Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eraser cap, eraser cap, eraser cap, eraser cap

When it comes to DIY Warholism, eraser caps aren’t as rewarding as the faces of Mrs. and Mr. Mark Trail. But there was only one way to be certain about that.

Pretty much actual size, neater too

[Eraser cap. Pretty much actual size if you’re reading on a mobile device, maybe.]

Now there’s a much cleaner line.

Pretty much actual size

[Eraser cap. Pretty much actual size.]

In response to popular demand (a request from Fresca), here is a recreation of the missing-eraser-cap picture. I drew this one in ink, not pencil, to make a better scan. I’ve omitted the details that accompanied the original (an impassioned plea for the cap’s return, and my street address in Anytown, USA).

If anyone’s wondering what this post is all about, this post explains.

Mac timers

[Icons for Activity Timer and Activity Timer Pomodoro Edition.]

I am a sucker for timers, mechanical or digital. They keep me from losing too much time to distractions — fifteen minutes online, pal, that’s all — and from working too long without a break — twenty-five minutes grading papers, pal, that’s all.

Activity Timer and Activity Timer Pomodoro Edition are apps for Mac. Each sits in the menu bar (no Dock icon), each counts down time and gives a notification when time is up. (Up ? What does that mean anyway?) The Pomodoro timer (with its stylized tomato) alternates between units of work (ten to forty minutes) and short breaks (three to five minutes), with a longer break (fifteen to thirty minutes) every few Pomodori. Every few? I don’t know many. I haven’t gotten that far.

Both timers are free from Happy Coding. The links above go to previews in the Mac App Store. Time’s up.

Related posts
Minuteur (Another Mac timer)
The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


“Celebrate your love of crap with this year's largest variety. ’Cause it's crapfest” —

No, it’s Crabfest. At Red Lobster.

This post teaches why it’s important to watch television commercials and not listen with half an ear. Had I seen all that crab flying, I wouldn’t have heard crap. You can listen to the commercial in question for yourself, eyes closed, and decide whether crap is a reasonable mishearing.

I’m surprised to see that in 2006 I also misheard crab as crap. There is nothing new under the sun. It’s all crap.

Related reading
All OCA misheard posts (Pinboard)

How to improve writing (no. 50)

From Jim Elledge’s Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy (New York: Overlook Press, 2013), a biography of the outsider artist and writer Henry Darger:

My copyeditor, [redacted ], has sharp eyes and caught an embarrassing amount of mistakes — all mine — and my thanks go out to her.
That should be number, not amount. Garner’s Modern American Usage explains the difference:
The first is used with mass nouns, the second with count nouns. Thus we say “an increase in the amount of litigation” but “an increase in the number of lawsuits.” But writers frequently bungle the distinction.
I wondered briefly whether the sentence I’ve quoted is meant as a joke. I don’t think so, because the writing in Throwaway Boy is too often careless and ungainly:
[M]aking mistakes in the three R’s or breaking classroom rules weren’t his only, and not even his major, problem.

Many smaller, yet devastating, [fires] broke out every week in residential neighborhoods all over Chicago because of someone’s carelessness with the wood stoves on which everyone in those days cooked and heated their homes.
Homes — or houses and apartments — must have been smaller then. A better way to say what this sentence wants to say, avoiding its silliness and reducing the number of prepositional phrases:
Smaller but still devastating residential fires were frequent in Chicago, often caused by carelessness around the wood stoves used for cooking and heating.
Carelessness around the wood stoves used for cooking and heating led to small but devastating fires in Chicago neighborhoods.
Elledge’s picture of Henry Darger as a throwaway boy, abandoned to institutions and fending for himself in horrific circumstances, is well-researched and persuasive. Elledge’s claims about Darger’s sexuality are less persuasive, partly because Elledge too often treats speculation as fact. Throwaway Boy engages its reader despite its author’s insistence, and despite its too often careless writing.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
Henry Darger and Vivian Maier

[Why omit the copyeditor’s name? I don’t think a copyeditor can be held responsible for mistakes in a writer’s prose. This post is no. 50 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pentel Quicker Clicker

[Click for a larger view.]

I realized some time earlier this year that I’ve been using this .05 mm Pentel Quicker Clicker, on and off, for something like thirty years. There are mechanical pencils with more pizzazz — Alvin’s Draf/Tec retractable for one, the Kuru Toga for another — but there can be few mechanical pencils as durable as the Quicker Clicker. Or as durable at least as this Quicker Clicker. The pencil’s claim to distinction is its “convenient side lead advance,” visible in the photograph. No need to press down on a cap to advance the lead. I like the way this Quicker Clicker has aged: the translucent barrel shows ring upon ring from extra leads knocking around inside.

Traveling to Rachel and Seth’s wedding in April, I dropped this pencil’s eraser cap on a plane. Notice: I did not say that the cap “slipped” from my hand. I dropped it while erasing. The guy sitting next to me understood how much was at stake: he and I took apart our seats to search. No luck. He got down on the floor and searched under his seat using his iPhone as a flashlight. No luck. The people one row back looked around too. No luck. I drew a picture and gave it to a flight attendant with my info. “It’s a thirty-year-old pencil!” No luck. Perhaps the cap is still on board, living out its days as a newfangled Flying Dutchman.

The cap now on the pencil comes from a Quicker Clicker of recent manufacture (made with a textured grip). What distinguishes the new cap from the old: darker plastic and small slits for safety. They lessen the danger of suffocation if the cap is inhaled or swallowed. There’s nothing though to keep me from dropping it.

[This post is the sixteenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real.]

Other Museum of Supplies exhibits
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27 : Dr. Scat : Eagle Turquoise display case : Eagle Verithin display case : Faber-Castell Type Cleaner : Fineline erasers : Illinois Central Railroad Pencil : A Mad Men sort of man, sort of : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Moore Metalhed Tacks : National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint : Pedigree Pencil : Real Thin Leads : Rite-Rite Long Leads : Stanley carpenter’s rule

[Note to self: Use a ballpoint next time.]

Radiolab, “Things”

I’m not much for Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich’s Radiolab : the show’s penchant for quick editing and multi-voiced repetition —

JA: Repetition?

RK: Yes, repetition, the act of repeating things.

Unidentified child: Repeating things!
— well, it leaves me cold.

But speaking of things: Elaine said that I had to listen to the Radiolab episode of that name. Our daughter Rachel, too, said that I had to listen. So I did. What hit me most was the first story, about a candy egg, a tree, and a box. Unforgettable. If you missed it in May, now might be the time.

Here’s a thing that sits on my desk as a token of friendship. I too take things seriously.

[The dialogue is from a Radiolab episode that aired only in my head.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bel Kaufman (1911–2014)

[From Up the Down Staircase (1965).]

From the New York Times obituary:

Over the years, Ms. Kaufman was often asked whether the memorandums in Up the Down Staircase were real. Though they were inane enough to look real, she explained, in fact, she had invented most of them. (Ms. Kaufman did include a few actual New York City Board of Education memos, but had to tone them down to make them credible.)

The best indication of Ms. Kaufman’s skill at dead-on bureaucratic mimicry came from one of her former schools. After Up the Down Staircase was published, she wrote, an assistant principal there began annotating his official directives with a stern red-penciled admonition.

I love Up the Down Staircase. The memorandum above comes from my copy of the 1965 hardcover (a library book-sale find). As Sylvia Barrett’s older colleague Bea Schachter explains, Administrative Assistant McHabe is “in charge of Discipline and Supplies.” How Foucauldian.

Up the Down Staircase captures like no other novel the inanities of educational institutions — “the gobbledygook, the pedagese, and the paper miles of words,” as Miss Barrett calls them in a letter — and the always present possibility, despite all the nonsense, of genuine teaching and learning. This novel offers strong reassurance to any exasperated teacher: you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.

Here’s a 2011 Times article about Bel Kaufman.

Friday, July 25, 2014

From Robert Walser

To people sitting in a blustering automobile I always present an austere face. Then they believe that I am a sharp-eyed, malevolent spy, a plainclothes policeman, delegated by high officials to spy on the traffic, to note down the numbers of vehicles, and later to report them to the proper authorities. I always then look darkly at the wheels, at the car as a whole, but never at its occupants, whom I despise, and this in no way personally, but purely on principle, for I never shall understand, how it can be called a pleasure to hurtle past all the images and objects which our beautiful earth displays, as if one had gone mad and had to accelerate for fear of despair.

Robert Walser, The Walk, trans. Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky (New York: New Directions, 2012).
The Walk (Der Spaziergang) was published in 1917 and again, revised, in 1920. Susan Bernofsky has revised Christopher Middleton’s translation to incorporate Walser’s revisions.

Other Robert Walser posts
Microscripts : “The most unimportant things” : On reading : On stationery stores : On staying small : On youth

[I suspect that Daughter Number Three and l’astronave will enjoy this post.]