Saturday, February 05, 2005

Minnesota Decoy Show: Neo-Luddite assails Scientific Research

In one of the most shocking episodes of recent times, a prominent Wisconsin decoy collector manifested an apparent anti-scientific bent by most cruelly criticizing a noble researcher just as the latter's efforts were bearing fruit.

Late Thursday evening the Luddite was plying several room-hopping low-li....that is, hospitably serving his distinguished guests some excellent wine, when one of them with a serious interest in discovering the secrets of the old decoy makers (inspired by the pioneering efforts of Joel Barber himself) seized upon the opportunity which the gracious host had unwittingly provided.

Seated on the floor, our Hero noted that the cranial portion of a Gus Moak canvasback decoy (Aythya valisineria pseudoduxii), priced at $3800 dollars, was quite loose. There have been assertions that The Noble Moak attached heads with a double-pointed screw and three finishing nails. It was clear to our young Archimedes that the nails had been broken or cut, and that the cranium could be removed for scientific inspection of the fastening mechanism by the application of continuous pressure by the distal portion of one meta-phalange, applied to the tip of the bill in a counter-clockwise direction.

Having successfully done so, this intrepid Magellan of the Arts thoughtfully placed the body back on the bed and examined the cranium, which proved of such absorbing interest that he is believed to have reported "Hey, this is a pretty nice head."

Our Luddite, however, glancing proprietarily at his bedfull of decoys, discovered the decapitated corpse of Moak's $3800 marvel which some have indeed likened to the after-class remains of a frog in Freshman Biology class, a frog which, mind you, had selflessly given its life in the pursuit of Education & Progress. Friend Luddite hyperventilated. He sputtered like an old jalopy. His eyes fluttered like those of a barn owl in the mid-day sun. He became red as a fine Burmese ruby.

Painful though it is to report, gentle reader, he expressed a lack of appreciation for our Hero's serious scientific endeavors and a complete lack of awareness of the societal importance of pure research. Yes, it is a sad tale, but true, (at least according to some witnesses who were admittedly of somewhat impaired observational reliability). If such attitude spreads, at least one observer fears that we may have witnessed one of the harbingers of the fall of Western Civilization as we know it.

UPDATE: I fear the Kindly Host referred to above has commented in what some might consider an intemperate vein: "Sputter my a**! Hyperventilate ditto!" I note that he does not deny turning red as a Burmese ruby, fine or otherwise, nor that his eyes fluttered like an owl. He continued, however: "This esteemed decoy collector thinks research should be conducted when performed on one's own property - how do you want to pay for the aforementioned Moakl?" Sigh. I was under the impression that he was a true aficionado of the Immortal Moak's polychromed wood sculptures, and that as such he knew full well that they are beyond price.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Minnesota Decoy Collectors' Show

Tomorrow morning I am off to Bloomington MN for the state decoy collectors' get together. The Thunderbird Motel is right across the parking lot from the Mall of America, which is pretty big as malls go. One used to be able to trek right across the parking lot to mallize, but a couple years ago the security conscious types spent a lot of money to put up a chainlink fence, so now one must hop in old NellieBelle and motor over. If so inclined.

I intend to hit an art museum and also visit a couple of area decoy collectors to ogle their goods. The Minneapolis Art Museum has two nice Tahitian period Gauguins and a van Gogh Olive Grove, and lately someone has been throwing some pretty serious shekels their way in order to put together a collection of Oceanic art, another interest of mine. They haven't bought a lot, but it is seriously hi quality, so it is always fun to see what they might have added since the last visit.

I suppose I should check the weather report, it sometimes gets nippy up there. About ten years ago or so, people were standing around outside throwing cups of hot coffee in the air, and the coffee never hit the ground. Just froze and blew away. That was pretty cold, even by the locals' standards. It was -60 a bit north of there, and I guess that was pretty tough on the malarial mosquitoes as I've never seen one up there since.

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Stealing an art form

Sorry, guys, there are some things which you don't get to do with impunity. These Seattlites think that it is ok to steal other peoples' property if they eventually give it back, at an art gallery: Stealing as performance art.
Richter says, "I wouldn't presume to pass judgment on them. ... There's a part of me that does respect it as an art project and as commentary" on the value and meaning of art. On the other hand, he says, he was "torn, because in at least two cases... [the artists or galleries] were really busted up about it." In any case, he adds, "I trusted that they would return the work. And then, honestly, I washed my hands of it."
Except, of course, that he notified neither the victimized galleries, the artists, or the cops. His hands are still dirty.

And he "wouldn't presume to pass judgement on them"? I'll bet he passes judgement on George Bush every day. These are petty thieves- well, actually, self-admitted felons- and claiming their thefts are art doesn't change that.

I think they should participate involuntarily in trials, sentencing, and jail terms. Strictly as performance art, mind you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Pretty nearly big enough for a Dartmouth grad's martini

Albeit a somewhat dirty ice cube. Um, sphere. Whatever. You have to clik on the "Iapetus" link to find out it's size and what it's made of.

Maybe someday Iditarod will have a run up there.

Monday, January 31, 2005


Alan Cowell in the New York Times:
Somewhat on the defensive after Iraq's election, European leaders who had opposed the war welcomed the vote today, though with less than full enthusiasm...Indeed, said Timothy Garton Ash, an Oxford historian and expert on trans-Atlantic affairs..."The challenge for the British left in particular is: Are you for democracy in the Middle East even though Bush is in favor of it?"

...That same question applied in many parts of Europe where, some Americans believed, the urge to see an all-powerful United States humbled by an outright failure in Iraq far outweighed concern for the future of Middle Eastern democracy.
Well,that's a sophisticated position. Nuanced even. Humanitarian. Once upon a time the Left cared about the people, or so they said. Now they just want to screw the capitalists, but then they always wanted to do that.

BBC: Ooops

Good for the BBC. They corrected a mistake.

More of that eBay litararry stuff

PRIMITIVE HALF OF A DOUGH BOWL...absolutly beautiful,most deffinatly used, I don't dare say the age of this bowl but OLD!!......I except money orders with confidence..
Yes, it is in fact about half a dough bowl. Well, probably more than half. Maybe even 80% of a dough bowl.

I wonder if those opposed to voluntary searches are also opposed to...

...governent interfering with the right to keep and bear arms.

As I recall, the ACLU claims there is no such right. I guess that answers that.

One aspect of the pro-gun control, pro-gun ban crowd which I not understand: Lots of them seem (by my unscientific observation) to believe that the government is a cabal of neo-fascists, that the current Republican president =Hitler, and that we are held in servitude which will only grow worse. So, why do they think that citizens shouldn't be allowed to have guns? Why do they think that as a matter of good social policy only the fascists should be armed? The two beliefs together don't make any sense.

If they believe we are in a fascist authoritarian state, one which clearly is the militarily most powerful in the world, don't Americans then have a peculiar responsibility to maintain the means with which to control that government? I do not understand how such people reconcile the two beliefs. Any thoughts?

Weep for Saddam

A former Attorney General of the United States exhorts us, but I don't remember his attempts to move to Iraq in, oh, say 1995, renounce his US citizenship, and swear allegiance to the now-deposed Saint Saddam.

MIT "Fab Labs"

According to Katharine Dunn in the Boston Globe, MITers think we will eventually have mini-factories at home to produce whatever we feel like. The current prototypes are a long way from nanobots building stuff in the pantry, but ENIAC was a long way from a PC.
Neil Gershenfeld...a physicist and computer scientist who runs the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, envisions a time when many of us will have a "fabrication center" in our homes. We'll be able to download a our computers, and then feed the designs and the raw materials into a personal fabricator. At the push of a button, almost like hitting "print," the machine will spit it out.

Ultimately, Gershenfeld wants to build a machine that can make any machine -- one that can "print" 3-D objects that include all the circuitry and mechanisms they need to move around, heat up, make noise, connect to the Internet, or do whatever it is they're designed to do. Such a machine -- think of the "replicators" on "Star Trek" -- doesn't yet exist, but Gershenfeld and others say there will be a version of it in a decade.
Clik or paste:

If you are wondering about ENIAC, it was the first electronic computer:
Final assembly took place during the fall of 1945.

...Its thirty separate units, plus power supply and forced-air cooling, weighed over thirty tons. Its 19,000 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, and hundreds of thousands of resistors, capacitors, and inductors consumed almost 200 kilowatts of electrical power.

But ENIAC was the prototype from which most other modern computers evolved. It embodied almost all the components and concepts of today's high- speed, electronic digital computers...

ENIAC could discriminate the sign of a number, compare quantities for equality, add, subtract, multiply, divide, and extract square roots. ENIAC stored a maximum of twenty 10-digit decimal numbers. Its accumulators combined the functions of an adding machine and storage unit. No central memory unit existed, per se.
If you want more, the rest of the above is here:The ENIAC Story By Martin H. Weik, 1961. Ordnance Ballistic Research Laboratories, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD at

Sunday, January 30, 2005

BBC reporters' logs on the Iraqi elections

Worth reading.

"Trench Art: An Illustrated History" by Jane Kimball

I just finished writing an Amazon review of a new book which came in day before yesterday. I was house-cleaning franticly in preparation for some decoy-collecting friends coming over for dinner, but had to take an hour to at least skim it. By now I've had a while to dig in to it. The review is pretty self-explanatory:

I have been collecting trench art seriously for about 18 years and am happy to say that Jane Kimball's new book is, bar none, the best reference I am aware of. Nothing else even comes close.

Several years ago I asked a militaria dealer if he knew of any good reference books on trench art, as I had never found one which had any substantial coverage. He said that there wasn't one, but that he knew of "a young lady in California who is working on a book." He put me in touch, and Kimball and I have been corresponding ever since. (She has also been kind enough to include four pieces from my own collection in chapters 5 and 6.)

Kimball is a retired research librarian from the University of California, and her professional expertise shows up wonderfully in her book. She knows how to do research, and the importance of (unobtrusive) footnotes. Her text is well written, but insofar as she can she lets the words of the makers and their contemporaries speak for themselves, and the art for itself.

"Trench Art: An Illustrated History" concentrates on material produced during and shortly after the First World War, the first great efflorescence of this until now rather obscure world-wide form of folk art. However, Kimball covers the earlier history of soldier art and prisoner of war art in order to provide the reader with a historical context for its development, and also covers the subsequent production during the Interwar Period, WWII itself, and a once over lightly of the post-WWII era. Trench art is still being produced today, and will likely continue as long as there is conflict.

She has ferreted out and included here the numerous, but generally brief, references to trench art buried in now obscure publications during and after the Great War and brought them together to provide a greater understanding of the part trench art played in the daily lives of soldiers and their families.

The illustrations are generally excellent, though space constraints even in this hefty book required making some smaller than ideal. Still, they are clear and crisply printed in color, with good captions, and the variety within types is enormously helpful.

Trench art is an area with so little reference material published that even those of us who have been collecting for years can't know what is out there until we actually see it. I estimate that I have looked at (mostly on the Internet) well over thirty-thousand pieces, and Kimball has surely seen far more than that. Her collection, which makes up the great majority of the illustrations here, is composed of the cream of what she has come across.

Culled from tens of thousands of examples viewed over many years, the hundreds of pieces here provide an excellent overview of the varieties of form, both common and rare, which make trench art such a fascinating form of folk art from around the world.

Kimball's scholarly approach, accompanied by massive footnotes (10 pages worth) and a five page bibliography provide the general collector with interesting and reliable data, and the scholar with plenty of leads for further research.

"Trench Art: An Illustrated History" by Jane Kimball
Hardcover: 402 pages
Publisher: Silverpenny Press (December, 2004)
ISBN: 0975597108

Price: $65 but Amazon has it for $40.00.

Amazon Link: Clik up top or: