Tuesday, April 27

How To: Map Your Postcards Online

Would anyone be interested in learning how to chart their Postcrossing postcards in Picasa/Google Maps? If not, please go back and reread any of the delightful and highly informative entries with which this blog is liberally doused.

If so, this process I describe assumes four things:
  • You're using Postcrossing.
  • You're scanning in the postcards you receive.
  • You're using Picasa to store these images on your hard drive.
  • You're using Picasaweb to store and display them online.

You don't have to use Picasa: this process works in Flickr and any system that lets you attach a graphic image file to a map program.

1) a) When your postcard comes in, identify the sender's Postcrossing code. Register this in Postcrossing normally.

b) Go ahead and write a nice little note to the sender. It costs you nothing and means so much. It's such a slap in the face--to me, anyway--to hear nothing more than "THANKS" or nothing at all, but perhaps that's my fault for extending my identity schema too far into an online program.

2) When the card is registered, you are taken to a page that sums up the sender's profile and yours. If you've scanned the postcard, you can upload it here to add to your (and their) online gallery.

3) Click on the sender's name/handle--this takes you to the sender's profile. There's a little Google map labeled "Mailbox Location," click on Open in Google Maps beneath that image. This opens up a larger map with some detail as to the sender's registered location. At no time can you see their address through their profile, but if you visited the part of town indicated on this map, you probably wouldn't be far away from them.

4) In the Google Maps search bar (below the address bar in which you type URLs) you'll find a pair of coordinates. Highlight and copy this pair of coordinates. These are, of course, the latitude and longitude of the sender's registered location.

5) In Picasa, find the postcard in your collection and click on it once. Click on the Places button in the lower right of the Picasa window. Paste the coordinates into the search bar, at the bottom of the Places table. Click the magnifying glass icon to search, click OK to confirm the location.

When you view your online gallery, the right column will feature a world map with little red pegs indicating the locations of your postcards. Click on View Map beneath that image for a much larger map with little pictures of your postcards all around the world!

Zoom in, examine the postcards, cycle through your collection: this map is quite navigable and fun to play with. I know I get a little rush when I look at the sheer bulk of postcards from hundreds of nations.

Monday, April 26

Decisions, Decisions

Oh, the dilemma: two dashing suitors vying for her attention, each a world of pleasure and thrills in his own right, yet so diametrically opposed... and there was only room in her life for one.

Elegant and irresistibly demure, Audrey truly had the luxury of selecting any man she chose from a broad and teeming pool of options. Not wishing to crush any hearts, yet knowing she had to look out for her own best interests, she nevertheless whittled the roster down to the two most appealing candidates.

Cary, oh, Cary! Those eyes, that voice, the subtly amused smile that played about the corners of his lips while the rest of his expression gave away nothing... Cary! He melted her over cappuccino in that tiny bistro on Calle Larga San Marco, so near the action yet easily overlooked unless one were thoroughly familiar with Venice. It was his worldliness that won her over, this cosmopolite with the seductive purr who, admittedly, was old enough to be one of her father's younger friends.

And his spectral opposite, James: brash, unpolished, heady with restlessness and aimlessness. He almost put her off with his diffidence--after all, she knew her worth and was accustomed to being treated with an amount of deference. But the fact that he wasn't entirely available to her somehow enticed her, and it was on their symbolic trip from Independence (Missouri) to Junction City (Kansas) on a '41 Indian Chief that she started to fall for this unruly boy. It was one thing to have the world handed to you on a platter but quite another thing to have a small bundle of the Unknown dangled just out of reach. Especially when the Unknown hid behind lips like James'.

What was a girl to do?

Sunday, April 25

The Office Outfit

Can you imagine owning your own "office outfit?" I'm not talking about a nice tweed suit with Oxfords and a tasteful silk tie. I'm talking about this little thing: brown cardboard box and electric blue lid containing an entire set of stamps for making your own customizable rubber stamp. Multiples of each letter, upper and lower case, stored in a nice wooden rack, waiting to be arrayed in a wide, thin handle for printing.

What would you use it for? When would you use this thing instead of a typewriter? When would it be more economical to assemble your own line or two of typeset rather than contacting a professional printer?

I suppose it would be handy to confirm receipt of certain documents, though it doesn't strike me as the pinnacle of convenience to throw "Received by" into a rack and stamp it out for a few pages, then replace all the letters--and I'd put them back in alphabetical order, though some people would just put them back into storage and call it done.

It would also be handy for printing on unconventional surfaces, like, a label on a bottle or anything else that couldn't easily be fed into a typewriter. It could be handier to print on a porous surface rather than feed a sheet of labels into a typewriter or something, I suppose.

This was an artifact of my grandparents', when I went to visit grandpa's house in Idaho (grandma has been deceased for several years). In my last trip two years ago, it was very important for me to go through their office supplies and see what were the accoutrement of their day, what they found necessary or handy to have around. My grandmother was a high school teacher and my grandfather dealt in real estate, and they must've done some considerable business at home, based on two rooms that have been sequestered for an office and storage for office supplies.

Saturday, April 24

Cigars and Pens, All in One

Sorry about the prolonged absence from this place. I've run into a string of technical errors--not the least of which has been my laptop literally burning out (you'd call burning plastic and ozone a "warning flag," neh?) and developing workarounds for it (it will accept an external monitor, for one thing).

And now Blogger (or Blogger in Draft) won't let me upload photos! Each attempt yields a "Server Rejected": errormsg, so I'm not trying anymore. Workaround: I can upload images directly from Picasa on my hard drive to Picasaweb online, and then link to the photos from there.

That's what I've done. I'm listening to All Irish Radio (few things gladden and inflame my heart like Internet radio access) and backing up another blog with a separate online album--I truly enjoy online/computer geek-out campaigns like this one. But now I'm going to update this blog because I've been so remiss in my duties.

This is a pen case that was salvaged from my in-laws' former house. Rebecca's sister Rachel found it and asked me if I wanted it. When my face lit up and my voice failed, Rebecca said, "I told you, you should've saved it for his birthday." What is it? It's a nice brass letter opener with a wood handle, but the really cunning thing is the ballpoint pen disguised as a cigar. It has a great textural feel and the coloration is superb. The ink? Well, maybe I can modify a Mont Blanc refill to go in there or something, but it is a great-looking pen. Rachel associated it with me not just because of my predilection for stationery but my interest in cigars as well.

Tuesday, April 20

My History With Pipe Tobacco

The Volume Library, 1927
Lately I've rekindled my interest in a couple smoking varieties, namely, pipes and pipe tobacco. I started with pipes a few years ago because I had some money burning a hole in my pocket and happened to be walking by a tobacconist, Lewis Pipe & Tobacco, Mpls. The sight of a cabinet full of pipes took me back to walks with my great-grandfather, Dzia Romanski. Our family would converge on my grandparents' house in Olympia, WA, and at some point "JaJa" would take me for a stroll through the woods. He paused to light up an old, old pipe, pick up a twig, and we'd set out. I thought the twig was part of a magic trick: as we walked and talked, he would start whittling the end of it and when he had finished, there would be a huge, fat slug in the middle of the path. He would stoop to stab it with the sharpened twig and hurl it into the woods. That was just his way. (Years later, I realized that woods was thickly crawling with slugs and it wasn't a trick of timing the carving of his stick to coincide with conjuring a slug for impalement.)
Altered from Sp. tabaco, according to Oviedo, the name in the Carib of Haiti of the Y-shaped tube or pipe through which the Indians inhaled the smoke; but according to Las Casas, 1552, applied to a roll of dried leaves which was kindled at the end and used by the Indians like a rude cigar. Even before Oviedo's date the name had been taken by the Spaniards as that of the herb or its leaf, in which sense it passed from Sp. into the other European langs.: Pg. tabaco, It. tabaco (1578), tabacco (Florio, 1598), F. tabac, whence Du., Ger., Boh. tabak, Du. (17th c.) taback; Pol. tabaka, Russ. tabaku. The original forms tabaco, tabacco, were retained in Eng. to the 18th c., but gradually driven out by tobacco. Da. and Sw., and many Ger. dialects, have also tobak, Ger. 18th c. toback.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

Decades later, as I was wrapping up my Creative Writing degree at Metro State, I was in a design class that tasked us to create a PowerPoint presentation on any topic we wished. I chose the structure of a pipe and felt pretty proud of learning all the bits and pieces to the pipe, arranging them for convenient dissemination in a little lecture. I only gave the lecture to one other student, however, as we were paired up to evaluate each other's presentations. Hers was on female castration, replete with photos: this was still a practice in her homeland and a matter of some concern to her. By the end of it I was almost too humbled to bring up my frivolous presentation of an idle pastime.
1588, from Sp. tabaco, in part from an Arawakan (probably Taino) language of the Caribbean, said to mean "a roll of tobacco leaves" (according to Las Casas, 1552) or "a kind of pipe for smoking tobacco" (according to Oviedo, 1535). Scholars of Caribbean languages lean toward Las Casas' explanation. But Sp. tabaco (also It. tabacco) was a name of medicinal herbs from c.1410, from Arabic tabbaq, attested since 9c. as the name of various herbs. So the word may be a European one transferred to an American plant. Cultivation in France began 1556 with an importation of seed by Andre Thevet; introduced in Spain 1558 by Francisco Fernandes. Tobacco Road as a mythical place representative of rural Southern U.S. poverty is from the title of Erskine Caldwell's 1932 novel.
(Online Etymology Dictionary)

As a child, it never occurred to me that pipes had parts to them, that these parts had names, nor that tobacco could come in different flavors. Had I a little more wherewithal, I would have thought to ask JaJa what flavor tobacco he was smoking, though in likelihood he would have told me it was a terrible habit I should avoid. We never had that conversation, though, and I picked it up almost four years ago. I find it a very meditative practice, and I will sit with a book and enjoy a pipe on our porch or simply smoke on the front steps, focusing on nothing but the flavor of the cool smoke sliding over my tongue. I've got five different pipes for different purposes, including one bought from an antique sale and a long, thin, white clay pipe replicating what American soldiers were using at Fort Snelling over 200 years ago. Some pipes are reserved for the dark and bitter tobaccos and others for the more sweetly flavored classes. What intrigues me about the pipe is that it gets better with more use: layers and layers of smokings "season" it, in a way, like a cast iron skillet, until you're not only smoking the tobacco you just packed into it but also a little portion of every bit you've enjoyed throughout the pipe's life. On so many levels, this is a meditative practice.

Tuesday, April 13

Travel Stationery Mini-Portfolio

For my birthday, a friend made me a special gift. By "made" I do mean this thing was meticulously hand-crafted, as she is a very crafty person. She enjoys sewing and stitching with creativity and precision, and she has gifted my wife and I with her craft before. Prior to this, she made some super-strong grocery bags with two sets of handles: large loops that can go over a shoulder for large loads, or small handles for lighter trips. She chose especially attractive fabric for these, going for a travel/international theme.

This time, she made me something that blew me out of the water. It's a cute little travel portfolio for correspondence--she stitched "Correspondence" on the cover--that ties on one side or opens into three panels. The panels hold a medium-small Moleskine notebook, then a pocket for paper/cards and envelopes, a loop for a favorite pen, and then a smaller pouch for business cards.

I enjoy going over the details of this design, and I'm blown out of the water that someone would take so much time to construct such a device. I'll use it a lot, but for anyone else it might be quaintly archaic, and a more suitable gift would be an iPhone pouch. But this is perfect for me (she monogrammed the back to personalize it) and I'm still marveling over it. It's perfect, of course, and I haven't found anything in my online perambulations that could suffice with all this function. I've shopped online, see, and haunted the local art and office supply stores, but this travel portfolio (I don't know what else to call it) couldn't have been more suitable if I'd laid down the specifications myself.

So maybe some of my friends don't enjoy taking out the time to write a letter, like I do, and laugh at my need for postage stamps while they knock out e-mails that flash instantly across the globe. But this gesture shows me that someone appreciates my interest and supports it. My response, of course, is to plan something creative and demanding with which to rejoin. That's not a bad trend.

Saturday, April 3

Milestone Ink

Does this look strange? A picture of me getting a tattoo in this blog?

Note the tattoo: typographer's marks. I saw this image, arranged like a little man taking up sword in hand against the vagaries of those who would misuse and abuse our language, last year when I was made aware of National Grammar Day. This is a function of SPOGG, the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. Sounds light-hearted, but this is a cause in which I believe, so I got the tattoo on my right arm to guide my writing hand in the course of linguistic and typographic discipline. (My first choice was on the side of my neck, to underscore my dedication, but I wondered whether future employers would appreciate this.)

I thought it was a cool image and had toyed with the idea of getting such a tattoo but made no solid plans. Rebecca, my wife, had all along encouraged me to follow through but recently planned to surprise me with an appointment with The Ink Lab in Uptown. Ink Lab doesn't take appointments over the phone, so we did a walk-in instead. The gesture is intended to "mark" my 40th birthday, in four days.

But here we go! I've announced my dedication to defending the language, after four decades of life on this ball of mud, hurtling through the irradiated vacuum of space. Pardon my muddled and racing thoughts, I'm still on an adrenalin high (plus a lot of coffee).

Update: I brought this to the attention of Martha Brockenbrough, founder of SPOGG, thinking she should be cognizant of the homage. She surprised me with a prompt response, no few compliments, and extra special birthday wishes, plus a link to this site and a mention on her own blog! Rebecca may attest to the bout of giggling (in the style or manner of a little girl) this has induced in me.

Int'l Girl Aerogrammes

Just added a new link: International Girl aerogrammes. Check 'em out!

These are the fold-and-seal letters of which I'm so enamored. I've seen them in various styles and alternate themes, like the very fun Mr. Lunch series as well as Gumby & Friends, and then there was a crappy set that featured a talented French photographer, but when you folded them they never came out even and overlapped their edges or folds.

These look fantastic, and they come in various international themes, such as Chinese deco, Japanese kanji, Arabic birds, &c. You order them in packs of ten, which includes five motifs and two of each motif, and it comes down to US$16 (incl. shipping & handling). These look so interesting and exciting, I anticipate picking some up very soon.

I heard about these through the Postcrossing Web site: they've recently hit 4,000,000 postcards exchanged. I went back through their blog and discovered that Int'l Girl aerogrammes were the prize for the 3,000,000 postcard contest--users had to guess which countries would be the sending and receiving nations. Layers upon layers of fascinating information, for me.