Monday, February 28, 2011

Nashional defecit.

And so the year of Ogden takes off. The story so far: immortal poet Ogden Nash was born in Rye, New York, and spent his childhood here. But this still comes as a surprise to many Rye residents, and part of the problem is the absence of any significant memorial to our most famous son. So I'm trying to get the City Council to name something after O.N. (Plus the Rye Arts Center is having a celebration of Nash in September, which I'm currently researching.)

And now, read on. Here's a link to my article, which appeared in this week's Rye Record.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Buttons? That's so 2010.

I'm having lunch with my friend Cindy to see her pictures from her recent trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, two more places I may never get to in this lifetime. (Cindy's down there on the right, among the followers of this blog.)

We're viewing the images on her new iPad, which is an excellent way of displaying digital images (which is to say virtually all images these days: since the demise of film, paper as the final destination for a photograph has gone from being the principal choice to a mere option).

But we can't find the button that moves us from one picture to the next. We try the slideshow feature, but the images change too fast, so we're constantly stopping it and restarting it. Tapping on the glass brings up a frieze of tiny thumbnails at the bottom of the screen that lets us select individual pictures, but they're too small to use effectively. We're convinced there must be a "next image" arrow button lurking somewhere, but it eludes us, and we don't have the manual with us.

After about ten minutes of this, I notice that a small hair has landed on the screen. I discretely swipe it out of the way with my forefinger. And that's when I accidentally discover Apple's neat, intuitive way of progressing through the pictures, one at a time -- just a swipe. (It's not like I don't already have an iTouch.)

There's a very good ad for a new car model that I saw during this evening's Oscar broadcast, addressing the point that even though there's nothing ground-breaking about the technology, the car takes it to a new level. It shows a world where people stopped inventing after the first idea, including internet cafes with typewriters attached to brick-like cell phones and a guy carrying a record turntable through the streets and wearing huge headphones. (And there are zeppelins over the buildings, which I think is pretty cool.)

I'm clearly living in that world. But at least I've started putting the right year on my checks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fourth-grade logic.

Secundus has been taking a lot of pictures with my four-year-old Canon 30D -- not exactly the cheapest camera around, but I grit my teeth and encourage his artistic endeavors. You never know when any of the boys will display a bankable talent that means I can afford to retire early.

He shows me some "ghost" pictures he's taken of his friend. They look more like double exposures to me than long, low-light exposures during which she may have moved, and I wondered how he managed them.

"Oh, the camera just does that from time to time," he tells me airily.

Just does that?
"It was working fine before you used it last," I say. "If you've damaged it, that's the last time you get to touch it."

"Well, duh," he replies. "Why would I want to use a broken camera?"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Un Flambeau, Jeanette . . .

My childhood friend Jeanette, who lives in Derbyshire, England, says I'm such an unreliable correspondent that she follows the blog just to make sure I'm still alive.

So for her: Hi, Jeanette! (Glad you found the cat.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ooh, they have the internet on computers now!

Hey, my analytics program says I got a hit from Springfield.

Thanks for following, Homer.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Funny, it looked more like a Mamaroneck.

I turn up this morning to run the kids to school, since the mem-sahib has an early conference call. "Mommy says there's coffee in the toaster," reports Tertius.

I solemnly hand over a Japanese eraser that he'd shoved into my jacket pocket over the weekend for safe-keeping, a pink seal. "His name is Harrison," he reports.

"I bet his last name is 'Ford,'" says Secundus.

"No, it's 'New York,'" Tertius declares.

Merely to add that Harrison, New York is one of our neighboring towns. Should I just give up the comic writing gig and leave it to seven-year-old T. to come up with the gags?

Monday, February 14, 2011

He's lucky he wasn't called Valentine.

Today is Primus's birthday, so Valentine's Day tends to be a subsidiary celebration. Nevertheless, Tertius determined well ahead of time that he was going to create personally inscribed hearts for all of his classmates. (It was Secundus who pointed out that using red paper instead of raiding my printer as usual for his supply would save a lot of coloring.)

He did it all himself, from initial concept to hand delivery. (I helped only with the cutting out, following lines he'd drawn around his own cardboard template.) Among the items he got in return in the great second-grade redistribution of 2011 was a fake Valentine iPod -- a box covered in red paper, with two chocolates in foil attached to string as the earbuds. (I suspect a little parental involvement with the project, said he grudgingly.)

Tertius manages to get the candies to stay in his ears, to the amusement of his teacher. "What are you listening to?" she asks.

"M&M," he informs her gleefully.

Later, a friend of Primus who is visiting for the modest birthday celebrations asks him where he got it the vPod. "You have to have con-nec-tions," Tertius articulates.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One click leads to another . . .

I said I wasn't going to do this anymore, but I must recommend two remarkable pieces of film editing, based on some outstanding movies, which I found on YouTube.

These sequences come from a documentary celebrating German film-making -- you know, the stuff that rarely gets seen in English-speaking countries because most of us can't be bothered to deal with subtitles. The film show us what we've missed over the years, if you ignore tame American remakes, such as City of Angels, which of course began life as the magisterial (and black-and-white) Wings of Desire

The documentary is called Auge in Auge - Eine deutsche Filmgeschichte. The first part of the title translates as "Eye to Eye" (and not, as one YouTube note has it, "Eve to Eve"; I think that would be a different type of movie). Fittingly, these two (brief) montages show what actors and directors can do with eyes on the screen:

Die Blicke der Frauen (Gazes of women*)

And Die Auge der Manner (Eyes of men)

Beautiful music, too. Here's a link to the official website.

*Look for the sixth clip, the woman who glances out very briefly from under a cloche hat. (She's technically the fifth actress to be shown, because Brigitte Helm appears twice.) This is Asta Nielsen, a Danish actress who made most of her films in Germany, and is regarded as the first great international movie star. Even though her films were silent, so the language barrier didn't exist, some of her performances were regarded by US importers as too erotically charged -- nor was she particularly pretty -- and she was never well known on this side of the Atlantic. An outstanding talent.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Don't know where they get it from.

Three into two won't go. When all three boys attempt to board the minivan, the usual grab for the two seats in the middle row leads to the usual argument over dirty work at the crossroads. Daddy attempts to resolve the dispute fairly, but when anyone gets impatient and forgets that hands are not for hitting, house (and car) rules dictate that the offending party is sent to the back seat, irrespective of his merits in the earlier case.

This time it's Tertius who stomps through the gap between his brothers, pronouncing one of them -- I forget which -- a "fat feeney."

"What's a feeney?" asks Secundus.

"It's his word," Primus explains. "He made it up, because he doesn't know any others."

"I do," protests Tertius from the rear. "I know the b-word and the f-word and the c-word . . ."

"There isn't a c-word!" retorts Primus impatiently.

Er, no. And let's leave it that way. (I thought this stuff was supposed to flow from the oldest to the youngest, not the other way round.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Events in the life of the day job.

Tertius asks me why I'm toting a bag stuffed with drafts and printouts when I pick him up from school. I explain that I'd been working on a project for a client, in the relative silence of the Rye library's mystery section, away from the distractions of the home office and surrounded by inspiration.

"You have clients?" he asks, surprised. "I didn't know you worked at the court."

"At the court?"

"Yes, I've heard lawyers on television say things like 'My client is innocent.'"

I explain that client is not a legal term, like witness or judge, but that -- just like a lawyer -- I have customers or clients for my corporate communications work.

"People pay me to do things for them that they can't do themselves," I tell him.

"Oh, so you're a butler," he declares, with some satisfaction.

(I wish.)

Getting home, I show him what's in the bag. A copy of a four-year-old, 180-page book, what I wrote, designed and typeset for my client. And a printout of a 320-page website, what I also wrote, designed, programmed, and have ruthlessly kept up to date. My job is to make sure the text of the book and the text of the website say the same things, but because the media are structured differently, this has to be done by eyeball: software doesn't cut it.

"How much are they going to pay you?" he asks.

"It depends on how long it takes," I say.

"So you could make, like, a hundred dollars?"

(I wish.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big screens weren't just for TVs.

"Cliffhanger," "B-Movie," "This is where we came in . . ." These are not only terms that came in with movie-going in the twentieth century, they're terms that went out with movie-going in the twentieth century.

I've been listening to a BBC podcast on the history of going to the cinema, by film critic Barry Norman. He makes the point that there's virtually nobody left alive who can remember seeing a silent movie because they had no other option. (Jolson's The Jazz Singer came along in 1927.) So how long will it be before our own memories of childhood visits to the "pictures" are as far back as anyone can go?  Already, my kids have no idea what a B-movie is, although we seem to see a lot of them masquerading as main features and requiring the purchase of 3-D glasses.

Explaining that "cliffhanger" had a literal meaning for the early serials -- before my time -- I was telling the boys the other day about the continuous shows of my youth. Two movies, a Look at Life documentary, the Pathe News, the trailers, the Pearl & Dean advertisements, usherettes with torches and trays of ice creams and Kia-ora orange juice, which we bought only to keep the strange, ziggurat-shaped carton . . .  you got your money's worth for two-and-six, but I only once remember the art deco organ being used at the Hounslow West Odeon, playing "Whistle While You Work" during the interval at a special re-release showing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The 1936 Compton organ from the Hounslow Odeon, now rebuilt and gracing the foyer of a cinema in Newtownards, Northern Island. Those cymbals, bottom left, are part of an array of percussion effects controlled from the keyboard.

And then Norman's program brings on a man whose earliest memories of movie-going involved getting dressed up in new clothes at the age of seven and going with his father and little brother to see . . . Star Wars! Already, this is nostalgia? (My first film at the cinema was 1963's Summer Holiday, starring Cliff Richard, at the Hounslow Regal. At least, as far as I recall.)

But another contributor warns us against too much nostalgia. If we went back to the golden days of the picture palaces, he reminds us, we'd be sitting on hard, narrow seats, fighting with your neighbor over the armrest, listening to monophonic sound from bad speakers behind the screen, and watching scratchy prints through a wall of cigarette smoke. (If you could even see the screen between the heads of the people in the row in front of you.) There's a lot to be said for today's comfortable, well-equipped theaters, with their surround sound and unhampered sightlines. The only trouble is, there also seems a lot to be said during the movies, despite the repeated warnings that "Silence is Golden."* I blame television.

*A phrase trademarked by AMC Theaters. So sue me.