unless I already knew them (and wanted to connect).

There is a solution on BufferSocial, Thoughts on sharing, creating, analyzing and converting with social media. Kevan Lee reports on the research into the science and psychology of profile pictures in “The Research & Science Behind Finding Your Best Profile Picture.” People actually study this!

The Highlights

Definitely read this article if you want to understand why but these are the top recommendations:

  1. Smile with teeth
  2. Dark-colored suits, light colored buttondowns
  3. Jawline with a shadow
  4. Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo
  5. Squinch
  6. Asymmetrical composition
  7. Unobstructed eyes

And things to avoid:

  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair, glare, and shadows over the eyes
  • Laughing smile
  • Sexiness

So now you know. If you doubt these recommendations, Lee explains how the research was done including all the statistics, graphs, and test pictures. Interesting results: Women get more attention making eye contact with the camera; men receive more avoiding eye contact. Women can be more flirty and men definitely not.  Men don’t even do well smiling!

Guy Kawasaki’s four keys:

  1. Faces only. No family, friends, dogs, logos, etc.
  2. Asymmetrical. Use the Rule of Thirds to create your profile picture
  3. Face the light. The source of light should come in front of you.
  4. At least 600 pixels wide. There are varying shapes and sizes of profile pictures on social media. A 600-pixel image will look great no matter where it’s viewed.

The Rule of Thirds

Draw a Tic Tac Toe grid on the picture. Put key elements on the intersections and avoid putting a key element, like your eyes, in the center square. More info at 3.7 Designs.

The OKCupid page with profile pictures of the staff is an excellent example of profile pictures that meet these recommendations — although not all of them. Those that don’t stand out.

There is more but I found this enough to build high anxiety over why people aren’t clicking on my posts.

Majestic: Analyzing Links

Majestic describes themselves as “The planet’s largest Link Index database.” What they know is a lot more than I know, for sure. What they can tell you for only one of their services is how many links there are to your site and how many of them are “good links.” Good links come from sites with real content. Bad link come from link mills that only link to a lot of sites to drive traffic to their own site — where they sell various, probably worthless services or stuff.

Improve Your SEO

The reason you want good links is because they help you in search engines — Bing, Google, Yahoo, etc. There are many general search engines and some specialized ones.

Majestic also provides pie charts and data on the kind of links — text, images, etc. — and which pages are linked most often. This can be important information. Some of the pages that are linked most often are ones I had forgotten I had posted. I had to go look them up to see what was most important to my readers!

Search Engine Optimization, SEO Tools

What is SEO, Search Engine Optimization?

“Search engine optimization” is a fancy way to describe methods that help search engines find your site. This site,, is the place where I put things I don’t want to forget—and probably will unless I write them down. I’m not concerned about the world’s ability to find this site, but more concerned about my ability to find the stuff I store on it. And for whatever reason, your ability to find it.

Thus the assortment here appears to a search engine to have a lack of focus. That means it is highly unlikely to find its way to the top of any search except my name. Thus this site is probably the worst example of best practices SEO you could find.

I do care about SEO on my other sites, however, and on the sites I design. I try to keep up with best practices. Solid SEO with no tricks. Tricks like keyword stuffing will get you Banned in Boston. Deep-sixed in search engine land. Think page three where no one goes.

SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans

All that to say I found an excellent article today on SEO on the TNW site,  “SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans.” It is a short (by website design standards) explanation of SEO. It’s written by Barry Feldman (on Twitter) of FeldmanCreative, a content marketing consultant, copywriter, social media advisor.

It includes very clear explanations and good illustrative examples. Check out the article for understanding SEO. What I wanted to remember here are the tools Feldman lists for checking the SEO of my sites and yours.

Three Must-Have SEO Tools

To practice, study, and check search engine optimization, Feldman recommends three free must-have SEO tools for beginners and experts alike:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner—Supplies keyword search data and ideas.
  • Open Site Explorer by Moz—Tracks your website’s link profile against competitors, identifies top pages, shows social activity data, and more.
  • MozBar—On Chrome and Firefox browsers, helps determine how difficult it is to rank for specific keywords. (I haven’t used this so I can’t explain how you use it. But it sounds like a good thing.)

So that’s the daily don’t-forget-this update. Not quite as exciting as popcorn but you can’t have everything.

Perfect Popcorn

Gene and LynnFor too long had I been popping the perfect popcorn in a hot air popper. Fluffy clouds. No fat! No cholesterol! No taste.

Until I re-discovered the real stuff.

After years and years of this, a friend brought real popcorn to a movie screening: Popped in a pan over a fire with oil. And buttered. Now the hot air popper is reserved for Christmas when we make strings of popcorn and cranberries for the birds.

Tiny But Mighty Popcorn

A few days ago I started hearing about perfect popcorn popping. After reading many news articles and websites, I found this memorable gem: Farmer Gene’s Tiny But Mighty Popcorn. You will want to read the whole page including “way-too-much-detail” section, but here are the basic do’s, the one’s my grandmother fed me:

Recommended oils: sunflower, safflower, coconut, canola, grape seed and vegetable
Note: “expeller pressed” oils are the healthiest and best quality.

  • Heavy pot with lid + 2 to 3 tbsp oil + 3 test kernels + Med/High heat
  • When you hear a test kernel pop, remove the pot from heat
  • Add 2/3 cup kernels, shake to distribute evenly in the pot, and return to heat
  • Leave untouched until popping vigorously (approx 2-3 min), then shake pot occasionally (every minute or so)
  • When there are 2-3 seconds between pops, remove from heat and immediately pour into a bowl. Season with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

And Tiny But Mighty even has a good story:

While no one in his family knows exactly where the seed came from, they believe it came from Indian neighbors. When Richard Kelty returned home from the army in the mid-1970s, he found the last remaining seeds in a fruit jar. He popped some and planted the rest—and a new business was born.

What makes Tiny But Mighty popcorn unique, besides its tiny kernels and disintegrating hulls, is that it is open pollinated. A 128-day corn, TBM is also difficult to raise, process, and keep its integrity. Gene consulted with a popcorn breeder from Idaho, who said TBM was a rare variety. Because it is hard to breed, most people in the popcorn industry wanted nothing to do with it.

The current growers are Gene and Lynn Mealhow and the sons. Gene is a farmer and soil consultant to farmers interested in sustainable practices.

Brand Colors Screen ShootA lovely online source of brand colors complete with color numbers—no guessing. Includes colors from Adobe, Airbnb, Amazon, AOL, Basecamp, Behance, Better Business Bureau (they have colors?), Bing, bitly, Boeing, Digg, Dribbble, Drupal, Ebay,  Firefox (a big palette), Freshbooks (very fresh), Google, HootSuite, Kickstarter, Klout, Microsoft, and many more. Memorable address

Has a search function to find one quickly.

Click on the colors to see the color number.

You can download the whole set in several file formats including swatches to import into Photoshop, and I suspect other programs as well but I probably haven’t ever heard of them.

My favorite for color storage is still Color Schemer. It amazing. I couldn’t do without it.

New York Times Chronicle

Counting Names and Phrases in the Times

Chronicle LogoLogo for New York Times R & DThe New York Times Chronicle is a new resource for “visualizing language usage in New York Times news coverage throughout its history,” which began in 1851. Enter a word or phrase and it will appear as a colored line on a graph showing the percentage of articles it appeared in from 1851 to the present. You can search several words or phrases sequentially and each one will appear in a different color so you can compare them.

Or you can ask for the number of articles. “Obama” first appeared in 2004 in .1% of the articles. In 2009, it peaked at 6.63%. In 2012 he appeared in the highest number of articles: 19,675. The peak percentage in 2009 and the peak number in 2012 probably indicates that they published more articles in 2009. Numbers are not always as clear as we are led to believe they are.

What Are They Measuring?

Jackson Pollack appeared in 1 article in 1944, 2 in 1957, 6 in 1964, and peaked at 8 in 1980. He died in August 1956 and did not appear at all. I think there is a problem with this data. His market soared in 1961 but there were only 3 articles. He continued to be mentioned 1-5 times until 1985 when he dropped off the graph again. He appears a few times more but not as often as I would have expected. Low percentages, yes. Low numbers, no.

Not sure what they are measuring. If someone quotes this data, are they quoting the actual number of appearances or the number that the NYT Labs counted? Either way, it is still interesting and I’m sure it will be quoted often.

Export the Data

You can also export the data.

[Need a new example]

And Produces a List of the Articles

To see the actual numbers and dates, you put the cursor over the line on the graph. If you click on the line, you are taken to a list of the articles with an excerpt. That is really fine.

A very nice resource. One to remember.



ComicBook+ is an archive of public domain Golden and Silver Age Comics — books and newspapers. 24,184 books as of today. Categorized by type and date. It also has a forum for comics lovers and collectors.

Invisible Scarlet O'Neil from a 1940 comic Strip
Invisible Scarlet O’Neil from a 1940’s comic Strip

All can be downloaded without cost (donations welcome). And you can subscribe of $7.00 a year. Uses PayPal, which is very convenient. No entering credit card or passing a vision test to read a scrunched up series of random letters.

Invisible Scarlet O’Neil was written and drawn by Russell Stamm, who had previously worked on Dick Tracy. She first appeared in the pages of the Chicago Times, June 3, 1940. Scarlet O’Neil has the claim to fame of being one of the very first super heroines. As her name suggests Scarlet has the power of invisibility. This power was created when Scarlet put her finger in an experimental ray created by her scientist father. She suddenly disappeared, but luckily figured out that touching a nerve in her wrist acted as a switch, so she could turn her invisibility off and on at will.Over time Scarlet O’Neil’s special talent was slowly dropped from the strip until in 1950 it was renamed to just ‘Scarlet O’Neil’. A year later a new character named Stainless Steel was introduced. In 1955 the strip was retitled Stainless Steel, promptly folding the next year. As for Scarlet O’Neil she has yet to switch her off her invisibility and no one knows where she is.

It was hard to find an image of a woman without her skirt half way up to her waist or an obvious  accessory for a male character. Such were the comics. And they still are. But now they are heroines.

Free Icons


A collection of free icons created by “Aegean K” from SketchActive.

360 outline and 360 matching solid vector and bitmap formats. Transparent individual files in 60px & 120px for Coding. JPG files for overview and detail revealing. Sketch files for Editing, fully scalable and adjustable. You can use these icons in tab bar, navigation bar and table row for both iOS and Android apps. Also in web design, branding, stickers, presentations and prints. Anywhere you want.

Very fine icons. Highly recommended.

The Art of Hand Lettering

Handlettered word "Bravo" by Neil Secretario
By Neil Secretario

The Art of Hand Lettering is a fabulous archive of hand lettering for logos, signs, murals, stationery, etc. A new site so the examples are only from 2013-2014. A wide range of styles in black and white and full color, all beautiful and mesmerizing. This “Bravo” example is by Neil Secretario and was done  using a Pentel Pigment Ink Brush Pen, which I am ready to run out and buy.

Neil is a freelance designer and letterer in California who specializes in custom lettering, graphic design, and branding. HIs site is a bit of a tease since he includes only sections of nine examples of his work. They are still worth a look.

The newsletter is sometimes a single image but often shows a series of photographs of a work in progress. One series of nine photos from August 2013 shows Bryan Patrick Todd in a cherry picker preparing and painting a very big mural on a very big wall in Louisville, “Our City, Our Home”. A more extensive series of photos is on Bryan’s website.

The branding exercise by Tobias Hall is a mind-boggling example of precision and complexity. There are similar examples on his website.

Tobias Hall Handlettered Branding TobiasHall-2 TobiasHall-3 TobiasHall-4 TobiasHall-5 TobiasHall-6 TobiasHall-7



Internet Service in Cohousing

A major conundrum for cohousing and one that warrants a chapter in the next book on building a cohousing community is internet service. To provide it collectively or each to their own? If collectively how to charge, or whether to include in condo fees? Which technology? Who maintains it?

When Takoma Village began planning in 1998-1999, we had several internet-knowledgeable people who insisted that we install wiring for internet connections. Every unit has at least 4 jacks with telephone, cable TV, and ethernet connections. The 3 and 4 bedrooms have more. Basically one in every room, even the kitchen. (We have connected units, not houses on lots.)

Internet service is included in our condo fee so it is paid at the same rate as condo fees, with larger units paying more. When people started using wireless, we installed community wireless connections for everyone to use. And we use each others. All the passwords are the same.

We have an intranet so people can share music and files, and the teenagers play games with each other. Several units collectively bought an expensive back-up drive to share and use our Intranet to backup.

The Set Up

There are routers in the north and south basements and in the common house basement that connect all the wires from  units to modems. For years we only had one modem. Then we upgraded to one modem with business class service. Now we have two business class service modems from two different companies so we rarely have a total outage when one service is down. Service is just a little slower; Netflix spins a bit.

One modem used to serve the North side and one the South side but one side has more gamers than the other. Unfair advantage to be limited to the same modem. Now the traffic rolls over.

Each ethernet jack in each unit is connected to the internet with its own IP address. This has caused a problem with Bluehost, our ISP, because they don’t like our account coming from different IPs all the time. So we have some special connection with them. When I worked on our website, that was a problem because my personal ISP is also Bluehost. Working on websites is upload intensive and with everyone’s email plus connections to our websites caused traffic jams. Now all the connections to Bluehost go through a single IP address.

What Doesn’t Work?

The problems are around the routers. One or the other of them blows a port with some regularity. It’s a long process to test the system and isolate the bad ports. We have internal people—one active expert and one that can be called in, and 2-3 who have training. The trained can get on the phone with an expert and understand how to follow his instructions. Without internal people trained to manage the network, we couldn’t do this.

One person who works professionally installing networks recommends purchasing new routers every year. Install the basic reliable inexpensive router and when you replace the next year the most reliable extra features will be built in and you will always have up-to-date trustworthy technology. No downtimes. Others think this is wasteful so we have downtimes until someone gets a new router, though I think now we always have a backup handy

What Else Could We Do?

Many would like to hire someone who would always be available. Our current expert often goes to very remote places to hike. But it would be expensive and no one is always available anyway. We used to have three experts but two moved. We can still call them but the system changes so their knowledge is not always current.

Some would like an external business class service that is guaranteed to be up 99% of the time. It feels uncomfortable to ask neighbors to go out in the evening or early morning or three days in a row to fix routers but so many people work from home now they are dependent on the Internet. I’m online literally 12-14 hours a day and others are too. (We can almost instantly contact each other—a subculture.)

We bought software so the techies can change settings and check the system from home on their computers, but when it is a hardware problem they still have to go to the basement. Often for several hours. And then they have to go to work, fixed or not.

Education and Warnings

We used to have huge problems with people moving in and setting up all their devices without letting our techs know that hew equipment had been installed. They would guess the settings or use the ones they had before and it would bring down the whole system. Or they would allow their systems to automatically choose an address and often it was their neighbor’s. One or the other would then get kicked off the system whenever both tried to get on online. Because we have an IP address for jack, each device—computers, cable system, netflix, Blueray, etc.—has its own settings. If people don’t have all of them set correctly, they can’t even use all their own equipment.

Now new people are warned before they move in to call the techs to set them up. In the panic of moving, they often forget. And when residents buy new equipment, they still forget that step.

It’s Still Worth It (On Most Days)

A collective system is soooo much cheaper than each of us having our own service and in-house attention is still better than someone who has never been here before—the usual case. Collectively, we can afford service that is four times as fast. It’s slower on Friday night when every one seems to be watching movies or playing games but still faster than the smaller residential modems most cable providers include in bundled packages. That service costs now $35 a month. 43 units x $35 = $1,500 a month. Instead we pay $365—80% less.

When we need repair of the modem, business class service is normally the same day, usually within hours. Residential service is usually a 3-4 day minimum; “next week,” the most common response.

Usage Is Way Up

When we moved in, less than half our households used the Internet at home. Whenever we sent out an email with a request the deadline for a response had to include a weekend for people who only read at home and workdays for those who only read at work. From the beginning, we had a computer in the office for people who didn’t have or need a computer. It is now used by people whose own computer is broken or much slower and by guests. And some just like to get out of their units.

We also have a duplex 3-in-1 printer that is hooked up to out intranet. Residents don’t need a scanner, copier, or fax machine, and can print from home.

When only a few were using the internet at home, it was harder to get attention to the network being down because very few people were dependent on it. Several of us had our own modems because of this. Now every household has at least one device hooked up. I have four and a router to handle them. Some have their own internal intranet so they can share devices. About a third work at home all the time or a significant part of the time. And that number is growing rapidly. I would guess that most people check work email at home though some companies are now not allowing that for security reasons.

A long history but an important one that I think that Takoma Village has handled at a high level because we had tech savvy people from the beginning who were avid about new technology and foresaw the future—even though it still isn’t perfect. Every community will probably be at some point in this evolutionary process. If anyone is beyond it, please let me know!

Converted Bus: A Home for $9,000 in 15 Weeks

Exterior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita
Exterior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita

Wonderful idea for converting old buses into a tiny house. My son used to watch out the window on regular trips down the Thruway in New York State to see a large parking lot for school buses, some in service and some not. He would have loved this before he acquired a wife and two children.

I often dream of living in a tiny house but then I measure the square footage my books and crafts supplies take. The whole house.

Architectural student Hank Buttita was tired of designing buildings no one could afford so he bought a bus and converted it to an almost elegant modern-style modular home complete with a kitchen, bathroom, beds, and storage, with a wooden floor from an old gymnasium. He bought the bus for $3,000 on Craig’s List, spent $6,000 on remodeling, less than a semester of graduate school. Most of the work was completed in 15 weeks including 7 weeks of design and prototyping.

He has posted a blog and photos from his 5,000 mile trip around the country to show architecture students what can be accomplished in the tiny house and rehabilitation.

interior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student.
interior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita

Hanks website Hank Bought a Bus has more pictures, descriptions, and a video.

Making Public Transportation Better

I used to commute four hours a day round trip, from New Paltz, NY to Manhattan. My community was the commuters who boarded the same bus every morning at 6:50 and again at 5:50, or sometimes 4:50. When I gave up the car and moved to the city, I had more hours in each day but I also had more energy and more money. The hidden costs of commuting are larger than they seem on paper. You compensate for the inconvenience and boredom by spending extra money for lunch or dinner, etc.

Co-workers of a friend who lived in the city tried to convince her to move out of the city to a small town where she would have a house for what she paid for two-bedroom apartment in the city. She did the math. She would have to buy a car, pay commuting and parking expenses, and maintain the house. And miss all the theater and other advantages of living in the city. In the end it would be a lower quality of living and more expensive.

The Pleasures of Commuting

What made commuting pleasurable was having space to think, quiet alone time but with other people like me. On the bus, everyone chatted for a half an hour or so, and then lapsed into silence napping or reading newspapers, returning to sociability a half an hour from the city. Sometimes I drove just to be alone for 2 hours. Cocooned.

But in the city when I commuted by walking 10 minutes to the office, that wasn’t enough. I needed more space between office and home to unwind. I took the long way around so it was 20 minutes.

For two years I commuted two hours a day from an outer borough in New York in a private van that carried 8 people. There were rules. You could say good morning or report on an expected absence, but otherwise, be quiet. It was the solitude people enjoyed. You could drink coffee but not eat. The smells of everyone’s food was intrusive. As soon as we got into the city and people started getting off and saying goodbye, talking and sharing began.

This led me to thinking about how to make commuting on public transportation, even for relatively short distances, more pleasurable. Spaciousness would be a start. The time to read is a major benefit for me and for many. The Kindle is a great commuting advantage thought I like a book. But even that pleasure would be more attractive with the assurance of having a seat. And uncrowded seat. Assurance of not to having to listen to someone else’s music or phone conversations for an hour or even half an hour.

One way to accomplish this would be more divisions like the old railroad compartments, so you not feel like you are riding in a cattle car.

It Costs Too Much

“It costs too much” is the first objection to making commuting on public transportation more pleasurable, but commuting in private cars also costs too much. We all pay for those roads and decreased air quality and emergency vehicles racing to accidents.

It’s really a question of accounting. If we withdrew support for commuting by car and put those funds directly into shared transportation, urban design, and transit route rehabilitation, we would all be richer.

That’s why I don’t favor making it easier for cars to get through streets and intersections, through tunnels and bridges. Make it safer for pedestrians and clearer for traffic to navigate, but discourage making it easier to commute by car.

Death Over Dinner

Death Over Dinner is another let’s have dinner and talk about death movement like the Death Cafe. The introduction by the  founder, Michael Hebb, begins:

On a beautiful June morning in 2012 I boarded a train traveling from Portland to Seattle, and quickly made my way to the dining car. Within a few minutes I found myself in a lively conversation with two strangers, both doctors, and both very concerned about the state of our health care system. What I learned during that conversation was shocking, and the statistic that broke my heart was this:

Nearly 75% of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25% of them do.

I asked the doctors: Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?

They said: Absolutely.

And then I asked them this: If I helped create a national campaign called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” did they think I would find support from doctors, patients, essentially everyone?

They said: Absolutely. You must do this!

Death Over Dinner LogoOne month later he and his graduate students in Communications at the University of Washington had signed up over 30 of the country’s healthcare and wellness leaders as Advisors and TEDMED had asked them to take the main stage at their prestigious conference.

His bio on the TEDMED site is very detailed and interesting. He has been hosting dinners on serious topics since 1997. He was described by the New York Times as an “underground restaurateur, impresario and provocateur.” He believes that the dinner table is one of the most effective (and overlooked) vehicles for changing the world.

Michael’s creative agency One Pot specializes in the technology of the common table, seeking to shift culture by using thoughtful food and discourse-based engagements and happenings. One Pot has worked closely with thought leaders and cultural leaders and many preeminent foundations an institutions including the Republic of Gabon, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the X Prize Foundation, the FEED Foundation, Architecture For Humanity, and the Summit Series.

Why Dinner?

The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.

Frustrating Website — Not a Model to Follow

The Death Over Dinner website is incredibly frustrating. It is described as “an interactive digital platform linking UW masters program students with many national healthcare leaders.” What?

If  you use the link on the front page that says, “Get Started” you end up in a long string of screens that force you to make choices from menus about what you want to read, which video you want to watch, and which questions you want to ask. You make random choices to go to the next screen hoping for information. When you’ve gone through a seemingly endless number of screens, however, you are asked to sign up and then wait for a confirmation email that is not instant.  You wait because you want to enter the site and actually read something about death dinners.

When the email arrives, the information that you randomly selected is included in the body of an email that is in the form of a letter. You are supposed to use this letter to invite your friends to a death dinner. It is complete with homework. All that stuff I selected are things my guests are assigned to read and watch before coming to dinner. Educated and ready to talk.

Incredibly dumb in my opinion. I tried but I couldn’t even read the email. Who talks this way to their friends:

I would be honored if you would take the time to join me and [a few guests (or) add specific names] for dinner and to engage in this conversation. The folks at have created a series of three thoughtful conversational prompts for us to explore.

And there is no place to confirm anything. When you go back to the site, if you want to subscribe, you have to register again. And I suspect confirm again. I didn’t try it.

While I waited for the email I finally found the blog. The link is hidden in tiny symbols in the upper right hand corner. A tweet symbol, an envelope, a Facebook symbol, and, oh yes, three parallel lines. That’s the blog. For your benefit, here is the link to the blog:

Finally at the blog, apparently the only information on the site, you are greeted by the usual (and welcome) list of summaries of blog posts. Well enough, until you click through on one. I clicked through on How Doctors Die and was greeted by the same summary. When I clicked the “Keep reading here” link to get to the full post I was instead sent with no warning the New York Times to read an article called How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way.

A website design that is an example of a noble idea gone awry when implemented by communications majors. The site is beautiful visually but a classic example of incredibly low usability. It reminds me of a Miss Manners request: Could we stop communicating and have a conversation?



Cake Normalizes Things: The Death Cafe Movement

Death Cafe Meeting in New York
Death Cafe Meeting in New York

Well, not blood sugar but it does help with death.

In 2011 John Underwood, a web designer in London, held an informal meeting in his basement to discuss death. His idea was in the European tradition of informal discussion of ideas and based on that of Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who organized “café mortels” to encourage more open discussions of death.

Underwood says, “There’s a growing recognition that the way we’ve outsourced death to the medical profession and to funeral directors hasn’t done us any favors,” The Death Cafe is a place where people can discuss death, find meaning, ask profound questions, and reflect on what is important in life.

The basement idea, with its Halloween overtones, one hopes was about convenience. In any event, one thing led to another and death moved upstairs to become the Death Cafe with tea and cake. Why?

“The consumption of food is a life-sustaining process. Cake normalizes things.”

Underwood put up a website. The Death Cafe became a movement, not necessarily in that order. Small groups led by a volunteer professional are now meeting for discussions of death in cafes around the world. In July of 2013 there were 170 around the world. Since an article appeared in the New York Times this morning, there will probably be 17,000 by tomorrow morning.

The website has announcements of meetings and pictures of members with their tea and cake.



Bank Street Bookstore for Children’s Books

Logo for Bank Street BookstoreThe Bank Street Bookstore for Children’s Books at the Bank Street College of Education has an extensive collection of hand-selected quality books and games for sale. When you are looking for research material, just want to read a good book, or need a gift for a child or an adult, this is the place. Many cities do not have independent children’s bookstores and the selections at other bookstores or large retail stores tend to be quick sale books or those that are related to TV programs or movies.

What makes the Bank Street Bookstore website really special is the wonderful list of 125+ subjects in the left side menu. Unless you have a book in  mind, browsing a website can be a daunting experience. If you are looking for examples in a subject area on which you are writing, this is a fast and easy way to find examples.

With no ideas or looking for ideas, you can quickly find a range of topics such as:

  • Autographed Books, New and Notable, Gifts for Grownups, Gift Cards
  • By age group, Board Books, Toddlers & Threes, Picture Books, Novels for ages 8-10, 10-12, etc.
  • Activity Books
  • Adoption
  • African American Characters
  • The Arctic
  • Armchair Detective
  • Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Biographies
  • Birds
  • Bread
  • Butterflies
  • Chapter Book Series
  • Clouds
  • Gardening
  • Holidays
  • Math Stories
  • New Sibling
  • Ocean
  • Peace and Tolerance
  • Teasing and Bullying
  • Travel Games and Adventures
  • Writing


Broadway and 112th Street (southwest corner)
New York, New York 10025

Online: Bank Street Bookstore Website

Other Resources Include:

About Bank Street College of Education

Bank Street is a private graduate school offering master’s degree programs in education. It was founded in 1916 on Bank Street in Greenwich Village by Lucy Sprague Mitchell as the Bureau of Educational Experiments. The initial focus was on the study of child development and education. In 1918 it opened a nursery school which is now the School for Children. Bank Street began to train teachers, eventually becoming the Bank Street College of Education. In the 1960s, the Bank Street faculty played an important role in creating the federal Head Start program.

By the 1970s the college had outgrown its location and moved uptown to Broadway and 112th Street.

Is Technology Replacing Human Interaction?

Group of Teenagers TextingWhat this photo doesn’t show is that many of these kids would probably be sitting there looking bored and not relating to each other at all. Rather than asking “Is technology replacing human interaction” I would ask what it reveals about being human. For me it makes human interaction more probable and more intimate.

What Makes Us Human?

I think what makes us human is what happens inside each of us, not what others can see happening from the outside. Human interaction is sharing that with others. As every marriage counselor will tell you, there can be extraordinarily intimate human contacts between two people  for years with no emotional contact at all.

My experience is that both I and others have far more human contact with technology than without. I share thoughts and feelings with at least a dozen people every day personally. Then there are the literally thousands on email lists. Before technology it would literally have been none many days of the week.

My daughter is in touch with 2-3 friends moment to moment all day long with text messaging. Literally moment to moment if they are unhappy.

My Facebook page is connecting me with family members I have hardly thought of for years and years, and many more I never knew existed. And I know more about them than if I were still living in the same town with them.

Last Christmas one of my gathered family members asked if anyone else had been able to get beyond level 13 in a bubble burst game. One thing led to another and suddenly there were 6 of 9 people in the house sitting on a corner sectional with iPads and iPhones. The exceptions were a two-year old, the cook in the kitchen, and an 11-year-old on the phone with a peer whose parents were divorcing

That moment was probably the most intimate of the holiday. We were sharing a common interest and helping each other and laughing. It was a modern extended family grouping in which some had not spoken or texted or emailed each other for  20 years, in-laws one had only just met, and people one’s not-present mother had hated for 25 years. The age range was 25 to 75.

Technology Facilitates Human Interaction Like Nothing Else

I know many people share the view that communication via technology is inhuman but I see technology bringing people closer together, integrating the introverts and the extroverts, and un-isolating the isolated. It has been a god-send for many autistic people who cannot read emotional expression in others and often cannot display emotions or do it oddly. Nothing else can do this so well, or even at all.

This quote is often used as justification for criticizing people who email and text instead of making a phone call, which we forget is also technology, or dropping by:

I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Albert Einstein.

I don’t think Einstein ever met Steve Jobs.

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

I found Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling today on Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, a blog on books and writing by who knows who because the About page is broken. it must be by a writer (or writers) because the 404 page says “Whoa…You broke the Internet!”

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, then a story artist at Pixar. (She tweets a lot.)

    1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

    2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

    3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

    4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

    5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

    6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

    7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

    8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

    9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

    10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

    11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

    12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

    13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

    14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

    15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

    16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

    17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

    18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

    19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

    20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

    21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

    22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

    There are follow-up posts so go there, scroll to the end and look around.

Cohousing Challenges: Communes and Survivalists

The ongoing challenge of cohousing is convincing town planning boards and neighborhood associations that a cohousing community is not a commune. It is more a cooperatively managed condominium than naked dancers in the woods living on rice and fruit.

But in Utah the challenge is even greater. The disclaimer on the Utah Valley Commons Cohousing home page is: We are not survivalists.

The full statement is:

The Utah Valley Commons has no political or religious affiliation.We are not “survivalists,” nor do we attempt to
impose lifestyle restrictions (e.g., what kind of food you can eat) on our members.  We respect each other’s privacy.  The
UVCC is committed to providing a safe, healthy, and sustainable community for individuals and families.

View of site under consideration for Utah Valley Commons Cohousing
Possible site of Utah Valley Commons Cohousing

Since they were able to get approval from the town planning board for straw bale construction and to cluster the houses instead of spacing each house in the center of several acres, I think they will be able to meet the survivalist challenge. The survivalists are probably not comfortable with the temporal image of straw bale. While it is a very strong and environmentally sound building material, it does have the image of something not quite up to guns and combat.

Spam Watch: Average Spam Messages Per Day

SpamSieve LogoIf you are a writer who is out there on the web, you are a target for spam. Even if you are not out there, you are a target for spam. But as a writer who also communicates frequently by email, shops online, and posts in dozens of places, I’m out there. And spam is the result. You need SpamSieve.

In spite of my best efforts, I receive hundreds and even thousands of spam messages every month. Sometimes 16 identical messages to the same email address. I don’t know who pays for all these messages but it is a humongous waste of money — and cyberspace. I never read any of them.

I download email to my computer using Apple Mail and run it through SpamSieve to automatically divert spam messages to a designated folder. From time to time I browse through the folder to be sure nothing has  gotten there in error. If I find something I do want to see, I tell SpamSieve to train it as good but this rarely happens. Errors happen because a friend has used a trigger word, or several. Or are themselves forwarding a particularly funny spam message.

I used to actually click-through to unsubscribe from any emails that contained an unsubscribe option. Sometimes it worked, but most often only until the next month. Unsubscribe links often go nowhere or just tie up my browser with pages that eventually load but are “Busy now. Please try later.” Or don’t even exist. Once an address is in the system, marketers must add it to all their client lists—past, present, future, and potential — and 2-3 days a month I receive 4-5 new ones that SpamSieve hasn’t yet identified. I would have to unsubscribe to all these messages each month to even possibly, a very big “possibly” here, eliminate spam from even “legitimate” marketers. And then there is China. I think it’s China. I don’t read ideograms.

My next best option is to log the numbers, which are easily available from my spam folder. Maybe these numbers will be more useful than the messages.

Daily Spam Average

(I rush to calculate the averages because new ones come in every 10 minutes. Totals and the averages don’t always match. Six have arrived since I started writing this sentence.)

125 — 13-16 December 2012. 4 days. Total: 499

209 — 17-18 December 2012. 2 days. Total: 418

65 — 19 December 2012 – 4 January 2013. 16 days. Total: 1049. Someone must have taken a vacation.

68 — 5 January 2013-15 February 2012. 41 days. Total: 2781.

I’m resisting the urge to stop clicking the unsubscribe links that take a lot of time to load and often don’t work.  I can save time by training SpamSieve to treat a message as spam and send off the next one before I even see it. The figures would look even more atrocious. The numbers, however, are significantly lower than in December. December was definitely Spam Month.  An average of 68 spam messages a day is only ~ 3 messages an hour.

65 — 16 February – 12 March. 24 Days. Total  1,561. Settling down to a pattern.

77 — 13 March – 29 April. 46 Days. Total 3,522.

82 — 30 April – 28 June. Total: 4611

Along time between counts — I used a date calculator so I know the number of days is accurate. I don’t make this stuff up. For two hours in August, I made a special effort to unsubscribe to as many as I could. Still there is this much spam out there and I read none of it. It just clogs the system.

58 —29 June − 13 October 2013. 115 days. Total: 6637.

This 58 spam messages every day. And those are just the ones that make it passed my ISP. As the holidays come closer the numbers will be even higher.

76 —14 October – 18 November 2013. 36 Days. Total: 2756.

Christmas is coming. Numbers are up!

Spam in a CanI wonder if Spam in a can would be less environmentally toxic? At least with ads in magazines and newspaper the ads support actual content. And ratios of ad words to content words there are very different.

Originally published 16 Dec 2012

Building Codes & Tiny Houses

Book Cover: Cracking the Code
Building codes in towns and suburbs are a major obstacle for people interested in forming cohousing communities and ecovillages composed entirely or partially of tiny houses. Ryan Mitchell who writes the Tiny Life blog and builds tiny houses has now published a book of tips on how to address code issues called Cracking the Code.

This guide is designed to help you navigate all the red tape when it comes to tiny housing. I have designed this manual to help you quickly familiarize yourself with some of the key bureaucratic road blocks, suggest possible pathways to building your home from the legal perspective, and several strategies to make it a success.

If you are hoping to build a tiny house, this is information that you will need. For those who purchase this they will also get and additional 180 pages of reference materials and free updates on future versions.

For those unfamiliar with tiny houses they can be as small as 90 square feet but are typically more like

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company for plans and prefabricated houses beautifully designed.

DesignBoom for images of tiny houses in all shapes and sizes around the world.

Tiny House Listings already built houses for sale. A super energy-efficient 400 SF modern design for $65,000. A 400 SF log sided home for $49,900.

The Tiny House Swoon for beautiful photos of tiny houses. Interior and exterior.

WordCount: How Many Times Is a Word Used?

Wordcount LogoAnother fabulous gem from the UK. WordCount is a ranking of the 86,800 most used words in the English language by frequency of use. Presented in the same format as a timeline—a beautiful timeline. Very minimalist and elegant. The design itself is worth the effort.

From the site:

WordCount data currently comes from the British National Corpus (BNC), a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent an accurate cross-section of current English usage. WordCount includes all words that occur at least twice in the BNC. In the future, WordCount will be modified to track word usage within any desired text, website, and eventually the entire Internet.

You can scroll the horizontal line of words or search for a specific word. Very interesting results. Then you can go to QueryCount that tracks the words that people search. A screenshot of those words would be R-rated.

Warning: Doesn’t work with all browsers. Try another one.

United Kingdom’s Public Catalogue Foundation Paintings Online

Painting by SisleyAn incredible resource and just great fun is the United Kingdom’s Public Catalogue Foundation Paintings online at the BBC website. It’s the first digital archive of a whole country’s holdings—in this case a kingdom. The collections are held by museums, universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries, and even a lighthouse. It would take years to see all of them in their varied locations. it would take months just to find out when the institutions are open.

The site is beautifully designed so it easy to use.  It allows you to create your own collections so you can return and view your own galleries with exhibitions curated by yourself. And send your friends the links.

 The Wikipedia of Paintings

What makes this online collection unique is its size, its variety, and the tagging system. It contains more than 210,000 paintings by 40,000 artists—more are being added as you read this. Because it includes the collections displayed in local municipal buildings and schools as well as museum collections, it contains a wider variety of paintings than a selection pruned by a particular museum according to their standards and interests. This is all the museums together.

Because the public will be able to tag the paintings using Your Paintings Tagger, the collection will be completely indexed from a myriad of perspectives not just art history. Public tagging, like Wikipedia entries, allows participation by all the intelligence and knowledge in the world. The paintings will be indexed with more than painter’s name, nationality, dates, media, title, subject, and style. They will be indexed by the objects shown, weather conditions, fashions, identifiable people, events, religious references, pets, etc.

For Children and the Inexperienced

This is a fabulous place to learn about paintings and teach children about paintings. Tagging is engaging and the more points of view there are the better. Children see very different things than adults. There are no age restrictions.

The tagging system helps choose accurate tags. When I typed in a word, I was given a list of standard tags to choose from. Each one defined. This is reassuring because it goes as far as possible toward standardizing the tags used.

Standardization means when I want to find an automobile, I won’t have to type “car” plus every other name that might ever had been associated with it in order to find all the paintings that include automobiles. After the paintings have been tagged by a number of people, an algorithm will be used to determine the most commonly used tags for that painting.

Why Tagging?

Picture with TagsI just tagged a 17th century painting of a woman in an elegant hat with “ribbon,” for example. In  a few years, even a few months, i will be able to find needlework examples of the use of ribbons in dozens of paintings. And they won’t include paintings with ribbons of water or ribboned fields of wheat. This can be important to painters who are trying to paint a ribbon and having difficulty managing the paint and the sheen. Art historians trying to determine which painter did a particular unsigned painting that includes a ribbon. Digitized images are not the original but it can save a trip across country when the image indicates that a painting is obviously not helpful.

Want to see how kittens have been portrayed in the last 400 years? Want to tag gloves to show that gloves are an interesting subject in 19-20th century paintings? To see when earrings started appearing on women — and men? To see when fish became a subject worth painting and why? This is your place. Don’t miss it.

About the Public Catalogue Foundation

Cover of the National Trust Handbook 2013The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) in the United Kingdom plans to digitize all the paintings in the National Trust and other public collections in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The organizations that own the paintings include the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and Arts Council England. The collections are held by museums, universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries and even a lighthouse.

Effective Viewing Distance for Sculpture

During a discussion about placing a sculpture in the small park at Fourth Street NW and Blair Road, referred to as the triangle park, I was sent this diagram of the effective viewing distance for sculpture in relation to its size. It may be from Jan Gehl’s paper “Close Encounters with Buildings.” Apologies if posting it violates any copyrights. Our decision is approaching and this information might be helpful.

Chart of Optimum Viewing Distance for Sculputure

A meter is a bit more than 3 feet. If the sculpture in question is 10 feet tall, it would be  3+ meters. Effective viewing would be about 5 meters or 15+ feet. If it were placed against the Barack building to the south, it could be viewed comfortably from the front of the park or the street. That’s if it’s 10 feet tall and if could be placed there without affecting the one remaining tree which is close to that wall. How close can a heavy object be placed to a tree without damaging the root structure? How will be sculpture be affected by birds in that tree?

The sculpture may also be on a base when it is installed. Sculptures are often put on bases not to make them taller and more impressive but to protect them from casual vandalism. A three-foot base would mean an effective viewing distance of an additional three feet of viewing space. We could be up to 20 feet. Anyone sitting or standing in the park would not have the most effective view of the Hand.

Retaining Human Scale and Honoring the Sculpture

If the goal is to eventually have a park in which a variety of people can sit and enjoy the flowers and, hopefully, new Cherry Trees, the Hand could be a pretty overbearing presence. The Hand would also not be well served by being hidden behind Cherry Trees. An oasis of green at that corner isn’t compatible with that size sculpture. It and the neighborhood would be better served with a placement in front of the Takoma Recreation Center.

Australian Typewriter Museum

Typewriters are so personal to many writers that they still write on them, even when they have to hire someone to retype their manuscripts before submitting them to a publisher. This site is for those who remember and love typewriters. It includes many photographs of writers using typewriters in the    locations in which they wrote, whether in their study’s or a grass hut out in the field.

Typewriter Museum Banner

One of the things I love about the Internet is that it allows people to post the most arcane information and find an audience. Without the Internet, if you were to look around to find someone who loved typewriters, how long would you have to look? Forever, I would guess. Even in a big city. And where else could you find an Australian Typewriter Museum?


oz.Typewriter: The World of Typewriters 1714-2014 is a blog by Robert Messenger that is worth an evening of reading and looking — wonderful pictures and wry humor. And sentimental commentary as well. Because he has researched his topic so well, it is an international archive of information about the world of writing and attitudes toward design in the 20th century.

You will find fabulous vintage photos of typewriters (of course) but also portraits of inventors and artists, their homes and villages. That include: The first Australian Type-In. A grass home with a leaky roof in Kenya where a writer is working on a typewriter in parallel to snakes and a mole rat in her wall of bookshelves. Also in Kenya, another is working on a Remington portable amidst her laundry hung up to dry in her study on ropes draped in her hut from one pole and fixture to another.

Magazine and newspaper clips extolling the virtues of primitive machines that are all but forgotten such as Prussian Maximillian Soblik’s Pneumatic Typewriter from 1917 that looks a bit tortuous. Soblik’s Pneumatic Typewriter

Many links to other blogs about on typewriters. It must be complete—how many can there be?

About Robert Messenger

Messenger is an Australian Typewriter collector and owns the Australian Typewriter Museum in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. He is a former newspaper columnist who worked in journalism for 47 years, in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, and England.
I could go on but its 4:00 and I’m still fact checking without having accomplished one paragraph of book writing today. Do check it out. It’s lovely.

Discussing Race in Washington, DC

This post is my response to discussing race in Washington DC, specifically to a discussion on my neighborhood email list, There are those on the list who believe that not discussing race means something but what it means varies. No matter what they think it means race is always raised in terms of discrimination and oppression.

This is my response to the current discussion. Or my response of the day. If I were to spend another two hours rewriting it, I might replace “culture of victimization” for “culture of oppression.” Tomorrow I will probably be sorry I took the time to write this but so be it. Pass the Olives.

Obama’s Speech on Race in Philadelphia, 2008

To begin, I believe Obama’s 2008 speech given in Philadelphia during his campaign for election in response to his continued relationship with his controversial minister and the place of his church in his life will become a classic on the meaning and influence of culture on who we are. I believe the issue of race for all of us is more the culture we grew up in and the one we choose than our skin color. Discussing the cultural difference that our many races give each of us, whether it was chosen or forced upon us, will produce a richer discussion than focusing on oppression.

Obama’s speech is worth rereading in this context.

Perceptions of Race and Culture

I’ve been discussing the issue of cultural discrimination and racial discrimination with an African Jamaican British Canadian American neighbor who has considered jobs in foreign countries. As a European, I pointed out that these countries were populated by people of color and this would be a good experience for her daughter — immersion in a culture that is populated at all levels by people of color than in the US. She says that is not true because there are so many distinctions in Africa and the Middle East that have nothing to do with shared skin color. The discrimination is both huge and more subtle than she thinks, as a “white” person I could even perceive. She would still be excluded as different. “People would know.”

I have an African-American son and a European American daughter. At a gut level I perceive a difference in their place society. When as a teenager my daughter went out to a party on Saturday night, I worried about her being sexually compromised in some way. Raped or made to feel her own body was not hers. When my son when out, I worried about him being killed.

But growing up in a generation very different from my own, in an educated upstate New York suburb, they are unaffected by the cultural expectations that I grew up with. Now in their early 40s they lead very different lives, one a Manhattan Yuppie and the other a police officer in the town he grew up in. They both believe these are personal choices. They still deny that there were any events in their lives that had anything to do with their skin color or facial features. They share a common culture and speak a common language.

Culture Changes and is Changeable

During Black History Month my Dutch American granddaughters, with the reddest hair and the whitest skin, were learning and singing Civil Rights songs at Shepherd Elementary School, which has a veteran Civil Rights Movement protester for a music teacher. They corrected my singing because they learned all these songs with a touch of Gospel and lots of body language. When I sing that way, I feel that I’m crossing the boundary into a culture where I would be viewed as an interloper.

In the course of these discussions about singing, I discovered they had no idea who Rosa Parks was or why they were singing about her. She was just a famous African American like all the other famous Americans they study. They had no knowledge of the history of discrimination. The lessons they were learning didn’t have that deeper significance. They were “only” about being famous. About heroes. At ages 4 and 7 they had no beliefs that needed to be corrected or negative experiences that needed countering. Are there cultural differences amongst their friends that they notice and either reject or admire? Yes, but they are cultural, even if they are sometimes described as “black” or “African American.” They are not seen as inherently defining or attached to skin color or family history.

When I explained that Rosa Parks had defied the law by sitting in the front of the bus they gave me blank looks. When I explained that there used to be laws that said where “Whites” and “Negros” could eat or sit, and which drinking fountains they could use, or movie theaters they could attend, they didn’t believe me.  “That would discrimination,” they both objected, looking at each other for confirmation. To them, this could never be.

Moving Beyond the Culture of Oppression

In two generations, the cultural changes in relation to perceptions of race have been enormous. I believe that it is too easy to dismiss them. To carry forward the culture of oppression even when we could let it go. Accept the past as a reality, and even the present as a reality, and focus on that which is culturally rich and nurturing.

It was a shock to move to Washington DC in 2000 and experience not in the Federal enclave people refer to as Washington but in the general culture of the city that the culture of oppression is so dominant. I would never encourage my son to move to DC even though there may be more and higher paying jobs for police officers here. I don’t want him or my grandchildren to absorb that culture. The same way I don’t want my European American daughter with the Jewish father to absorb the culture of oppression that many Jews live in.

In two generations, cultural oppression isn’t no longer a determining reality in the lives of my family and I don’t want it to be. Understanding and recognizing the influences of our past is not the same as keeping the culture of oppression alive.

Domino Toppling

Gretchen's Domino Forest, September 2012
Gretchen’s Domino Forest, September 2012

Domino toppling is a wonderful community and team building exercise. I’ve collected 2,000+ dominos — a small collection by any serious standards—a box of foam blocks, a box of small wooden blocks, realistic animal figures, Disney characters, and finger puppets to build scenes. It helps to have a common house so we can build on the tables. This works very well for all ages, particularly mine. It also helps keep the dominos and assorted props from walking away. Even the smallest can pull up a chair and practice knocking things down.

Some focus on building towers, others racing ramps for cars, and others scenes of fantasy worlds like the one here by Gretchen.

This is fun but not easy. More work than you would think.

Videos and Information

At the very bottom of this LOOONG message of video addresses and ideas, there is a link to a company that does team building exercises and makes commercials. A Wonderful commercial on their site that runs all over a South American village.

Learn many tricks from the link below — an 8 minute video of one person’s 68 individual projects. You will be very surprised even if you haven’t seen domino toppling before:


Basic tips from the Circus, includes making template out of Legos:

The Circus

BIG PROJECT BY A GROUP OF TEENS IN GERMANY CALLED THE CIRCUS. They take over a school gym for two weeks and build night and day. Sleeping, eating, and showering at the school.

Watch the preparation days for how to tricks. Posted by IIIIIDominoIIIII

Preparation Day 1 — painting dominos

Preparation Day 2 — 3.21 — Sorting, diagramming. tests, weighing,

Preparation Day 3 — shopping for wood, the preparation area, making props, testing

Preparation Day 4 — 3.27 — truck deliveries, tests, building bases.

Behind the Blocks–7.00–In German. Not terribly interesting in spots but you can meet the guys behind this and see how they set up the dominos. They have some tricks.

CDT 2012, The Long Version — 57.41 — The smaller ones are really more interesting but here it is.

Includes set up, tests, screw ups, fails, footage from preparation day videos, 1 year of preparations, many diagrams. The building begins on 9 August 2012, Cologne, Day of the event, Dramatic lighting and long. 23 builders, 200,000 dominoes, Group started in 2007 with 70,000 dominoes. Videos on the last 5 years. Explanation of records set. Special Guest arrives at 27:45. Countdown at 29:50. 41:15 See the ones that didn’t fall. 177,414 fell. Took two weeks to build. Literally lived in the school gym.

Just the fall down–9:41– Includes the Clean Up.

Ideas for Designing and Building

–Planning: Draw diagrams. newsprint colored paper.
–Paint one side of black dominos so when fallen make a different pattern. Put them in a corner brace so can paint all at one time.
–ball is released and flips over to knock down the next flow.
–Dominos fall through a grid to the ground.

Toppling cards stacked in /\/\/\/\ shapes.
Cards against dominos

Up and down furniture and all through the building. Indoors and outdoors.

Something dropping off a high ledge onto a trigger.

–Small figure in the middle that is only revealed when all the dominoes fall.
–Dominos falling to turn a horizontal bar like a gate that knocks over the next row.
–Putting out the last section before the cascade gets to it.
–Ball released into a pit by one string and then anther string falls over the ball.
–A flower with purple in the middle and green rows coming out from the edges. The purple falls straight and pushes the greens our to the side forming the final picture of the flower.
–Dominos crash increasingly larger blocks until the are knocking down large blocks.

Team Building

Cooperation and Communications in Team Building:

Team Building

Domino Day 2009. 1.5 hours in Dutch? 4.800,000 dominos. 4.491,863 fallen. Many ideas.

How to Build a Major Project

Tips and Tricks

Diversity of Another Sort

One of the aims of developing cohousing communities is diversity — in age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, household composition, sexual orientation, etc. You name it, we want it. Recruitment focuses getting more but groups feel they have failed if those who come forward are not different from themselves. Both forming and built communities are proud to say, “We have 2 of these and 1 of those and 3 more of these are considering joining.” They cite their diversity statistics in order to convince city councils to approve their zoning requests.

Diversity of Another Sort in Washington, DC

World Bank Meeting 2012
World Bank Meeting 2012

A few months after move-in, all our diversity quotas met or met to the extent we could meet them, I realized we had met a diversity standard that none of us had considered that would probably be impossible to meet outside of Washington DC. Doris had called together a cookout, one of our first, by announcing fried chicken in the piazza on Sunday at 1:00. Everyone else who was around brought this and that and a bunch of us were soon settled around a big round table discussing the events of the weekend. In DC, that often means demonstrations. This one, a very big one, would be at the World Bank.

Always at the center of any protest, Herb was prepared to leave early in the morning to meet protesters from out-of-town at the end of the Metro line to escort them to the protest site. He started talking about other things he would be doing.  Anna was delighted because the demonstrations meant she had the day off since she worked at the World Bank and had been ordered for her safety not to come to work. She thanked her new neighbors for her good fortune.

Carol said, “Please. Don’t thank me. I have three proposals that I’m waiting to hear back on. I need to know if we have money to go back to Africa or not, and things in India are not so great if I can’t put more into the next phase than we put into the last one. I doubt if any of those offices took all their grant applications home with them on Friday.” Doris said that she would be off work that day too, but on duty with the Guard. Doris said, “It’s no vacation for me. I have to report for duty at 4:00 am and I have no idea when I will be home.

Everyone laughed and the conversation resumed discussing the last World Bank demonstration and the casualties that had resulted. The promise was more National Guard presence and more planning. Herb asked Doris what they had planned this time and where she would be positioned. Doris said, “I won’t know until I report for duty because that — ”

Silence. Everyone looked up.

Doris continued in a studied tone, “That would be confidential.”

Herb apologized, and we changed the subject. A perfectly innocent question on Herb’s part, serious interest in an event we were all watching but no intention of playing sleuth with his neighbor.

True Diversity

Army Officer UniformWhile the diversity points for that conversation would have been about a 10 on the basis of age, race, marital status, parental status, and a few more things I can’t remember, the ones that no one had probably even considered before that conversation were military status, activism, and opponents and beneficiaries of World Bank monies. When I told this story on the Cohousing-L email discussion list, one person contacted me privately to ask how we even live together. “Do you really eat at the same table?”

I receive similar questions when I report that we have an Army General who appears in camouflage fatigues and another resident who “works for Army Intelligence assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff” who comes home in his green beret.

In all honesty, just like our other diversity points, they are just like everyone else. The differences are in personality, not age, skin color, background, occupation, or sexual orientation.