Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sorted Books

National Book Lovers Day


Each year on August 9,  book lovers celebrate National Book Lovers Day.

#NationalBookLoversDay

This year it coincides with my monthly post about books.

The books I finished reading in July 2017


July 2017 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
July 2017 Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

I originally planned not to say much about my reading list for July. Because, as my Aunt Dagmar used to say, "If you can't say anything nice, may be you should keep your mouth shut." But, ended up being carried away and got very judgmental.

"Stuff White People Like," by Christian Lander, a Canadian no less, was the best of the bunch. It was clearly written in fun and tied in nicely with June's “How to be Black,” which was where I learned of it. I, of course, while not being white may not be the best judge, but highly recommend it to people of all stripes.

My favorite genera of book over the last few years would be mystery and I completed two in that category. "The Bat," by Jo Nesbo was the the first of his Harry Hole series. I enjoyed it, but found it less compelling than his later stories such as "The Redbreast”,  or  “Nemesis”.  Michael Connelly is most famous his Harry Bosch novels.  His latest, "The Late Show", introduces a new protagonist, detective RenĂ©e Ballard. It is not a bad story, but it left me looking forward to the next one about Bosch.

There is a quote: “Art is what you can get away with”; attributed to both Andy Warhol and Marshall McLuhan, I find that it most particularly applies to "Blind Spot" by Teju Cole. I purchased this book based upon a glowing review, it was not money well spent. The tome is a collection of something like 150 photographs taken by Cole and pieces that he has written to accompany each one, but not necessarily about them. This sounded like a marvelous concept to me and I thought that it might be inspirational.  However, I found that I would be embarrassed to present all but a few of these images as a body of work. I also feel that the prose is far too etherial or artsy for my taste. Now, I am willing to admit that the fault may lie within myself, but I really do not like this book.

It is probably my expectations that led to my disappointment with "A Choice of Weapons" by Gordon Parks. Growing up, Parks was an inspiration to me, mostly through his work in LIFE magazine. It was not that I wanted to emulate what did, but that he showed me that a photographic image could be a powerful tool for communication. I was hoping that his autobiography would provide some insight as to how his vision developed. However, what I learned was that he bought a used camera and six weeks later had his first show. The book also discusses experiencing bigotry and hardship, making bad choices, and getting an occasional break. But, those are things that happen to so many of us that it really does not make for compelling reading. Furthermore, the story ends in the early years of World War II so there is no mention of his contributions as a writer and filmmaker. But, again, perhaps I should not discount a book for being what it intended to be and not what I wanted.

Sorted Books: an Assignment


I subscribe to Austin Kleon's weekly newsletter, and this past week it really paid off for me by bring my attention to conceptual artist Nina Katchadourian and the Art Assignment.

The object of the assignment is to group books so that their titles can be read as sentences, creating whimsical narratives from the text found there. 

So far, I have made two attempts. My first attempt was just looking at the books I read in July, as they were sitting on the table next me, and seeing that these could make a heading and a two item list.

Sorted Books - 01 - 1: photo by Cliff Hutson
Sorted Books - 01 - 1: photo by Cliff Hutson

I put more effort in to the next, spending time looking through my bookshelves. I am very happy with this as it reminds me of a haiku:

Sorted Books - 01 - 2: photo by Cliff Hutson
Sorted Books - 01 - 2: photo by Cliff Hutson

Nina Katchadourian’s final results from her time in Kansas can be found here:

How was your July? Read any good books lately?
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Day 2400

“Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
I'm stayin' alive.”

  -  Bee Gees


2400th Day: photo by Cliff Hutson
2400th Day: photo by Cliff Hutson

Healthy Aging

Various studies have sown that “healthy aging is associated with a decline in sensory, motor and specific cognitive functions. However, such declines depend on various factors, such as genetics and lifestyle. In particular, physical activity and training not only improve physical and motor but also cognitive functions, and reduce risk for cognitive decline and dementia in later life.”

This past Monday marked a milestone of 2400 days since I made a commitment to regular exercise. The photo is of the display of the Wii Fit application on my Nintendo, so I think the data is close enough for our purposes.

To be sure, I have not worked out on every one of those days. But, I did something on most of them; missing occasionally due to illness. One streak was broken when I was out of town last year. I like to believe that my activity has helped improve my mood, well being, and energy level.



High Score?; photo by Cliff Hutson
High Score?; photo by Cliff Hutson

On the Other Hand

One of my activities is playing tennis on Wii Sports. Three years ago I reached the skill level of 2399. Some say that this is the highest score possible.  I am very proud of this as it was done playing left handed,  and, like Inigo Montoya, "I am not left handed."

This morning marked my 1785th day of playing a variety of video games with my "other" hand. There are those whom argue that this is a bad thing, but I found it to be an intriguing challenge. And, there are others citing its benefits.

I can’t prove that this exercise has improved communication between my left and right brain hemispheres which might benefit creative and abstract thinking, but I don’t think that it been detrimental to my wellbeing. Neither do I consider myself to be ambidextrous and would never consider eating not writing with my left hand unless forced to do so.

Architecto - Model 01: photo by Cliff Hutson
Architecto - Model 01: photo by Cliff Hutson

Cognitive Skills

The concept of some type of neural or cognitive pool of resources that protects against age-related cognitive decline has been an important idea in both the cognitive and neural aging literature.

Spatial thinking is a collection of cognitive skills. The skills consist of declarative and perceptual forms of knowledge and some cognitive operations that can be used to transform, combine, or otherwise operate on this knowledge. The key to spatial thinking is a constructive amalgam of three elements: concepts of space, tools of representation, and processes of reasoning. -  “Learning to Think Spatially,” by NationalResearch Council.

Wikipedia tell us that “Older adults tend to perform worse on measures of spatial visualization ability than younger adults, and this effect seems to occur even among people who use spatial visualization frequently on the job, such as architects . . .” So, in order to maintain my visual perceptual abilities, principally the ability to understand spatial relationships, I decided to play with blocks.

I have amassed several sets. The most challenging of these is Architecto which provides a series of increasingly difficult plans and asks the player to build the structures. Another, which is simpler in nature, but intrigued into studying more about architecture is Blockitecture Series 1: Brutalism. Designed by James Paulius for Areaware. They seemed to have renamed it "Habit", but it is still a set of architectural building blocks than can be used to create a variety of structures.

If building projects stimulate creativity, and sharpen crucial skills in children the activity might help me maintain mine.

Blockitecture Project: photo by Cliff Hutson
Blockitecture Project: photo by Cliff Hutson

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

June 2017 Reading

The books I finished reading in June 2017


June 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson
June 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson

“Setting Up Shop: The Practical Guide to Designing and Building Your Dream Shop”  -  Sandor Nagyszalanczy

I first read this book about fifteen years ago. It was clear then that I did not have the time, space, nor money to set up a woodworking shop along the lines of its recommendations. Now, having more of each, I decided to reread it only to realize I no longer have the inclination.

“Cars and Culture: The Life Story of a Technology”  -  Rudi Volti

This is an informative and enjoyable book. I appreciated it even more because I have worked with Rudi for a number of years.

“Murder at the Opera: A Capital Crimes Novel”  -  Margaret Truman

A fairly good mystery, but I will probably not rush out and look for others in the series.

“How to Be Black”  -  Baratunde Thurston

Part autobiography, part satire, and a look at a world of which most Americans have no clue, I highly recommend this book. (By the way, it seems that I have been doing it correctly.)

“The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need” (April 26, 2016)  -  Andrew Tobias

I read the first edition of this book in the late 1970s. And, to use a cliche, it changed my life. I recently gave a copy of this latest edition to each of my grandchildren, sight unseen, knowing that the core principles would still be valid. Then, I decided to get one for myself to read what the updates had to say, and perhaps learn some new tricks. It is still the best guide for anyone seeking advice on spending, saving, and investing.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

A Real Reason



A quote I have been using quite a bit of late is: “A man buys something for two reasons: a good reason and the real reason.”

This hit close to home recently as was trying to organize some of my image files and realized that sometimes I buy a bottle of beer or wine just because I want to photograph the label.

That is the case with these first two photographs. The ale has been here for about three weeks and I have yet to try it. I did drink the "California Girl", which  is a pretty decent white wine.


Renegade Blonde Ale: photo by Cliff Hutson
Renegade Blonde Ale: photo by Cliff Hutson

California Girl: photo by Cliff Hutson
California Girl: photo by Cliff Hutson

Another reason for the California Girl selection is that the image reminds me of a girl I dated when I was an undergrad. (I wonder if she has aged as much as I have.)


A Good Reason


The next two photographs were taken after I bought the wines for a good reason. They came highly recommend by someone whose taste I trust; and I am truly into Zinfandel. 

Old Vine Zinfandel: photo by Cliff Hutson
Old Vine Zinfandel: photo by Cliff Hutson

Grower's Reserve Zinfandel: photo by Cliff Hutson
Grower's Reserve Zinfandel: photo by Cliff Hutson

These photographs are due to my following  Garry Winogrand's statement; “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed."  Thus my work becomes sort of a diary. 



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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

May 2017 Reading

The books I finished reading in May 2017


May 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson
May 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson

Foodie bonus


This article, on vegetarian dishes in South America, features a rice and beans meal I (AKA "The Marmot") prepared and then photographed.


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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Matilija Poppy

Romneya coulteri


Romneya coulteri: photo by Cliff Hutson
Romneya coulteri: photo by Cliff Hutson

Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, is a perennial herb that is not only native to California but is endemic (limited) to California alone. It also has the distinction of being having the largest flower of any plant native to the state.  The flowers, up to seven inches in diameter, are said to resemble a fried egg as they are yellow in the center and surrounded by five or six white, crinkled petals. Its tall stems, with grayish-green leaves, may reach between three and eight feet in height.
This rampantly showy species, of the Papaveraceae family, is found in the chaparral and costal sage scrub habits. It should be blooming from May through June in the Peninsular Ranges and the eastern parts of the South Coast Ranges; at elevations of 20 - 1200 meters. Some blossoms may last well in to late Summer. Threatened by both development (urbanization, flood control, road widening, and road maintenance) and invasive species it is included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 4.2 (limited distribution).
Matilija Poppy is very popular in native plant gardens. Care must be taken in its placement as it is rhizomatous and very aggressive in spreading itself through underground rootstocks which form additional colonies. It needs sun and tolerates various amounts of watering depending on how well the soil drains.
The scientific name commemorates Romney Robinson, an Irish astronomer of the 1800’s, and Thomas Coulter, an Irish physician, botanist, and explorer. The plant itself was almost honored. It was a nominee in 1890 for the title of state flower but lost to the California poppy ( Eschscholzia californica ) by an apparently considerable margin. However, I would like to demand a recount.
Matilija Poppy: photo by Cliff Hutson
Matilija Poppy: photo by Cliff Hutson

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Analog Lives!

Blue Books


Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

I am a subscriber to the quarterly editions of Field Notes memo books. Occasionally, we get a little something extra in the mail. The latest was three blue books. It has been at least 45 years since I last took an exam using one of these; so, I wondered if they might really be a thing. Surly, after all this time something "new and improved" - iPads or the like - would have taken their place.

This question was quickly resolved with a query to my daughter who informed me that blue books are still being used in colleges, especially for final exams in social science courses: psychology, philosophy, political science, and sociology, by her and other "older professors".

Perhaps, this should not have surprised me as I had just finished reading "The Revenge of Analog," by David Sax.

Analog Matters


Sax writes convincingly about "real things and why they matter".  Digital technology has encroached on, if not taken over, much of our lives. The book is not against this, per se; it, instead shows that analog technology can not only coexist with the digital world, it can enhance it as well. But, then, he really takes to task the emergence of digital devices, such as the aforementioned iPads, in education. And stresses that one of the greatest promises and failures of educational technology is the online course. Studies show that these courses have very low completion rates. One source states that typically 90 percent of students drop out, and that those who stay with it learn less than students in a classroom.
This really intrigued me as I am enrolled in just such a course (Making Sense of Climate Science Denial - offered by the University of Queensland, no less) scheduled to begin on May 29.  

Correspondence School


FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson
FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson


The blue books from Field Notes were accompanied by a letter giving me instructions for a Final Exam. Just as if it were a correspondence school whose motto is, "Getting Smarter, One Letter at a Time". 

It just so happens that I have had some real world experience with traditional correspondence classes. My favorite example is the competition of a seminar in Bird Biology at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, in 1993. This done by actually mailing assignments back and forth, to and from Ithaca, with what could have only been an actual person. 

Now, I will be the among the first to maintain that the preferred method of education is having students and teachers interact with each other in a classroom (or the field as in my current situation). But, I got a lot out of that seminar, and still use that information to this day. One point that I bear in mind was that i still had to put pen and pencil to paper. A technique that many consider far superior to using a keyboard, touch screen, or stylus. I am eager to see how this online course will work for me.
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