A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

ATCs, ACEOs, LTCs, but No SUVs

Rainbow Bridge Cat ATC cards by graphic designer Tally Yee.

ATC is the acronym for Artist Trading Cards.  They are miniature works of art meant for trading and are about the size of a baseball trading card so they can fit in the standard card-collector sleeves or sheets.  Any media can be used to create them, including collage, papercutting, found objects, metals, or cloth.  They are intended to be traded or given away rather than sold.

"Artist License" is configured like a driver's license, and even has a
lenticular seal and a signature.  Each is laminated and has grommeted
holes so the artist can wear it on a chain.  By graphic designer Tally Yee.

The movement is credited to M. Vänçi Stirnemann, who began holding trading sessions in Zurich, Switzerland.  The cards must be original works, made in very limited editions, and self-produced.  The object of trading is to meet other artists face-to-face, whether it is at organized trading sessions or a planned meeting. Most people involved in the movement stress the personal interaction, although trading by mail and online is acceptable.  There are sites where you can post your work and see others' ATCs.  It is not about money, so there is no charge.

"Quentin Crisp" by joytotheblog.

Because of the popularity of ATCs an offshoot has developed, called ACEO - Art Cards, Editions, and Originals.  ACEOs originated when a group of artists began to create cards to sell, as well as trade among themselves.  Some people think that ACEOs and ATCS are one and the same, however most make the distinction that the selling of ACEOs puts them into their own category.

"Orchid and Oak" ACEO by Roberta Stroud Vaughan.

One of the foremost artists working with ACEOs is Mike Leavitt, a Seattle-based artist.  In the early 2000s, he hand-painted small portraits of artists, both famous and little-known.  He did four complete sets of forty-five cards each.  They were printed in limited editions and packaged with bubble gum.  He personally sold them and exhibited them as art pieces.  Unlike mass-produced trading cards, this art was drawn to size, not shrunk from a large original.  He collaborated with a media advocacy group called Reclaim the Media to create a set of Media Heros trading cards, which the group uses for fundraising and educational purposes.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Letterboxing is a hobby that combines art, orienteering, and puzzle solving.  A letterboxer will leave a small, waterproof box with a notebook and a rubber stamp inside in a hidden but publicly accessible place.  Then s/he will leave clues to its location on websites, printed catalogs, or give them orally.  When someone finds a letterbox they will stamp the notebook with their own stamp, then take the stamp from the box and stamp their own notebook.  Notebooks are carefully kept and each find logged.  

A simple plastic container will suffice for a letterbox.  The clues
should contain info like under a rock, some leaves, or in a tree hollow.

LTCs, Letterboxer Trading Cards, are another variant of ATCs.  These are made by letterboxers for trade with other letterboxers.  An LTC must include a stamped image.  As in the stamps used for letterboxing, a hand-carved stamp is preferred. Other media can be used, as long as the stamp is part of the art.

"Time Flies" ATC by CynthiaSillitoe.

Another variant is OATS - the Original Art Trading Society.  The Hanna family started this in 2003, and membership into the society is by way of trading with a member of the Hanna family or an extended member, or a Special Friend member. These cards are created on 3" x 4" index cards and they are made to be traded only to a member.

This is a unique and exciting scene to get involved in.  Not only will you sharpen your own skills, but you will meet people from all over the world.  Just looking at other artists' work can be inspirational, and other than size, the sky's the limit.  The following are some more examples of ATCs from the ATCs For All website (listed below):

Artist:  gbennett1989
Artist:  Gemini 50
Artist:  Pochadiva
Artist:  joytotheblog
If you are interested in more information, here are some websites you might like.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

ETAOIN SHRDLU, QWERTY, and the Quick Brown Fox

Letter frequency in English, sorted by frequency.

Letter frequency analysis is common in cryptography, and has a marked effect on keyboard layouts.  It also plays a fundamental role in games including Scrabble, hangman, and cryptograms, among others.  Accurate frequencies can only be made with input from a large amount of text, which has been made much easier with computers.  Letter and word frequencies and sentence length can be calculated for specific writers, and are sometimes used to prove authorship.

Linotype keyboard.  Note that lower case letters
are on left, and upper case on the right.  

Newspapers were once composed in a hot-metal printing process on Linotype machines.  The letters on Linotype machines were arranged by letter frequency, so ETAOIN SHRDLU were the first two vertical columns on the left of the keyboard. If a Linotype operator made an error they would have to eject the slug and insert a new one, so it was just easier to run their fingers down the keys to finish the line.

Print side of Linotype slug.

If the slug with the error in it somehow made it past the operator's notice, the distinctive phrase would be quickly detected.  Sometimes, however, it escaped everyone's notice and would be printed in error.  This apparently happened quite often, as the phrase is listed in the OED.

This is a famous example of an erroneous slug that went undetected (7th line).
From an October 30, 1903 NY Times article.

QWERTY is the most popular keyboard layout, named for the top six letter keys on the left.  It is based on a 1873 design by Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He sold it to Remington that same year.  It became so popular that it is still used on electronic keyboards, mostly due to the fact that there have not been any alternatives with clear advantages.  The adoption of the QWERTY keyboard and its wide use is a good example of the open standard concept.

Christopher Sholes from his U.S. Patent No. 207,559
issued on August 27, 1878.

Sholes, a newspaper editor and printer, spent years perfecting his layout.  A letter-pair frequency study by an educator named Amos Densmore was said to be an aide in Shole's endeavors.  His first model was only two rows.  He finally arrived at a four row model, with a row of six vowels (including "Y") in the second row below the numbers.  Remington bought the manufacturing rights, and they came up with the final version.  Remington salesmen were able to impress potential customers by typing "typewriter" just using letters from one row.  The Remington No. 2, made in 1878, was the first typewriter to have both lower and upper case letters by use of a shift key.

Modern computer keyboard.

There are alternatives to the QWERTY layout, such as the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, the Maltron, and several others.  But the use of QWERTY is so entrenched, and the others offer no really significant improvements, that it remains the standard.

Movable type with the completed text.  Image has been flipped
horizontally to make the text easily readable.

A pangram is a phrase that uses all the letters of the alphabet.  The most famous is "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."  This pangram has been used since the late 19th century.  The earliest known use of it was in March 14, 1885.  It appeared in a teachers' journal as a suggestion for handwriting practice.  When the use of typewriters became prevalent it was used again as a practice sentence.  A couple decades later it became widely known.  In the 1950s, Teletype printers were tested at Western Union by using the phrase in all caps followed by all ten numerals, then repeating it in lower case letters, and punctuation marks.  "Is it foxing," was the question asked by technicians.

Screen shot of a font viewer.

Today it is used to test keyboards or to display font samples.  Because it is short and is well-known, it is often used in visual arts.  It has been a gag in many animated features, cartoons, and the phrase is even in Stephen Jay Gould's essay "The Panda's Thumb of Technology".  I remember learning to type by repeating this phrase ad nauseum, but it worked.  My favorite pangram is little known however:  "How quickly daft jumping zebras vex!"

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Sheet music from 1899 for The Coster's Mansion
featuring Coster comedian Gus Elen.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

London in the 19th century was an interesting place.  The streets were as dirty as any large city, and because of diseases like typhoid and cholera, which killed many people, drinking the water was not considered wise.  To quench their thirst people often bought apples from costermongers, originally street sellers who later became market sellers.  Costermongers would wander the streets with baskets of fruits and vegetables where they would eke a meager living.  They were often cheeky and colorful characters, and not all too well appreciated by the carriage trade.  Their repartee became their idiosyncrasy, and they became more flamboyant as time went on.

Costermongers could be found in London life since the eleventh century, and were originally itinerant, often chased by the authorities.  They were referred to as cockneys, initially a derogatory name.  They traded in family groups, and eventually each district elected a Coster king as a spokeman when their rights came in question.  This was in essence an early trade union of sorts.  The women were equally outspoken and something to deal with.  Their children inherited their "royal" titles.

It began to be popular among the elite to wear pearls as a fashion accessory.  In parody of this trend, some costermongers began to sew pearlized buttons, first down their trousers, then on caps and other articles of clothing.  This "flash" of buttons earned them the name of "flash boys", and made them stand out from other traders, and soon this became their trademark.

A Pearly King and Queen.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Along with their cameraderie was a sense of loyalty to one another.  This was a hard scrabble life, and although they worked independently and competitively, they also looked after each other.  If one of them fell on particularly hard times, the others would chip in and organize collections to provide for them.  This habit of fundraising and being charitable became ingrained in their lives.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Henry Croft was born in 1862 and raised in a London orphanage.  When he was 13 he got a job to be a sweeper and rat catcher at a local market.  He apparently became fascinated with the "flash boys", and soon became friends with them.  He started collecting all the pearl buttons he could find, and sewed them on an old worn-out suit that someone threw out.  He created various patterns until the entire suit was covered.  One of the patterns were the words "All for Charity", and another was "Pity the Poor".

He found himself the center of attention, and hospitals and churches asked him to help with their fundraising events.  He continued collecting both money and goods for those in need, and returned often to provide for the orphanage he came from. As he and his costermonger friends started concentrating on charities, they became known as the "Coster Kings and Queens", then eventually the "Pearly Kings and Queens".  They all designed their own "smother suits" - smothered with pearl buttons.  Some of these can weigh over 65 pounds, but others have simpler designs and are known as "skeleton suits".  Some of the more common design elements include:

*  horseshoe = good luck
*  doves = peace
*  heart = charity
*  wheel = circle of life
* anchor = hope
*  cross = faith
*  flower pots or donkey carts = costermongers

Photo by Laura Porter.

Henry Croft became so well-known and beloved, that when he died in 1930 his funeral was filmed by Pathe' News and there were over 400 people in attendance. The charities that he had helped all chipped in and had a statue made in his honor, now on display at St. Martins in the Field.  He was estimated to have raised almost $7,000 for charities (today that would be over $317,000), a huge amount at that time.

Henry Croft's statue at St. Martin in the Fields.

Eventually there was a "Pearly" family for every borough in London, and thus the Pearly Kings and Queens endure.  They are unique in that they are a tradition from the working class.  Due to the disagreements that occur in many large groups there are now rival groups, each associated with a church in central London, and all work to raise money for London-based charities.  They are known as "Pearlies" for short.

This is an aspect of Victorian life we don't often think about, but is vital for a true understanding of the times.  It is said that history is written by the victors, and the definition of victors should include "the rich".  Here's to the everyday person's history.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let the Chips Fall...

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

What is now a billion dollar industry has a sketchy beginning.  Legend has it that Chef George "Speck" Crum was frustrated by a customer who kept sending his fried potatoes back to the kitchen complaining that they were too thick and soggy. Crum's snarky solution was to fry very thin slices of potato.  To his surprise, the customer loved them, and "Saratoga Chips" became a regular item on the menu of the Saratoga, New York, hotel where he worked.

Saratoga Chips, made from the original recipe,
can be purchased at Central Market.

However, there was no mention of the invention in Crum's 1893 authorized biography.  Some claim that his sister, Katie Speck Wicks, may have invented it herself or with him.  Yet others, including an August 13, 1893 article in the New York Times, credit Harriet Moon as the inventor.  Actually none of them did, or one of them may have inadvertently reinvented them, as the recipe for fried potato shavings appears in an 1831 cookbook published by J. & J. Harper in New York - The Cook's Oracle, and Housekeeper's Manual by Dr. William Kitchiner, M.D. This recipe was said to be derived from an earlier English collection of recipes.  At any rate, whoever did invent potato chips didn't patent them.

First published in 1817 under the title Apicius Redivivus 
(The Cook's Oracle).  Image courtesy of LOC.

It wasn't until the 20th century that potato chips were mass-produced for home consumption.  Two companies claim to be the first:  Mike-sell's Potato Chip Company in Dayton Ohio calls itself the "oldest potato chip company in the U.S." (founded 1910); and Leominster Potato Chip Company in Leominster, Massachusetts says they are America's first potato chip maker (founded 1908).  A mechanical potato peeler was invented in the 1920s which really accelerated marketing.

The first chips sold in markets were either scooped out of glass-fronted bins or in tins.  Early bags were made with the ends stapled together.  Chips in barrels, tins, or bins suffered from breakage and the bottom ones became stale.  Laura Scudder had her workers take home sheets of wax paper to iron into bag forms.  The following day at the factory they would fill them with chips, then iron the tops closed.  Not only did this keep the chips fresh, but it also reduced the crumbling. This made Laura Scudder a household name and potato chips a mass market product.  Today chips are packaged in plastic bags and filled with nitrogen gas that is blown in before sealing to length shelf life and help protect them from crushing.

Du Pont ad from 1955.

In 1932, Herman Lay founded Lay's in Nashville, Tennessee.  He distributed them throughout the Southeast United States.  Lay's became the first successful national brand of potato chips.  Lay's, now part of the Frito-Lay family, produces potato chips for a world market, including the flavor below:

Grilled lobster flavored potato chips.

Potato chips are very popular on the other side of the pond where they are called "crisps", "chips" being the name for what we call french fries.  In the 1880s, Henry Walker of Leicester took over a butcher shop.  When meat was rationed after WWII, he needed a way to recoup his losses.  Since potato crisps were becoming more and more popular, he shifted his business focus and began making them in 1948.  Walkers is now a subsidiary of PepsiCo, whose parent company is Frito-Lay.  Walker is famous (infamous?) for their flavored varieties:

Not to be undone, another British company, Tyrrells Potato Chips was established in 2002.  They also offer an unusual assortment of flavors, although not as many as Walkers.  The ones below start with the romantic strawberry, sweet chili and white wine potato chips.

However you prefer your chips, efforts are being made to make them less salty and less fattening, although so far there hasn't been much success in doing that without sacrificing taste.  Even the sound of the crunch has been tested, which you can read here in an older article by food guru Harold McGee who also talks about their ideal shape.

My final words:  MARMITE = YUK!


Monday, February 7, 2011

Mizuko Kuyo

Jizo statue by Robin Noll.

Abortion has been legal in Japan since 1948.  Despite years of hounding by Western countries, especially the U.S., it has kept abortion legal.  Prior to 1948 it was illegal primarily to boost the population during WWII, and not because of right-to-life issues.  After the war years overpopulation was a concern to a country with limited economic resources, and there was a general consensus that small families were better.  The Japanese love children, and for them it seems to be an issue of quality of life for all family members.

Because the Japanese feel that the living are the key concern, there is not the stigma that we have here.  Here if a woman chooses to undergo an abortion, she has to be politically strong and assert herself at a time when what she needs the most is compassion and understanding.  In Japan, there is concern for the mother/parents.  To assuage her/their grief there is a ceremony called mizuko kuyo.
Jizo, guardian of Mizuko.

Jizo is one of the most beloved of all divinities in Japan.  He is a bodhisattva, one who reached enlightenment but chose to stick around until all sentient beings attain enlightenment.  He is a guardian of children.  For about forty years he has grown in popularity as primarily the guardian of the souls of mizuko - stillborn, miscarried, or aborted fetuses.  Mizuko literally means "water child".  Jizo takes care of all the mizuko, and is often depicted holding a child and surrounded by children and occasionally animals.  He is also sometimes shown with the features of a baby.

Some Japanese believe that mizuko are not fully human.  Fetuses are potential persons, but not complete because existence flows into a being slowly, like liquid. Children are regarded as treasures, and every child should come into this world greatly desired.  Which is not to say that abortion is regarded with a cavalier attitude.  It is a regrettable necessity for many that comes with persistent remorse.

Mini Jizo statues in a temple garden.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A mizuko kuyo is a ritual of apology and rememberance.  It can be simple and inexpensive, or very elaborate and expensive.  It begins with a stone doll that looks like a baby.  This is often dressed, mostly in red, and placed in a cemetery or temple with other dolls.  Sometimes offerings are left, such as flowers, food and drink, or toys.  The ritual may be a one-time affair, or repeated monthly, annually, or whenever the mother/parents feel the need.

Sometimes wooden plaques are left for the mizuko.  They are heartfelt and sad. Some have messages like the following:  "We are sorry, but it couldn't be helped. We love you"; "There was no room.  Do not feel bad.  Come again into my womb in three years."; "Your mother and father love you.  Be at peace."

Wooden plaques similar to ones parent(s) write.
Image courtesy of japanbits.blogspot.com.

The mizuko kuyo has become a multi-million dollar business.  There are advertisements claiming, "We can bring your child peace."  They warn that an angry and restless child can bring bad luck or a curse.  There are even mail-order ceremonies, that once paid for provide the mother/parents with a memorial card by mail.  Temples make a lot of money from the ceremony, and even rent the mizuko dolls.  But before we label this as crass merchandizing, we have to ask whether temples are abusing the hopes and beliefs of the Japanese people, or are they meeting their needs?  Tough call.

Jizo statues at a cemetery at Zojoii Temple, Tokyo.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Doctors also make a good income from abortions.  The Pill was not introduced until 1999, and again there is a question of whether it was held back because of the potential loss of income from abortions, or the stated concerns of side effects and the legitimate fear that it would bring a decline of the use of condoms in the middle of a growing number of HIV patients and STDs.  The Pill that was initially tested was a high dose one and did have a lot of side effects.  While Western women found it liberating as there was really no alternative, Japanese women were more skeptical.  Most health insurance in Japan covers neither the cost of abortion or the Pill.  The Pill requires an initial check-up as well as follow-ups, plus the price of the prescriptions, which could make it costly for a lot of women.

Lots of pressure was put on Japan by the West.  Western women who wanted abortions and could afford the trip were going there, which did not sit easily on the predominantly male health, religious, and political sectors.  The Pill was then heavily advocated as an anti-abortion measure.  The West claimed that adoption of The Pill would "modernize" birth control in Japan.  Again, to whose benefit is this?
The Japanese attitude is that the woman concerned is the best one to make the decision, which seems far more "modern" than having strangers enforce their decision on you.

These Jizo figures are by Jan Chosen Bays.  They are available from
the Zen Community of Oregon, who offer remembrance rituals.

The "return" of a child to a temporary place until the right time by parent(s) who are currently unable to provide enough love, money, and proper attention without it being detrimental to a family makes as much sense as any religious philosophy. Perhaps even more as the focus is on quality of life.  There is evidence of mizuko kuyo all over, and seeing this must provide validation to parent(s) who go through it knowing they are not alone.

In the West, we, too, need to concentrate on healing the women who choose to undergo an abortion, instead of making them defensive.  But despite our laws guaranteeing certain freedoms, we as a whole find it hard to allow them, putting our own personal thoughts and ideas first and foremost.  Supporting women in their tough choices is the sign of an enlightened society.