Tuesday, April 22, 2003

...and what do you do with your Giant Puffballs?

So, I'm home again. It is a lot like the home I left, except that Lovesacs have sprouted like some particularly bizarre variety of giant puffball in several rooms. (Which reminds me: here is a whole page of Fun Things You Can Do With Giant Puffballs. Oh, those wacky mycologists. Not to mention zany. This autumn I will fail, as I fail every year, to persuade anyone else to eat giant puffballs, but perhaps I can show the family this web page, and we can Make Snowmen out of them.)

Yesterday I pottered around the place a bit, looked at all the fruit trees and garden things, went out to the cabin to write and came home an hour early, accidentally, because the clock on the computer was still on Eastern Time.

Updated the iPod firmware and put 400 Jack Benny shows onto it, along with everything else that was on there already, which should get me across Europe safely.

Trying to get all the writing I owe people finished before I get off the plane in Holland on Thursday (although today I also need to head to Hair Police to get a haircut, for my hair looks like that of a sheep dog and I can no longer see through the fringe, and do several other things, including, if I can, sign the 1100 signature sheets for a novella in the UK I've agreed to write an introduction to, which were waiting for me here). (Still wondering how "sign a few signature pages" became 1100 of the things, really don't have the time to do it, and have decided that once the current crop of introductions are done, then I'm not going to do any more for a very long time.)

And today's song is Thea Gilmore's "When Did You Get So Safe?" (You can hear a clip of it on her website.)

Not just a fine song, but a sensible thing for artists to ask themselves, on a regular basis...


Not a question, just a comment on a nice synchronicity you provided me today:

At dinner recently, I've been reading a few pages each day of "The Encyclopedia of Fantasy," by John Clute and John Grant. Last night, I left off two-thirds of the way through the page that begins with EMBLETON, RON(ALD SYDNEY).

This evening, just before dinner, I was catching up with your journal, which I hadn't looked at since Friday. Over the weekend, you had responded to a note that linked the Honda ad, Caractacus Potts's breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the children's game Mouse Trap, to Rube Goldberg, by responding that the English had their equivalent of Goldberg in William Heath Robinson, of whom I'd never before heard.

A short while later, at the dinner table, I started in on the next unread entry in the Encyclopedia-EMMET, ROWLAND-another unknown to me. Here are the first two paragraphs:

"UK artist and inventor. A fine cartoonist, he was also a draughtsman and engineer. He became known for his succession of large, incredibly intricate "Gothic-Kinetic" inventions. Unlike William Heath ROBINSON, who merely drew his eccentric contraptions, RE regularly created three-dimensional working models.

"The amazing success of his Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway at the Festival of Britain in 1951 led to many more commissions, including permanent constructions like "The Rhythmical Time Fountain" at Nottingham, UK, and models built for CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968)..."

How useful! Thanks...

I wish I liked the Encyclopedia of Fantasy more, but I really don't. (I love the Clute-Nichols Encyclopedia of SF). And I don't despite having written the R.A. Lafferty and the Diana Wynne Jones entries, and even though my birth and death dates in it are given as 1960-FRANKENSTEIN MOVIES which is rather cool actually. But I feel like there's a wonderful book mostly by John Clute on the Theory of Fantasy in there, in a sort of do-it-yourself hypertext, as you go from articles with names like THINNING and WAINSCOTS, but that that book should have been published first and separately, and the factual entries could have been better. It's the kind of book that made me hope, while reading it, for the next edition, but I fear that the economics of publishing and the scale of putting something like that together make a real next edition almost impossible.

A google finds us a lovely page about Rowland Emmett (two Ts -- the credits for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were a typo) (1906-1990): British author/artist/engineer of "Gothic-Kinetic" sculptures which actually operated, as opposed to William Heath Robinson (UK) and Rube Goldberg (USA) who only drew such imaginative inventions; also various children's books.

I particularly loved the two Emmett quotes:

'It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can include the stamp and then the design is already half done.' -- Rowland Emett

"The first principle in science is to invent something nice to look at and then decide what it can do." -- Rowland Emett

and also

Hi Neil,
All this talk about Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson, and that excellent Honda ad, makes me think of some perhaps less widely publicized things that people who like physical contraptions might enjoy -

Arthur Ganson's sculptures are better seen in person than in video (he's got a permanent exhibit at the MIT museum in Cambridge, MA, and I highly recommend it) but you can find video on his website at I was completely enthralled when I first saw it, and I still am.

I wish I could see the originals -- kinetic sculptures that seem closer to Dave McKean's photographs of impossible things....