Condiment Innovation

This is really small in the grand scheme of things, but still I’m super impressed with Heinz’s new ketchup packet. My younger daughter had a doctor’s appointment the other day, and on the way home we stopped at Culver’s. This is what she got with her onion rings.

I love it! Why did no one think of this until now? It seems so obvious in retrospect. But maybe that’s always the way with truly innovative ideas.

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“It’s snowing!”

This was the view from my office window yesterday afternoon. Bright sun, despite the wind and falling temperatures. I liked the way sunlight reflecting from my building’s windows cast long fingers of light across the street.

Below is what I saw on the way back to my office from a mid-morning coffee run earlier today.

A spare dusting of dry lake-effect snow swirled along the sidewalk like ghostly dervishes and collapsed between wind gusts into white patches along the edges of whatever had momentarily trapped it.

Later in the day, as significantly thicker snowflakes blew past my window, an instant shock of recognition kicked in and I fleetingly experienced that ineffable happiness of childhood when winter’s first flurries  are greeted by the excited cry: “It’s snowing!


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The humanitarian disaster looming in Yemen

You probably haven’t seen this bit of news, and with any luck at all the situation will be resolved before becoming a major story you can’t avoid.

This past weekend, Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen against the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi launched a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia’s capital city. The missile reportedly targeted Riyadh’s airport but was intercepted before reaching its destination.

We have plenty of other terrible events distracting us here in the United States right now. Don’t feel bad if you missed this.

Here’s why the attempted missile attack and its aftermath is important. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince immediately denounced the missile attack as something that “may be considered an act of war,” and he accused Iran of “direct aggression” against Saudi Arabia because Iran supplied the Shia Houthis with missiles.

Saudi Arabia’s response to the attack has been equally swift: a blockade of entry points to Yemen, a country that relies on imports to supply about 90% of its daily needs, according to the United Nations.

Dire shortages of food and medicine are imminent.

The United Nations’ World Food Program currently feeds 7 million people a month in Yemen. These 7 million people will feel the blockade’s consequences immediately. Millions more, already classified as “hungry” will soon face extreme famine.

To make matters worse, Yemen is currently experiencing the “fastest growing cholera epidemic ever recorded,” with 895,000 cases as of November 2 (a week ago today). Over half of the suspected cholera cases are children.

Let me restate that more directly: Around 450,000 children in Yemen have contracted cholera in the past six months.

Cholera—rare in the developed world—is a horrible intestinal infection causing copious amounts of watery diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and muscle cramps. It can be fatal; nearly 2,200 people in Yemen have died from cholera since April 27th. The infection can be prevented with a vaccine (effective for about six months), but now that the blockade is in place, neither vaccine nor treatment medicines are getting through.

If something doesn’t happen quickly, many more people will die.

The political situation in Yemen is a mess. In some ways ordinary citizens are mere pawns in a rebellion/civil war that is in part a proxy conflict between longtime rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran. I lack adequate background to make any kind of statement regarding which side is right or wrong.

But surely the world can’t just stand by and watch this happen.

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Tree Climbing

Just a shadow that caught my eye around noon today.

I like how the tree seems to be growing out of the doorway and spreading up the wall. I’ve seen whimsical fairy/gnome doorways in trees before . . .

But this was my first tree in a doorway! 🙂

This is the vestige of what was once a side door into the Val. Blatz Brewing Company’s Bottle House. Now it’s an emergency exit for the Campus Center at Milwaukee School of Engineering. More importantly, it’s also a handy little alcove to stand in on a winter day and be shielded from biting wind while waiting for the light at Broadway and State to change 🙂

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How use of color in Spotlight amplifies theme

I’m showing Spotlight in my political science class this week and next. We don’t have a lot of time to talk about the press in our course, but I wanted to work in some reflection on the place of news media in American political culture. I like using films in my classes whenever I can because they deliver such a tremendous amount of information and nuance for the class time given up.

Spotlight is my positive bookend to the more negative, cynical view of media found in the first film of the quarter, Wag the Dog.

In my film studies class, I always show the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Picture as the final film of that course. In spring 2016, that film was Spotlight. Obviously students in my political science class are watching with a very different agenda than we had in my film studies class a year ago spring.

This time around (in political science), we are thinking about the role of “the press” as the Fourth Estate in civic life. Especially given the rapidly disintegrating sustainability of the news media’s traditional business model, not to mention the rise of “fake news” and accusations of partisanship and bias in news coverage, I think it’s important to think deeply about the press both at its credulous worst and at its most noble best. Wag the Dog and Spotlight do a pretty nice job of highlighting the opposite ends of the ethics/competence spectrum.

Today I learned that it’s impossible for me to shut down the film-studies side of my brain, even when I’m in political-science mode. While watching Spotlight with my students this afternoon, I kept noticing the colors. I haven’t seen Spotlight since showing it in my film studies class over a year ago. I’d forgotten all about its production design. But, boy, it all came back in a flash.

Take a look at these screenshots. (You can click on each image to enlarge it.)

Can you see what’s going on with the colors? Red, green, and blue are EVERYWHERE. Even items that would normally be white or gray or beige are tinged with hints of red, green, and blue instead.

I’m not sure there’s necessarily a thematic purpose behind the color palette used in Spotlight, but it does occur to me that red, green, and blue (RGB) are the primary hues in an additive color system. Cyan, yellow, and magenta (CYM) are the primary hues in a subtractive color system.

Check out this cool photo from Wikipedia. I like to show it to my film studies students because it’s such a great visual demonstrating these color principles in action.

“RGB illumination” by en:User:Bb3cxv via Wikipedia (CC by 3.0)

White light contains all the wavelengths in the color spectrum. Black essentially has none.

So actually, now that I think about it, if I wanted to make some kind of point about the color design in Spotlight, I might talk about how the RGB colors add up to a white light that echoes and amplifies two related themes.

First, that white is associated with purity, and second that light is associated with truth.

The film’s title refers not only to the Spotlight team itself (a special unit of investigative reporters at The Boston Globe) but also to their act of spotlighting and bringing into the light a problem hidden away too long in metaphoric darkness.

Good. I’m so glad I have my blog and was able to get all this out of my head and into a form that could be shared with someone who might appreciate it 🙂

Now it’s time to pack up all my student papers to grade this weekend and head home.

Have a great Friday night, everyone!

Posted in Learning, Movies and film | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A little baseball trivia?

My husband and I were talking in passing about the World Series last night. Although I no longer really follow baseball, I was a big fan as a kid. When I noticed the game on TV, I wondered aloud if “Houston” was still the Astros. After all, many other teams seem to have moved to new cities and states, and even teams that have stayed put seem to acquire new names.

A quick look at Wikipedia showed, obviously, that Houston is still the Astros.

As my husband and I continued talking, a point arose in the conversation where it seemed logical to reminisce about how AstroTurf got its name from the Astros. This was news to my husband, which then made me wonder: Has the Astros’ association with the AstroTurf  name slipped into relative obscurity?

Probably not, but now I’m curious. Do you also remember that the first big installation of artificial turf was at the Houston Astrodome? And that it was kind of controversial?

I remember the Astros seemed very modern in so many ways: the enclosed ballpark in which they played, their association with Houston’s space program (“astro”nauts), their groovy polyester uniforms.

I also remember the trade with Houston that brought Joe Morgan and Cesar Geronimo, and Jack Billingham (whose autograph I still have) to Cincinnati. Without the Houston Astros, the Big Red Machine might never have been.

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Functionality in search of purpose

Although I’ve noticed this item in the corner of a classroom I teach in this quarter, I never looked closely at it until today, when it was in a slightly different location.

I almost didn’t recognize what it was. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen one of these. Are you old enough to remember dot matrix printers? If so, you probably understand the significance of that big rectangular hole in the lower shelf.

Amazingly, look at who still sells that striped green continuous-feed paper!

Collector’s item: A bargain at $78.99!

Someone somewhere still uses this product.


That’s like a coal truck that makes local delivery rounds, which I suppose might be a routine occurrence in some places but which I haven’t seen in Milwaukee since the early 1990s. And even then, only once. Watching coal tumble down the long chute from truck to basement of an older East Side home, I felt like I’d stepped through a time warp into the 1930s.

I wonder if anyone still uses this printer cart for anything other than a lectern stand, which appears to be its current job. At least it is serving a legitimate need in its repurposed life 🙂

Posted in Higher education, History, Life, Milwaukee, Popular culture, Teaching, Technology | Tagged , | 4 Comments