Miskatonic University Press

Rdio four years ago is still better than Tidal now

music

It’s over four years since Rdio died. I moved to Tidal, as I wrote about in There Wasn’t No Party Like the Rdio Party, Then the Rdio Party Stopped.

Here’s what I hoped Tidal would do:

  • Goes social.
  • Lets me follow labels.
  • Remembers my listening history.
  • Integrates the app and the web client; being able to control what’s playing on the web version from the app is great when you have a cat on your lap.
  • Improves the tool tips on links so that when I hover over a song or album it gives full information.
  • Adds recommendations based on my listening.
  • Lets me personalize what it thinks I might like, by letting me plus and minus tracks it suggests.
  • Lets me add albums and playlists to queues.

It does suggestions and personalization now, but it’s not very good. The rest of it, bupkes. The queue is very poor. If an album has a long title you may be unable to see the whole thing. Navigating classical music is a pain, but that’s true on all streaming music sources.

I can’t get over how Spotify took off and Rdio died. Spotify’s interface is awful!

Ah well. I buy a few things on Bandcamp every month and enjoy that very much.

Children of Men

reviews

Tonight I saw Children of Men down at the TIFF Lightbox. I saw it in 2006 when it came out and thought it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I still think so. It’s in my top 10.

Sixteen years of Filofax

stationery

At the start of every new year I archive the previous year’s Filofax pages.

11 cm of Filofax pages
11 cm of Filofax pages

I use the cream paper week on two pages (where Saturday and Sunday have the same space as weekdays). I know some people like to change planners from year to year, but I’ve been with Filofax since 2004 and I don’t expect I’ll ever change.

Shredder

vagaries

I shredded so much stuff today that the shredder backed up and exploded.

It won't shred no more.
It won't shred no more.

Sellers and Newell

literature reviews

Last week I went down to my favourite used bookstore: Sellers and Newell, on College Street in Little Italy here in Toronto. It’s run by mystery writer, editor and expert Peter Sellers, who I think I first met in 2004 at Bouchercon XXXV. He and the late Kerry Schooley edited three noir anthologies published by Insomniac Press: Iced, Hard-Boiled Love and Revenge. (Kerry was also a poet and sang the blues under the monicker Slim Volumes.)

Just over eight years ago, Sellers opened up the bookstore using his own enormous personal collection as the starting stock. It’s a heck of a job, running a used bookstore these days, but he made a success of it and the store is doing very well. It’s a lovely place. There are concerts twice a month, too.

I pop into the store when I’m in the neighbourhood, and Sellers is the first person I’ll ask when I’m on the hunt for something old. Right now I’m buying Rex Stout books, particularly the Nero Wolfe series. In 2016 and 2017 I worked my way through almost all the Wolfe mysteries (getting them from libraries, sometimes through interlibrary loan) and enjoyed them enormously. Now I want to reread them, so I’m going to buy them. They are very rereadable.

I emailed Peter to say I wanted to buy all the Rex Stouts he had. He set them aside, I went down, and I came back with this stack:

Stack of Rex Stout novels
Stack of Rex Stout novels

The only ones I didn’t buy were two hardcover firsts that were going for reasonable prices but more than I wanted to spend right now (but next time, maybe). The President Vanishes is a standalone thriller and The Hand in the Glove is a Dol Bonner mystery; all the rest are Nero Wolfe stories. The Progress of Julius is, as you can see, by Daphne du Maurier; I’m working through her books too.

If you’re in Toronto and want to visit a very fine used bookstore, head down to Sellers and Newell. Strike up a chat with Peter or whoever else is at the desk. If you’re not in Hogtown, email if there’s something you want, and you’ll get a quick reply. It’s worth getting on the mailing list for the occasional update about interesting titles for sale.

Completing zeroes and dates in R charts

r

Here’s how I fixed a problem in R where charts showing counts over time didn’t look right because R wasn’t taking zeroes into account.

This is related to Kieran Healy’s Zero Counts in dplyr but I got the real fix from Kan Nishida’s Populating Missing Dates with Complete and Fill Functions in R and Exploratory, and I’m documenting it here for my own sake and to show it in pure R because I don’t use Exploratory.

Let’s say I have a data set that shows counts of something or other—let’s say sales of fountain pens—on various days through the year. The thing is, people don’t buy fountain pens every day, and we only know about days when they do sell them, so when we make a data frame, it only has some of the days in the year.

Fake it this way:

> library(tidyverse)
> dates <- seq(as.Date("2019-01-01"), as.Date("2019-12-31"), by = "day") %>% sample(20) %>% sort()
> counts <- counts <- sample(1:10, 20, replace = T)
> d <- tibble(date = dates, count = counts)
> d
# A tibble: 20 x 2
   date       count
   <date>     <int>
 1 2019-01-05     6
 2 2019-01-08    10
 3 2019-01-16     7
 4 2019-01-26     5
 5 2019-02-03     7
 6 2019-04-03     7
 7 2019-04-08     1
 8 2019-04-11     4
 9 2019-04-18     1
10 2019-04-20     9
11 2019-05-16     9
12 2019-05-27     1
13 2019-05-31     5
14 2019-07-08     9
15 2019-07-13     2
16 2019-09-16     1
17 2019-10-13     2
18 2019-10-30     9
19 2019-12-02     5
20 2019-12-19     4

(As with all code I write, I assume there’s a better way to do it, but what I have works, so it’s good enough for now.)

So d has our data and we want to chart it.

> ggplot(d, aes(x = date, y = count)) + geom_line()

That’s not right. It’s joining up all the points, but what about all the days when 0 fountain pens were sold? They don’t show at all. The line never goes to 0. This is no good. Does geom_step work?

> ggplot(d, aes(x = date, y = count)) + geom_step()

No. It’s carrying the y value (count) along until there’s a new one to show, then it goes up or down. That’s no good because it never hits 0 either.

Now, in real life I’m making these numbers using count, and according to the documentation it looks like setting .drop = FALSE should fill in the zero values for the dates, but it didn’t, either because the data was set up the wrong way or I was doing it wrong. In any case, here’s how I got it to work. I complete all the dates and then convert all the NAs (which are used to fill up count) with 0s.

> d <- d %>% complete(date = seq.Date(min(date), max(date), by = "day")) %>% mutate(count = ifelse(is.na(count), 0, count))
> d
# A tibble: 349 x 2
   date       count
   <date>     <dbl>
 1 2019-01-05     6
 2 2019-01-06     0
 3 2019-01-07     0
 4 2019-01-08    10
 5 2019-01-09     0
 6 2019-01-10     0
 7 2019-01-11     0
 8 2019-01-12     0
 9 2019-01-13     0
10 2019-01-14     0

And now it works and the line hits 0 on the days when no fountain pens were sold.

> ggplot(d, aes(x = date, y = count)) + geom_step()

Jell-O

radio

Jack Benny’s radio show changed names over the year but was called “The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny” from 1934–1942 (says Wikipedia). I’ve been listening to episodes of it I downloaded from the Internet Archive. It’s brilliant—a masterpiece of radio comedy.

One of the smaller things that strikes me about the show is the way the ads for Jell-O are done by Don Wilson at the start and middle of the show. Here’s his introduction from the 26 October 1941 episode:

The Jell-O Program, brought to you by Jell-O and Jell-O Pudding, starring Jack Benny, with Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and yours truly, Don Wilson. The orchestra opens the program with, “Are You Ready?”

[Brief instrumental break, then band plays under the advertisement.]

Ladies and gentlemen, have you a treat in store for you. What a grand surprise the moment you discover Jell-O’s new locked-in flavour! Never until now has any gelatin dessert been able to bring you so much delightful goodness. Because up until now, gelatin desserts constantly faded in flavour while waiting to be used, and brought you only a shadow of their original richness. But that’s all been changed! Today, Jell-O’s tempting, tantalizing flavour is locked right into the tiny Jell-O particles, where time can’t get at it to steal it away. No matter how long Jell-O remains in the package, it retains its luscious flavour to the very last. Now, you be the judge: open a package of Jell-O, notice the absence of any heavy, fruity aroma—the usual sign of escaping flavour—then dissolve Jell-O, and presto! there’s your flavour, all of it. The full strength flavour of Jell-O, as rich and vivid as the day it was locked into Jell-O’s delicate crystal-like particles. So try Jell-O! Now made better than ever by Jell-O’s new locked-in process. The flavour never goes away—we put it in and it’s there to stay!

I’ve had Jell-O. It’s just gelatin, sugar and flavour. But cripes, an ad like that makes me want to get some and try it again. What am I missing, not eating those delicate crystal-like particles of tantalizing flavour?

Duchamp's Fountain still very relevant

art marcel.duchamp

Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 readymade sculpture Fountain is the most important work of art of the twentieth century. The Wikipedia entry on it sets out what it was (a urinal) and the history of the piece and its impact.

The National Gallery of Canada has a very nice collection of Duchamp pieces (remakes done in the 1960s), as show in the photo below. Fountain is furthest to the left. You can hear it in Listening to Art 06.02 The shovel on the wall is In Advance of the Broken Arm. You can hear it in Listening to Art 01.01 and Listening to Art 04.12. (There are recordings of other version of these pieces, too; check the artist index for links.)

Duchamp works at the National Gallery of Canada.
Duchamp works at the National Gallery of Canada.

Fountain is over a century old, but it’s still relevant. Take the banana on the wall that sold for $120,000 at Art Basel in Miami, which someone (not the buyer) then ate. Jonathan Jones’s Guardian piece Don’t Make Fun of the $120,000 Banana – It’s In On the Joke explains it:

Enter Comedian. That is the title of the artwork by Maurizio Cattelan, renowned for his stolen gold toilet, that has taken this sophisticated trade fair out of in-crowdy art websites and into mainstream news. Cattelan’s Comedian is a banana taped to a wall. Descriptions tend to carefully specify that it is fixed there with grey duct tape. Everyone stresses this somewhat bare technical fact, as if to find physical evidence that it really is, after all, art. At the weekend, after Comedian had already sold for $120,000, an artist named David Datuna joined the queue of fair-goers eager to take selfies with Comedian, but instead peeled back the grey duct tape, removed the banana from the wall and ate it.

Later:

Cattelan is acting out the tragicomedy of the contemporary artist. When Marcel Duchamp chose “readymades” such as a urinal or snow shovel, no one thought they had financial value – most were thrown away without a thought. Today’s museum versions were recreated long after the fact, when Duchamp became a hero to the conceptual art movement in the 1960s.

“Pop culture” columnist Vinay Menon in the Toronto Star took a different approach. In A $120K Banana Duct-Taped to a Gallery Wall Is Not Art — It’s a Scam he writes:

And I love all of these experts who shuffled out this week to defend “Comedian,” as if it were a momentous contribution to civilization. All these snooty nerds rambling on about how the banana represents the perishable nature or existence or how the banana is a metaphor for the patriarchy or how a banana suspended at eye level is a stark reminder of climate change and our dwindling food supply.

No, it isn’t. It’s just a banana duct-taped to a wall!

The day after that, the Guardian ran ‘It Is Something Deeper’: David Datuna on Why He Ate the $120,000 Banana , with Jordon Hoffman interviewing Datuna about his performance “Hungry Artist.”

Datuna: What I don’t like, however, is that a banana costs 20 cents. I think it is a good idea to put it in a museum if it is free to watch. But when you sell it for $120,000? Then decide to make a second and third edition, and that third edition is $150,000? It is silly, and not good for our contemporary life.

I have travelled in 67 countries around the world in the last three years, and I see how people live. Millions are dying without food. Then he puts three bananas on the wall for half a million dollars?

Hoffman: So you felt compelled to do something?

Datuna: Cattelan beat Andy Warhol. Maybe I shouldn’t say beat, but brought it to another level. I began to think: “What can I do with this banana? How can I bring it to yet another level?” And how to do it also with comedy? So I ate the banana. It is something deeper.

None of that would have happened without Duchamp.

Meanwhile, there’s a controversy about some recent claims that it wasn’t Duchamp that made Fountain, it was Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. I first heard about this in another Guardian piece, A Woman in the Men’s Room: When Will the Art World Recognise the Real Artist Behind Duchamp’s Fountain? by Siri Hustvedt, who had the baroness as a character in a novel. Dawn Ades responded the next day with Duchamp’s Fountain and the Feminist Avant Garde in New York:

The subheading on Siri Hustvedt’s article (A woman in the men’s room, Review, 30 March) says: “Evidence suggests the famous urinal Fountain, attributed to Marcel Duchamp, was actually found and signed by a forgotten female poet and artist? Why won’t the art world accept it?”

The art world doesn’t accept it because the argument is based on a number of false premises.

Ades did the introduction for Atlas Press’s Three New York Dadas and The Blindman, which has original texts very relevant to this issue (and the edition is a lovely well-designed book). She and Alistair Brotchie have written about Fountain and its creation in The Burlington Magazine (December 2019), and Atlas has put that article up on their site: Marcel Duchamp Was Not a Thief. It references “Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’: the Baroness theory debunked” by Bradley Bailey, which appeared in the October issue of the magazine.

The idea of Duchamp as an ‘art-thief’ has become something of an internet meme – accepted as true, without anyone ever bothering to check the evidence. Refuting it then becomes a matter of proving a negative, which is much harder to do. We are well aware that facts and evidence can be rather less amusing than speculation and conspiracy theories, but there is a truth to be revealed here that relates to the integrity of one of the most important artists of the last century. This truth has been carefully obscured by a blizzard of irrelevant research, the intention of which appears to have been to conceal the fact that no evidence whatsoever has been presented that links the Baroness to Fountain. However, Bradley Bailey’s recent article in The Burlington Magazine published evidence that finally puts paid to the speculative contentions of Spalding and Thompson. These contentions nonetheless need to be dealt with, and following Bailey’s article we wanted to summarise the facts of this affair.

They conclude with strong language:

Despite Gammel’s welcome aim of restoring agency to women artists and poets, it is unfortunate that she chose to champion the Baroness rather than the other women in the New York avant-garde who were actually involved in the 1917 Fountain incident, and who are no less forgotten by history: Louise Norton and Beatrice Wood. Contrary to Gammel’s approach, Spalding and Thompson have been belligerently abusive from the start. So we repeat what we wrote at the beginning of this letter: there is no evidence of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven being involved in any way whatsoever with Fountain. Unless they can provide evidence on this specific point, we suggest that the honourable course of action on their part would be to admit they were mistaken and to apologise for their accusations, which have turned out to be unfounded.

Fountain as an egg cup.
Fountain as an egg cup.

Mean old librarian in Archie

archie libraries

“Tutor Trouble” is a story about Archie and Dilton. As usual, Archie is doing poorly in class, and as usual, Dilton is doing poorly with girls, so they help each other out, and it doesn’t end well for either of them.

It begins with Dilton going into the Riverdale High School library and noticing that Archie is “a little down,” though the evidence shows Archie is actually smiling. A mean-looking grey-haired woman librarian at a desk (helpfully labelled “Librarian”) says “Shhh!”

Mean old librarian shushes Archie and Dilton
Mean old librarian shushes Archie and Dilton

“Tutor Trouble” was written by George Gladir, pencilled by Bob Bolling, inked by Rudy Lapick, coloured by Barry Grossman and lettered by Bill Yoshida. You can see the names Golliher, Bolling and Lapick on the spines of books on the left. Bill Golliher is an Archie writer and artist, but this story is credited to George Gladir, so I’m not sure why his name is there. I read the story in Archie and Me (Jumbo) Comics Digest 23 (January 2020); it appeared earlier in Archie and Friends Double Digest 21 (December 2012) but I don’t know if that was the first appearance. It is copyright Archie Comic Publications.

LARGinalia

alc art

I’m very pleased that two of my LARGinalia series are hanging in the Small Works Show at the Arts and Letters Club. This show happens every year in December, and the rule is that no work (before framing) can be larger than 12” a side. This means the walls are full of many works by many people, usually at very reasonable prices, perfect for presents or for grabbing something by an artist you like but couldn’t afford before. Other LARGinalia prints are bigger, but these two work pretty well at 5” x 7”. (I misunderstood the instructions and thought the limit was 12” after framing.) The price is $50.

If anyone is interested in seeing the show, drop me an email, and I can arrange to meet you there or suggest a time when you could just drop by for a look.

Two framed LARGinalia hanging
Two framed LARGinalia hanging

I’m also very pleased one sold! Each is one of a numbered run of five, and I was able to replace the LARGinalia #6 that sold with another print.

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