I’m Not Hanging Noodles on your Ears


My friend Julia Suits, New Yorker cartoonist, just sent me a copy of this book by Jag Bhalla, of which she is the illustrator. I don’t know if Julia knows of my fascination with linguistic curiosities but this is right up my browsing alley. It is a delightful book, all about idioms from other cultures. I recall one of my favorite browsing books, Howard Rheingold‘s They Have a Word for It, about untranslatable concepts other cultures embody in native words. Bhalla turned my head when he pointed out in the introduction to the present volume that idioms are essentially expressions that are untranslatable in their own language!

And Suits’ wonderful illustrations, with their absurd and at times surreal literality, are perfect amplifications of the incongruity Bhalla sets out to depict.

Ed Bonfilio

I just discovered, serendipitously, that my neighbor Ed Bonfilio is an accomplished, and exhibited, painter. Here is an oil he did of a house on our street in Brookline.

The nuts and bolts of chess

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My friend Julia Suits wrote me that a chess set she and her sons made from hardware has been featured at the Make blog and also Boing Boing’d. As Julia describes,

“Headed toward the light-bulb aisle in my local hardware store a few years ago,I stopped to admire the bins of nuts,bolts and the like. This is not unusual for me who likens this kind of scene to a candy store. I love metal,and have cast and welded all types as a sculpture major in graduate school. When I saw the little bin containing two different types of castle nuts,I immediately thought of rooks. At the time my three sons and I hosted a weekly chess club,so chess was on my mind a lot. With my boys in tow,I returned with graph paper and we computed what sorts of bits we might want (we didn't know for sure) for each type of piece and how many in total. An hour later, after poring over numerous bins and waiting for the clerk to saw the threaded rod into measured lengths (for kings, rooks,and bishops), we went home with about fifteen pounds of loot, including spray paint for the black pieces. We created a set not far different from what is pictured here. Since then we've added washers to some and added a flanged hex nut to each of the bases to make the set uniform and even more stable. The hardware chessmen were a huge hit and the other boys built their own sets.

Make sure you add felt or cork to the bases if you plan on using a board whose finish you wish to protect. If you do this, you will need to glue the flanged hex nut base to the shaft before you glue your padding as the nut and shaft tend to screw up or down with use. Otherwise, note: none of the pieces are glued!! This is so they jingle (yes,they jingle, like cowboy spurs!) and so you can take them apart and rearrange them.” via Make.

The Last Whole Earth Catalog

Fall 1969 cover

The Last Whole Earth Catalog, from June 1971, has been scanned in and is available for electronic browsing pleasure. I was a devotee of the mindset of these folks and a charter subscriber to the quarterly spin-off from the catalogs, known at different times as Whole Earth Review and Coevolutionary Quarterly. I visited them in Sausalito at one point, and had the pleasure of being the next-door neighbor in New Haven of their graphics editor for awhile. (My across-the-street neighbor at the time was the New Haven Zen Center. Nice neighborhood.) In many ways, they were all about hacking the world and your life long before there was electronic hacking. Their closest online literary heir is Kevin Kelly.

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Experimental Musical Instruments

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My friend of almost forty years, Bart Hopkin, was in town this week giving a talk to the MIT Media Lab. He is the founder-editor of EMI, which was a journal for many years and is now a website for the design and appreciation of unusual instruments. He is himself an builder of unusual instruments, each of them beautiful, whimsical or outrageous, and each exploring a design issue or deep principle of music-making or what we think of as music. The site has photos of some of his instruments and links to his recorded music.

Although the boundaries have progressively loosened over the years, he has always had a prejudice in favor of acoustic instruments to the exclusion of electronic. At first it seemed a little odd that he was invited to talk to the Media Center. But the Media Center is all about interface design and Bart’s fascination with unusual instruments entails a preoccupation with interface in a creative endeavor. So it ended up making sense. The audience was entranced by the talk. It occurred to me that, as far as I recall, I had never blinked to his site. Enjoy, both producers and consumers of music among you.

Experimental Musical Instruments Home Page.