Old-world skillz

Cassettes of varying tape quality and playing time
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I do not know how Michael Leddy finds so many great items for his Orange Crate Art blog. I was struck by his link to this column by The Providence Journal's Mark Pantinkin on certain specialized life skills we (of a certain generation) accrued growing up that aren't needed in this day and age. There's a hint of grumpy old man in his tone, but not too much.

Some of the skills on Pantinkin's list overlaps with mine: the high-beam toggle on the floor, the rotary dial phone, threading the film in the camera, using coat hangars (and aluminum foil!) to improve TV reception, and dropping the phonograph needle on a turning record.

My own modest list would include:

  • Black and white darkroom skills, especially threading the film, in the dark, onto wire reels that I then dumped into the fixative. If the film touched itself along that spiral, the outcome was just ugly.
  • Using a pencil to re-wind slack cassette tape onto its spool.
  • Affixing labels to 3.5-inch floppy disks.
  • Creatively naming computer files within the 8.3 scheme.
  • Using a proportion wheel to size photos for a newspaper page -- and keeping your distance from the hot wax machine.
  • Inking and running my dad's offset printing presses, and then running the pages through the collator, folding machine, and stapler. I can still hear and feel the loud, mechanical rhythm and sounds of those machines.

But that said, some skills have not passed away from this ever-progressing world:

  • The Frugal Liz prefers her $20 Whirley-Pop over any microwave popcorn.
  • I still write letters and cards to my friends, and Simpsons stamps are preferred.
  • Banjo strings still go on by hand one peg at a time.
  • A safety pin keeps paired socks together in the wash.
  • The Sunday funnies, even in their sadly depleted state (the News & Observer only has 4 pages of strips run really small), still make fun birthday gift wrapping in a pinch.
  • We still have two-stroke lawnmower engines, shoelaces, eyeglass screws, and other physical artifacts of the daily world that will require specialized skills for a while yet.

I would add, though, a few new skills I've picked up:

  • Working with blog software
  • Using Snopes.com to sniff out urban myths forwarded to me by well-meaning people
  • Navigating Gmail using the keyboard shortcuts only
  • Seeing Netflix movies over my wi-fi connection (instant gratification -- though I do miss the Mom and Pop video stores)
  • And, alas, becoming better than I want to be at troubleshooting Windows and Macintosh computers
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Assorted links

  • "A comparison of the 2008 population — using data from a variety of sources — with the first census in 1881 shows that the number of Cocks has shrunk by 75 per cent..." Read the rest for the context.
  • How to e-mail a professor. They may not notice, but then again, they do notice.
  • Saaien Tist on processing research literature, a topic that is becoming of increasing interest to me and that everyone has a different solution for.
  • Wonderful poem by B.H. Fairchild about "On the Waterfront," a small-town movie theater, and waiting to come of age.
  • I've always liked Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies. (More here, here, and here.) Now someone has created a Twitter feed for them (I think with new or homemade ones added, too): Oblique_Chirps.
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Assorted links

Four Sharpier permanent markers, showing black...
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  • Doomsday for 2009 is ... Saturday.
  • Mary Ellen Bates says goodbye to several Google apps, and ponders Microsoft's persistent relevance. I'll miss Google Notebook, myself.
  • Better ways to run a workshop. And some damn fine YouTube examples of Patrick McGoohan at work.
  • Chris Blattman summarizes Rapture indicators from The Rapture Index site: "The prophetic speedometer of end-time activity". And no, I sure as hell ain't linking to that site. Chris does that so I don't have to.
  • Michael Leddy at Orange Crate Art excerpts a neat paragraph on why a long, inefficient search can yield better results in the long-term than instant retrieval.
  • Man decorates basement with $10 worth of Sharpie. Sorry, can't remember where I got this. I love the 360-degree view of his newly decorated basement. If I could draw that well, and had his nerve, this world would be a different place. Update: But Liz says it makes the walls look like cardboard.
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Links 22-May-08

  • This paper studies the CVs of assistant professors of economics at several American universities and finds "evidence of a strong brain drain" and a "predominance of empirical work." If you searched the CVs of assistant professors at top-10 IS/LS schools, what do you think you'd find? [via Marginal Revolution]
  • Michael Leddy (of the consistently fun Orange Crate Art blog) recommends this Atlantic article written from a teacher in the academic trenches. Professor X's message to her/his students? "[T]hey lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college." Note, though, the type of college the Professor works at. Does this lack of preparation prevail at better colleges also?
  • A great NY Times profile of the great Mad fold-in artist Al Jaffee. By hand, people!! And the Times did a fabulous job of animating some of the fold-ins. The Broderbund set of Mad CDs I bought (cheap!) years ago had that feature, also.
  • Tyler Cowen cites the really only truly most important reason for becoming a full professor.