Steiff bear diagram

This graphic was introduced to me by a student, who did a really good presentation of the visual evolution of the teddy bear for an assignment called the Artefact Assignment. It’s a great sort of Rorschach test, in the sense that any given interpretation probably reveals more about the viewer than the object itself:


In fact, what this graphic diagrams is the change in design over time of the Steiff bear. The Steiff bear was introduced in 1903 by the German company Steiff, who became involved in a decades-long arms race (furry arms, to be sure) with the Mitchom company, who had released a ‘Teddy’ Bear in the United States around the same time (named after TDR, who allegedly refused to shoot a defenseless bear). 

Please feel free to submit any alternate possible interpretations (psychosexual or otherwise) via the comments box.

Nerd Time: The Leopard Seal

UntitledA few years ago, I got really into reading accounts of extreme adventures and explorations. There’s something comforting about sitting in the warmth of your living room while other people haplessly freeze to death, fall of cliffs, catch on fire, have their still-beating hearts removed by Mayan priests, or  get half-digested in a the stomach of a whale and emerge bleached and peevish.

During this time, I read two accounts of the Shacktelton expedition. Basically, Shackleton and his mates head off from the south pole, but their boat gets frozen in ice in the Weddell Sea, effectively trapping them for 6 months of dark Antarctic winter.  Adorably, they actually stage puppet shows and stuff like that in order to maintain their sanity. Eventually, the ship is crushed by ice and the crew is forced to float around on giant ice bergs for months trying to sail their way out of the sea to land.

All sorts of terrible stuff happens, but one thing that was really a head-scratcher for me was the frequent account of attacks by Leopard Seals. Leopard Seals? Apparently, this is a species of carnivorous seal specific to the Antarctic. Shackleton and his crew are constantly trying to drift off to sleep on their flying ice floe when this leopard seal thing clambers out of the sea and starts attacking them. Apparently, it’s a worst-of-both-words proposition, in the sense that the Leopard Seal is dangerous (like a non-seal) but totally fatty and non-nutritious (like a seal). So, once they kill it, there’s still nothing in it for the beleaguered crew

All this makes for a good scenario to re-enact with guests as an after-dinner game. Just commandeer a few sofa cushions to use as ice floes.

(Above: real Leopard Seal cranium. Eek.)

List of company name etymologies

Fascinating list here. This is a really great resource if you were wondering where companies had realised their names and trademarks.

Some very interesting ones:

  1. A&M Records – named after founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (Actually, I believed it had to do with sound)
  2. Coleco – began as the Connecticut Leather Company. (who knew that!)
  3. Starbucks – named after Starbuck, a character in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick (NOT Battlestar Galactic)

Dept of Lost Urban Features: Inside (and Above) the Mission Armory

Anyone who has lived in SF’s Mission District knows the big, round brick armory building on 14th St. A few years ago, I had the chance to go inside thanks to a friend of mine who got access through volunteering for a movie shoot that was going on inside. We also found our way to the roof, but apparently weren’t supposed to do that and got yelled at. Here’s what I found out:

1. There are dozens (or maybe hundreds) of manger-sized subdivisions inside that presumably used to house horses. You could probably allocate studio space to half the serious artists in San Francisco here if you wanted to. But, apparently, it’s not seismically sound.

2. The Mission Creek still runs through the basement of the armory. Not in a roaring, uncontrolled torrent, but in a sort of highly-custodialized trickle. The Mission Creek is a water source that used to supply a now-extinct lake  by Dolores and 14th, to my undying fascination.

3. At the time I gained access, the entire building was being maintained by one guy who lived with this young daughter in van parked inside the building and- one can only presume- maintained a kind of creepy Shining-like relationship withe the place. (See first photo).

I’m told that the building was later sold to some sort of porn mogul, who now has parties there. Why it’s seismically fit for porn but not for artists is a mystery to me.


The High Line

When I was living in New York City in the mid-90s, I’d occasionally go dancing in clubs on the West Side of Manhattan.  One morning as I exited one such club in the dawn light, I noticed something strange: an abandoned elevated railway line, with rusted and ornate ironwork and little patches of grass and shrubbery peeking out from beneath its tracks.

High Line 1

High Line 2

As I walked downtown on 12th Avenue, I realized that I was following its path.  It actually ran through buildings that were in its way, and some sleuthing helped me determine that although it appeared to end at 14th Street, there was evidence (mostly in the form of remnants of its entrance and exit from buildings) of it well into the Meat Packing District.

I learned that it connected to rail yards around Penn Station, and that ships carrying railcars used to dock and slide them right onto the rail line, where the cars would ride downtown (and into the buidlings in its path) to deliver cattle or other 19 Century style deliveries.

I also learned that, predictably, the city had been trying to demolish it for years, but that it was hung up in various legal battles.  Imagine my surprise to learn, a few years later, that there was a viable public movement to refurbish it and turn it into a park (the obvious thing to do with it, from my perspective at least).

And now, lo and behold, it’s opened to the public.

In all fairness…

mcescherI didn’t mean to suggest in my last post that Czech is somehow any more insane than English. My fascination with aspects of Czech is the way that there’s often an underlying logic applied (as in the Island vs. Not Island example), but the logic turns out to be sort vague and applied in a half-assed manner. Many aspects of English, meanwhile, make no pretense towards logic whatsoever.

1. Our irregular spellings. Widely despised, mocked, railed against. Interestingly, it turns out that we have one man to blame for these. His name was William Caxton. In the early days of book printing in the late 15th century, England was lagging behind much of Europe in the field. Also, the English language was in flux with individual regions speaking their own highly individualized dialect. Caxton was the first prolific English printer; he also happened to hail from the part of England with all the awful ‘th’-y and ‘ough’-y spellings. Hence, he managed to codify the language, but in all the wrong ways.

2. Past-perfect-subjective-purple-monkey-dishwasher tense. Really, our past verb tenses are insane (‘would have had I known’, etc) and the part of the language that seem to inspire the most dread in foreign learners. (I used to work at an agency that had quasi-mandatory English lessons, and the ashen expressions of my Czech co-workers as they emerged from the teacher’s office after trying to learn past conditional led me to dub her ‘the dentist’ and her office ‘the dentist office’. That was fun.) Why not just have an international standardized, simplified version of English? When you consider how many conversations are happening every second in English among two non-native speakers, and how much time is wasted tripping and bumbling over these tenses, it really seems massively cruel and wasteful. And it seems to me that you could fully express yourself if you just used past perfect for everything. “I would have come earlier if I had known you were thinking about coming’ doesn’t express much more than ‘I would came earlier if I know that you thinked about coming’, which is basically the same sentence transposed into Czech grammar.

Charles Shaw: man or myth?

I’ve often wondered whether Charles Shaw was an actual person, or simply a kind of fictional amalgamation of upscale characteristics (slippers, fireside, pipe, monocle, etc). Today, I found out the answer:

Charles Shaw, the man, epitomized the Napa life style of the glamorous eighties, and its folly. Shaw, handsome and rugged and happy-go-lucky, had spent time in France, and his dream was to make a burgundy – in a region where everyone wanted Bordeaux […] They had money; a lovely house, with a tennis court, in the middle of their vineyard, and a bunch of good-looking kids. “They were right out of ‘Falcon Crest,'” a local winemaker told me…

Falcon Crest— how gratifying is that?