Friday Four

Friday, August 19, 2016

1. Is Google losing its mojo as a search engine? I don't know, but I'll be just fine, at least whenever I need to find something from my own archives.

Here's what I get when I use Google's custom search for an author I distinctly remember mentioning at some point in the past:

Your search - Petroski - did not match any documents. [format edits]
Using the Linux command, "grep" was much more useful:
$ grep -l Petroski 20??/??/*.html
Three cheers for grep! This command (and others like it) save me enormous amounts of time on a daily basis because I employ it in scripts that allow me to follow news from many different sources quite efficiently.

2. And speaking of Henry Petroski, author of The Evolution of Useful Things, I recently enjoyed this lengthy, but fascinating article in Popular Mechanics about the many inventions behind the pencil. Here's an excerpt:
At the dawn of the fighting, England imposed an embargo on France, which had been one of the primary importers of English pencils. While it may have made sense militarily, the embargo had a nasty side effect on England's commerce. France suddenly suffered a shortage of pencils and graphite. A year after the war started, French Minister of War Lazare Carnot commissioned scientist and military commander Nicolas-Jacques Conté to find a solution.

At the time, Conté was working on military uses for the newly invented hot air balloon, an effort that cost him his left eye when a balloon experiment resulted in an explosion. Conté had to push the balloon project aside to find a new way to make pencils. That meant either finding a substitute for graphite or coming up with a suitable mixture of graphite and another substance. The story goes that it took the inventor just a few days to come up with an answer.
The piece mentions and draws upon another book by Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance.

3. And returning to Google, I am looking forward to trying out its new competitor to Apple's FaceTime app and Microsoft's Skype:
Video calling is the next best thing to being with someone in person, but too often it can be a frustrating or complicated experience. You shouldn't have to worry about whether your call will connect, or if your friend is using the same type of device as you are. It's no wonder that nearly half of us never make video calls on mobile*. [bold added, asterisk in original]
Assuming this works better than search and is as easy to use as it sounds, I'm looking forward to trying it out and spreading the word.

4. I was a young man in the 1990's, so I'll indulge myself a little, here:
Q: What is an Achiever?

A: "Achiever" is the preferred nomenclature for a fan of The Big Lebowski. Yes, and proud we are of all of them.
There's quite a bit more in that vein at the LebowskiFest site.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "I was a young man in the 1990's, so I'll indulge myself a little, here."

As I've commented before to your agreement, those of us who were young men in the 90s do seem to be the natural audience for The Big Lebowski. I've been a fan of the Coen Brothers ever since my father introduced me to Blood Simple the week it was released on VHS (he worked in a video store in the evenings for the opportunity to explore movies and get paid for it), but their films are so varied that the audience for one might not be the audience for another of them at all. The Big Lebowski is not just my favorite of their comedies but one of my favorite comedies ever, while their much more popular Raising Arizona never did much appeal to me, nor did Barton Fink (though I did like it okay). (I was amazed to find I liked Burn After Reading almost as much as The Big Lebowski because it didn't seem like my cup of tea at all, but I think it was Brad Pitt playing the perfect model of a himbo airhead that iced the cake.) For that matter, I wasn't that taken with Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, but I liked it better than Raising Arizona.

Same with their serious movies. Miller's Crossing is a perfect film tribute to Dashiell Hammett and one of the finest noir films I've seen, and The Man Who Wasn't There is a perfect film tribute to Jim Thompson's brand of noir, whereas Fargo just fell flat and short for me--but I haven't seen it in years and might be much more impressed now. Maybe it's because Blood Simple savors of Texas while Fargo is saturated with "Minnesota nice" that I reacted so much more naturally to the first...or maybe it was the shock of the new at the time. --Oddly, I also really loved A Serious Man, despite the fact it's a combination of very Jewish humor and Minnesota nice that most people didn't seem to relate to at all. (I haven't seen No Country for Old Men, True Grit, or Hail, Caeser! yet, though I'm eager to correct those lapses.) So yeah, all of their movies are thoroughly distinctive and thoroughly different, and usually of very high quality. This is a very good thing.

Gus Van Horn said...


Nice encapsulation of the variety of the work of the Coen brothers. Their two favorites of mine, The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading, came as recommendations from one of my brothers and my mother, respectively.