Friday, April 23, 2010

More interesting than food: Narcissus entranced by his reflection

More Interesting Than Food: Narcissus Entranced by His Reflection
There's a pair of nesting Sandhill Cranes in the marsh along Tiedeman Pond in Middleton along Gammon Road, just north of the Madison city limits. The area is fenced off to make sure the nesting birds are not disturbed or stressed. While one tends the egg, the other flies off to forage for food, often in the neighboring suburban backyards. But sometimes there are more interesting things than food. As birds that spend some of their time on or near water, cranes must be familiar with their reflections. But what to make of "water" that's round, not flat, and hard, not wet?

Did you hear the wail of the Earth Day sirens in Madison yesterday?

We were taking an Earth Day walk near Lake Wingra yesterday afternoon, enjoying the mild sunny weather and the new green leaves budding out everywhere, when sirens all over Dane County seemed to go off all at once (which they did, as it later turned out). Their rising and falling wail rang in our ears.

Hard to tell what it was all about. It was Thursday, not Wednesday, the day that the sirens get a brief periodic test every few weeks. Should we take cover? Was a surprise nuclear attack imminent? It hardly seemed likely or possible. What about a tornado? The sirens screamed just like tornado sirens. But the sky was clear blue, with just a few wisps of cloud. The breeze was gentle. Not tornado weather.

So what was it? As we walked along, I began to speculate that maybe the sirens were sounding a wake-up call about the fate of the Earth. It seemed appropriate for the day. Gaia can use all the support we can provide..

Later I found out the sirens were part of a statewide tornado drill, part of Severe Weather Awareness Week. The annual drill is designed to test the entire warning system, making sure the National Weather Service, local emergency management and the general public are all on the same page. In Dane County 122 sirens were activated, and only two malfunctioned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

At the Madison Children's Museum reading is elevating -- and, at night, illuminating

We were walking around the Farmers's Market last weekend when out of the corner of my eye I saw this girl who was catching some rays and reading while balanced on a rooftop ledge at North Hamilton and the Square. Then I realized the figure was a sculpture. But it seemed to be wrapped in white bandages. What was all that about?

The building is the new home of the Madison Children's Museum (opening Aug. 14). I couldn't find any information at their website but left a message and Jennifer Neuls, director of visitor services, was kind enough to get back to me. The fiberglass sculpture is called "Girl on a Ledge," was made by artist Chris Murphy and funded by a Madison Arts Commission BLINK temporary public art grant. The lights inside the sculpture come on after dark and are powered by a solar panel.

There's a fascinating project blog that has lots of photos of the construction of the sculpture and the body casting it involved, as well as the installation. There's more information about the artist. From the press release:
Artist C Murphy will be unveiling [Mar. 31] a life-size fiberglass figure, poised on the fourth floor parapet of the new Madison Children’s Museum, overlooking the Capitol Square. The Girl is positioned casually, calmly reading a book, her legs dangling over the building’s edge. By day she may go unnoticed, but at nighttime she will be shining brightly, with the aid of solar panels and LED lights. “The surprise and delight that people have with the unexpected discovery of something of beauty and wonder is infectious,” says Christopher Murphy. Those who notice the girl will immediately be delighted by her form. Her precarious location creates tension, yet her commonplace pose implies tranquility.

Murphy’s sculptural obsession began by volunteering on Pail and Shovel’s “Statue of Liberty II” in 1979, a familiar and resilient Madison icon. This transformative event steered Chris into three-dimensional and public artwork. “The public response to this potent symbol impressed me so much that I wanted the direct communication with people that public art affords,” he says.

In 2008, Murphy worked with Milwaukee arts group IN:SITE, to produce a relief sculpture titled “Choros,” a community effort that highlighted the more than 100 victims of gun violence in Milwaukee during the previous year. Murphy has a BFA from UW–Madison and has been exhibiting his works of art regionally and nationwide for the past 20 years.
I love the symbolism of the sculpture -- after all, reading is illuminating. And I really like the playfulness. Downtown can use more of that. A magical public art project, one that will surprise and delight people out of all proportion to its cost.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring begins when the oaks say it does

Spring Begins When the Oaks Say It Does
In the right light, their budding leaves look like a cloud of tiny green flowers.

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Mayor Dave takes on the Lycra dress code

Trying to Keep Up with our Biking Mayor in My Car
Mayor Dave found a different approach to bicycling on his tour of European cities that are great for bike commuting.
A lot more people would bike to work if it weren't for the dress code. One thing that became immediately obvious in our tour of European cities that are great for bike commuters is that biking isn't an event here; it's a way of life.

Men in business suites, women dressed to the nines, elderly couples, little kids - virtually everybody rides a bike. You see no Lycra shorts, racing jerseys, clip on peddles or helmets. And, except for the helmets, which is another discussion, that's a good thing. More people will ride if they can just hop on and go, not spend a half hour packing up their work clothes while they dress for the ride to the office as if it's the Tour de France.
This was Mayor Dave practicing what he preaches at last year's Bike to Work Week. As someone who loves to bike and has never worn Lycra in his life and is not about to begin, I think he has a good point.

Monday, April 19, 2010

As books become devices, maybe many of us will choose to fill them with shorter material

Jason Kottke comments on Ken Auletta's article in the current New Yorker about the iPad, the Kindle and the future of book publishing. It's good summary of the evolving issues, but Kottke makes a point neither Auletta nor most observes have thought about enough.
I've touched on this before, but while people may not want to buy single chapters of books, they do want to read things that aren't book length. I think we'll see more literature in the novella/short-story/long magazine article range as publishers and authors attempt to fill that gap.
More than we're aware, our notion of what constitutes a published work has been constrained by the economics of publishing, printing and distribution. Books, magazines and newspapers came to predominate because selling shorter forms was prohibitively expensive -- especially on the distribution front.

Sound familiar? It is. For decades, albums dominated the music market. Although there were some aesthetic benefits, they were secondary. It was just the most cost-effective business model -- until it wasn't. Just as much of the music market shifted from albums to single tracks, with the advent of electronic distribution, there may be a huge market out there for easily downloadable short fiction and nonfiction.

Kottke's right: "When an industry changes dramatically, the future belongs to the nimble."

There's a new sheriff in town, and she's actually going after the crooks. Finally.

Finally. The S.E.C. is suing Goldman Sachs. And, as the NYT reports, new chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro seems to be sending a message that goes far beyond Goldman.
“I think everybody a few years ago got caught up in the idea that the markets are self-correcting and self-disciplined, and that the people in Wall Street will do a better job protecting the financial system than the regulators would,” she said. “I do think the S.E.C. got diverted by that philosophy.”
The S.E.C., and most of the U.S., "got diverted by that philosophy" -- forgetting most of the lessons about the importance of financial regulation taught by the Great Depression. Good to see some semblance of sanity returning.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eating our way through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day Five: Home

Eating Our Way through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day Five: Home
On the fifth day we rested. Yes, there are more movies being shown today, the last day of the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival -- but we bought all our tickets for the first four days, figuring we could use a day to curl up with cocoa and the Sunday paper and decompress from all the visual stimulation. A walk in the sun wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Eating Our Way through the Wisconsin Film Festival, Day Four: Sardine

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A pet belief of mine holds that a good restaurant and its kitchen needs to be located in an old building -- old enough so there might be attendant ghosts -- or at least plenty of memories. Sardine is located in part of Madison's old Fauerbach Brewery dating from the mid-nineteenth century. For all its beautifully updated interior -- white painted brick walls,high ceilings, elegant lighting, white tablecloths -- the room has a deep sense of history and brewery-worker stories untold. We had a table at the back next to the windows where (typical of Madison somehow) lovely Lake Monona gets no respect; you have a perfect view of it, but over the rows of car tops out in the parking lot. The lake was doing its night-time thing -- a modest bit of glimmering -- and the cheerful row of lights on the opposite shore twinkled far enough away to suggest there might be something other than big box stores and mini malls over there. A gorgeous moody set of old Blues music came on over the sound system -- it was after 8 P.M. and it was time to eat.

CSC_0068-Negronis-smWe each had a Negroni cocktail -- a perfect balance of sweet, bitter, citrus that combines 4 forms of alcohol (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier) -- and threw caution to the wind. P decided to have fried smelt as an appetizer. The smelt (enough of them to be a light entree) were nicely fried in a light oil, with a buttermilk dipping sauce and a small side of pickled cabbage. I chose the house salad -- one of my favorite salads in Madison -- a glistening heap of the freshest local lettuces, lightly dressed with tarragon vinaigrette, topped with roasted beets, crispy chickpeas and a bit of sieved egg.

CSC_0059-Skatewing-smFor my entree, I chose the Skatewing with broccoli rabe and fingerling potatoes. I asked the server if I could switch out the broccoli for the sauteed spinach which was on the menu with other entrees -- "no problem" she replied, smiling. An ample portion of Skatewing arrived, deftly pan-seared in butter -- with a pepper, lemon caper sauce -- and the sautéed spinach with fingerling potatoes. Skatewing really does taste like scallops.

For his entree, P ordered the mussels and frites. The mussels were cooked perfectly in a broth of wine, a touch of Pernod, cream, onion and fresh thyme sprigs, And what a pile of succulent bi-valves it was -- enough for a Belgian Army! And enough frites to share with them, and house-made mayonnaise.

After this meal, we decided, it will be salads and soup throughout the summer (goodbye, potatoes; farewell, cocktails). But first, a dessert menu was offered and P could not resist the siren song of the flourless chocolate cake with a tiny scoop of fresh berry sorbet and a dab of cream adorned with an edible mint leaf.

CSC_0061-Tulips-smWhen we finally left the table, we passed the seasonal bouquet that set the stage near the lake entrance of the restaurant -- on a dark wood rail a tall glass column vase filled with river stones and an explosion of yellow tulips. Spring at last! It was a perfect dinner.

Guest post by T, the Letter from Here resident food correspondent and amazing dinner companion. For the Wisconsin Film Festival movie that preceded this celebration, click here.

How much do web coupons tell retailers about you? You might be surprised.

Searchable web coupons for specific products that you can print out or download to your cell phone are a great deal for consumers. They're an even better deal for retailers. "Web Coupons Know Lots About You, and They Tell" is the headline of a NYT story on how much web coupons tell retailers about you. And it's a lot.
A new breed of coupon, printed from the Internet or sent to mobile phones, is packed with information about the customer who uses it. While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place.

And all that information follows that customer into the mall.
Such a quaint notion, that old privacy thing.

Passenger Side -- My favorite of the films we saw at the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival

Passenger Side turned out to be my favorite of the six films we saw at the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival. Here's Festival Director Meg Hamel explaining how she happened to pick this Canadian film shot in LA at last year's Toronto Film Festival. She evokes what it's like in the industry screenings and why she likes to also see a few films in the public screenings with regular people. This was one of them, and she was glad she did. (Sorry about the crappy video, but this clip is really about the audio -- though I like the way her hands move while she talks.)

Passenger Side is a buddy road movie, in which the buddies are brothers with conflicted feelings about each other, and the road consists of a single day's drive around LA and its environs in a battered green 1975 BMW. Michael (Adam Scott) is a published but apparently obscure novelist, while his brother Tobey (Joel Bissonette, brother of writer/director Matthew Bissonette) is a recovering addict who hits Michael up for some heavy-duty chauffeuring on what he forgets is his brother's birthday. Michael is suspicious of the mysterious errands Tobey has to run and the people they encounter. Both brothers love the other and can't stand the other's approach to life -- their ambivalent sibling rivalry drives the deadpan ironic dialogue that is one of the film's pleasures.

Another is the film's sense of movement, both visually and musically. Mac McCaughan, singer/guitarist of Superchunk and cofounder of Merge Records, served as musical consultant and helped select the indie rock tracks that help propel the film forward (including the title track by Wilco). There's also a great scene looking out the window toward the ocean on the drive to Long Beach, seeing nothing but waves and an oil drilling platform, while Leonard Cohen sings "Suzanne" and the transplanted Canadian brothers talk about the Stanley Cup.

But the movie is not all about music and talk. There is a plot that leads to a (perhaps somewhat pat) surprise ending, but one for which the audience has been prepared by hints dropped here and there. You could say it's an amiable, witty shaggy dog story of a movie, and in fact, one of the brothers does end up with a shaggy dog.