Berlin Bandwagon

So, as intimated in last post (and a few other ones), we’re taking the leap and moving to Berlin in beginning of June. The plan is to try it out for six months, see how it goes, and then revaluate towards the end of the year. The short version of the story is that you can look forward to lots of facile comparative ‘blah blah Berlin this, Prague that, blah blah blah’ posts in this space over the summer. I look forward to jumping on an already stuffed-to-capacity bandwagon and adding to the steady drumbeat of inane ‘Berlin: Best City Evah!‘-type commentary.

You know those occasional experiences that make you truly appreciate the internet (for example, buying plane tickets– do you actually remember how much airfare cost in the early 90s?). This process of moving to another city with wife and small child in tow has been more or less the ultimate example of this. I’m literally not sure that it would be possible to me to organize this in, say, 1992. Sure, if we didn’t have a kid, I suppose my wife and I could squat with various friends and stuff while we figured it out… but, given the current set-up, the only two options I can imagine would be:

  1. Move family to some crappy hotel in Berlin, go to German equivalent of Rainbow grocery every day and scour bulletin board for sublet postings written in English
  2. Hire some agency to take care of it. This sounds somewhat plausible (if expensive)… until I remember that I currently live in Prague and am planning to move to a second foreign country– it’s not like I could just open the phonebook and find some Czech-German relocation company with whom I could easily communicate with about the nuances of potential living situations.

So, yeah: thanks, internet. I really like you this week. But also for another reason: the post that I wrote about my late sculptor friend Joe… both his daughter and his friend Rhonda have come across the post via Google searches, and Rhonda was kind enough to corroborate my vague memories of his experience living in an unheated cement warehouse. It’s such a good story– imagine my relief to discover that it’s not a pure embellishment from my addled memory.

See also: So Long, Old Friend and Berlin Says…

Blog Fight Song, pt. 4

From a profile on Barry Michaels, the Hollywood therapist who treats screenwriters, actors and movie execs:

“By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in Michels’s practice is procrastination, which he understands in terms of Jung’s Father archetype. ‘They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write,’ he says. ‘Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he’s answerable to, but it’s not human. It’s Time itself that’s passing inexorably. That’s why they call it Father Time. Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you’re defying this authority figure.’ Procrastination, he says, is a ‘spurious form of immortality,’ the ego’s way of claiming that it has all the time in the world; writing, by extension, is a kind of death.”

Previous Blog Fight Song installments here.

Image: Chronos (aka Father Time) and Gaea from the opening spread of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

The Faery Of Electricity

With the end of the world seemingly at hand, I’m taking a small amount of comfort in the fact that the best day of the year is right around the corner. Granted, that isn’t much to hang one’s hat on– the rate of natural disasters and toppled dictators has been so alarmingly accelerated as of late that I’m half expecting this laptop to blow up in my face as I type. Also– strangely– I’ve been so overwhelmed with work this year and preoccupied with a prospective move to a new city that my usual seasonal affective disorder hasn’t fully had a chance to kick in, if that makes sense. Paradoxically, I’ve more or less breezed through the winter  in a cocoon of my own little micro-anxieties and fixations. So, in a sense, I’m anticipating clocks-go-forward-day with a little less eagerness than in years past. But still…

As an homage to clocks-go-forward day, here are a few other fun facts I’ve learned about man’s attempts to conquer darkness:

1. The Herring Angle

Lately, I’ve been trying to read The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald, on the RABID recommendation of a few friends. So far, it’s kind of falling into the Gram Parsons Zone for me– I appreciate it, but it’s not really taking.

One detail that I loved, though, is the mention of attempts in 1870 by two British scientists named (this is the best part:) Herrington and Lightbrown to use the glowing oil excreted by dead herrings to light the world. Their idea was that, since herrings mysteriously light up as they die, maybe a self-regenerating source of luminescence could be produced from tiny thirst-inducing fish. I love the idea of herrings becoming a key commodity in the modern world. This would be convenient because, as Sebald mentions, every herring lays enough eggs to produce a volume of herrings 70 times the size of the earth.

Also, imagine having a business card that states your name as ‘Herrington’ and underneath in smaller letters says ‘Herring Expert’. Outstanding.

2. The Two Sleeps Angle

If you wake up in the middle of the night after a couple hours of sleep (something that’s been happening to me a lot lately– see above micro-anxieties), it turns out this is what people routinely did for thousands of years, up until the industrial revolution. People would sleep a few hours, then get up, smoke a pipe, hangout, whatever, for a bit before going back to bed for a ‘second sleep’. Makes sense when there was no way for most people to afford artificial light, and so nighttime was about a billion hours long in winter. I guess this is when all the brooding got done in plays like Hamlet– he was up pacing around between sleeps.

3. Chicken-Or-Egg Electricity Thing

The whole two-sleeps thing had been buried for good by the time that Edison invented the electric lightbulb and (as an art history documentary I show my designs students puts it) ‘the faery of electricity was loosed on the world’. It’s sort of weird to imagine society suddenly ‘launching’ the lightbulb as a product and–  for that matter– electricity in general. I mean, I assume that lightbulbs were first introduced at a municipal level in the form of street lamps– you didn’t just go out and buy a lightbulb in the early days. But how, then, did the whole thing eventually spread to rural American homes? You need an electricity-powered lamp if you’re going to buy a lightbulb… but you also need a proliferation of lamps before the local store is going to start carrying lightbulbs. So how did it start?

The same conundrum sort of applies to electricity in general: how did they convince a ignoramousy public to allow electricity to be installed into their homes if there was nothing to use this mysterious force for?

I do vaguely remember learning that in the early days, a pointless little rubber mat was sold to a fearful Americans that you were supposed to place on your floor underneath the electrical socket, to ‘soak up’ any stray electricity that might happen to leak out of the wall socket and dribble down the wall. Such was their understanding of the whole phenomenon. Unfortunately, the internet is letting me down in terms of turning up a photo to confirm this, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

(Top image: Peter Behrens’ fantastic AEG ad from 1907, promoting a new lightbulb. Pretty early instance of the basic visual vocabulary of abstraction finding its way into mass commercial media).

Corporate Design Update

Here are some spreads from a book I’ve been working on that’s going to print in next week or two. It’s an update of an existing book for CTP, the same industrial developer for whom I did the giant ‘Yearbook‘ project in 2009. My talented collaborator Dr. T has been rendering the 3D models in Google Sketchup and exporting to Illustrator files– hence, some really giant honking vector files that take forever to open and move around.


Two other things:

1. I’m invoking a new rule governing the blog roll: if you haven’t updated your blog in 300 days or more, I’m kicking you out and replacing you with someone new. Therefore: ModularLab, you’re out– sorry. Daisy, you’re in.

2. Quiz answers from yesterday: 1-A; 2-C; 3-B

Which Continent Sang What?

The Guardian and several other news outlets have – predictably, yet brilliantly – had ‘Who’s line is it?’ contests where you have to guess whether a given quote was uttered by Charlie Sheen or Muammar Gaddafi. I tried this one and got only 6 of 10 right.

Shortly, however, my mind began to wander and consider other less obvious topics that one could apply this same game to. A natural fit seemed to be matching pretentious lyrics with the three major rock bands that have had the gall to name themselves after continents.

Let’s meet the Candidates:

1. America

2. Europe

3. Asia

Now, their espoused philosophies:


I’m gonna miss you, yes, I will
No matter who you are I’ll love you still
For my life is my conscience, the seeds I sow
And I just wanted to let you know


And from the wreckage I will arise
Cast the ashes back in their eyes
See the fire I will defend
Just keep on burning right to the end


You know it ain’t easy
Running out of thrills
You know it ain’t easy
When you don’t know what you want.

Answers in next post!


Edit: Looks like the diminutive island of Japan just trumped these bloated continent-bands for epic lyrical source material.

I’m (Reportedly) Shocked

Five fun things I’ve learned recently, ranked on a scale of how surprised I was to learn them (0.0 being totally unsurprised, 10.00 being very surprised):

1.0: Before entering the Church of Scientology, Kirstie Alley had a major cocaine problem that she credits the ‘Church’ with helping her kick. Kirstie Alley just seems like a reformed cokehead, doesn’t she?

3.5: Asked if he was on drugs in a recent interview, Charlie Sheen replied, “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available. If you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.” Duh.

5.0: The Iranian government has threatened a boycott of the 2012 London Olympics because they claim that the controversial logo spells out ‘Zion’. This is surprisingly loony– but, then again, it does kind of look like it says that. The poor, beleaguered 2012 London Olympics logo, which has already been compared from everything to a swastika to an unspecified sexual act, was defended by one of my Prague College students who wrote his dissertation on it. Looks like its time for an appendix!

The best part is the fact that the Iranians say that certain “internet documents” prove the resemblance, but don’t specify what documents these are.

8.0: My mother-in-law, who works as a regional district attorney here in Czech, slipped on ice over the holidays and broke her leg in three places. She was saved by the kindness of a stranger who stopped his car, took her to the hospital and waited with her until it was clear she would be OK. A few weeks later, my mother-in-law found out that the good samaritan was a guy she had just recently tried to put behind bars. Ah, small town ironies.

9.5: Prince wrote ‘Manic Monday.’ What???!! How did I not know this?

Twitter Verdict

Back in the beginnings of this lowly month, I proposed my Twitter Challenge, in which I vowed to jump into Twitter with both feet, give it a fair chance, see how it worked out for me. I was semi-fair to my word on this: my involvement ebbed and flowed… but overall, I managed a respectable 56 tweets and followed 15 people.

Per the declared rules of the Twitter Challenge, it is now time to re-evaluate and either pledge eternal support and involvement, or withdraw. My decision is:

WITHDRAW. Sort of.

In the sense that I’m not going to cancel my account or anything extremist like that, but henceforth I only plan to go on to see what other people are saying when my favorite tyrant is being overthrown and so forth.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were some memorable moments. I enjoyed the flowering of the Dissonant Triangle… the time TK bit his tongue… the time that Jack was getting a tattoo removed but Janet and Chrissie thought he was getting a vasectomy, etc etc. But, here, in case you were wondering, are my somewhat predictable reasons for being less-than-swept-away after a month of dabbling:

1. Redundancy. Twitter would have to somehow unseat either Facebook or this ailing, not-oft-updated blog in order to really take off in my life. There simply isn’t room for all three in this town.

2. Lack of local critical mass. I think if you live in a place like SF, it becomes somewhat effortless (and addictive), because there are so many people tweeting about things of interest to you that its natural to chime in. Prague is… ummm… not exactly like that. Plus, it would be hard to fit my tweets into the 140 character limit and still provide both Czech and Slovak translations.

A few other quick impressions:

1. The biggest surprise to me was the realization that, in the case of certain bloggers I enjoy reading, their blog turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg of their online presence, and the real business goes on on Twitter. It’s impressive that JohnnyO, for one, even has a corporeal body left at this point. I was very struck by this.

2. The spam presence, while inevitable, is somehow even slightly more depressing on Twitter than anywhere else.

3. Since everyone likes quick, snappy aphorisms that sum up the Twitter experience, here’s my attempt at one: if Facebook is like the social dynamics of your high school cafeteria brought online, Twitter often feels like a galactic showdown between your high school and everyone else’s.

Meanwhile, here’s the amazin’ Korean Kittens: