January 2010

Posted by Ellen

This has been an El Nino winter in California, meaning that the Pacific breezes have functioned as a conveyor belt bringing storm after storm into the state. Sheets of cold rain blow through the coastal cities and into the Central Valley, where the storms bump up against the Sierra Nevada mountains, try to crawl up over them, and get stuck. A single storm can last four or five days in the Sierras and dump 50 or 60 inches of snow or more at higher elevations. This year, the Sierras are by far the snowiest part of the country.

The cabin in these pictures is near Mammoth, California, a ski area where all the snow is properly appreciated. The snow in the doorway represents one night's accumulation.

Here in Maine, we've had our share of snow, followed by a January thaw last week--tons of rain that left things looking almost springlike till the cold came back. And in Maryland, it's snowing even as I type. But I hear tell that soon it will be February.

Posted by Ellen

In 1935, when my father's parents Rose and Charles Horowitz celebrated their thirtieth anniversary, the basic fact of life in America was the Great Depression. Still, to mark the occasion properly, you had to dress up and sit for a formal portrait.

That's Rose and Charles in the middle, of course, with my father, Bobby, the baby of the family, on their laps. He is 85 now and may be the only person in the picture who's still alive. Fortunately, he noted who's who and described everybody for posterity--the woman at the far right, for example, is "cousin Hattie, who became the first radio cab dispatcher in Baltimore."

Three of my father's four siblings are shown here, with their spouses, along with assorted relatives and friends.

Sitting next to my grandmother is her sister Bessie, and standing behind Bessie is Uncle Eli, the subject of today's post. Back in eastern Europe before the turn of the century, Eli had been conscripted into the czar's army and ordered to Siberia;  he deserted and somehow found his way to Philadelphia instead, There, he got a job as a furrier, married Bessie, and raised five children. They were poor; my father recalled that in Eli and Bessie's house, he had to be very careful not to use too much soap when he washed his hands.

Some years after this picture was taken, when Eli and Bessie were celebrating their own fiftieth anniversary, Eli went out on the floor with all the young guys and danced the Kazachok, the Russian squatting-and-kicking dance. The family story is that he kicked as hard and danced as fast and lasted as long as anybody half his age. He had a talent for enjoying life, including his schnapps. One of his sons became a doctor, who warned his father not to drink too much; the  story is that when the son ordered him to cut back to one glass a day, Eli said fine, but he made sure that his one daily glass was a huge water-tumbler-sized drink. Whatever, he outlived his son the doctor.

Eli had a one-word retirement plan: fishing. And that's exactly what he did; when he was finally too old to stay at work sewing furs, he and Bessie moved to Atlantic City, where every morning he woke up, walked down to the beach, and went fishing. He was in his nineties when I first met him, still the life of the party, and still fishing.

Posted by Ellen

After a rough day on the mat last Saturday at the tournament in Essex Junction, Vermont, Arjan Nekoie settles down in the bleachers with his family while the remaining wrestlers battle it out. Arjan rests his head in the lap of his little sister Shadhi, who leans back in the lap of their father, Bahman.

Posted by Ellen

A few months ago, the New Zealanders among us were out touring their island--New Zealand's North Island--when they stopped for the night at the Okopako Farm Lodge in Opononi, Northland, a backpackers' hostel at the end of a primitive gravel road--a road so narrow and winding and twisty, we're told, that it can't be driven after dark. The people who run the lodge, which is off the electrical grid, offer "fresh organic produce, homemade bread & farmhouse meals," and they also promise a nice view.

This is what dawn looks like from the deck of the lodge.

"I shot photo after photo," recalls A., "as the sun rose. Unfortunately, I was so engrossed in the scenery I left bread on a burner on one of those camp toasters until it thoroughly burned, and its blackened remains released a massive amount of smoke that set off the fire alarm. The fire alarm rang for about 20 minutes, which did not thrill the few other inhabitants of that place.

"The upside was that they were awakened in time to enjoy the sunrise, too."

Posted by Ellen

He's delivering milk to the Restaurant Louisiane on Iberville Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, circa 1903.

Just behind the milk wagon--look through the wheels--is a jumble of something spilled on the sidewalk at the curb. Another wagon must have recently stopped by there, delivering coal. Somebody from the restaurant will have to come out and scoop it up.

Posted by Ellen

The first commercial use of Colin Doody's software might be medical; doctors could use it to visualize C-T scans and ultrasounds in lifelike 3-D. But it could be that the first commercial applications will come in the defense or geospatial industries; 3-D renderings from photos or satellite images would permit the interactive, virtual-reality sort of understanding of buildings and terrain that has been heretofore limited to video games. For that matter, video-game makers might be the first to use this software on a large scale; to them, the benefits of quick-and-easy generation of 3-D imagery are pretty obvious.

And then there are all the e-commerce folks who could use the software, which is called Luster, to help customers see contemplate all the angles on products in a catalog.

A final group of potential Luster-users is . . . all of us. Much of the stuff on our computer screens could come to life, so to speak, in 3-D. We could download a free little Luster player, much like a Flash player, that would unlock the special effects in all sorts of software created with Luster.

Somewhere in all this, there's got to be some money, figure Colin and a handful of his college friends from Rochester Institute of Technology, the principals of Darkwind Media Company. Already, they're bringing in enough income to support themselves while they work fulltime polishing their product and growing their business.

It's a lot of work.  "Starting a business has meant doing everything," one of the Darkwind guys recently told a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "Marketing, financial books, keeping current clients happy, all while sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day programming."

The rib cage shown here was created using Luster, from two-dimensional "slices" of a C-T scan.

Posted by Ellen

Evan is running a candy store for his teddy bears.

Posted by Ellen

In the summer of 1938, these children escaped the sweltering streets of New York City by attending Camp Kinderland, an oasis in the green hills of western Massachusetts founded by The Workmen's Circle, a Jewish organization affiliated with the Wobblies and eventually with the U.S. Communist Party. The inscription on the photo is in Yiddish (I'm told), which was almost certainly the first language of the Kinderland campers, children whose immigrant parents could not afford other summer camps. At Kinderland, which was free, children swam and played ball and put on plays and sang songs about the class struggle.

In 1954, Kinderland was confiscated by the government as property of a Communist organization. It was reorganized as a strictly capitalist venture, a for-profit summer camp serving the children of former campers, many of whom could now afford to pay hefty camp fees. The camp still exists, promoting itself as a place where children participate in all the usual camp activities but also "don't hesitate to sing a Yiddish labor song, paint a mural of Harriet Tubman, or write a skit about putting an end to war."

Actress Marisa Tomei is an alumna of Camp Kinderland.

The inscription apparently just identifies Camp Kinderland and the particular session in 1938.

Posted by Ellen

All five Stein brothers in an elevator, on the first day of 2010.

From left to right:   #3, #1, #4, #5, #2   (1981, 1978, 1988, 1992, 1979).

Posted by Ellen

This photo has been used on the cover of paperback editions of Wuthering Heights, but it's really a self-portrait of a Philadelphia lampmaker named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius apparently didn't comb his hair for the camera, but he can be forgiven because he probably thought the picture wouldn't really come out anyway. He made the daguerrotype in November 1839 out in the yard behind his family's lampworks, on Chestnut Street in Philly, and it is believed to be the first ever photographic image of a human face.. On the back of the picture, Cornelius wrote "The first light picture ever taken, 1839."  Three months later, he opened the first ever photographic portrait studio, but later census reports suggest that he eventually went back into the family lamp business.

A competing claim for portrait primacy has been put forth for a French daguerrotype made by Daguerre himsel, perhaps in 1837, which would be two years before he announced his process for making "light pictures." In 1838, Daguerre claimed in a letter that after several attempts at portraiture, he'd had one success, and some experts believe that one early success is a recently discovered portrait of the painter Nicolas Juet. Early photographic portraiture was difficult because Daguerre's technique required extremely long exposure times, so long that in order to stay perfectly still people had to adopt rigid, artificial, inelegant poses.

Cornelius, who had specialized in silver-plating lamps for the family business, worked on the chemistry of Daguerre's silver-based process and may have achieved some refinements before he made his self-portrait. He is known to have added bromine to the formula. His pose here looks strikingly casual compared to most nineteenth-century portraits, though the arms crossed over his chest may have helped him remain motionless, probably for at least two minutes and perhaps for as long as five minutes.

He does appear to have just stepped out of Wuthering Heights.