Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A stupid little thing which means absolutely nothing...

... but it got my attention today when I went online to check my email. Here's a cropped screen grab of the thing:

Perhaps it was because this past week a friend mentioned in an email that she was trying to get to the "Zero Inbox" stage, wherein you keep your email inbox free of clutter, to the point where when you leave it each day, it is empty.

For this particular email address, I have not done that in quite a long time, if ever... and today, I noticed with a small blip of amusement, that the number of emails currently in the inbox for that address was 1234.

Get it?





Yeah, okay, it's stupid... but these are the things one amuses oneself with when trapped in one's house by a raging blizzard and the attendant ban on driving. (I use the words "raging blizzard" somewhat sarcastically, as the storm we are getting here today in Western Massachusetts, while certainly significant, is hardly the worst we've ever had... and from where I sit, looking out at the occasional random swirl of snowflakes, clearly not signifying desperately difficult or unsafe driving conditions.) -- PL

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Terok Nor...?

I'm a big fan of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog -- they have a good selection of interesting and useful objects, some entirely practical, some fanciful… and some a combination of those two qualities.

But I was startled when I saw the cover of their latest catalog (or, if not the latest, at least the most recent one I've received) and saw what my eyes immediately told me must be some kind of nifty licensed "Star Trek" product.  

It was some sort of complex metallic gizmo whose unusual shape instantly made me think of "Terok Nor" -- the Cardassian space station taken over by the Federation in the third "Star Trek" TV series, "Deep Space Nine". The station was, in fact, renamed "Deep Space Nine" by the Federation in the storyline of that series. 

Here's an image of the space station from the TV series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". Notice any similarities?

This thing in the catalog was a pretty cool-looking product, whatever it was… and I found the answer to my "What is it?" question on page 69 (I think -- I don't have the catalog in front of me as I type this). It's a "24th Century Time Machine" -- essentially a high-end timepiece made by L'Epee of Switzerland, and you could have one for the price of a nice car -- $35,500.

But I searched in vain for anything in the description of the product which would reveal a connection to "Star Trek" and/or "Deep Space Nine". The closest the copy in the catalog came was this phrase: "Suggesting a remote station set amid the void of space". 

But it is also clearly meant to resemble the titular space station in "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". I showed the cover of the catalog to Jim Lawson -- who is not a huge "Star Trek" fan -- and asked him what it looked like, and right away he said "The space station on "Deep Space Nine"!"

So… what's the deal here? It is hard to believe that there is no one among the folks behind the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog who would have noticed that this product bore a very close similarity to the design of the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" space station. In my opinion, it appears to be a pretty brazen conceptual appropriation with absolutely no credit being given to the original source.

I don't get it. Am I missing something here? -- PL

[Note: The images of the catalog cover and the interior page are not scans from the printed catalog itself, but screen grabs from the Hammacher Schlemmer website -- they're not exactly the same, but as far as I can tell, the descriptive information is identical.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Empty Bowls

In May of 2012, after a roughly forty-year hiatus, I returned to an art form with which I'd had a brief but passionate encounter as an undergraduate: pottery.

I only took one semester of "Ceramics 1" at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst back in 1974, but I loved it -- especially working on the wheel, throwing bowls and mugs and goblets.

So why did I wait forty years before taking it up again? Long story.

Two and a half years ago I began taking private lessons and then classes with local "practical potter" TIffany Hilton, who proved to be a wonderful teacher. I have continued to study with her and in fact will be taking another of her classes soon.

Last year, when I was finishing up a class with her, TIffany surprised me by asking if I would be interested in making some bowls for an upcoming charity event called "Empty Bowls" being put on by the Amherst Survival Center on March 9, 2015. The way it works (as I understand it) is that local potters make and donate ceramic bowls, and local restaurants donate food, and for the price of an admission ticket (proceeds going to the charity), patrons can choose one of the bowls and get it filled with food, taking the bowl home with them after the meal is over.

It sounded like a cool thing, and I was flattered that my teacher thought enough of my skills that she asked me to do this. So I wedged up a bunch of clay in her studio, and in a couple of hours had thrown a dozen bowls of varying shapes and sizes...

… then, a week or so later I trimmed their feet (and signed my name to the bottom of each bowl, complete with my traditional small TMNT head sketch)…

… and sometime after that, once TIffany had done the first (bisque) firing... 

        ... I dipped them in one glaze, adding a few brushstrokes and spatters with a second glaze. 

A few days ago, TIffany told me that she'd done the final firing, and I could come and view my bowls before they went off to their final fate.

I was happy to see that they'd come out just about as I had hoped they would. I'd used two of Tiffany's glazes, "cream" and "olive green", which, when combined, create a beautiful bluish-green color. Here's a group shot of the twelve finished bowls, ready to go:

I don't know if there are any tickets left for the event -- I actually had an oddly difficult time finding information about it online -- but here's a link to the Amherst Survival Center Facebook page which might help if you are interested:

I have no idea who will end up with the bowls I made, but it tickles me to think that maybe, just maybe, someone who is a TMNT fan might get a pleasant surprise when they turn their bowl over and see something like this:

-- PL

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A brief review of "American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of Wiiliam Skinner, a Man Who Turned Disaster into Destiny" by Sarah Kilborne

If I were Sarah Kilborne, author of "American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of Wiiliam Skinner, a Man Who Turned Disaster into Destiny", a book I just finished reading, I might say something like this:

"I have driven or ridden the stretch of road between Haydenville and Williamsburg in Massachusetts countless times, and never knew -- until reading Elizabeth M. Sharpe's book "In the Shadow of the Dam: The Aftermath of the Mill River Flood of 1874" -- that there was once a community called Skinnerville which existed there, situated between Haydenville and Williamsburg."

But I am not Sarah Kilborne, and I don't use the word "countless" as often or as pointlessly as she does in her book. I've probably traveled that stretch of road hundreds of times, maybe even a thousand times or more, but that doesn't even begin to get close to "countless" times.

In the history of the world, no human being has EVER done ANYTHING "countless" times. In fact, if you factored in every human being who ever existed on the planet, all of them TOGETHER have not done anything "countless" times.

"Countless" doesn't mean "a lot", or "more than I have counted", or "too many for me to bother to count" -- it means "too many to count -- an infinite number". It's a failing of many modern writers, one which I have groused about before -- in their search for attention-grabbing exaggerations, they abuse this great word in the most ridiculous of ways.

But I digress.

As I said earlier, I first became aware of "Skinnerville" when I read Elizabeth Sharpe's fascinating account of the Mill River flood and its aftermath, and was shocked to learn that an area I thought I'd known pretty well had once been home to a small but thriving community which the flood of 1874 had essentially wiped off the map. So when I spotted Sarah Kilborne's book about William Skinner, one of the mill owners -- and, in fact, patriarch of "Skinnerville" -- whose factories had been destroyed in the flood, I bought it immediately.

It's a very interesting (and quite well-written, save for the occasional silly error -- like using "passed" when "past" is called for, and the aforementioned repeated misuse of "countless") story about William Skinner, an immigrant from England who came to America with essentially one salable skill (he knew how to dye silk), and through hard work, determination and intelligence, created a small silk empire -- first in the rural Mill River valley in Western Massachusetts, until the horrific Mill River flood mostly destroyed Skinnerville and did serious damage to other small towns on the river, such as Haydenville and Leeds. After this disaster, Skinner moved his business to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he built a much larger mill and prospered greatly, in large part because of a sweetheart deal offered to him by the city of Holyoke.

I'd never known that our area had been a center of industry of this type, but certain things now make much more sense --  for example, the names of an office complex ("The Silk Mill") in Florence, just outside of Northampton, and a bar in Florence as well ("The Silk City Tap Room").

There is even a small TMNT connection to the legacy of WIlliam Skinner: His house in Skinnerville, which was damaged in the flood of 1874, was disassembled and moved to Holyoke when Skinner relocated his business, where it was reassembled and later added onto. It remained in the Skinner family for many years, until in 1959 it was given to the City of Holyoke, and is now the Wistariahurst Museum, open to the public… and where, in the summer of 1988, there was an exhibition of "The Art of Mirage Studios". -- PL