Sunday, May 25, 2014

Duly noted

Seen on Route 222 North today: A black Range Rover with the license plate "ROI CEO."

For me the first part keeps flipping between English and French ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


A colleague of Debbie's has a child's birthday party coming up, and wanted something special for the decorations. So for the past couple of days I've been working on this:

You'd be surprised how much patience it takes to paint a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine on 30" x 40" foam core using tempera! I was given this for a model:

We decided to dispense with the 3D head, but apart from that, I think it's pretty comparable. Here it is in the very early going:

And a bit later, at the start of the painting stage:

There were two main problems. First, I foolishly chose to rough out the design on the board itself, rather than drawing it on paper first and scaling up. That meant I was doing all the measurements on the fly, on a surface that doesn't erase well at all. I ended up goofing up one dimension and fudging a couple of others. Never assume something's going to be simple just because it looks simple.

Second, the first paint I tried didn't stick properly, but just sort of slopped around, staining here and there. Ugh. Fortunately, the competitor's brand worked.

I also made things hard for myself by being too tentative about the edges, leading to a lot of extra touching up toward the end. But all in all I think it worked out alright.

I'm especially pleased with myself for including Thomas' headlamp, down there on the left side of his chassis. (From Thomas' POV, his right side.) It's a prominent fixture on the real Thomas, but it's always omitted when he's stylized. Not this time!

It's certainly not Art with a capital A, but it was more fun than I expected.

Monday, May 12, 2014

People of Buffalo, hold on to your wallets

Buffalo Sportz Corridor

It seems someone has a bright idea for waterfront redevelopment in the city of Buffalo, N.Y.:
Another proposal was released on Monday that would include a new stadium for the Bills and a new sports complex. The Buffalo Sportz Corridor has a project that would also include a complex for amateur sports as well as a new Convention Center.
You don't say? Details, please:
The idea for what they are calling Olympia Sports Park envisions an enormous complex featuring facilities to accommodate a full range of activities, from hockey, football and baseball to golf, archery, tennis, mixed martial arts and even beach volleyball. Other areas would be designed for boating, fishing, indoor track, lacrosse, soccer and swimming. There would also be walking and bike paths ringing the area.
The ultimate concept even includes a new domed stadium for the Buffalo Bills, as well as a convention center, south of the Small Boat Harbor, plus a sports outlet mall, a Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and several restaurants. And it envisions an extension of the Metro Rail line or an elevated tram from Canalside straight through the Outer Harbor to the new Bills stadium.
Any chance this is being pitched with pie-in-the-sky assertions of transformative economic impact?
The goal, they say, is to turn the area into an economic development engine that would create thousands of jobs, draw hordes of visitors and tap into the $9 billion world of amateur sports tourism. And that would capitalize on the momentum Buffalo is already experiencing.
“Buffalo is starting to catch on right now,” said Jefferson Burke Jr., president and CEO of Burke Sportz[.]
Well, that sounds convincing! And since this sure-to-be-a-hit project is being built in America, where entrepreneurs invariably haul themselves up by their own bootstraps, I trust this project will have purely private backing, and will stand or fall on its economic merits?

Ha ha! Silly me:
“This funding would be a combination of private enterprise and we would be involving different types of municipalities using bond funding, so some of the money that the state of New York has designated would be used.”
Translation: If this thing is built, government money will do the heavy lifting, the private parties will make out like bandits, the project will run enormous deficits, and the taxpayers will be left holding the bag.

They even included an elevated tram. Jeebus.

You know the phrase, "take something with a grain of salt"? There's not a salt mine in the world large enough to season this proposal. Every single element is a sure money loser. Convention centers lose money. Stadiums lose money. Malls are dying. And while I'm sure Buffalo is a nice place to visit, and convenient to Niagara Falls, may I nevertheless suggest that perhaps pitching it to tourists as a beach volleyball destination is a bit of a long shot?

In a just world, local officials would tell the developers of this cockamamie proposal, "You think this will work? Fine. You pay for it." We do not live in a just world. Good luck, Buffalo!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

5 dirty secrets about the U.S. economy looks at Tom Corbett's latest ad

● I would genuinely like to try Soylent

 Clarence Thomas, the last Confederate.

Video of the week: Didn't make it to local soul band Shrimpboat's show at Tellus 360 Friday night, so I'm posting their video instead. Hardly the same thing, but one does what one can. 


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday grab-bag

● This post is more than a year old, yet it was somehow only this week that I came across the anti-loneliness ramen bowl:

Photo: MisoSoupDesign via CNET

Toys are getting cheaper, necessities are getting more expensive. With this remarkable graphic (HT Brandon): 

Video of the week:  In light of my post about Maria von Trapp this week, this seems appropriate.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Maria von Trapp, author

The real Maria von Trapp
My spare time reading for the past week or so has been, of all things, Baroness Maria von Trapp's autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Amazon was selling the Kindle edition for $1.99, and my parents and I watched The Sound of Music on TV a bunch of times when I was a kid, so why not, I thought. It might be interesting.

Interesting it has proved to be, and then some. Maria writes with verve, and she has a hell of a story to tell. It does not bear much resemblance to TSoM. The first part of the book has the same broad outline - a young would-be nun is sent to care for a baron's children, and ends up marrying him - but practically the only incident from the musical that appears in the book is the bit about assembling the children with a whistle.

Maria and Georg von Trapp were married, not on the eve of the Anschluss, but in 1927. On Maria's telling, she was more or less coerced into the union; the Reverend Mother informed her it was God's will that she get hitched, whether she wanted to or not. Here's how Maria reacts:
Minutes had passed and I was still kneeling, trying to understand. I knew this was final and no argument was possible. ... All my happiness was shattered and, and my heart, which had so longed to give itself entirely to God, felt rejected. Heavy waves of disappointment and bitterness swept over it. 
She returns to the von Trapp estate, where the captain is waiting.
"Well, and ..." was all he said.
Timidly I went over; and all of a sudden there came all the tears I hadn't found before.
"The-they s-s-said I have to m-m-marry you-u!"
Without a word he opened his arms wide. And what else could I do -- with a wrenching sob I buried my face on his shoulder...." 
Rather a far cry from "Climb Every Mountain," isn't it? She mentions her affection for Georg in the years after the marriage, but in their courtship, such as it was, the emotion is all on his side. She repeatedly says she loves the children, which makes the lacuna of feeling toward their father all the more conspicuous.

The movie ends with the family fleeing Austria, but the majority of the book takes place after that, as the von Trapps work to build a new life in America. I was struck by how touch-and-go it was for them, how for years they barely scraped by. They eked out a living by singing, but they were stiff, unnatural performers at first, and their concerts weren't that popular.

There's a funny scene when they meet American Indians for the first time:
[The Indians were] nice friendly people who looked at us as curiously as we at them. They had never seen Austrians in their national costume, either.
By "costume," Maria doesn't mean a stage get-up. The von Trapps made their own clothes in Austria, and they had no money to buy new outfits, so they just kept on wearing them. They were wool, and apparently pretty uncomfortable in American summers.

As befits someone who nearly became a nun, Maria is quite devout, and the book evokes an almost medieval sense of God as a presence suffusing and informing daily life. Her outlook is not even modern, let alone post-modern. Hers is a sturdy, peasant religion, and it informs a sturdy, peasant outlook; she writes dismissively at one point at one point of cosmopolitan mores and the abandonment of tradition.
The big cities have shed all these peculiarities in order to be admitted into the big-city corporation around the world. The national costumes they exchanged for street clothes worn the same in Paris, London, New York, or Shanghai on their respective Fifth Avenues; folk dances were replaced by international ballroom dances; and instead of folk customs -- the century-old voice of your own people informing you what your forefathers did at certain times and what you should imitate -- they have books now, the Emily Posts of the respective countries, giving minute instructions on what to wear if you want to be called 'smart," how to behave if you want to be "socially acceptable." 
I'm surprised at how much I like The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and I think the surprise adds to my enjoyment. Who would have guessed that behind the great juggernaut of middlebrow entertainment that was The Sound of Music lay this idiosyncratic little gem.