March 30, 2007
The Magical Art of Jen Stark
[via Brian Nelson, who wrote, "Some people's brain's work in amazing ways."]
QuikPod — World's first extendable hand-held tripod
From the website:
QuikPod™ — Lets You Get In The Picture
The world's first extendable hand-held tripod, this clever telescoping wand is just 7½" long folded and weighs 3.5 oz, yet it extends to 18½" so you can include yourself in photos or videos without relying on strangers.
The QuikPod can be used to capture images while you travel, for underwater scenes or for shooting hard-to-see areas.
It even has a built-in mirror that allows you to preview each shot.
Universal mount fits all cameras and camcorders with a standard tripod fitting and maximum weight of 10½ oz.
• Attaches in seconds to virtually all conventionally designed cameras and camcorders on the market today
• Can be used underwater with a waterproof camera
• Fits perfectly in backpack or knapsack
• Polycarbonate and aluminum
• Use to shoot above crowds
• Use for photo/video blogs
QuikPod, Pocket Clip, Padded Carrying Case, Hiking Clip/Key Ring and Wrist Strap included.
'Several players blog at NBA.com, but few do it as well as Gilbert Arenas' — Sports Illustrated
In the latest (April 2, 2007) issue, "Agent Zero [above] gives an entertaining look at life in the locker room (a recent post explained why he felt compelled to cut off the tops of teammate Andray Blatche's dress shoes), and he's not afraid to ruffle feathers. A recent entry detailing $10 bets he made with two fans during a loss to Portland last week was taken down by the league. Arenas, though, is a man of his word. When he failed to hit the game-winner, as he wagered he would, he got the fans' e-mail addresses. 'I owe somebody 10 bucks,' he explained."
Check out the latest "Gilbertology" here.
Wallace Neff's Sole Remaining Airform House in the United States
It's located in Pasadena, California, built in 1946 for the architect's brother and lived in by Neff himself until his death in 1982.
John Kelly explored the mid-20th century history of Neff's then-revolutionary houses, created to shelter people during the World War II housing crunch, in a March 11, 2007 Washington Post column, which follows.
- Answer Man Finds Design Just Bulging With Character
Q. The renowned California architect Wallace Neff built his first "bubble" house during World War II somewhere in Falls Church. Where was it located?
A. The bubble house. The shell house. The igloo. These were all nicknames for a type of distinctive, experimental dwelling Wallace Neff designed to shelter people during the World War II housing crunch.
Another nickname reveals the clever way the homes were built: the balloon house.
Picture, if you will, a giant, flaccid balloon made of Goodyear rubber. It is lashed down to a concrete pad and then inflated. Once it has achieved its hemispheric shape, concrete is sprayed over it. Some insulation is laid down, followed by another layer of concrete. When the concrete has hardened, the balloon is deflated, removed and used again.
Neff called them "airform" houses. They were cheap and easy to build quickly, and the walls were said to be impermeable to shrapnel.
Neff was an unlikely inventor of the modest bubble house. Grandson of the founder of Rand McNally, he grew up in luxury. As an architect he's best known for the Italian-style California mansions he designed for Hollywood's glitterati. Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and C ary Grant all owned Neff-designed houses. ( Madonna and Brad Pitt are among more recent celebrities to own his work.)
In 1941, a dozen airform houses were built in Falls Church, of two different designs: single, huge domes and smaller double domes joined by a hallway.
"We called the double houses bra houses, because they looked like a bra," said Carolyn Fix, 84, who lived nearby.
The houses were on Horseshoe Hill, near what is now Lee Highway and West Street. As late as 1960 you could rent one for $40 to $70 a month. They were demolished in 1960 to make way for the Timberlane Park Apartments, which are now condos at 7316 and 7318 Lee Hwy.
Only one airform house remains in the United States. It's a single-dome model, built in Pasadena, Calif., for the architect's brother. Neff himself lived in it before his death in 1982. Steve Roden and his wife live in it now.
"It is actually totally wonderful," Steve, an artist, told Answer Man. Only 1,000 square feet, the two-bedroom house has a ceiling that's 12 feet high at its tallest point.
There's hardly any closet space — "a dilemma," Steve admits — and he sometimes hits his head on the curved wall when he gets out of bed. The walls don't go all the way to the ceiling, being more like concrete partitions. Despite all that, Steve loves the house, which he likens to an inside-out swimming pool.
"It just has a very warm kind of open, comfortable feeling," he said. "It's not claustrophobic at all."
Falls Church residents complained of damp, but that isn't a problem in Pasadena, or in West Africa and Pakistan, where Neff's principles are still employed.
Steve appreciates the utopian ideals Neff was trying to advance with his airform houses: "I just think it's amazing that someone who existed in a public realm doing something gargantuan had a dream of doing something humble and simple for people."
Note that the house pictured above (and yesterday at this time in a "What is it?" feature) is one of Neff's double-dome versions; the surviving example in Pasadena is one of his single huge dome iterations.
Rug Beater Stress Reliever
Who says you can't teach an old tool new tricks?
Rug beaters have been around since rugs were invented but only now, in the age of angst, anxiety, Sturm und Drang does this venerable tool take on a whole new role.
From the website:
- Rug Beater
Old-fashioned rug cleaner.
Our metal beater is just the ticket for cleaning rugs, mats, runners, blankets and pillows.
Cleans better than any sweeper or vac can possibly do (and with less time and effort).
Give your rug a good whack and watch dirt and dust fly!
Makes a great stress reliever too!
'I now have a sense of what heaven could be like' — Nat Hentoff on 'The Duke Box'
Long story short: the legendary Danish label Storyville has just released an 8 CD box set of the 1940s Duke Ellington orchestra, consisting entirely of live performances.
Added Hentoff, "The nonpareil Ellington mosaic of moods, colors, incandescent ensembles... and instantly identifiable soloists makes this a set I ought to include in my will."
Here's his March 28, 2007 Wall Street Journal review.
- Ellington's Band Is Heavenly In These 'Live' '40s Recordings
I now have a sense of what heaven could be like. For those of us for whom Duke Ellington is rejuvenatingly contemporary, Storyville — the legendary Danish label, a cornucopia of ageless jazz — has released "The Duke Box," available on Amazon.com and in record stores. The 1940s Ellington orchestra (his most exhilarating) is heard entirely in "live" performances — in dance halls (where, as Duke told me, the dancers became part of the music), nightclubs, concert halls, and on radio remotes from around the country.
In the 40-page booklet — with photographs by Herman Leonard and William Gottlieb, masters of decisive jazz moments — Dan Morgenstern notes that the sound of Ellington "live" is more vividly realistic than "the dead (non-resonant) studios of that time." (Those studio recordings also do remain essential because Duke insisted on no more than two or three takes a song for maximum immediacy.) But, as I can attest from having been at some of the dance halls and concerts, Ellington and his wondrously distinctive sidemen were most memorably heard in person.
The sound quality of "The Duke Box" is somewhat variable, but all of it is more than acceptable, and some of it glorious. These eight hours of Ellington on eight CDs are in chronological order; but I recommend you start with the 1940s band's second CD — the one I would want with me if I were stranded on the proverbial desert island.
As featured in that CD, on Nov. 7, 1940, the band, after a typically grueling road trip, arrived at the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo, N.D. Fortunately, on hand with recording equipment were two young Ellington enthusiasts, Jack Towers and Dick Burris. (Mr. Towers later became an unexcelled sound-restorer of time-worn classic jazz recordings.)
As some of the sidemen later recalled, the band suddenly took fire that night. Here, on 16 Fargo tracks, from "Mood Indigo" to "Harlem Airshaft" and "The Flaming Sword," the heroes of my youth and beyond -- Johnny Hodges, "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Rex Stewart, Ben Webster, Ray Nance (who had just joined the troupe), Barney Bigard, and "the piano player in the band" (as Ellington described himself) — demonstrated why this, of all Duke's orchestras, is the most revered.
But on every one of the eight CDs, the nonpareil Ellington mosaic of moods, colors, incandescent ensembles ("Duke loves his brass," as one player told me) and instantly identifiable soloists makes this a set I ought to include in my will. A historic event, from the Hurricane in New York, is the first performance, in 1943, of "Tonight I Shall Sleep." Duke had recently composed the ballad.
He might have even written it on the road. One night, at the Raymor Ballroom in Boston, I heard an Ellington piece new to me. During a break, I asked baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, "What was that?" "I don't know what it's called," Carney said. "He just wrote it."
Off the stand, Duke was often writing — or hearing in his head what he'd later work out on the piano. Mr. Morgenstern's comprehensive and deeply knowledgeable notes to "The Duke Box" end with Ellington's death, at age 75 — on May 24, 1974 — of pneumonia and lung cancer. In his hospital bed, he was still composing; and that spring, he sent out Christmas cards. (I was privileged to get one of them.) Duke was always planning ahead — as in his music, which he wanted to be always in "a state of becoming," as former sideman Clark Terry told me. "And that's why he never settled on a final ending for what he wrote," Terry added.
The remarkable achievement of researching, assembling and remastering the historic contents of "The Duke Box" is Storyville's contribution to Ellington's legacy. The Copenhagen company (www.storyvillerecords.com) is now owned by Musical Sales Group, headquartered in London, and distributed in the U.S. by MRI Associated labels in New York.
Looking through Storyville's extensive catalog, I always find CDs I must add to those I already have — from two volumes of Bing Crosby with Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden ("Havin' Fun" and "Havin' More Fun") to "George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers" and "Thelonious Monk in Copenhagen." In the blues division, there is the deeply flowing blues of pianist-singer Otis Spann.
Named for the red-light district of New Orleans — where many later jazz legends performed -- the label was started in Copenhagen in 1952 by 23-year-old Karl Emil Knudsen, who jubilantly identified himself as "Doctor of Jazz Archaeology." Along with arranging for the release of many out-of-print American classic jazz recordings, he also produced sets by jazz masters visiting Europe, including some — like the magisterial tenor saxophonist Ben Webster — who took up residence in Denmark.
After Knudsen's death in 2003, Music Sales Group acquired Storyville Records, wisely keeping on Knudsen's longtime Copenhagen associates Mona Granger and Andres Stefanson, who share the founder's passionate conviction that the music in the Storyville catalog will remain imperishable. (The catalog is available on the Storyville Web site.)
In view of the diminishing interest by American record conglomerates in searching their archives for jazz reissues, the lively persistence of Storyville is particularly worth celebrating. I spoke recently to the London-based head of Musical Sales (and Storyville), Paul Lower. I found him widely versed in jazz history — with the sense of mission of the label's founder. Among future releases, he told me proudly, is a Ben Webster boxed set.
And in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I found a harvest of more Storyville "Masters of Jazz" sets — Sidney Bechet, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Griffin, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holliday and Earl Hines. With four children and six grandchildren to remember in my will, I may well include these CDs in my bequests along with "The Duke Box."
At a 1963 press conference in Calcutta, India, Duke Ellington was asked: "How have you managed to keep a big band so long when so many others have broken up?"
"It's a matter," said Duke, "of whether you want to play music or make money, I guess. I like to keep a band so that I can write and hear the music the next day. The only way to do that is to pay the band and keep it on tap fifty-two weeks a year."
Asked whether the rise of rock 'n' roll had taken away the jazz audience, Duke answered: "There's still a Dixieland audience, a Swing audience, a Bop audience.... All the audiences are still there."
And, for them, so is still Storyville Records.
The Duke Box costs $79.98 (£49.98; €66.98).
Lighted Garden Hose Nozzle
Oh, man, what wonderful mischief you could get into with this device — if you were that sort of person, I mean.
From the website:
- Lighted Garden Nozzle
Light your garden as you water.
Enjoy precision watering during pleasant spring and summer evenings.
Durable universal nozzle fits your garden hose so you can take care of watering duties even after the sun has set.
Powerful LED bulb sheds just the light you need.
Comfortable pistol grip handle.
Requires 2 AA batteries (not included).