The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Tag: blogging

The Pointed Nib

John James Audubon (1875-1851)
Carrion Crow, from “The Birds of America”

My new blog, The Pointed Nib, is live!

The banner of mighty carrion crows over the carcass of a stag is from John Audubon’s The Birds of America.

About the blog: “The pen’s tip took its name from the bird’s beak, honed by Nature to a sharp point. My aim is to be precise and concise as that avian implement that tackles large things in small nibbles.”

Waaah, Waaah, Waaaaah!

Photobucket Ransom Note

The Internet is littered with this hideous ransom note from Photobucket. It’s hard to be mad at a service you have been using for free all these years, one that you’ve almost taken for granted.

Well, Photobucket will no longer be ignored, especially by your Adblocker. They now want you to pay nearly half a grand a year to be able to link to your pictures hosted on their site. It would have been nice if you had been forewarned, you know, like what banks do before they foreclose on you.

So the cold reality was a shock, and shock soon turned to anger. These ugly grey monstrosities are plastered all over your site. But hey, Photobucket dosen’t really owe you anything.

Fortunately, more than half of my photos, the ones I took myself are hosted on Google Drive, which, so far, has been good and free.

It’s too cumbersome to repair all the broken links, so I will make the posts private, and eventually resurrect some of the contents in a new blog, The Pointed Nib.

The Flâneur’s Arcade, in the meantime, will remain what it has become, a blog of flâneur photography.

iPhone Photography

Subway Rush
Tokyo (2015)

This rash of photoblogging was inspired by a Wired Magazine piece on Daniel Arnold, who, according to Gawker, is Instagram’s best photographer. He prowls the streets of New York, armed only with his iPhone 5–cracked screen and all–to document the city he loves.

I was thrilled with the idea of stretching the creative possibilities of the smart phone, not just for taking pictures, but for in situ processing of the images as well.

Like Arnold, I do have a proper digital SLR, but it is something I only tend to take with me on special holiday trips. It is heavy, clumsy, and finicky–not fit for the gonzo demands of street photography. The smart phone is always on hand to capture an interesting subject wherever it reveals itself–on the subway, in the shopping mall, or out in the parking lot.

Yesterday, just as I was about to get in my car to go home, I saw this white crane hanging out on the grass. As I approached to take its picture, it got spooked and flew away–but not before I was able to capture the moment when it started flapping its wings, and a small plane just came into the field of view, serendipitously, to land on the airstrip across the street where I worked. It was a thrilling moment.

So far, I have not needed to use any third party apps to process my pictures. Arnold uses VSCO and Whitagram, which I have downloaded, but have mostly stuck with the native iPhone camera app functionalities. I’ve tended to favor the black-and-white format anyway (inspired by my love for André Kertész), and kept the tweaking minimal–mostly those lighting parameters such as exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows.

Though I try to avoid over-processing to preserve the natural integrity of the subject, these images are intended to be fully in the realm of artifice, and are meant to be expressive or dramatic statements. They have been re-composed by cropping or rotation, not just to highlight the subject, but often, to create the subject itself.

Along with photography, I have also been playing around with blogging with just my iPhone through the WordPress app. It’s portability allows me to post more regularly (even while waiting for my plane to take off), and its restrictions forces me to be pithy.

The app also lets me put out my pictures in a more timely manner (I have yet to review the hundreds of digital photos from a trip to Cambodia a couple of years ago), though still not at the dizzying lightning speed of Instagram. I am an old dog after all. But I also think the blog format still somewhat confers that white space around a picture as in a gallery that invites contemplation.

Media guru Marshall MacLuhan said about Thomas Edison’s light bulb of the 19th century, that by its mere presence, it creates its own environment. I think the same can now be said about the smart phone–or this virtual machine that still retains the vestigial term “phone”–since 2007, when Steve Jobs, Apple’s own industrialist visionary, announced to everyone’s astounded gasp the very first iPhone.

Farewell, ORBIS

ORBIS Banner
ORBIS Banner: Detail from Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte, Philippines,
evoking the labyrinths of Jorge Luis Borges.

After more than a year in hiatus, I am back blogging. Why the long pause? Not that I ran out of things to say. I doubt that will happen to one so opinionated and contrarian. I still have a long pipeline of pieces gestating that needs to be written down, except that they demand considerable time and attention to put together. In the meantime, I got busy settling in on a new job, and tying up the loose ends of a course website I developed for Science and Society during my brief teaching stint in the Philippines. I put together separate blogs called The Cyberflâneur that allowed me to write down musings on the fly to address the issue of time (this was what I used to blog my trip to the Philippines), and another called Mellis & Absinthia for interesting extracts from my reading projects. But even these turned out to be onerous as well, especially their upkeep.

The first order of business was thus consolidating these disparate efforts into one undertaking, and revamping the format to be more conducive to writing. I have therefore imported all the entries from the above into my main blog, ORBIS, and recast the site as The Flâneur’s Arcade. ORBIS was inspired by the writings of the Argentine writer Jorge Juis Borges, specifically, by his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

It is conjectured that this brave new world is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebraists, moralists, painters, geometers… [It] is so vast that each writer’s contribution is infinitesimal… [It] is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

It is a planet built by men. Not so much a real, physical world, but a fictive world–a body of knowledge. Borges uses other metaphors for this web of arcana: the library of Babel, an infinite labyrinth, a circular ruin, a garden of forking paths. Borges, as if peering into the all-seeing Aleph, has foreseen our modern cyberspace–the realization of his fictitious planet, devised by men and destined to be deciphered by men. I envisioned ORBIS to be my own fiction, a self-contained world among worlds on the Web, and myself as one of those anonymous technicians whose contribution was infinitesimal.

In renaming the blog, I’m moving away from the hermeticism inspired by Borges, to the more meandering, open-ended stance of the urban flâneur. I do enjoy writing about unsavory aspects of popular culture as much as serious academic arcana (partly from my discovery of Camille Paglia). I would also like to relax the writing style to include a range of tone from urbane to heckling. (It’s often more fun to jeer from the peanut gallery.)

In order to encourage writing (and reading), I have also simplified the format, by choosing a cleaner theme (Manifest) and by removing unnecessary trimmings (widgets, blogrolls, plugins). The sidebar is dispensed with and whatever widgets I retained (mostly about stats) were pushed down the bottom in order to keep reading distractions minimal. This migration should be complete within the next weeks, after which, we bid a final farewell to ORBIS.

Why I find the need to explain these things–the nuts and bolts of running this blog–seems silly. It’s not as if I have legions of followers to answer to, to whom I should justify my editorial choices. But part of writing, of putting things down on paper, is to explain these things to oneself. And what is more reflexive than blog writing?

My Canon In That LibraryThing

I spent Sunday, avoiding reading articles on cell mechanics, and scheming of ways to indent and shear (i.e. poke and rub) cells with an AFM (atomic force microscope) colloidal probe. I did something totally useless instead: I organized my blogroll. It seemed that having set up all these fancy-schmancy categories for my links to other blogsites, consigns me to provide it with such links. I am not a regular reader of blogs myself–I would rather read books–which begs a Carrie Bradshaw question (show “blinking cursor” as I type here): do I really expect other people to also waste their time on my blog? I do hope it provides more than just a self-reflecting mirror on the ho-hum of my life.

I thus had to scour the Internet, or in this case, the Blogosphere, for blogs I can endorse on my blogroll (whew, that was a mouthful of “blogs”!); they would have to be only of potential interest at this point. It remains to be seen if they are worth coming back to, that is, as critic Frank Kermode puts it, if they continue to hold our attention. What a thrilling way to procrastinate for someone who’s obsessive-compulsive. Scour is exactly the right word. The result: the long list on the sidebar of “[who] I found blogging on: food; writers and writing; art and design; current events, politics, opinion; history, culture, ideas; science and technology; travel”. Click on.

Kermode, of course, was referring to canonical works of literature, not a laundry list of links. A canon, however, he points out, is in essence simply a list, for example, of what books to include in the Old and New Testaments, or the roster of Saints, or the Great Books, or even a reading list for a Lit 101 class. In the last two, we privilege the works on the list because they continue hold our attention, or they continue to speak to us. “[The] canonical work, so endlessly discussed, must be assumed to have permanent value and, which is really the same thing, perpetual modernity.” (from Forms of Attention, 1987) Adding a link to a blogroll is certainly not as magisterial as “canonizing” it, but we always make canons, or at least legitimize them, whenever we make decisions to include or to discard. I learned that when somebody clicks a link from my site, some number-crunching software counts it as a vote for the linked site. The number of unique visits or hits indicate a site’s relevance, and, thus, improves its overall ranking and status in the Blogosphere. I wonder how “canonical” Thoreau and Whitman would be in this sense who maintain bogus blogs at The Blog of Henry David Thoreau and I, Walt Whitman, A Blogger. Let’s see how they fare without the imprimatur of a course requirement. I’d hate to be trumped by dead old farts.

Speaking of old farts, a note on the phrase fancy-schmancy, which a blogger posted on The Phrase Finder, observing that it is usually spoken in movies by old Jewish men. According to the book The Joys of Yiddish (by Leo Rosten), quoth the blogger, “sh [or] shm [are] not words, but prefatory sounds, of mockery or dismissal, that ‘pooh-pooh’ the word they prefix… To negate or deride the meaning of a word, the word is repeated–but with shm- prefixed to the repetition. ‘The doctor says she has a serious virus? Virus-shmirus, as long as she’s OK.’ (This is, of course, a variation of the classic ‘cancer-shmancer, as long as you’re healthy.’) ‘The mayor? Mayor-shmayor, it’s his wife who runs the show.'” What a cool rhetorical device for subversion. Canon, shmanon.

I saw the “random books from my library”-widget in one of my friends’ blogsites (Peryodistang Pinay), and thought that was a really neat idea. It displayed random books from her collection–titles, authors, and covers–that had been cataloged in LibraryThing. You guessed it. It did not take long before I got the itch to inventory my entire collection–well, at least two-thirds of it that I hauled with me to Florida. LibraryThing allows you to quickly enter your books by searching, the Library of Congress, or more than 250 other library databases around the world, using key words (title, author), or, better yet, their ISBN numbers. I thought I died and gone to OCD heaven! It’s also a cinch to assign cover images to your book using existing links to images, or upload your own if you’re like me who wants the exact same cover as what is on the real thing. When I finished archiving the facts and figures of my own canon, it crunched the data, and spit out a list in “Members with your books”. Apparently, I shared the same reading taste as one asongulol (crazy dog, i.e. with rabies) who also likes reading Borges, Calvino, Cortazar, Pavic, and Pessoa, among others. Running down the list of books we own together–26 of my books are in his collection of 285–I wondered if this information can be used like a genetic map to mark individuals. What are the odds that another person owns exactly the same set of books? Isn’t our library a historical sum of small choices and chance encounters, of contingencies and inevitabilities, not unlike our own lives?

Scroll down the sidebar. Check out my canon in that LibraryThing.