Archive for July, 2012

Can’t Wait To Try Their Pharmacy

July 27, 2012


  Know what bugs me?  Crappy generic store branded stuff.  Like the matches of which you see some on the right above next to proud green strike anywhere Diamonds on the left.  What makes a bad match?  Thanks for asking.  I’m gonna tell ya.

  Few days back, there was an, uh, odor I hoped to dispel with first the flame and then the smoke of a struck match.  I opened the box, pulled one out and across the abrasive panel when it broke.  Next one ignited and then broke, fell onto my shirt, and burned a hole.  Oh well, work shirt. 

  Next one ignited, broke, fell onto the carpet, and seemed to have gone out.  It was in a corner and the carpet is dark and wife didn’t see.  Almost ‘oh well’ again, but didn’t want to burn the house down so dumped a glass of water on it which I did have to explain later.  (“Uh, was watering plants”) I’d by then forgotten about the odor, but in retrospect I’m pretty sure it was long gone.

  What’s more is that the cheap ones hail from a poor country in which forests are rapidly being decimated by the indiscriminate use of wood as fuel for cooking.  On the back of the box of good ones is a statement of which the following is part: “…sourced from responsibly managed Aspen forests of Minnesota…”

  Store where we mostly shop stocks only those on the right.  As of recently I should say.  There used to be a choice.  I’m no genius, but I’m sure management figured that the process of match procurement for the average consumer involves negligible consideration of price or quality.  Thus, remove the good ones, sell the replacements at the same price, and double the profit.

  Matches were invented in China* in or around AD 577 when it was found that dry sticks coated with sulfur would facilitate the sharing of an established flame.  Robert Boyle (remember Boyle’s Law?) figured out that a stick coated with sulfur would ignite when dragged across a piece of paper coated with phosphorus. 

  As further refinement a John Walker in 1826 soaked small sticks with a mixture of potassium chlorate, antimony sulfide, starch, and gum, and allowed them to dry.  Move tip across a rough surface and voila – a flame.  This solution was poisonous however and sickened factory workers.  So after some experimentation, in 1910 the Diamond Match Co substituted sesquisulfide for the phosphorus and patented the modern match.

  And now some pencil neck has taken us a few steps back.  Can’t wait to test their pharmacy…

*cf post of July 2, 2011 to read about the invention of fireworks.

**Most of the history of matches above was drawn from an article by Lisa De Nike in the Fall/Winter issue of The Boss.


July 20, 2012


  Often here and elsewhere I’ve referred to my fingers and toes while in the throes of some mathematical endeavor or other.  I like to say that one shouldn’t do math in public.  Anyway, honestly, seriously, there is little doubt in researchers’ minds that the popularity of the base ten system is due to the fact that we have ten fingers.

  You know, the mode of the place value system (invented by the Babylonians in about 2000 BC and of whom more in a moment) in which a number in one spot represents ten units of that to its right.  10 = ten units of 1. 100 = ten units of ten and so on. 

  Fingers AND toes.  Systems have been based on other numbers.  Like twenty.  In fact and to no surprise twenty seems to have been the most popular base, after ten, across cultures and history.  Vestigial remains of a base twenty system can be observed in French where the number for eighty, quatre-vingts, translates as four twenties.

  Another system with modern remains was that of base sixty used by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia. How in the world they arrived at that state of affairs is uncertain and subject to debate.  One researcher posits an intermingling of two cultures: one using base five and the other twelve.  The modern connections?  Units of time and degrees of a circle.

  And years in a life.  This one anyhow.  Just turned.  And had the sublime pleasure to spend a few days with five-sixths of my tribe at an exhilarating point on the map about twelve hours west of here.  During the course of a wonderful dinner one night I looked slowly around the table asking myself just how I came to be so lucky.  Boring maybe, but oh so lucky.

*Much of the numeracy above came from the fascinating book: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio     


Voici Mon Secret

July 6, 2012


  Most will instantly recognize in the image above the style of Roy Lichtenstein.  It is indeed one of his paintings and is representative of what is probably the most widely familiar part of his career – apparent reproductions of comic book panels complete with thought balloons and Ben-Day dots.

  Icons of 60’s pop culture, they epitomized “cool”.  In an essay* Martin Filler tells us that Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were “the foremost exemplars of Cool among their generation of American visual artists…that quality of being simultaneously with-it and disengaged, in control but nonchalant, knowing but ironically self-aware, and above all inscrutably undemonstrative.”  Like Steve McQueen and Miles Davis.

  I had only a vague awareness of Lichtenstein’s oeuvre beyond those executed during the course of that decade and thus found much of interest in a retrospective up now at Chicago’s Art Institute.  Though there are elements common through much of the work, there’s also was an evolution I’d not expected.  Filler tells us that Lichtenstein was “Acutely concerned about repeating himself…”

  Below you see a photo of one of his “Landscapes in the Chinese Style” which was his last series, having been painted in the late nineties.  Healthy and active, Lichtenstein expected to live to 100, but died in 1997 at seventy-three of an infection he contracted while in a hospital with pneumonia. 

  Though greatly taken by traditional Chinese painting and the sense of nature conveyed therein, he said that “I’m not seriously doing a kind of Zen-like salute to the beauty of nature…”, and though Filler and others suspect that the artist “intended to capitalize on the increasing presence of high-rolling Chinese collectors”, it is difficult – for me at least – to not feel my spirits lift while looking at Lichtenstein’s last works.

  Reminds me (for some reason – the following bit being not perfectly apropos) of something from St Exupery’s Petit PrinceThe Little Prince:  “Voici mon secret.  Il est tres simple.  On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essential est invisible pour les yeux”.  “Here is my secret.  It is very simple.  One can only see well with the heart.  What’s essential is invisible to the eyes”.


*New York Review of Books June 21, 2012

**Gagosian press release March 2012