Archive for November, 2009

Wed 25 Nov 2009 8:44 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different, No right to be good, TV

Giving thanks for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

High school bands. Lip syncing. Matt Laurer. Yeah, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is cheesy. Three hours of schlock is hard to take. It fills a lazy block of holiday morning time, when most of us have slept in late and, at best, have just begun to preheat the oven and chop yams. Still wearing our slippers and sipping coffee, we feel sorry for the NBC people who had to wake up early and go to work. Many adults find the parade telecast boring, and it’s doubtful any Pixar-raised child could invest more than 10 minutes in it.

But the Macy’s parade delivers a single, visual quality that towers (literally) over the sloppy choreography and humiliating celebrity appearances. The balloons! Round and colorful, they bob like hallucinations past the flat, stone edifices of the city. Tiny ants at the ends of guylines ease these cartoon behemoths around the corners of Midtown office buildings. The feat has become so routine—this is the parade’s 83rd year—that our eyes miss seeing it for the remarkable spectacle it is.

Some of my earliest, dimmest impressions of New York—before I ever visited the city—are of the Macy’s parade on TV. At no point did I ever imagine being there. As childhood impressions go, New York City was similar to the Land of Oz—vivid, fun and purely fictitious.

Now this is my 8th November in New York. I have never actually been to the parade, since I always travel to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with my family. But I always catch a few minutes of the parade on TV, or I see the photos later. Don’t let familiarity spoil how cool those images are. Balloons and buildings, speaking to one another: A pairing of color and monochrome, soft and hard, fleeting and permanent. The Macy’s balloons are a perfect artistic response to the canyons of Manhattan.

Tue 24 Nov 2009 7:24 am   //   Posted in: Technology

New site is go!


Over the last few days, I’ve been phasing in a new design on and the History Eraser Button blog. Here are some ideas that influenced the changes:

  • I moved everything to a new server.* I now get more storage for less money, and have access to new bells and whistles—notably, the ability to run cron jobs, which are scripts that operate in the background on a timed schedule.
  • On the blog, I wanted a layout wide enough to accommodate the new 853-pixel-wide YouTube videos. The template you see here is exactly 903 pixels wide, plus 25 pixels of padding on each side, for that exact reason.
  • Increasingly, people arrive at individual blog posts through Twitter and Facebook, rather than following links from the blog’s home page or Then they exit after viewing one page. That’s not how most bloggers want it (we want it to be a destination, and we want to be sticky), but readers are not like grazing cattle. They are like bees hopping from flower to flower. This is the reality of the web today. I’d rather accommodate readers than fight them. Thinking along those lines, I removed the top menu bar to make the blog look as clean as possible, and bumped the navigation and other less-important stuff from the sidebar to the bottom of the page. I also removed the Twitter feed from the blog, since it was distracting—and I made it more prominent on my main home page.
  • The old home page, centered around a live feed of headlines, was an impressive build given my limited programming skills. But it was cluttered, clumsy and slow. The new design is simpler. (The font treatment was influenced by New York City subway signage.) I also wrote new code that checks the weather report and Twitter without slowing down the loading of the home page.
  • I was getting tired of blue.

Of course, every web site should be considered always under construction, so more changes are still to come. My travel page needs some fixing up—a map?—so I’m going to tackle that next. You might find bugs and quirky formatting for a few more days while I keep messing around with stuff, trying to make it better. Please send me an e-mail if you notice anything strange. Why do I bother with this stuff? I find noodling with web pages to be intensely relaxing. is a sandbox where I can try new things and learn new skills without really risking anything. Thanks for visiting.

* I’m still using, a hosting company in Connecticut that has provided consistently good service for 8 years.

Thu 19 Nov 2009 7:32 pm   //   Posted in: Art, New York is different, Photos

Jeanne-Claude, 1935-2009





Photos from Central Park, February 2005. More about Jeanne-Claude.

Mon 16 Nov 2009 9:55 pm   //   Posted in: No right to be good, Photos, TV commericals

Poetry in advertising

It’s been a so-so year for TV commercials, but this Levi’s ad is insanely great.


Sat 7 Nov 2009 11:04 pm   //   Posted in: Stray data

The nerdiest coin ever minted?

Yes, it’s happened: You have lived to see the day when a U.S. coin bears the likeness of President James K. Polk! I pocketed this gem today, courtesy of a Metro North ticket machine.



Thu 5 Nov 2009 6:39 am   //   Posted in: In the news, New York is different

Any headline writers left in this city?

I kind of love it when the Post and the Daily News run the same headline. Somehow it makes it seem like the world is unfolding according to plan. But “27th HEAVEN”? Is that really the best they could do?


Also, go Yankees!!

Sun 1 Nov 2009 8:15 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different, Photos

I love this picture


I recently worked on a booklet to commemorate my church’s 150th anniversary. While looking through some old stuff, we found this picture. We’re pretty sure it shows members of the congregation cleaning up after a fire seriously damaged the building in 1955. I can’t stop looking at it.

I don’t know what kind of camera was in use in 1955, but this photograph was printed wide; this scan is not cropped. The photographer focused on the four people in the middle ground, who are well illuminated by a flash. The two women on the left paused to look at the photographer, the two men on the right did not, and the man in the middle looks undecided.

These five earnest, concerned young adults wouldn’t look out of place in our neighborhood 54 years later. (With slight—but only slight!—wardrobe changes.) I love how Brooklyn can be such a “now” place, yet still be built on the hard work and history of people who came before us. We live in the same apartments they lived in, we wait on the same subway platforms they stood on, and we worship in the same buildings they worshiped in. Their ghosts are among us.