Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'news-chum'

It’s All How You Look at It

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Apr 24, 2017 @ 11:46 am PDT

As I’ve gotten older, my eyesight has deteriorated to the point I need glasses. When you wear glasses, you become acutely aware how the lens you see something through affects how you look at that object. This lunchtime post brings together a few articles and topics, all about how the lens you view through changes your perception:

  • Our View of the World. Most of us have our idea of the spatial relationships of the world from the Mercator Projection map, which goes back to 1589. This map was designed for navagators, and it was important to get where the countries were in relation to each other.  Size and proportion, less so.  Realize that any map is a projection, taking a portion or the entirety of a spherical surface, and making it flat. The distortions may be minor when this is done for a city, increase as you move from a state to the country, and are magnified for the world. The Mercator is a particularly bad projection. As Wikipedia notes: “It became the standard map projection for nautical purposes because of its ability to represent lines of constant course, known as rhumb lines or loxodromes, as straight segments that conserve the angles with the meridians. Although the linear scale is equal in all directions around any point, thus preserving the angles and the shapes of small objects (which makes the projection conformal), the Mercator projection distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, where the scale becomes infinite. So, for example, landmasses such as Greenland and Antarctica appear much larger than they actually are relative to land masses near the equator, such as Central Africa.” This also means that the size of *white* areas — Europe, Russia, America — are enlarged and the size of non-white areas are smaller. This can influence one’s understanding of power dynamics, and so some alternate projections have come in the news to address this. In Boston, they are using the Peters Projection, which stretches out the world in order to give each continent a proportionally accurate amount of room. On the Peters, Canada—so huge on the Mercator—shrinks to its proper size, while Africa, which the Mercator shows shrunk and jammed beneath a too-large Europe, stretches out. In Japan, a design competition has brought us the AuthaGraph Map, where continents curve upward like a smile. Africa and the Americas look like they swapped places, longitude and latitude are no longer a tidy grid, and proportions of continents and bodies of water are retained. All of these cause discomfort for Euro-centra or America-centric — really, white centric — for they emphasize the reality of the smallness of Europe and America.
  • Transit Maps. No article here, but a similar distortion of view comes from transit maps. Transit maps are often drawn stylized, showing stations in relationship to each other, but with a grid that may not accurately reflect the distance between stations, or how stations relate to the geography of the city. This can often result in travelers believing a distance is walkable when it isn’t.
  • The Meaning of Art. We tend to believe that the meaning of an artwork is independent from where that artwork is located. But that’s not always true. Consider the “Fearless Girl” statue in NYC. This statue — which was part of an advertising campaign — was placed in proximity to the private artwork “Charging Bull”. This bothered the artist behind bull as it changed the meaning of his piece… and the location was specifically chosen by the “girl” artist because of the meaning the bull gives. But, as the article points out, replace the bull with a group of immigrant families, and the meaning completely changed. “Girl” is a piece that gains meaning from its surroundings.
  • Men’s Magazines. The LA Times recently had an article on the attempted rebirth/resurgence of Penthouse Magazine. But what caught my eye was one exchange: «“I don’t wish the bunny ill,” Holland said. “But I’ve seen it make bad decisions for so long.” She cited Playboy’s decision two years ago to stop running nude photos in its magazine, only to reverse that decision earlier this year. “We are defined by Playboy and Playboy is defined by us,” she said. “I respect iconic brands.”» Penthouse is defined by Playboy. Playboy was borderline acceptable; Penthouse when across the line to raunchy, and Huster went to the strip club around the corner. A fascinating definition, but quite common. Look at Conservative Judaism. Rarely is it defined for what it is, but that it is somewhere in the middle between Orthodox and Reform. Again, we are defined by what is around us.

Can you think of additional examples?


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The Body, Compleat

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 16, 2017 @ 4:06 pm PDT

I’m still working on clearing out the news chum, now that I’ve done some cleaning of the house. Looking over the news chum, I think I can theme this bunch by relating them all to parts of the body:

  • Your Head. Ever wonder if you’re depressed. Here are 7 common symptoms of depression. Remember that depression, if left untreated, can be devastating. If you exhibit symptoms, talk to someone — friends, your doctor, a trained psychologist. But don’t try to do it alone.
  • Your Mouth (Part I). Have you ever wondered why dentistry is a separate specialty. This article explains why. Basically, blame your barber. Dentists were a trade. Doctors were a profession. At one time, the dentists tried to be considered medical. They approached the physicians at the college of medicine at the University of Maryland in Baltimore with the idea of adding dental instruction to the medical course there, because they really believed that dentistry was more than a mechanical challenge, that it deserved status as a profession, and a course of study, and licensing, and peer-reviewed scientific consideration. But the physicians, the story goes, rejected their proposal and said the subject of dentistry was of little consequence. As a result, dental insurance is often even harder to get than health insurance (which is not known for being a cakewalk), max out of pockets and payments are lower, and dental problems left untreated worsen, and sometimes kill.
  • Your Mouth (Part II). Using your mouth — that is, asking person-to-person — is 34 times more effective than asking for something via email. For the new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K. Bohns instructed 45 participants to each ask 10 strangers to fill out a survey. Half of the volunteers sent their requests over email while the other half found people to ask in person. Both groups used the exact same wording when reaching out to strangers. The experiment showed that the face-to-face requests were 34 times more likely to garner positive responses than cold emails alone. The results vastly differed from the participants’ expectations: Both groups guessed their methods would be equally effective, saying they’d find success about half the time.
  • Your Nails. Here’s a neat infographic on the chemistry of nail polish. Polymerisation, thixotropic agents, solvents and thermochromism are all terms you might expect to hear more frequently in a lab than in a nail salon, but they can all crop up in relation to nail polish. When you read this, ask yourself: is using all these chemicals good for me?
  • Your Heart. More precisely, Follow Your Heart, an ages-old natural food store in Canoga Park. They invented Vegenaise. Here’s their story. They started as a small store in 1973 (back when Lindberg Nutrition was the definition of health food). They would go on to become a global natural-foods brand, raking in $50 million in sales last year. Along the way, owners Bob Goldberg and Paul Lewin — hippies in the ’70s, like many founders of the movement — would help shape how Americans eat. Their effect is profound: Thanks to them and their compatriots, organic spinach is normal. Whole wheat bread isn’t a rare item.
  • Your Gut. Those with a genetic predisposition to celiac disease don’t always suffer from it. Why? Some scientists believe that a virus or stress point may trigger it. Scientists have been looking at a reovirus. Researchers studying the virus began to suspect otherwise during a series of recent experiments on mice. The scientists had infected mice with two different strains of the virus. The mice given the first strain were fine, as was expected. Their immune systems switched on, but nothing went wrong. The second strain was different. Mice who had been infected with this reovirus—one that commonly infects people, too—began getting sick when they consumed gluten. Their immune systems had switched on, then freaked out.
  • Your Feet. Scientists have discovered why shoe laces become untied. The answer, the study suggests, is that a double whammy of stomping and whipping forces acts like an invisible hand, loosening the knot and then tugging on the free ends of your laces until the whole thing unravels. A better understanding of knot mechanics is needed for sharper insight into how knotted structures fail under a variety of forces. Using a slow-motion camera and a series of experiments, the study shows that shoelace knot failure happens in a matter of seconds, triggered by a complex interaction of forces.



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To Tell The Truth

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Apr 01, 2017 @ 11:19 am PDT

Today is April Fools Day. On one hand, the day seems unnecessary, as we have elected the biggest (or should I say yugist or bigly) April Fool to the White House. But that doesn’t make you laugh; that just makes you run for cover and want to hide for four years (hopefully less). But this election has also ushered in the era of fake news, which makes every day April Fools Day. You never knew which news stories you read are true and which are not. So the following are some more stories I’ve seen over the last few days.  You assess, fake or real?

  1. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. Yes, if there is anything we need, is it is ghost exorcist — someone trained to remove humans from where they are not supposed to be — like the White House. But first, the BJ will visit Broadway.
  2. Set Phasers on Kill. George Takei has announced that he is running for Congress in 2018, against Devon Nunes. This will be after he stars in a remount of Pacific Overtures.
  3. Viewing Porn Safely. With all the changes in the Internet, a major porn site has announced it is turning on encryption all the time.
  4. Gay Characters in Disney Movies. Continuing the trend of having gay characters in Disney movies, Disney have announced that the live-action Lion King will feature a gay Simba.
  5. Metro Extension. LA Metro has decided to continue the “subway to the sea” saga, and is extending the Expo line to Catalina.
  6. Paige! TLC has announced that, given these poor economic times, it is bringing back Trading Spaces.  The plans are, for the first episode, for two political families in Washington to trade spaces. There are also rumors that While You Were Out is next, with the first target being Trump Tower.
  7. Tony Categories. Given the presence of the Cats revival, the upcoming Groundhog Day, and similar shows, the Tony Award committee has announced an award for the best leading animal on Broadway.
  8. More EPA Cuts. There are more cuts in the work at the EPA, including to pesticide safety and water runoff.  Documents reveal that concern that someone will use a pesticide to get rid of a family of invasive pests in public housing.
  9. Vending Machine Changes . Vending machines are being modified to introduce a short delay when you get unhealthy snacks, in order to make you satisfy your immediate urges healthier.
  10. Microsoft Goes Open Source. Microsoft is changing. First there was a Linux shell in Windows 10. Then Microsoft joined Linux Foundation. Now Microsoft has announced they are going open source.

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Of Historical Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 21, 2017 @ 12:10 pm PDT

Over the last few days, the RSS feeds and various other sources have unearthed a number of articles that provide fascinating histories of various things. So I’ve decided to bring them all together into this historical prespective:

  • Graf Zeppelin Stamps. As I work at home, behind me is a needlepoint I did ages ago of the $2.60 Graf Zeppelin stamp. I recently encountered a history of this series of three stamps, most of which were destroyed by the post office. At the time, the Zeppelin was the largest flying machine the world had ever seen. Its operating costs were proportionate, clocking at about $4 per mile (or $54 per mile in today’s money). Although passengers paid steep ticket prices, especially on early flights, the ship could only hold about 20 of them at a time, limiting that revenue stream. So the operating company turned to what supported most airline companies in those days: air mail. They commissioned special stamps from the countries on the tour route. Only letters with these stamps on them would be accepted onto the airship, which would then deliver them to their destinations. The arrangement was that 93 percent of the proceeds from each stamp was funneled back into German Zeppelin Airship Works. The US eventually agreed to make such stamps: 65c, $1.30, and $2.60, with the hope that collectors would buy most of them and they could keep the funds. But this was the height of the depression, and the few bought were used on letters.
  • Three Clubs. If you go to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, one of the venues is the Three Clubs Bar — but not being a bar type, I’ve never gone in. Still, I have an actress acquaintance of mine who does a regular Harry Potter-themed burlesque show there, so it is on my radar. Yesterday, LAist published a fascinating history of the bar, from its early days, its 1950s vibe, its appearance in the movie Swingers, to its current revitalization as a theatre-venue thanks to the HFF. There’s even a great picture of the actress I know, Kim Dalton (who I still believe is another Megan Hilty waiting to be discovered).
  • Les Miserables. Speaking of theatre, let’s pivot to the musical and the book Les Miserables, which is about a man who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. NPR just did a history on bread at that time, and it is really interesting. There was no sharper marker of economic status in 19th-century France than bread. The country was divided into rich people who ate soft white bread (larton savonné) and poor people who ate coarse black bread (larton brutal) made from rye, into which bakers mixed sawdust, tree bark and other additives. The loaf that Valjean stole was the standard loaf of the poor in nineteenth-century France, an oval loaf weighing four and a half pounds, with a thick black crust and heavy grey meal inside. Not the sort of thing you would want to eat nowadays.
  • Universal City. Pivoting next to film, yesterday also brought a really interesting history of how Universal City got started. Yes, the tour was there from the very start, as early as 1913 with the first studio. After setting up shop, Laemmle came west to scout San Fernando Valley locations on which to construct a larger studio in early 1914, and quickly informed Southern California of his search. He bought a full page advertisement in the February 19, 1914 Los Angeles Times, proclaiming, “We want a ranch of 600 to 1200 acres on which to product moving pictures.” He estimated the company spent $1 million a year in business around the studio, and that other businesses servicing it would also greatly contribute to the economy. Universal offered employment to hundreds, and shopkeepers would make money off of these individuals, so he asked what inducements cities would offer to land their business, not unlike rich sports team owners looking for cities to pay for construction of fancy new sports arenas for their teams. And thus… Universal City.
  • Appliances. When I was young, appliances — once called “white goods” because that was the color they came in — lasted forever. A refrigerator or washing machine would last 25 years. Nowadays, things don’t last as long. Recraigslist has an interesting essay on the subject, exploring the reasons why appliances don’t last as long as they used to.
  • Diplomacy. A bit less of a history, but an exploration of the board game Diplomacy, which I used to play all the time. There’s a bit of history, but this is more an exploration of the game at the level of international competitions. I played this during high school — along with Machiavelli — and ran an occasional tournament at a local game convention in the 1980s. Today I can’t scare up a game — no one wants to play an 8 hours game when one could play 4-6 eurogames in that time.



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Deep Questions

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 19, 2017 @ 10:14 pm PDT

Inspired by some podcasts I’ve been listening to and some articles I’ve been reading, here are some deep questions:

  • Is cereal a soup? After all, soup is food in a nutritious liquid.  [Corollary: Is oatmeal stew?] (inspired by this)
  • Is a taco a sandwich? After all, when you take a single slice of bread, put PB&J on one side, and fold it over, it is still a sandwich. (inspired by this)
  • Is a Snuggie a blanket or clothing? (inspired by this)
  • Is a cheesecake or a tart a pie? [Corollary #1: Is pizza a pie?] [Corollary #2: Is yellowcake a cake?] (inspired by this)



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I Didn’t Know That!

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 18, 2017 @ 9:53 am PDT

This week’s news chum brings together a number of articles that present facts that you might not have known, but that are fascinating to read. Shall we begin? I quote a bit more from the first article, simply because the words crack me up every time I read them.

  • Fighting Capitalism. As you may have just read, Hasbro has dropped three timeless Monopoly tokens — the thimble, the boot, and the wheelbarrow — and replaced them with a T. Rex, a Penguin, and Rubber Ducky. Some speculate that this is further evidence that what was once a game that protested capitalism is being further eviscerated to celebrate it instead. After all, all three tokens eliminated fit into the theme of capitalism and its discontents: the railway baron’s top hat, the worker’s thimble, the boot with the strap by which to pull one’s self up, and so on. But after Parker Bros purchased the game, it has slowly and surely been turned into a game demonstrating how fun it is to make lots of money and bankrupt your friends. But fear not. A wonderful Vox article identifies the hidden anti-capitalist meanings behind the new tokens: (1) The T. Rex stands for the inherent predatory nature of capitalism. When you use the token, you’re saying, “Behold, I devour all that stands before me, just as capitalism devours the rights of the workers.”; (2) The Penguin. It carries a double meaning. It stands for the coldness of Wall Street, and also for the profit-driven destruction of the polar ice caps. Plus it was a classic Batman villain. (3) The Rubber Ducky. It seems to say, “Much like water off of this duck, the inhumanity and decadence of late capitalism just rolls off my back.”
  • Time Zones. You’ve heard of “fun with flags”; here’s fun with time zones. Some timezones have 1/4 and 1/2 hour offsets. Some are next to each other, but when you cross only the date changes. Some even allow you to go back in time.
  • Chemistry and Ironing. Here’s why your shirts come out of the dryer wrinkled, the easy way to unwrinkle them, and the chemistry behind no-wrinkle fabrics and treatments.
  • Making Lemonade. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When genetics gives your vitilgo, turn it into art.
  • Pennnnnnnnnnnnnies. Here’s a history of coin-elongation machines,  which you’ve probably seen, but never thought about.
  • Decluttering. Here’s why it is so hard to let go of stuff.



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Things You Should Know

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 14, 2017 @ 11:18 am PDT

Amongst the political and transitional news chum I’ve been collecting of late, there are a number of articles that are more informational — that is, they provide some really useful tidbits and insights. I’d like to share them with you:



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I Gotta Go

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 13, 2017 @ 8:28 pm PDT

This morning, Facebook reminded of a post I did a year ago on things transitioning away. Since thing, of course, more things are transitioning, and I seem to have accumulated quite a few in my news chum pot. So let’s clear them out (and, interestingly, one is an update on an item from the post a year ago). Of course, the one thing we would like to transition away hasn’t yet. I’ll keep hoping.

  • Popular Photography. When I was young, I remember subscribing to both Popular Photography and Modern Photography, when I went through a phase playing with my dad’s Konica SLR. But now film cameras are relics, film is hard to find, and while digital photography is strong, print magazines celebrating it are long gone — and especially the advertisers selling photo equipment and chemicals to amateur darkrooms are gone. So it is no surprise that Popular Photography is going away, both as a print magazine and as a website.
  • LA Restaurants. Of course, many restaurants in Los Angeles have transitioned away, but quite a few linger in the memory. Here is an interesting look back at some of LA’s legendary restaurants, many of which weren’t all that fancy.
  • European GM Cars. There once was the day when GM imported their European cars to the US — I remember the days of GM marketing Opel. Partially, this was because GM didn’t know how to make small cars. GM figured that out, and Opel disappeared in the US. Then GM bought Saab, and that disappeared. Then GM stopped designing real Saturns, and rebadged Opels as Saturns. Then Saturn disappeared. Now GM is disposing of its European operations. So where will GM get small cars with a design flair?
  • Your CD-ROMs. Remember when you carefully took all your LPs and recorded them to cassettes. Then cassettes disappeared. So you took all your LPs and rerecorded them to CD-ROMs to preserve your music forever. Guess what? Those CD-ROMs have probably chemically degraded and are worthless.  Lucky you, you’ve put your music in the cloud now, and that will never disappear. Right?
  • The 747. Last year, I wrote about how United was retiring its 747. Well, the 747 is in steep decline: it seems no one wants to fly passengers on something with four engines that guzzle fuel. They would rather used 777s and 767s and 787s — all two-engine, ER capable. So the 747 is entering the last refuge of the wide-body: the flying-truck freight business. After all, that’s where the few remaining DC-10s are — flying for FedEx. Oh, and that Airbus 380 everyone redesigned their airports for? Almost no orders.
  • The Critic. No, I don’t mean the excellent TV show, which is long gone. I mean the art critic, the theatre critic, the classical music critic. Those jobs are dying on the vine as media realizes they don’t bring in the clicks. I sometimes wonder whether anyone reads my theatre criticism posts, so I clearly understand what they are saying.



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