Roll Your Own Logo

Prompted by a post from librarian extraordinaire, Joyce Valenza, I spent a happy hour fooling with logos (despite lacking any graphic design talent or training, I find typography and graphic design fascinating).

She writes about free logo tools, including, which is ridiculously easy and fun to fool with.  Here’s one I did for my employer.

And one for the blog, 

Yeah, they are nothing to write home about, but the tool is easy to use, and fun. And worth your while if you can’t afford a Pentagram designer! (And you probably can’t!)




Arts Tech: Virtual Maria Callas

In the operatic edition of “news of the weird” –a surprisingly hefty category–the latest entry is Maria Callas, in 3D on the stage of New York’s Rose Theater. Anthony Tomassini was there for the preview for the opening of the “tour”:

Like many things today, the promotional language from the company behind it, Base Hologram, seems to be pulled from a sci-fi novel, “La Divina lives, breathes, sings and captivates in her astonishing return to the stage.” Since Callas died in 1977, her return really would be astonishing. What we have instead, wondrous in a different way, is a 3-D hologram of the revered soprano, performing with a live orchestra (a gig that I suspect gave pause to the even the hungriest of NYC freelancers). “Callas sings” some well-known arias, from Carmen, Lady Macbeth, and the like–with audio mined from her numerous recordings, already an object of obsession by fanatics,  and what I guess is a computer recreation of her body based on the more limited film and video legacy.  As Tony points out, we don’t have a single full length opera on film of her.

Okay, I do get the fascination with her, and with Base’s other ectoplasmic excretion, Roy Orbison “Interactive Roy Orbison to Embark on World Tour.” I have found that opera lovers refer to hearing Callas live with the same awe that the others diners at the Last Supper must have lorded it over their lessers who weren’t in the room. Any opera unfortunate, such as me, who is prepared to forthrightly admit that he didn’t hear Callas, and even finds some grounds for criticism of her recorded performances, will be met with an impossible to counter “you had to be there” even from people who quite possibly weren’t there–never hearing the notoriously temperamental and cancellation prone singer in the flesh.

So, given that she has already moved into a virtual fantasy object phase, is a holographic tour anything to get agitated about? Is truthfully saying you saw the fake Callas, instead of falsely claiming to have seen the real one, such a big gap? And the reports of the technology, which apparently even lets her banter with the audience and conductor, fascinates me. (Is the hologram directed in real time by somebody ‘playing Maria?’ How? is AI involved? Just how spontaneous can it be: Does holographic Maria storm off the stage if she gets angry? What happens if somebody asks her to sing “Memories” from Cats? Can the audience demand that Roy Orbison come out and join her for a duet?  She never recorded Only the Lonely, nor he The Barber of Seville, but they might bring it off…

So many questions, and for all my quibbles I might well go if the show comes to DC. Probably would play Anthem.

Still, I have one more point, which Tony adumbrates, and which I would underline more strongly. Opera, already a backwards looking art, is nonetheless a live, and acoustic art form. That is, you connect because a singer making an un-amplified sound, one you are hearing as is.  Being there. The singer’s voice, your ears. Nothing but natural air pressures getting from one to the other.

There is so little acoustic anything today in the performing arts: mics are the norm from Broadway, to high school theater, and I hold no brief against them, just how things are done now, and the art form survives.  Opera, and in particular, vocal recitals, it seems to me present a more challenging case–opera may seem a particularly artificial art form, but there is an argument to be made that it is at the same time a very authentic one. What you are hearing is what the singer really sounds like. Not remastered, no engineering jiggery-pokery, no edits to create the perfect version.

If the whole point is being in the room with the source of that voice, virtual Maria gives you a lot, the image, the orchestra, the format, except the actual voice.  What’s more Avatar Maria likely looks radiant and sounds ideal, yet was remarkable about her, is what is remarkable about any opera singer or any live performance, what happens live, her voice and in that moment.

Zimerman’s Chopin

His latest recording, mature thoughts on one of the great monuments of piano repertoire.

The world is full of magnificent pianists–every generation provides its gems–but for me, the Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman has always set the standard. I first heard him in the 80s in DC in a luminous performance of the complete Chopin Preludes at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Later he came (with his own piano I think) to Jordan Hall in Boston for a solo recital, and then  all three Brahms Violin Sonatas with Gidon Kremer (a musical odd couple, given Kremer’s impulsiveness versus Zimerman’s poise).

He is, like many a great musician, apparently a squirrely character. He has disowned some of his earliest recordings, despite their glories, and has gone into the studio only sparingly in recent years. He also is fanatical about the exact sound of the piano, and its technical maintenance, traveling with his own instrument when possible, and more recently, with a keyboard he created himself!

Here he is as a young man, the picture of musical elegance, the gesture of his hands alone enough to see how attuned his whole being is to the musical purpose.

Zimerman, after trouble with U.S. customs, and also strong disagreement with some U.S. policies, has forsworn touring in the U.S. Our loss.

Poetic Words: Thomas Hardy

In my long-ago college days, Hardy the novelist was celebrated, and Hardy the poet was–other than a few well-anthologized poems like The Darkling Thrush–passed over without comment by the faculty and the English majors. He was too Victorian, too prolific, a relic, and flat.

I’m glad to say that bias has passed, and the craft and depth of his poems are now valued (in concert with, rather than in opposition to, what else was going on in the early 20th century poetically).

Here’s one, chosen in honor of the gentle dust of white on our sort of suburban, even rural, back patio.


        Every branch big with it,
	Bent every twig with it;
       Every fork like a white web-foot;
       Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they tum and descend again.
     The palings are glued together like a wall,
     And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
	Whereon immediately
       A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
       Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
	And overturns him,
	And near inurns him,
 And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

      The steps are a blanched slope,
      Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
	And we take him in


Facebook News: No News

The dance of FB (and social media) with traditional media companies has been a fraught courtship to say the least.  Media watcher Frederic Filloux dispenses  a postmortem today in his Medium column.

Facebook is done with quality journalism. Deal with it.

One particularly telling passage from Filloux’s piece,

Facebook killed the news media three times

First, it killed the notion of brand. Year after year, the percentage of people able to recall where they got their news, is dwindling. “I read it on Facebook” now applies to half the population of the United States and Europe, and much more in countries where Facebook embodies the Internet.

Second, the notion of authorship has also vanished. Almost nobody has a clue who wrote what. Gradually, the two pillars of the trusting relationship between the media and its customers eroded, before crumbling altogether. Facebook has flattened the news for good.

Third, Facebook annihilated the business model of news by opening the way to a massive, ultra-cheap and ultra-targeted advertising system that brings next to nothing to the publishers. The reality of Facebook’s revenue stream is harsh: a European publisher told me last week that its RPM (Revenue per thousands) for videos on Facebook was about 30 cents of a Euro (that is 37 cents on a dollar). A pittance.

Zuckerberg’s last message has the merit of clarity. It says: “Sorry guys, it didn’t work as expected, go somewhere else or face a slow but inexorable extinction in our ecosystem. Nothing personal, here. Just business.”


NYC’s City Hall and Newspaper Row a century ago–when print media ruled the roost (and New York had something like 8 daily newspapers).

These points seem unarguable to me–channels are now so flooded with content, which comes from every which place, the notion of checking the source–dear to my librarian/newspaperman mind–thinking critically, and trusted journalism brands, have all taken a beating. If I still work that way, it’s probably a artifact of being a mid-life person who has worked on and off in this world most of his adult life. My question is what channels and hierarchies get disrupted next. iTunes did it to music, FB/social media has done it to news…Filloux’s whole piece is worth reading for news-biz mavens, even if there are debatable points (the end of the full piece seems a little unwarranted in its optimism to me, for instance). He’s got a bit of H.L.  in him, namely a style that’s fun to read.

Quotable Words for MLK Day

Some inspiring words, from that most inspiring of men…

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

David Ferry’s Aeneid

Finally—embarrassed to say—reading the Aeneid, led to it, tardy though I am, by Hector Berlioz.

I picked up David Ferry’s new translation, having loved his Gilgamesh.

His note on the translation and his aims ends like this (after props to Dryden, which also won me over).

But I think it is not out of order for me to say that “completing” this translation of the work of such a great poet means a great deal to me personally, since I had previously translated his Eclogues and his Georgics, and I am in love with his voice as I hear it in all these poems, telling how it is with all created beings, the very leaves on the trees, very rooted plants, the beasts in the fields, the shepherds trying to keep their world together with song replying to song replying to song, the bees in their vulnerable hives, doing their work, the soldiers doing their work of killing and dying, the falling cities, and the kings and fathers, and their sons, and Dido, and Palinurus, and Deiphobus, and Mezentius the disrespecter of gods, and the mortal son of Venus, the creature Aeneas, carrying his household gods to build a city, heroic and vulnerable, himself subject to monstrous rage, himself not always unconfused, all of them, all of us, creatures, created beings, heroic and vulnerable, and Virgil’s telling it as it is, in his truth-telling pitying voice.

His version has a gorgeous ‘swing’ from beginning to end, and you are likely to find a beautiful line just by opening the book.


Here is a bit of Book three,


“Meanwhile, the sun is carried round upon

The great wheel of the year, and icy winter

Agitates the waters with its gales.

And I affix a shield of hollow brass

Great Abas carried long ago in battle

To the columns at the entrance to the town,

Placing this verse upon it, that we were there:







After then I told my people to leave this port

And take up the oars and compete with one another

To sweep across the water and away.”




Tiny Rooms, Elegant and Bloody

Nice piece in the NYTimes about a show at the Renwick called
Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. 

These are dollhouse dioramas, all of grisly crime scenes (how is John Waters not involved in this?), created by Glessner, a self-trained artist and forensic scientist in the middle of the last century, They were, and in some cases still are, used to train detectives.

Times writer William Hamilton, or his editor, had the inspired idea of touring the show with Jennifer Smith, the head of Forensics for the Washington, DC police, picking up on things that civilians would miss in the very detailed, yet decorative little rooms.

In my two visits (both relatively quick) it seemed to sit a little oddly at the Renwick (although the newly reopened museum’s pushing of boundaries of craft seems to me overall positive–the first show in 2016 was fantastic).  The Nutshells’ oscillation between dark humor, sort of a particularly bleak 1950s noir, clashes with the dollhouse presentation, at least for me. Still, the show is undeniably fascinating, and certainly has engaged an audience.  After the Times piece, I bet there will be audiences waiting on Penn. Avenue to see it.

Glessner was a Chicago native, and I wonder whether the wonderful Thorne Rooms–decorative miniatures at the Art Institute of Chicago, were an inspiration? These are done to the same scale as Glessner’s, 1 inch = 1 foot, but portray mostly elegant interior design , Americanrooms from the colonial period through the 1940s. No corpse in sight. My early years were spent in Chicago, and a visit to these was always a particular treat.

Photos don’t really do them justice (in reproduction, they look like the actual rooms you find in historical sites or recreated in museums, but when you consider the 1″ scale, the detail of the workmanship becomes clear:

Virginia Drawing Room, 1754, c. 1940, One of the Thorne Rooms from the Art Institute of Chicago