Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Is Walking Though A Book Store Better Than Letting Your Fingers Do The Walking Through Amazon?

Small but mighty book on the

beginnings of the American Revolution

I just finished a book today, yes, a real book that I happened to stumble upon at the nearest Barnes & Noble. For those of you that don't remember, there used to be many, many bookstores where you could touch and pickup a book and thumb through the pages deciding before you bought it and took it home. I have haunted bookstores my whole life and probably own far too many books in fact. Moving them is a real pain in the @#$%!
   Recently after spending far too long at my local Barnes & Noble and after being unable to find a world map the size I wanted, I found about 10 books I really did want to buy and read, grabbed my will by the throat and almost made it out the door. 
    There really is nothing like going through the aisles of a bookstore ... something you will never find online. You check out the new books, then the new sale books then row after row of books by sections ... fiction, non-fiction, history, biographies and at Barnes & Noble racks of discounted books, often and sadly much reduced from the time I bought them, even on Amazon. There are the classics in fetching bindings, recommendations of books you should have read and those you neglected once and now might be ready to try. I was a good boy that day until ...
Nothing beats browsing for books!
   Just as I left I noticed a stand filled with books marked 80% off. I could not resist, I had to look. Thumbing through a bunch of books I would have never, ever read, I found THE CONSTITUTIONAL ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, a dry little tome that caught my eye. 
   I love American history and have read many books regarding the foundations of my country. I realize its faults, the faults of our founding fathers but still, despite all that is going on here today, I love my country. I am sure the arguing discourse of today would make our founding fathers feel right at home. They were a quarrelsome lot as well. In fact, its a wonder The United States of America was even created!
   I thumbed through it and quickly realized Mr. Green was talking about things I had never heard of before. There was as much about the English view of events as the American views. I bought it.
   There was no way I would have ever found this book on Amazon. It wasn't in any of my search criteria. They show you many similar books but unlike the old card catalogs at the library, digital search sadly is as boring and bereft of possibilities as finger marching through Amazon.
   Today, just as I write this, I looked the title up. I found the retail for this quite small book was $25.99. Amazon was selling it for $19.71. I bought it at an 80% markdown for about $5.50. Three reviewers give it about a 4.5 star rating. None were as enthusiastic as I was. Here, in a nutshell were the arguments of the House of Parliament, whatever king was in charge at the time, the views of many of the colonies and basically the conditions of the founding of 12 of the 13 colonies. You see, the argument was over the fact the colonies were creations, corporations if you will, granted by the king and not the Parliament. What became the British Empire was a fledgling creation and Parliament was more worried about Ireland for about 150 years than whatever was going on in the Americas land or sea. When they finally realized there was money to be had they tried to tax the colonies, violating their own constitution that said "no taxation without representation." We all know what that got them.
   More importantly, I would have never found this book letting my fingers doing the walking on my computer. And that, also in a nutshell, is why a book store, a tangible, brick and mortar bookstore is so important, so magical. The excitement of discovery, holding a book in your hand, browsing through it and letting it hook you into submission that is what discovery is all about.
    Several weeks ago I read an article in TIME magazine that the sales of digital books had stalled and in fact were starting to drop. It seems that the reading public, like me, was "rediscovering" a physical book. Yes, I have geeky friends that say they can hold a whole library on the Kindle or iPad. No more lugging a heavy tome around. Yet, when you are reading a screen, is it really a book?
   On a recent trip, a 15 hour flight, I could have read books stored on my iPad but what did I do? I picked through the magazines I brought and finally settled on a paperwork whodunit mystery instead. In one of my frequent get up and walk about trips, I noticed that yes, there were many iPads and such with people reading but this time there were as many holding a book ... a real book.
    Just like the sales of old fashioned 33 1/3 LP's are making a comeback (more were sold in 2016 than in the past 10 years) there is something tangible, something that remains yours when you hold, read and own the property in your hands.
    While I see people secretly photographing a book with their smart phones in a book store, and I must admit I look up a book I read about on Amazon, there is nothing like the real thing. Even better, being able to discover, browse, buy and immediately bring home and read the real thing. Even Amazon can't do that. Nothing beats the immediate satisfaction you get.
A Portland institution it seems forever.  There are even two stores
in the Portland Airport ... one on each end!
  I am planning a visit to Portland, OR this fall. I have told a friend there, a trip to Powell's downtown book store is a must. You can literally spend a day lost there. What's even better is that they encourage you return books after you read them for credit towards more purchases. New and slightly used books of the same titles sit next to each other. Even better, if you can't carry them home for a frightfully small fee they box and ship them to you! I got nearly a $1000 in cookbooks for $123 plus about $12 shipping. Sorry, but even Amazon can't do that!
    If you love books, I encourage, no beg you, to visit a bookstore. There are always discounts and you just, just like me, find a hidden gem you would have never discovered online! You might, just might save a venerable institution that began in the 1440's when Gutenberg printed his first book.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Friday, August 18, 2017

I'll Take My Chances: Dyin' To Cross the Street In Palm Springs


Gives new meaning to "In a hurry."
Two miles from where I live

I moved to Palm Springs in January of 2016. A friend had me visit several times before I made that decision. I came on MetroLink to San Bernardino and he would pick me up and drive back to Palm Springs. I didn't get my truck back until December of 2015 and I made several trips here, first to look at a condo rental and then, a month later to move here.
    Let me say, first off, I have enjoyed living here. I have new friends, can be involved as much or as little as I want, and heat aside, love the ambiance and activities that seem now to be non-stop year around. What I don't like is the terrible driving from the multitudes ... residents and tourists. Too many seem to be learning drivers.
    Of course I arrived at the height of the snowbird season and noticed that the driving was, how can I be politically correct here, "different." Those that came from the arctic would often be more numerous that the locals. Oregon, Washington, Ontario and British Columbia, Canada, New York, Maine, even Alaska ... the grey haired set driving often too big and too powerful cars. And their driving was atrocious. Maybe the worst I have ever seen and I have been in 28 countries.
   My dog likes to eat early, 4 am, and we often walk early right after breakfast that on a good day takes 60 seconds. So we walk usually in the dark. Even at that hour, more often than not, I see the tell tale lights of a police light bar somewhere on our walk. Driving during the day, I see more accidents in a month than I saw in years in the San Gabriel Valley.
    My truck was stolen in the complex where I live. It was the perfect gardeners truck. Even at 13 years old, it only had 113,000 miles on it, 5.3 liter V-8 and built in tow hitch. When the policeman came to take the report he asked if I had left my keys in it. No, they were clearly hanging by the front door. Was it unlocked? No, it was a reflex to lock the door as I left. When I described it he noted that I probably would never see it again ... and I haven't.
     This could have been me. Car pulling into you, losing

     control and spinning off the freeway!
    I searched far and wide to find a replacement. I ended up buying my Mazda CX-5 in Temecula as in the Coachella Valley, dealers seem to think MSRP is the discounted price. It isn't. It is so red it nearly blinds you in the parking lot. Coming home after picking it up, just as I pulled astride the Morongo Casino on the freeway, a little old lady in the fast lane pulled in front of me. I found out the brakes were excellent and slamming on them and the horn missed her by inches. She never looked back and drove sedately on. I was stunned. I moved over to the slowest lane and passed her from there and got away from her as fast as I could. She couldn't see a red car ... really? She did have to look of course. She didn't.
    A few days later as I was heading to Ramon Road I passed the strip mall with a grocery store, pharmacy and assorted shops. As I was passing the driveway an old man in a huge old Cadillac pulled out of the driveway (he had a red light) missing me again by inches. Again ... you can't see a RED car? He never looked and never slowed down. He was peering between the dashboard and the steering wheel. I admired his Alberta, Canada plates.
    Yesterday, coming back from a meeting, as I was starting to cross the intersection in front of the airport on a green light, a car that started to turn right, suddenly swung left across 4 lanes of traffic right in front of me. We all sat still, he was gone before we could even honk or move! What made it worse was there was a cop there and he didn't do a thing. So much for traffic enforcement.
Need a push? 
    This Coachella Valley has accidents, serious accidents daily. Every night on the news you see one, two, three, some days the ones I have seen driving about. Why? I don't know. We have a large number of tourists. Maybe they get lost. But cutting across a missed turn is not a solution. This isn't Los Angeles where it is impossible to turn around. Use your cars GPS, your cell phone. I do. My cars navigation is impossible so Siri guides me to new places amazingly well.
    There are also daily accidents along the I-10 freeway that crosses our valley. Many are spectacular in fact. A commission to study this last year so far hasn't seemed to come up with any explanation except the wind. However, just as many accidents occur on normal days. Why? No one seems to know. Going too fast, highway hypnosis or?
You win some, you lose some.
   Motorcycle accidents are also a common sight. You really don't see them until they are alongside or whoosh by you! Don't get me started on the State of California allowing motorcycles to ride the white line on streets and freeways. You see them weaving around cars trying to avoid rearview mirrors going at speeds a car would be ticketed for. I don't know what the statistics here are but I remember seeing a freeway sign in Memphis years ago that in April already had 39 motorcycle fatalities. They urged drivers to be careful. What about the motorcyclists?
    Many of these valley street accidents are caused, I'm convinced, by the impossibly long signal lights. I have waited 4 minutes, once 5 minutes to cross a major street. Everyone knows this and so, they literally take their chances. I have seen cars a mile away make a turn signal while all four lanes wait and the traffic builds up blocks long. They are so long in fact I have seen drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Getting honked at get's them out of their reverie. More often they are looking at their phones texting or ? and the light is green and they are distracted lost in the cellar world ... maybe placing that last order on Amazon. It's that bad.
    Years ago, as the digital age was happening, there was a fear telephone lines couldn't handle this increasingly volume. An article in the paper pointed out that AT&T and then GTE had learned to send everything in packets. We don't realize it but all signals were packaged in blocks of signals and that allowed much more information to be sent without adding new ones. Of course there came a time when they reached their limits. Fiber optics arrived allowing for thousands of times more volume but the same kind of packet made it easy to send ... just more at a time.
Making, or in this case, NOT making the light. This happens too often.
    What definitely needs to happen is a study of signal lights in the valley. Too many times you wait for the signal to change and there is no opposing traffic. Many other cities in the nation, led by Milan, Italy back I believe in the 1970's, have replaced their standard signals with "smart" signals that measure the traffic flow, changing lights according to what is actually driving on the streets. In the first year, in I'm sure in the analog age, traffic flow improved 20%!
    Side streets here they seem to have mastered, except downtown for the walkers. A car pulls up and instantly the light changes ... no accounting for the rhythm of the main thoroughfare. For a small town, it seems there is always someone wanting to cross on these side streets. So traffic bunches up. So while it says you can go 45 or 50 m.p.h. you really can't. There is always a car waiting on an instant signal side street.
    Again, it is design. We can design streets to flow traffic better or we cannot. Maybe, just maybe self-driving cars will finally do what traffic engineers today can't. Make the traffic flow. Hopefully they will also make driving safer no matter how old you are or what you are doing on your phone. It's going to happen and if what I read is any indication, sooner, far sooner, than any of us realize. In fact you may not even own a car at all!

P. S. August 23, 2017

In the space of five minutes this morning I witnessed 3 near misses going to the clinic:

  •  The first near accident was a car turning right into the airport, stops and suddenly veers left across 6 lanes of the traffic in the intersection crossing green light traffic. California driver.
  • Next, one block further, a pickup trucks turns left in front of a fire truck sirens blaring and lights flashing. Again, California driver
  • Last, a car coming out of the airport pulls in front of a car crossing the intersection who had a green light. Could have been a rental car. Still, no excuse to run a red light into incoming traffic.
My advice to visitors? Be careful, VERY careful when you visit Palm Springs.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My TV Doctor Says I'm Sick, Are You?

Gone today but one of earliest memories
of a TV ad was Bucky Beaver and Ipana 
toothpaste! I never got to use it asmy Mom 
used some nasty stuff with baking soda in it!

I don't know about you but maybe the 50's were the golden age of TV, not only the shows but the ads. It was an exuberant time where the worries of WW II were over, the Depression was gone and despite the "conflict" in Korea, America was safe, or relatively, and at work again. People had money in their pockets and they wanted the life they had seen in movies during the 30's and 40's.
In a smoke free obsessed society, can you
imagine seeing ads like this ... anywhere today?
Junk food was one of
the many such ads we saw
   AND, while TV was in its infancy items for sale did not include a variety of items that we see forever on TV now. Depending on the show you are watching today, the older you are, the stream of medical ads increases exponentially. Watch JEOPARDY sometime.
   Ads fueled the explosion of TV. If you watched MAD MEN, advertising in its way chronicled the rise of network TV, so you have an idea of what happened. They pretty much got it right too. As the years went by though so did the style and type of advertising.
   There wasn't much hard liquor allowed and no one could be seen drinking a bottle of beer. I'm not sure they can today. I don't drink the swill advertised on TV so I really don't know. So many other sabbeliths have been broken, too. Remember when the Smothers Brothers got kicked off for saying "damn?" There are few blue words not heard on any TV show today. I know of one or two and wait for them to be uttered soon as well.
When was the last time you called a car "SASSY?"
Compared to the dull black, silver and white cars
of today, automakers weren't afraid of color or tail fins.
 The other big prohibition in the 50's to 70's was prescription drugs of any kind. Oh sure there was aspirin, Alka Seltzer with Speedy but nothing else. Nothing! The other big taboo was allowing lawyers to advertise. Sensing a gold mine in them thar hills in medical land and shady law offices around the country (watch daytime TV someday - its a goldmine for lawyers) they begged and whined, spent money on lobbyists to convince the FCC the people wanted this. I don't know what people ... do you? In fact today, at least 50% of all TV ads are for some kind of medicine with diabetes meds at the head of the list. After they list all of the complications you can expect if you take them, it gives you pause ... or it does me anyway. I  don't think I want to take any of them.
The blue pill of happiness?
   Along with the addition of ads for say Viagra, topics never, ever, talked about in polite society, the icons of commerce were replaced by Amazon. Catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Wards, J.C.Penney's disappeared from our homes both printed and are rarely seen on TV. I can remember poring over the Sears Christmas catalog as a child. Today grandchildren let their fingers do the walking on their keyboards while cruising through Amazon. Brick and mortar stores are feeling the pinch.
A newer form of blood thinner, its supposed to be "better"
but maybe not in my case.
   In fact I long for those ads, those catalogs and going to the doctor and discussing my medical needs. Now, many of us go to our doctors armed with notes or "free" brochures explaining medical conditions we think we have or needs we just have to have the doctor proscribe for us. I ask, are the TV ads we are pummeled with to our advantage? Is this one of the reasons we have the highest prescription costs in the world?
   My father died at 40 from a pulmonary embolism (PE). This is a condition that causes your blood to clot, the exact opposite of hemophilia where you bleed at the drop of a hat. In 1962 there was no medicine he could take. When I had my first PE at 55, I was 2,000 miles from home. I had inherited this from my father. After several tries to use aspirin as a blood thinner, a second major PE put me on generic Warfarin for life. I learned to test myself, watch carefully for foods with Vitamin K, a blood thickening factor and avoiding other foods that reacted violently with this medicine. I tested myself every week, sometimes more if my blood got to thick or too thin. When the first new replacement  treatments were available I went in armed with the TV "facts." My doctor was Asian and rarely smiled. Armed with my new TV facts, he sat down and looked at me, never a good sign. "Well," he began, "we can change you if you like. You don't have to test often and can pretty much eat anything you want. However, if something happens to you, there is no antidote and unless they can hook you up to a dialysis machine you will bleed out. It takes about 15 hours for the medicine to work its way out of your system. What would you like to do?" Goggly eyed I told him the Warfarin was fine. He gave me a faint smile, patted me, asked if I had enough medicine, I did, and made an appointment for a 6 months checkup.
With stenosis of the back and having had
spinal surgery myself, I can easily see
the allure of ads such as this. But
should we use them?
Amazing how the styles from the
50's are making a comeback in the
21st Century.
    I can't help but wonder if all these ads on TV are good for us. Is there such a thing as too much incorrect information? While I do believe that often we need to be our own advocates, I also wonder if we should let the doctor do their job and if necessary get a second opinion. I don't believe getting that second opinion should be taken from TV. I long for the days where the kinds of wares we were sold included some new furniture, appliances, interesting trips, hair products, floor wax, cleaners and laundry detergent and the like. Really, weren't those the days? Where did the soaps go?
   I do know that what we are being exposed to is a dangerous trend and in many ways, I can't believe the FCC and FDA allow such advertising being made to a public that is not a doctor or nurse, people that have no experience with many of these drugs and dealing with their illnesses think these ads are the answer to a better life. As it is we can get probably too much dangerous information on the web ... now compounded by ads that appear everywhere ... TV, pre-movie showings, billboards, and just about everywhere on the internet. I even see them on my iPhone! While I never, ever look at them, you can't help but be exposed to them.
   So I ask, my TV doctor says I'm sick and this new, better, improved medicine will make me better unless of course the 30 seconds of bad reactions don't lay me even lower than I already am. So, are you sick too?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there! I promise there are no medicinal items for sale there. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Love At First Sweep!

One of the things that's wonderful about being single is, well, being single! Much of the time, if you're retired anyway, life is on your very own schedule except for the inevitable and sadly the increasingly frequent doctor visits! You eat when you want; you sleep when you want, even nap when you want. You can even be a slob if you want. 
Black & Decker Dust Buster ... man's other best friend!
   Unfortunately for me, being a slob is not an option especially if you have a large black Labrador Retriever who could best be described as a big, black, hairy, fur ball. It doesn't seem to make much of a difference. You can brush her once, twice a day for 10 minutes or 60, yet when she comes back in ... within minutes the first tuft of black hair appears. People talk about carrying a cup of coffee around all day? I carry around my dust buster ... a dog owners best friend!
   However, its hard to tell which is worse ... tufts of hair that seem to multiply like mice or surfaces freshly clean suddenly covered with dust. Its a race around here, believe me.
   One of the first things I bought when I moved to Palm Springs last year was a vacuum. I knew hair would appear and I needed to keep it under control since it was just me and my dog Maggie. After a careful search on Amazon, reading Consumer Reports ... all the usual stuff for comparisons, I settled on a Shark vacuum.
   As a kid growing up, I can remember a canister vacuum that you had to drag as you sucked up the dust. It lasted forever and weighed a ton. Even as a first grader, if not before, vacuuming was one of my chores. Kids today, even my kids never had to vacuum. One of the agreements my wife and I made after she went back to work after our second child was born was that we would have a housekeeper. And while we had "hell night," the ruckus the night before the housekeeper came when I could hear my wife yelling and the kids whining and crying about cleaning up when I came home at night, other than putting things away so the housekeeper could actually clean, a vacuum was a mystery to them. Oddly my son, whose room was so bad you shuffled when entering as you didn't know what was under "things" on the floor, as an adult he was a neatnik. Who would have guessed?
You see the lady and the dog? ... it IS love at first sight!

   Since I couldn't afford a Dyson being single, and I never liked the one we had anyway, I  settled on a Shark. We had a hatred affair from the very beginning. Whoever designed the placement of that cord should be shot at midnight. I bent over to retrieve, vacuumed over, tripped and stumbled over the cord constantly. It has a long cord you were forever avoiding, but then ... not long enough. Because it was so awkward to use, I got a Dust Buster. It sits under a chair in the living room charging all the time. It's ready to use in the blink of an eye and during the day, often is.

   Now while I try to be a good housekeeper, because I hated the vacuum I decided maybe I needed a robotic vacuum. However, a Roomba was way, WAY out of my price range starting at what, about $400 and up! In  my investigations to see if maybe it was cheaper on Amazon than at Target, after reading less than stellar reviews of the Roomba I came across an O Cedar Robotic Vacuum ... for the unbelievable price of $25. What was better yet was that it was highly reviewed though one comment noted they only seemed to work for about 6 months before biting the dust ... I guess in this case, literally! For $25 I could buy even 7 and still be ahead of the game. (Oh, mine is about a year old now and works just fine.) It was not recommended for carpets but since I had tile and fake wood floors it does work just fine.
My floors were far worse!
   The real shock was what it turned up with! Even after vacuuming once and swabbing the floors, just after I got it, I gave it a spin to see what it could pick up. I WAS SHOCKED! It was covered with black dog hair. I realized that it could and did go under the bed, the chest of drawers, TV stand and there the dust bunnies were alive and well, up till then out of reach. 
   Deserts are dusty places and dogs are hairy ... it did its job very well. However, you still need to vacuum things you don't see or get with a dust buster or a red robot so, what to do? 
   Talking to my friend in China after he moved back from Hong Kong hearing his complaints of a new vacuum back when he bought his condo but hardly used ... it would work about 20 minutes, heat up and then shut down. An hour or two later, it was another 20 or so minutes. Tianjin, like Palm Springs is very dusty I hear so he was frustrated to say the least. He hunted around, found and bought a Dyson cordless vacuum. He couldn't stop talking about how great it was. Why a Dyson is cheaper in China than here, when everything else there is more expensive than here and made there, was a mystery but he convinced me to look for one to try myself.
Hammacher Schlemmer 89838 GRN Best Hand Vac
  I saw one for $180 in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Not known for bargain prices I ordered one and was immediately notified it was on backorder. I would hazard a guess and note that I was not alone! It arrived this week and since I was expecting a visit from my daughter, decided I better clean my condo from top to bottom. I needed to start re-organizing and eliminating anyway so this was the perfect time to start.
   The first step? Vacuuming! They say it has a run time per charge of around 30 minutes. It lasted long enough for me. I'm in love ... with my vacuum. It could be a dust buster too I guess but I will use the long pole with the head, spinning bristles and light as a vacuum. I could both see those dust bunnies and it sucked them up ... every little bit. The head twists and turns into those tight spaces and it got every single thing on the floor... and, I didn't trip once! Good bye ... Shark!
   One more house cleaning hurdle solved now ... if I could just find something to replace my Swiffer. They may work well in the ads on TV, but the reality here is that it cleans the first tile well, the next one a bit less and after a few more tiles, not so well if at all. 
   The greater lesson though is that nothing, and I mean nothing cleans floors better than a bucket of soapy water, a strong sponge and you on your hands and knees!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kill A Word

Country Singer Eric Church

In this time of increasing vitriol, snide texts and embarrassing revelations, one is left wishing that some of this posturing would simply go away ... and yes, leave us alone.
 One of the things that I have learned to appreciate, after a lifetime of belittling it, is Country Music. I guess it was after reading that Country Music outsold Rock 'N Roll by a margin of about 3 to 1 that I began to notice and well, wonder why. Family members had met some stars in Nashville and were amazed at how friendly and chatty they were. Try that with a rock star!
  When the classical music station, 105.3, in Los Angeles, was sold and became a country station I hadn't realized it until one day wanting something soothing to listen too, I punched my pre-sets and there it was ... twangy guitars, sad, SAD songs or as one friend said, "Play it backward and your wife leaves, you're fired, the dog dies and there's no more beer!" I laughed then and even now but its both cynical and true! After I heard the song "I'm Gonna Miss Her" that relates the tale of a guy hooked on fishing and his wife's threat to leave him if he went one more time, I nearly wrecked my truck laughing when the chorus begins, "I'm gonna miss her ..."
   After actually listening I began to realize that yes, there are sad songs but they are sad and some are happy songs that truly reflect our common situations, not the endless banality of love songs. Sure there are love songs but there are songs about losing a mate, a wife, a child, losing your job, how will you make ends meet. These are the facts of life and they resonate with many of the disenchanted in this country today that are living daily with this reality.
   So my iPhone has a dedicated Country music list and playing it today it happened to play Eric Church's KILL A WORD. I hope that he won't mind but here are the lyrics:

Kill A Word
If I could kill a word and watch it die
I'd poison never, shoot goodbye
Beat regret when I felt I had the nerve
Yeah, I'd pound fear to a pile of sand
Choke lonely out with my bare hands
I'd hang hate so that it can't be heard
If I could only kill a word
I'd take brokenness out back
And break heartbreak, stand there and laugh
Right in its face while shootin' it the bird
I'd put upset down in its place
I'd squeeze the life out of disgrace
Lay over under six cold feet of dirt
If I could only kill a word
Give me sticks, give stones
Bend my body, break my bones
Use staff and rod to turn me black and blue
'Cause you can't unhear, you can't unsay
But if were up to me to change
I'd turn lies and hate to love and truth
If I could only kill a word
I'd knock out temptation's teeth
I'd sever evil, let it bleed
Then light up wicked, stand and watch it burn
I'd take vice and I'd take vile
And tie 'em up there with hostile
Hang 'em high and leave 'em for the birds
If I could only kill a word
So give me sticks, give stones
Bend my body, break my bones
Use staff and rod to turn me black and blue
'Cause you can't unhear, you can't unsay
But if were up to me to change
I'd turn lies and hate to love and truth
If I could only kill a word
If I could only kill a word
Songwriters: Eric Church / Jeff Hyde / Luke Dick
Kill A Word lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

   I stopped what I was doing and considered. Isn't this what we want in our lives? I've written about turning out the noise. Watching the evening news I find that it is both beyond what any fiction writer might ever write (unless you're a lawyer, of course where fiction is a daily reality) and submitting a manuscript with this garbage would get you laughed out the door ... well, until maybe today!
   The Trump show is unlike anything we have ever experienced though a recent TED TALK made me even question that. Any student of history, especially American history, realizes that this discord, mudslinging and histrionics is anything but new. While we treasure our Constitution its creation was anything but measured and gracious. We had garrulous, opinionated souls that had strong opinions, not unlike the same ideologies that clashed during our Civil War that on reflection was anything but civil. Many a historian would say the 1790 Constitution set the seeds of 1861 war, and maybe, just maybe what we see and hear on the news today ... each AND every day.
   His lyrics echo the sentiments of many. Don't we all wish some of the words we use would, well, be killed? Life is just too precious and short for us to live with our tensions, fears, hates, vitriol.
   Now I am not suggesting that we shouldn't disagree but once and at various times this country and the world as well, could bring their beliefs to the table and work out a compromise that could work. We are literally a country that grew to greatness by being able to work things out. The musical HAMILTON recounts a man who clashed with James Madison, who pretty much wrote the Constitution and was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. This isn't the only time in our history with personages of titanic egos. Hopefully, today, there won't be early morning duels on the D.C. Mall!
However, the recent shooting of Congressmen practicing baseball shows just how dark the rhetoric has become.
   The time has come for both sides to bury the hatchet and listen, really listen to each other, find common ground and then begin listening to their constituents, make reasonable decisions realizing that no one will get all they want but work towards bettering the lives of all ... not some privileged minority.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Creating A Gift

It didn't look this in the store, trust me!

As many artists know, the idea of a gift for a special occasion can be a traumatic time. What to give? What to CREATE? Will it be appreciated? As confident as we might be outwardly, I think inwardly there can be tension and even doubt. I do know that non-creative types really have no idea of the time it takes to make something. Our lives are divided up into segments, we do this, you do that. It is a rare individual today that creates something from scratch to finish.
   This year, for me, I've two times that I had to consider what to create, one with a clear request, the other what I wanted to create and give as a gift.
The original ugly duckling
   The first request was for an "awesome" birdhouse but as I started working with it, it became a decor piece not something that would hang outside. Why ... I can't really say. Why it turned out the way it did, it seemed to take on a life of its own. 
   I've had this experience before, when I started my oil painting classes. Despite my best, and the teachers intentions, my art style became something very different and I seemed to have no control over it. This led to arguments, hurt feelings and finally, after much thought, I left the class.
   I bought this birdhouse several years ago and after getting it realized it wasn't my usual type of birdhouse. In fact I had always avoided bird feeders, there just wasn't anything to paint. As I was to find out, I was very, very wrong. I was used to painting all the sides, the roof and even the bottom. This had very large open sides and I put it away. In short, I didn't know what to do with it.
     Sketches are perfect for getting the arrangement of
     the elements you want to use. Its much easier to make
     corrections here than on the actual item. I know. 
     Been there, done that!
   When I moved into my condo last winter, I again opened the boxes of things I had collected but had not gotten around to painting yet and decided to put it on the studio shelf putting the rest of the items in the box in the storeroom. There were several outdoor hooks that I could hang things on, so it stayed.
   With the imminent arrival of the person I wanted to give a birthday gift too, and urging from a close friend to get busy, I sat down and made a sketch (left). 
   I really urge you to sketch out your projects first. The amount of time they save, and disasters reduced, helps to give you time to reflect and thoughtfully plan your design. As you can see here, the final sketch was pretty much faithfully followed reducing the time I would have needed to figure out all the elements while painting it.
Red, red, red! Yes on the bottom too!
Remember it hangs so you can see it!!!
   This is NOT to say it all went smoothly nor that mistakes weren't made. They were. The biggest was that in my eagerness to create I would paint this side and that and realize that where I had started might get smeared so ... that led me to have several other projects I could work on while this one dried. Desert or acrylic, paint still needs time to dry!
The two basic colors were applied.
  After a quick sanding of rough spots, the first coat of red was put on and then allowed to dry.
   Next came the butter color that defined the edges of both sides. Once that was done I used a raw sienna color to create what I thought would represent the roof cross-hatched trellis. I had to use several coats and then outlined it with a black micro pointed Sharpie. I didn't have to wait too  long for this to dry as we were experiencing 122º days and about 6% humidity. The biggest problem was getting it on before the paint dried!
   After the trellis dried I used a clipped stick sponge to
   dab two tones of green paint randomly over the trellis.
   The using the trusty Sharpie I added leaves including
   veins on some. The white dots represent flowers.
   Next came the roof ... something that for many years was the bain of my existence until I realized that it too should be included in the design. Once I realized that I learned to decide just what I wanted to add to enhance the design of the sides, and sometimes the bottoms. Roofs are easy to ignore. A drive down just about any street worldwide shows a lack of imagination. Shingles, shakes, tiles ply across vast expanses and no one thinks about them ... unless you're a crafter!
   One of the greatest challenges is to know when to stop. Coco Chanel pontificated that "less is more" but we seem to live in a time of excess where the belief is "more is more." It is around us everywhere, to me, most notably in the newest Prius. It looks like it was designed by the same crew that designed the 1958 Edsel. As some wag said at the time, it looks like a camel ... a creature designed by a committee. The Prius may be many things, but beautiful, it is not! They just didn't know when to stop!
Leaves on the sides and ends use the same greens
as those used on the roof.
    I usually try to use the same colors over and over again to give each piece a kind of cohesion. They may not be used the same way, but the colors stay the same. After the roof, the leaves were added to the flowers and hearts on the ends and sidebar. 
How to hang?
   The band of cream on the sides and painted on the ends had added hearts that I outlined with a red Sharpie micro point pen. They mirror the large hearts used on the ends keeping the color palette simple but not boring.
   The next and last challenge was how to hang it. It had holes at each end evidently to remind you it was meant to hang and be used as a bird feeder. Friends suggested several possibilities ... knotting a rope on each end or a contractor friend suggested using a dowel all the way through it and then using a rope on each end. So ... off to the hardware / craft store.
The finished bird feeder ready for seed
and especially ready to hang!
    I felt that if I used a dowel instead of a knot at each end, I would need some kind of a dowel cap. At Michaels I found a dowel that just fit through the side holes and small wooden pots that were on sale. So got them both, brought them home and painted the dowel with the antiquing paint I was using and the pots for each end red!
   Rather than just using jute (which was what I would have done), the clerk at Michael's suggested that I use a florists wire ... jute with wire inside. Turned out to be the best of both worlds. It looks like jute but with the wire it is much stronger and will still be there when the jute is long gone.
   The final step was to use an oil based Varathane for outdoor use. This too was a recommendation after a rather catastrophic failure of my acrylic varnish a few years ago. Even though it had three coats before going outdoors, as the salesman at Home Depot explained, acrylic gives a firm solid finish that doesn't like to get hot and cold. After awhile it will crack and let moisture inside ... exactly what happened. Oil based outdoor finishes will expand and contract far longer as they remain somewhat more fluid. My experience with my bird feeder here seems to confirm this. Plus oil can always go over acrylic, NOT the other way around.
   So, this was my creative journey. Was it a success? Well, I will find out in a few days. I do know the "awesome" birdhouse was a success.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Creativity On Little Spaces

     At 5" high, there is a kind of whimsey
     in small, mini birdhouses that invites
     you to ... experiment. At a buck each
     what is there to lose?

As I struggle to get my mojo again ... after all that I had to do to get settled here again, I have struggled on working up my interest in painting canvases again. Instead I seem to have gravitated to mini wooden birdhouses, you know, those little dollar apiece birdhouses you can buy at just about any craft store, now even in Walmart and Target who seem to be muscling into the craft market. In fact, I have discovered these small birdhouses offer some really interesting shapes and provide a mini platform learning experience that I have been able to use on their larger cousins.
   There is a new kind of discipline, for me at least, being able to come up with a variety of new (and sometimes) old designs used in new ways ... often using a new combination of colors.
   I have always been fascinated with the vivid colors found in some of the Mexican crafts, most notably the hand carved and painted Oaxacan "Monsters" that are painted in wild color combinations that go against everything we are taught in regular western oriented art classes. I seem to remember that vibrant colors are used in India as well.
      Facing front with its folk art flowers 
      and leaves in three tones each.
   However, there is a sensibility that artists must usually respect attracting the widest audience available. Yet I wonder; do we give up some of our own uniqueness in trying to be average?
   Rather than use red with FolkArt's Cobalt Blue I decided to try DecoArts Traditions Vermillion with a butter color as the main triad.  To me, at least, the colors seemed to work well and by using gold as an accent it all started to fall together.
     Sides and back mirror the design
     elements that are used on the front.
     Color is important as well as their
   Once the main body was painted, the top was divided into 8 sides, rather than four using the butter and Vermillion colors as contrasts against the blue side.
    Because the use of the propellor  - windmill effect is so strong, I decided that I would repeat this on the sides as well. Flowers with leaves climbed up the sides to the pseudo blades and the back was allowed it's climbing flowers from base to top.
    The tops of birdhouses are as important
    as the sides in creating a total look. Many
    times the design goes up into the roof. 
   Even top views have to provide a kind of backdrop to complete the complete view, the complete effect.    
  And as always, I coat the entire surface with an antiqued layer of something like burnt raw umber, that tends to blend the colors while toning any color that is a bit too bright helping to create a more harmonious whole. If you have never tried this effect, give it a try. I have learned that I can use bright, even glaring colors that suddenly seem to fade and / age when a wash of brown is applied a bit strongly at the edges and faded towards the center. It works every time!
   To give the flowers a bit more depth I frequently dry wash white creating brighter and darker tones so that it doesn't have a flat depth. I find that giving things either a shadow or a bright area, this tends to make the design float on top the the background surface. 
   All in all, 11 colors were used here plus the brown tone used to antique the birdhouse. Black and orange Sharpies were used to outline some of the forms and green Sharpies were used to give the leaves veins.
   The brushes you use are important as well. I used a liner a lot, a #8 Filbert to apply the larger flat areas of color and each end of a chopstick for the different sized dots. Sharpies are useful for defining areas of color you to define shapes.
   It's great fun ... the material surface is cheap, really cheap, you usually already have the materials needed so all you need is the time. I have learned so many techniques I was afraid to use on a larger birdhouse and best of all, if it's that bad, sand and repaint with a new base coat!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Friday, July 21, 2017

"You Have To Ask For It!"


After weeks of unrelenting heat, winds, minor and nearly major dust storms and a car that while washed awhile ago accumulated dust the very day it was last washed, I decided that it needed a good cleaning inside AND out. I took it to the local car wash where we have had differences in the past over missing items but I wanted it cleaned well for a trip tomorrow, yet needed to get some grocery shopping done and be home in time for the air conditioner technician. It was another frustrating day talking to brokerages and lawyers and I was beat already ... and, it was only 10 a.m.
   Going in to pay I asked, just because, "Is there a senior discount?" "Sure," came the reply. "Really," I said? "Sure, you just have to ask for it."
   Growing up in the 50's I can remember the reluctance of anyone to ask for a discount; I think my Grandmother called it haggling with a certain tone of disgust in her voice. No one did. Now, that didn't stop them for looking for the best deal, reading the weekly grocery ads OR not getting their Green Stamps but you paid the sticker price. 
Don't you believe it. This reminds me of my science teacher in 
high school whose slogan was keep your mouth shut so you
don't embarrass yourself asking a stupid question! If that is
true why bother to go to school?
   When my mother moved to New Mexico when I was in college, we made several trips over the border into Juarez. I can remember friends telling us that you never, ever paid the asking price! When asked what to pay they said replying something in the range of 50 - 66% lower than asking and then bargaining from there. I never got the hang of it but my mom sure did.
   On my own in Africa I got a little better but I was intimidated by the fact they were so poor and, to them at least, I was a king with abundant things ... things they would never have. I sent my houseboy out to do the dirty work. He was relentless too!
   After I married I had a wife that was a supreme bargainer. I always felt uncomfortable and she would have me leave the area while they got down to "brass tacks." I usually got what I wanted for a price that was nowhere near the original asking and so I was content to put the onus on someone else.
Right on!
   Moving out to the desert and living alone again with not much money changed my mind.  Places like Walmart, Big Lots, Aldi, even the 99¢ store became my haunts. And somehow, I was able to create a decent enough home that looked lived in and was comfortable with very little money!
   Meeting a Chinese friend who lived in Hong Kong, and another mainland Chinese friend who lived in Palm Springs with his husband, they both taught me, finally, to ask, just ASK! I watched them do it and even when you think there's no hope, time after time, there was. The Chinese friends husband is like me ... reluctant to bargain and lets his spouse, who is never ashamed to ask, to do the dirty work. Shopping with Tony or Qiang is a life changing experience.
Why pay more than you really want?
As we get older, we really do eat less!!!
   Living in Hong Kong is very, very expensive. My mainland friend while working there was signed up with everyone and was always getting "deals" on his iPhone that he could use. Several times I got things there cheaper than I could even get here! He would get coupons for clothes, meals, trips ... all kinds of things. After that harrowing experience in the Walmart store in Shenzhen (Black Friday is everyday in China) where items are even more expensive, I understood.
   Asian customers come by the busload to the Cabazon Outlets 30 minutes from where I live. They roll empty suitcases around that they fill with things to take home. My mainland Chinese friend could buy 4 Brooks Brothers polo's here for what it cost for one in Hong Kong! In fact when he visited me here, at one point, I looked around and got deja vu ... look, look I said. He looked around and finally said, what? Now remember we were in California at an outlet mall. "I am the only white person here! Its like being in a mall in Hong Kong." He looked again and laughed, agreeing with me. They KNOW a bargain when they see one! Why shouldn't we?
   So you might consider, at any age though older might be better, ask for a discount ... anywhere. There are deals and sales not advertised that the clerk knows about. In fact at just about any store there are deals even on the sale items. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO ... IS ASK FOR IT! You'll be glad you did.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my ETSY store ...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Turning Off The NOISE!

I woke up from a dream this morning  ... a kind of nightmare actually, only it was after a short early morning nap. Maybe its the unrelenting heat out here in the desert. In the dream I was traveling with friends in a Spanish speaking country. We were on a tour, I think, and for some reason I got parted from them. They told me to "call" them when I was ready to come back and I wandered happily about until I got tired. It was hot and dusty and I was ready to return to them. When I went to call them my phone wouldn't work. All it could do was play movies, some in English, some Spanish and others I had no clue where they came from. Try as I might the phone wouldn't shut off, reboot ... nothing. It did things I never knew it could do but it couldn't make a call. I gave up and cried. The people around me tried to help, lent me their phones, but I realized I didn't even know where my friends were. It was hopeless. Then, finally, I woke up!
  In a way, this dream and events of the morning created the perfect storm. Courtesy of Dilbert, this Sundays cartoon featured a robot threatening to be happier than us ... until Dilbert adjusts his programming making him as miserable as many of us are. I had watched Joel Osteen who encouraged us to "turn off the noise" noting, correctly I think, that bad vibes, cell phones, miserable people, the daily news with breathless tragedies and events drag us down. Last night I had been watching a TV movie about a workaholic that just couldn't seem to put his phone down at the expense of friends and family. I noticed even in Hong Kong couples on dates didn't talk to each other but with heads bent were looking at their cell phones as they tried to eat.
   Then this morning I had been talking, actually texting, with my friend in China about the iPhone after he asked me if I had heard about the iPhone 8. Now that he is back in China we can only use FaceTime on our phones sporadically as his wi-fi isn't strong enough at times. We do text though. 
   I related to him hearing about the first iPhone in January of 2007 at the yearly MacWorld in San
The first iPhone
Francisco. Rumors were in the air and being convinced to go, had gone to my first MacWorld with a friend.  Walking in, just as Steve Jobs finished his keynote speech we were greeted by a gigantic image of the new iPhone. I was disbelieving that something like that would ever reach the marketplace, then standing in line ... #222, June 29, 2007 at the Glendale Galleria Apple store and getting that phone. 
   The day after the announcement we heard David Pogue, the head tech guru at the NY Times, talk to an incredulous audience at MacWorld that this, the first iPhone, would be the definitive device of the 21st century. "This," he said, "would change everything."
   Texting to my friend I began to realize how much had happened in the past 10 years. I went to Europe a few months later taking it with me. The AT&T guy at the store said don't worry, your iPhone won't work over there. How wrong he was. It DID work and in all my trips abroad, even to Egypt and Jordan, better than it ever did here. Riding the subway to the hotel in Copenhagen I followed the blue dot to the correct station with a crowd of onlookers that somehow knew exactly what I was holding in my hand. Standing in front of New Harbor (new in about 1629) I asked another tourist if they would take a photo of my ex and myself. About 20 volunteered. I was having a ball with it until a friend here texted me about the horror tales of those getting $1,000 phone bills by using the phones overseas. AT&T still didn't get it years later. iPhones work just fine and as I wrote earlier this year the photos they take are fantastic and look magnificent when printed in a book. When you own a smartphone, you literally hold the world in your hands.
   Yes, the iPhone and its technology and spinoffs from that technology has transformed our world. In fact, rather than at a walk, it is now running and soon, many of us fear, racing us to new and uncharted territories, ones that we may not be able to understand or even absorb. More noise. In my texts I began to realize that the US, like China and Russia, have elected governments that hunger for the old days ... days many of us realize will never, ever return leaving us fearful of the future.
   The electric, driverless truck saves on so many levels.
   No pollution at the polluted ports, no workers that

   have to work 20 hours a day ... but then NO jobs either!
   German automakers just revealed work on big rigs that will never have a human onboard. The prediction here is that in 5 years, all long haul trucks will be driven by software guided robots replacing the need of about 1.85 million drivers. Über is experimenting with driverless taxi's in Philadelphia and so far, there haven't been any serious accidents or deaths. 
  EVERY industry is threatened. Volvo announced that in two years every car they make will be either electric or a hybrid. I drove a Tesla Model S that in some versions is the fastest production car on the planet. At $100,000 it's cheap compared to say a $500,000 Ferrari or $2 million Bugatti Veyron. Tesla is building charging stations all over the country and more come on line each and every day.
   Governor Brown raised gasoline taxes to rebuild our infrastructure here in California because at his bidding we did too good a job buying cars that got better gas milage or hybrids and electrics that used much less gas, a tax cash cow. The public paid for his dreams, not once but twice.
   The smart home is next from key locks, to refrigerators that we can look into at the store to see if there is anything else we need even if they told us what was already there, to cameras watching our babies, deliveries and the thieves that steal deliveries, turn lights on or off a world away ... you get the picture. The control is there, in your hand.
   FoxCon, a huge manufacturer from Taiwan, that makes cell phones, tablets and other things digital is looking to build new factories here. What the cities and states courting them don't seem to understand, these factories will be filled with robots who don't need breaks, health care, can work in the dark and cold, 24/7. Stung with repeated reports of human worker violations their existing factories in China are replacing humans with robots!
The evolution of robots
   Will the world, as Issac Asimov wrote in his FOUNDATION series, reject and literally outlaw robots and the AI (artificial intelligence) technology that goes with it? His original trilogy, that he built on for years, talked about humans, their fear of robots and the extremes they went to outlawing them and crushing anyone who even dreamed of such a device. It was science fiction in the 50's, suddenly it is reality today. In fact, we were served a hot steaming dish by a robot in Shenzhen, China in May of this year!
   Another big industry that may fade away is, gasp, the automotive industry, as we know it. Predictions are that NO ONE WILL OWN A CAR anymore. Using your smart phone, you page a car, it takes you, driverless of course, where you want to go and your phone pays for the trip not unlike an Über trip today. No money changes hands ... everything is digital. In fact, it might be a much cheaper form of transportation. Just think, no purchases of a car, no gas bills, maintenance, insurance, just pay for the time you need it! Now the garage can be turned into a man cave with a robot bartender!
   We are rushing into the BRAVE NEW WORLD that Huxley predicted but could never have imagined. How we deal with it is, literally, in our hands. Here are Asimov's three laws:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

   So, the question remains ... how do we turn off or at least turn down this whirlwind of change, this roaring that seems by the day to be growing ... growing louder? We as a society, as humans on earth better find a way or the life that we have will be torn apart increasingly with random acts of violence. We hate change and yet, as history has shown us, it is inevitable. Possibly, Asimov had it right. Maybe we should insert instead of robot the word human in his three laws of robotics...

A human may not injure another human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A human should must obey orders given fairly to it by another human being unless it conflicts with the First Law. A human must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First of Second Law.

Of course, with variations, isn't this what great prophets and teachers have tried to teach us all along?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...