Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Make the interrobang banal‽

99% Invisible (a personal favorite podcast) just did a typically great short history of the interrobang and its fight for survival:

Today, the interrobang is just barely hanging in there. It has its own character in Unicode, the common directory of symbols which all computer fonts must reference. But Keith Houston points out that it still hasn’t cleared the biggest typographical obstacle of all: “I think that in order to really consider it to be a real mark of punctuation, people have to use it without thinking about it.” In other words: a truly remarkable mark of punctuation must be unremarkable.

I strongly believe in the interrobang. For my part, I created an iOS text replacement shortcut that replaces ?! with ‽ in my texts. This doesn’t pass the ease of use test, and it’s not available in every typeface. But it’s what I can do to help make the interrobang ubiquitous enough to save.

See also: Shady Characters

5 tips from 10 years of filmlogging

In July 2008, while on a 24-hour break from the summer camp I was working at, I saw The Dark Knight with some fellow camp counselors. The next day I cracked open the new 3-subject composition notebook I’d brought to camp, flipped to the back third, and wrote a few lines on what I thought of the movie:

I hope this gets some Oscar nods. It’s smashing B.O. records for good reason. Heath Ledger owns this movie. Very smart, very dark, and very good.

Thus began a routine that is now 10 years old. Except for a gap between January and July 2010, since then I’ve been writing my initial thoughts on all first viewings of movies I see, new and old.

It took a month or two before I settled on the now standard structure of 4 lines per movie. I didn’t bother with star ratings or other metadata as I wanted to make it as easy as possible for myself to keep up with the exercise. And they all have a similar tone to that first one, like succinct bulletins to myself.

That first notebook lasted until December 2014. Then I decided to give the film log its own notebook.

Though my Logbook captures all my viewing and reading, I still keep up the paper film log. Not only for tradition and continuity’s sake, but because I find it valuable to capture my first fresh thoughts on what I watch in a tangible record. To see the pages gradually fill gives me visual evidence of all the amazing (and not so amazing) movies I’ve been able to see.

With that in mind, here are some tips for starting and keeping a logbook:

Tips for logging

1. Keep it simple.

I knew if I added too much beyond the basics to the logging process—a star rating, specifically where and when I saw it, etc.—it would become too unwieldy and easy to give up. Each entry takes me less than a minute.

2. Log sooner rather than later.

Right after you watch the movie, if possible. The point of this is to capture your immediate, visceral, and concise thoughts, not write a New Yorker story. I often fail at this and have to catch up on a few movies at once, which is why I make sure to at least add them to the Logbook so I can refer to it later.

3. Structure it just enough.

My format of four lines per movie didn’t happen right away. It developed naturally based on how much I found myself writing about each one. It also meant each 24-line page would neatly hold six movies. Love me some consistency!

4. Don’t stop at the log.

Many times what I log about a film ends up being the basis of further writing about it, whether on Letterboxd or on this blog. On the flip side, I often just log it and forget it. I often surprise myself with a film I didn’t realize I’d already seen and logged but had no memory of.

5. Whatever you log, stick with it.

It’s really cool to have a handwritten record of something I love, a kind of cultural diary that I can match up to other life events and see what connects. Yours doesn’t have to be movies: log your reading, beer drinking, museum hopping, whatever. Heck, start an Austin Kleon-style logbook and log it all! Whatever it is, keep it up and enjoy seeing the pages multiply.

My case featured on Judge John Hodgman!

A few months ago I submitted this case to Judge John Hodgman, one of my favorite podcasts:

I seek an injunction against my wife, Jenny. When I am cooking any kind of meat, I use a plastic spatula throughout the cooking process. Jenny insists on rinsing the spatula after the meat is no longer raw, but before it’s fully cooked. She says this avoids mixing any residual raw meat on the spatula with the cooked meat. I think this is excessive and unnecessary, and it degrades my autonomy as the cook. I have been cooking for years without the “mid-wash” without a problem. I ask the Judge order Jenny to cease and desist this behavior and let me cook in peace.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Only one man can decide, and he did!

We were driving from Colorado Springs to Denver and listening to last week’s docket-clearing episode, “Into the Teal”, when I heard Bailiff Jesse Thorn say my name, then my wife’s name, then the case I submitted.

I couldn’t believe it. They’d released many episodes since I submitted my case, so I assumed it was already passed over. Instead, to our shock and delight, we were listening to it for the first time together, breathlessly awaiting how the Judge would adjudicate our petty dispute.

Listen to the episode to judge for yourself and learn who won. Our case starts at 20:48.

For the record:

  • I do regret the line about autonomy, as I know well the Judge’s bias against dudes trying to impose their own system for things on others. Yet in this case it was my wife trying to impose a system on me.
  • I don’t regret “mid-wash”.
  • I should have clarified that I was cooking meat in a stainless steel pan.

Recent Views, Colorado wedding edition

I had the honor of being in a college friend’s wedding in Denver last week. My wife and I made a vacation of it and hit up several spots in Colorado.

For extended trips we usually put together an itinerary with important travel info; Jenny thought of the title and I contributed the images:

We flew in, got our rental car, then headed to the mountains, accompanied by Mr. “Rocky Mountain High” himself. Our first stop was the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park:

Famous for inspiring The Shining, the hotel was more importantly used for filming Dumb and Dumber, namely the entrance (above), the “Race you to the top!” staircase, and the “We landed on the moon!” bar.

We didn’t stick around, however, as we soon embarked on a hike toward the Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t make it to the falls, but still soaked in the views and the clean air:

We then headed to Boulder and stayed the night at the Hotel Boulderado, which maintains its original Edwardian-era style and even a working Otis elevator. Supposedly the hotel is haunted. All I know is their creepy chair game was solid:

We stopped at the post office in Boulder, which has some sweet PO boxes:

The Boulder Public Library was another highlight. My wife took pictures of everything, but I only managed the windows:

On Tuesday we drove to Manitou Springs and stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb cabin in the mountains near a friend of mine. The next day was the Fourth of July, so to celebrate we headed to Paint Mines Interpretive Park, outside of Colorado Springs. It was a scorching hot and sunny day, but above all I’ll remember the absolute quiet as we walked through the maze of hoodoos and colorful clay formations. You can find plenty of amazing photos of them online, but here are two I took from it:

It was then back to Denver for the wedding weekend. We enjoyed the nightlife around RiNo, including Odell Brewing Company:

and knockout at Gerard’s Pool Hall:

Finally the wedding arrived. I wasn’t focused on getting good pictures, as I knew the professionals would take care of that. But here’s one in the venue (which hosted the ceremony and reception) of the bridesmaids awaiting the couple after their First Look:

I’ve been to Colorado a few times before, but this trip was especially fun given the variety of activities, the good weather, and quality time with great friends.

And John Tyler too

When I realized I had yet to read a presidential biography this year, I decided to tackle one that was more obscure and therefore more likely to be shorter. For some reason, tenth president John Tyler came to mind.

I opted for John Tyler by Gary May, part of the American Presidents series of short books. I try to avoid that series because all the books are intentionally short—this one was 150 pages—and I want to feel like I’ve earned (i.e. suffered through enough pages of) every biography, you know? But I decided to cut myself some slack on this one, and I’m now 18 presidents down with 26 to go.

Tyler Who?

John Tyler proved more interesting than I expected. All I knew of him, besides “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”, was that he was the first president to ascend to the office due to his predecessor’s death (pour one out for William Henry “31 Days in Office” Harrison) and that he was a slaveholder who eventually served in the Confederacy.

He was also the youngest president (at 51) to take the oath at the time, had 15 kids between two wives (and two of his grandsons are still alive), was the first president to get married while in office, and the first to decline to seek a second term.

He also facilitated the annexation of Texas, which helped cause the Civil War. So there’s that.

One of the more intriguing episodes was when he resigned from U.S. Senate in 1836. He did it in protest of a resolution to expunge the censure of Andrew Jackson, which he’d earned from his conduct related to the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. Though a longtime Democrat, Tyler was even more strongly for states rights and therefore against Jackson’s despotism and expansion of executive power. So much so that he preferred resignation over acquiescence to federal overreach.

This also meant he was often politically homeless. Take a look at his political party affiliation history:

  • Democratic-Republican (1811–1828)
  • Democratic (1828–1834)
  • Whig (1834–1841)
  • None (1841–1844)
  • Democratic-Republican (1844)
  • None (1844–1862)

Notice he wasn’t affiliated with any party during his 1841-1844 presidential term. That’s because after vetoing several Whig bills (his own party, mind you) for being unconstitutional, which triggered mass resignations from his own cabinet (orchestrated by ol’ Henry Clay), the Whigs expelled Tyler from the party. He spent the rest of his administration a free agent, exerting the little influence he had on his two primary presidential passions: annexing Texas and vetoing as many bills as possible.

Tyler’s story ended just as the country’s took a dark turn. In February 1861 he was sent as a private citizen to the Peace Conference of 1861, a last-ditch effort I’d never heard of to negotiate a compromise over slavery. It failed, obviously, but it wasn’t long before Tyler was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. He died before the first session began, thus denying him the opportunity of living to be the only U.S. president to formally give the finger to his erstwhile nation.

(Is that my Yankee showing?)

As a committed one-termer with a handful of goals (Texas and vetoes), Tyler reminds me of his presidential successor, James Polk, who got to fight the war with Mexico that Tyler’s backroom deal-making instigated. And this book fills in yet another gap in this era of forgotten presidents between Jackson and Lincoln. “And Tyler too” is about right.

Book Notes & Quotes: John Tyler by Gary May

  • At 51 he was the youngest president to take the oath at the time
  • Tyler’s father was Virginia governor and friend of Jefferson during Revolution
  • Attended College of William & Mary, then law school by 19 and Virginia House of Delegates in 1811
  • In spring 1813 his father died, he married Letitia, and joined militia but didn’t see action
  • Elected to Congress in 1816 at 26
  • Clay’s “American System” inspired by dismal performance in War of 1812, but states rights advocate Tyler voted against
  • Appointed to committee investigating Second Bank of the United States role in 1818’s “bank mania” of speculation and corruption; report was critical but bank survived
  • Voted against Missouri Compromise of 1820, which pushed him to not seek re-election
  • Law and farming bored him, so he won spot in Virginia legislature at 33, then became Virginia governor at 35
  • Virginia senator John Randolph lost favor, so Tyler selected for Senate in 1827
  • Hated John Quincy Adams and feared Andrew Jackson; in 1824 went Adams and 1828 Jackson
  • Went against Jackson’s despotism in nullification crisis and Bank controversy, despite supporting states rights
  • Resigned from Senate in 1836 in protest of resolution to expunge censure of Jackson’s behavior in Bank controversy
  • Despised the word “national” and what it represented
  • Whigs in 1840 had no official platform so as not to tear apart fragile coalition
  • Clay clashed with Harrison assuming he’d be subservient to Congress
  • Tyler brought 8 kids to White House, had son as secretary
  • Wife Letitia had stroke in 1839 and was invalid; daughter in law and actress Priscilla Cooper acted as First Lady
  • Clay, angling for 1844, put Third Bank of United States up for vote but Tyler vetoed
  • Whig activist Philip Hone called Tyler’s message “the quintessence of twaddle”
  • Second veto of bank triggered Cabinet resignations (orchestrated by Clay) save Daniel Webster; Clay assumed Tyler would resign but instead he found independent Whigs to serve
  • Whigs expelled Tyler from party after 1841 special session
  • Letitia died in 1842
  • Skirmish with Britain in 1830s at Maine/New Brunswick border dispute led to Webster-Ashburton treaty, border resolutions, and slave trade compromises
  • Sent first envoy to China to open for U.S. trade
  • Ardent expansionist who wanted to annex Texas, but slavery held it up
  • In February 1844 was cruising Potomac on new steam-powered USS Princeton when “Peacemaker” cannon exploded; Tyler and fiancée Julia below but casualties and carnage above, including Julia’s father
  • Calhoun “never happier than when he was philosophizing on behalf of slavery”
  • Antislavery Democratic senator leaked Texas annexation treaty; solely hinges on slavery in election year
  • Created his own Democratic-Republican party to act as spoiler; promised to bow out if assured by Polk that Texas would be annexed
  • Married Julia in June 1844 in secret; first presidential wedding in office; 30 years older than her
  • Funds to improve White House denied by Congress, so Julia’s mother contributed
  • First president to decline to seek second term
  • Signed Texas annexation resolution on March 1
  • Had 15 kids between two wives
  • 1848 election split by Free Soil Party nominee Van Buren, and combined with Mexican war spoils states led to Compromise of 1850, which Tyler supported with Clay
  • Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and attempt at arming slaves tilted Tyler toward secession
  • Even in early 1861 was looking for ways to prevent disunion: participated in “peace convention” in DC but turned when proposed amendment would limit slavery and when Lincoln signaled war
  • Oversaw transfer of Confederate capital from Montgomery to Richmond, and served in Confederate House of Representatives briefly before death in January 1861
  • Asserted presidential power in era when Congress tried to weaken it; used veto vigorously, showed power even without congressional support or personal charisma
  • Improved Britain/American relations through Webster-Ashburton treaty, opened relations with China through Treaty of Wanghia, annexed Texas
  • Helped create “imperial presidency” through secret service contingency funds, guarding certain records, dispatching forces
  • Belief he was heir to Virginian presidents dynasty led to reckless pursuit of Texas, which led to Civil War

Florida Man Busy Book Learning

Going old school with magazine mashups this time, from Better Homes and Gardens, December 1962:

Life as a CTA rail operator

“In that motorcab was my serenity.” Another great Chicago story from WBEZ’s Curious City: what it’s like to operate the L trains.

Top 5 films of 2018 so far

The Death of Stalin. I’m a sucker for dark and irreverent political satires.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?This documentary about Fred Rogers didn’t make me cry, but it did make me sad about the Kids These Days who don’t know of him and his anti-television TV show.

First Reformed. I’m also a sucker for “dark night of the soul” films made by atheists that take faith and doubt seriously, which this Paul Schrader film is.

Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Quite the one-two punchsplosion from Marvel. Haven’t rewatched either yet, but I think they’ll hold up.

All hail the Royal Empress

My colleague texted me a picture of a curvaceous mid-century Royal standard with no model name and with unknown functionality. Her mother was looking to get rid of it. I told her I’d probably just clean it up and resell it. That was fine with her, and the price of free was fine with me.

A mystery typewriter! Very exciting. When I popped open her trunk and lifted it towards my car, I suddenly remembered why I don’t collect standards. It was beastly, as cumbersome as a Selectric and longer than it was wide.

Without a clue as to the model name, I consulted the trusty Typewriter Database and found a photo of a very similar machine. It was the photo filename that told me this typewriter’s name, not, deceivingly, what I thought was the serial number but was actually some other parts number in front of the typebars.

Bow down to the Royal Empress:

Long will this gargantuan typewriter live! I could use it as a safe. The serial #MCP-11-8013175 (the P indicates pica font) would place it in 1964 or 1965. I’m not sure which since the other serials in that range seem to be a bit jumbled. It looks gray in the picture, but it’s more of a gray-green-beige mixture. Perfect for a bland office or, as indicated by a sticker on the back, hospital:

My preference is for portables, and not only because of storage limitations. But I can definitely see the appeal of standards like this one. If you don’t collect and just want a reliable desk typer, this Empress could rule over your writing spot until the next millennium. I’ll still be selling it, but I’m happy for whoever is made happy by it next.

Hamilton and what makes a healthy republic

My wife’s surprise typewritten handiwork. I’m a lucky guy.

The Show

Ready for a hot take? Hamilton: An American Musical was really good.

I assumed I wouldn’t see it for years, as tickets are prohibitively expensive in Chicago. But it was a surprise anniversary gift from my wife (musical theater tickets are the traditional Year 3 gift, right?) along with a special ticket she made to stand in for the digital ones. Best of wives, best of women!

It was a funny thing to finally see before my eyes what for years had only streamed through my ears. Since the cast recording basically is the whole show, I knew the plot and what to expect from song to song. But I also knew the staging would add a whole new layer to the story the music itself tells so well. It definitely did.

Several songs were even better on stage. “It’s Quiet Uptown”, which I usually skip over on the album, was devastating in its simplicity. And “The Reynolds Pamphlet” made kinetic use of the double-turntable floor, the pamphlet props, and the whole cast and chorus.

Special shout-out to Jamila Sabares-Klemm, who played Eliza with stunning range and vocal power, and Colby Lewis, who played LaFayette and Jefferson with a delightful flair.

The Book

After seeing the show I checked out Hamilton: The Revolution from the library. It’s essentially book-length liner notes accompanied by essays about the cast and creation of the show. The highlights of the book are the lyrical annotations by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He clearly delights in paying homage to the artists and works he quotes in the show, and adds great insight to his creative process. (“Farmer Refuted” is a short but brilliant burst of layered lyrical ingenuity.)

He also calls attention to certain lines that deserve a deeper reading. I know it’s easy for me to lose the meaning of words I’ve listened to a lot unless I really try to think about them. That was the case for the excerpt from Washington’s actual Farewell Address, featured in “One Last Time”:

I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

The benign influence of good laws under a free government are, I realize now, an excellent triad of ideals that characterize a healthy republic.

An unhealthy one, conversely, would be an oppressive government that institutes bad laws with malignant influence on its citizens. What exactly constitutes oppression and bad laws and malignant politics is a debate as old as America itself, as Hamilton so brilliantly shows. Particularly in Act II with “The Room Where It Happens” and “Cabinet Battle #1” and “The Election of 1800”.

Ron Chernow rightly calls the show “American history for grownups” because it doesn’t sanitize the people in it, nor their methods for achieving their political goals. I’m so glad I got to see it, and recommend it if you ever have the chance to see it somewhere near you.

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