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Sunday, December 27, 2009

My, your cells are so... big

  It's been nearly a year since I last visited the Cartoon Art Museum ( here in San Francisco. (See my note from last time.) There were several nice exhibits up, each different from the others.

Once Upon a Dream: The Art of Sleeping Beauty contains many original cells, backgrounds, sketches, color keys, color tests, and other artifacts from Disney's 1959 classic. The cells over backgrounds were especially lovely... and they were enormous. This was one of just two wide-screen format films that Disney made, this one being in 70 millimeter 'widescreen' mode. The cells were easily 11"x17", and some of the backgrounds (which must have been panned over) ran to about 24 inches in length. The studio also used live models in action to Rotoscope ( certain scenes that they wanted to be especially realistic.

The fact that this film is one of the most gorgeous that Disney ever made, and hasn't really been topped, suddenly makes a great deal of technical sense. The studio also allowed one primary designer to control the look of the film, which gave it a more unified, consistent overall design.

Monsters of Webcomics re-introduced me to some comics I've enjoyed in the past, such as Dorothy Gambrell's Cat and Girl (, whose dark strips about the inevitability of death cheered me enormously, and strips I haven't seen before, like Nicholas Gurewitch's The Perry Bible Fellowship (, in which everyone is terribly misunderstood and horrible, horrible things happen, or Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, which I like because all of her eyes are these expressive, horizontal ovals, and combining those eyes with comics about Jane Austen's relatives demanding make-out scenes in her books is just too good.

Most of these artists hand-draw their strips, scan them, and then finish them digitally, which I found interesting.

Also on view right now: puppets and set pieces from The Fantastic Mr. Fox stop-animation film (note to my co-workers: this is not about my boss); original cells and artwork from a range of other familiar and old-school comics; a collection of "underground" comic work from an SF local (who utilizes that same style that Crumb's strips did, in which women's anatomy is exaggerated in a particular style that I find both anatomically incorrect and aesthetically icky); and some elaborate black and white cover art from a local small press. My eyes were already full, however.

Sharing a foyer is Foto-Grafix Books, which I've never seen more full of merch. This bookstore has gradually evolved from the Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams bookstore into a store specializing in the art of animation, graphic novels, manga, and DVDs. They always have something interesting to look at.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:27 PM

Parched potatoes

  This may not be news to most of you, but baking parchment is great in the microwave, as well as in the oven. I wanted to bake a potato, and the lidded bowl I used to use is no longer available, so I wrapped the washed, punctured potato thoroughly in parchment, and "nuked" it for six minutes, turning it once so the spot that rests on the glass dish wouldn't be tough, and... Perfection! The parchment keeps the steam close, so the potato is tender, not tough or wrinkly.

Baked potatoes, especially once they are sliced open and drizzled in hot olive oil (or even butter) with chives and a pinch of salt, are so simple and so good. Six minutes isn't long to wait for a hearty snack.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:20 PM

Saturday, December 26, 2009

No like no boil

  TJ's, the fancy grocery chain, just happened to have a box of lasagna noodles on one of the pasta shelves the very day I was shopping for lasagna ingredients. So I bought them reflexively, thinking that all lasagna noodles are alike.

I have learned my lesson. Actually, three lessons. The first is that TJ's lasagna noodles are the "no boil" kind, which means that you put the dry, brittle, uncooked noodles in the lasagna pan between the fillings and sauce, and so long as your fillings are moist enough, the pasta will absorb liquid and cook in about 45 minutes.

The second lesson is that these noodles contain eggs. I do not approve of this. I do not want or need eggs in my diet, and prefer my pasta cholestrol-free, thanks.

The third is that I don't like the texture of no boil noodles. They are not just al dente, they are also chewier when fully cooked. I don't need that.

So these get a thumbs down from me, and I will resume cooking egg-free lasagna noodles for my delicious, vegan lasagnas.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Where the Wild Meals Are

  The City's new(ish) Contemporary Jewish Museum ( currently has a cafe menu inspired by Maurice Sendak. I was wondering what big monsters might like to eat: I need wonder no longer: CafeMenuNov17.pdf (pdf).

Those monsters are more veg-friendly then they look!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 14, 2009

Periodically, I enjoy cookies

  Adorable: Not So Humble Pie: Science Cookies: Periodic Table ( featured in Boing Boing's Science-themed cookies for all your holiday baking needs (

Yes, truly talented people can even make cookies geeky.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:16 PM

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Classical robot army soundtrack

  NOT that I will actually attempt to take over the world with my robot army, but if I did, for the opening chase sequences involving people running or driving away from my efficient, high-speed robots (many of which are wheeled), I now wish to use the first movement of Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (Internet Archive - Free Download) ( Go listen. Imagine that the video will be high-contrast and tinted in a steely blue-gray.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:00 PM

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A newspaper that is better than a newspaper

  McSweeney's Issue 33 PanoramaThere was an enormous newspaper on my front steps earlier this week, a Sunday-sized, full-color log of a paper in a plastic bag. I don't subscribe to the local papers, so I was wondering if there was a mistake. But it is no mistake: it is McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Issue #33 ( This particular issue is The San Francisco Panorama, an experiment in homage and tribute to daily newspapers, and what newspapers could be.

As with all issues of McSweeney's, this issue is beautifully designed; unlike most issues, it emphasizes non-fiction topics, is chock full of photography on sprawling, enormous pages, and contains a sports section and posters. It also comes with extensive notes and statistics on how it was produced (at what cost), and contains encouragement for the many writers, reporters, and others who have been laid off from their corporate publishing jobs to consider having a go on their own.

It isn't just physically substantive - it is substantive all around, and makes great use of the scale of full-newspaper sized pages.

When was the last time you really saw the scale of a newspaper REALLY used? Aside, perhaps, from a clever ad in some other city's paper?


The decline of newspapers has been much bemoaned, but my area hasn't had any truly spectacular newspapers to value. The local papers here have been pro-establishment, pro-big business, anti-labor, and pro-society-fashion forever. There is little for me there as an anti-establishment, pro-small business employee who could care less what anyone wore to the opera. While there are some great local columnists, the news reporting has often felt like it was written by hermits from other cultures.

I recall attending a pro-choice rally and silent protest against a fundamentalist group that came to the City from afar to march. The primary local paper's report presented the event as 'a group of innocents were harassed by random counter-culture freaks,' somehow failing to notice that the fundamentalists bussed people into a place they openly scorned from around the state to attend; that the mayor (whom they ordinarily adore) and nearly every major city official spoke out against fundamentalism at the event; that the anti-fundamentalists showed up in number and were well represented cross-culturally; and that the proceedings were largely peaceful. (I wrote to the paper noting that the narrow reporting was oddly incomplete and failed to describe the event I attended, and received a heated reply from the reporter, with whom I had a peculiar, non-objective exchange.) The paper gushed routinely about corporate and society parties, but could also find little positive to say about non-establishment events such as peace marches, rendering people with strollers and their families invisible so they could emphasize a handful of child suburban anarchists as being representative of... well, everything they disapproved of, in a "you kids get off my lawn" kind of way. Don't even ask about their coverage during a key mayoral race.

*yawn* Explain why I should pay for that?

Other papers in my state often appear to be nothing more than advertising circulars; I read papers from the east coast, plus websites from news organizations back east and abroad, for news. I read local weeklies for current events, light political reporting, and popular media reviews.

I only use my local paper's website for its weather radar page, and the occasional item they HAVE to cover, like repairs on the Bay Bridge.


The long-term decline of newspapers has been blamed on the internet, but one of the things I love about an informative flyer in this new McSweeney's is that it points out that newspapers have different strengths than internet news services do, and should play to those strengths. One example they give is comics, which can be printed larger and in great color in papers, but aren't good to read on the 'net. Newspapers can print local stories with great depth over many pages. The headlines-only format of television news has spread to the internet, where most articles are amazingly short: newspapers could top those headlines with substance in a heartbeat.

But do they? Some of the decline has been circular (ahem): the newspapers do less and less with all of that amazing paper real estate to save money, and have let go of countless reporters and writers to rely on the same wire services that everyone else has; in doing so, have less to differentiate them from their competitors or from the web.


I've barely made a dent in the 350,000 words of Panorama, but I'm already impressed by the very idea of reconceptualizing the traditional paper newspaper, and playing up its strengths.


posted by Arlene (Beth)5:09 PM

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bloated, like a colossal lizard

  Exercise and food journals are a good idea. Some are just more interesting than others. McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Godzilla's Food, Exercise, and Dream Diary by Kate Hahn (, 11/17/09) is a great example.
11:50 AM: Exercise: Breathe fire at attacking airplanes. Calories burned: 5,342,000

11:55 AM: Snack: Pilots and parachutes. (27) Calories: 5,342,000. (Why bother to exercise?) Feeling: defensive, misunderstood, freakishly colossal.
After lunch yesterday, I also felt freakishly colossal: I'll have to work on that breathing fire thing.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)2:59 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Divinity through breakfast foods

  One of the more complicated conceptual aspects of studying at my religious middle school was trying not to ask why the all-powerful divine force they were teaching me about is now silent. It appeared that the being lost the ability to communicate at about the time people figured out how to write, leaving followers to look for indirect signs of its intent.

This silence leads to phenomena such as Virgin Mary seen in spray can pancake (, 12/2/09), in which a breakfast food has an outline that looks like... like the pancake is well-cooked, actually. Or, if you're looking for it, like a cartoon bull (upside down). Or of a religious figure wearing shapeless clothing.

There have been plenty of other interpretations of images and outlines - there was a tree stump Virgin Mary (, 7/10/09) earlier this year, and a number of patterns on bread, walls, and windows (, 4/22/05) that have inspired people to erect shrines in the past, but this is another edible one, like the Virgin Mary on toasted cheese from 2004 (, 11/17/04). It still lacks the level of detail you would hope for from a communication with a divine being, but its edibility is interesting to me.

Plans to make a religious icon waffle-maker aside, I find the choice of a pancake to be peculiar. It is a humble food, surely, but not a healthy one: pancakes are usually made with bleached white flour, and are high in calories without packing much nutrition.

If I were a divine being, and could only assert my existence through patterns in food, I think I would... be pretty pissed, actually. But if those are the rules (and we'll pretend they are, for the purposes of this discussion), I would choose... to have my image/message run all the way down the length of thousands of loaves of vegan cinnamon swirl bread that I knew would be skillfully sliced. I think I would be able to get some pretty fine detail using the cinnamon. And by running all the way down the length of the bread, my intentionality would be slightly more apparent.

In natural foods, I suppose I could represent myself through veining patterns on leaf veggies. Corn kernels are a bit low-res, but might also be useful for text messages. And those lovely, enormous, patterned beans, like "Christmas limas," have space for fine, high contrast, repeating messages in burgundy on white - or even white on burgundy! A million identical beans bearing my message would surely make the papers.

Of course, if I could do this, to promote vegetarianism, I would also put all sorts of messages in processed meat products that would plainly read "don't eat me" in clean, fat- or spice-based text, and in the processed foods that so many other people eat but shouldn't: ice crystals in non-dairy whipped topping, for example.


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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 07, 2009

The filter of memory

  I gush often about The Nation (Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865) (, my favorite newsweekly. It has a depth that corporate newspapers lack, includes opinions from people who aren't American (*gasp*!), and has had amazing cultural commentary, especially in the art and film criticism area.

The feature "Back Talk" includes short interviews with people working on a wide range of cultural products. Back Talk: Jarvis Cocker (, 9/14/09 edition) is a good example of a great, brief interview with the front man of the band Pulp. He is a musician, a curator, and dad with some interesting thoughts about things like the meaning of music, and whether some songs are too important to be randomly encountered on your mp3 player, whether music sampling can provide for the happy accidents and interpretations that would come from sampling from your memory instead of a digital source file, and involvement in creative culture. Excerpt:
Meltdown [a show Cocker curated] was about the fact that culture isn't something you consume. You can create it yourself; you can participate in it.... People have become spectators in their own life. The consumer ethos has infiltrated not just the way people live their lives but also the way they consume culture. I'm an old person, so I was brought up when punk rock happened, and the message was that you can do it yourself.
Making culture yourself is one of *the* major goals of life for me, so these short thoughts were inspiring.


Jarvis' commentary on the lack of bass in music now, due to the compressed mp3 file format and earbuds, led to a conversation about the digital age with my pals that was all that I love my friends for: with great faux-fortitude, we mocked the less-is-more of audio data compression, the lack of heat in digital fire, and my contention that it is much more difficult to steal souls in digital photography, since the file is too small and lossy to contain a soul.

I have GREAT friends.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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