Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Princess Bride and Rotational Ambigrams

Posted by Anne Nelson.

Earlier this month I went to the Palace Theater in Albany with some of my coworkers to see a screening of “The Princess Bride.”  On the way to the show, we talked about the movie (we’d all seen it before) and how well it stands up to repeated viewings.  While the central story is very simple, the film also introduces us to a tremendous number of interesting bit characters and story lines and they all intersect and ultimately wrap up very neatly.  Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were both masters of this technique, and that’s (in part, anyway) why their novels are still such satisfying reads today.  As for “The Princess Bride,” the story ties up so well at the end that even the cover art for its most recent DVD release reflects the movie’s clever composition.

Note that the title of the movie is legible when viewed from either direction.

Note that the title of the movie is legible when viewed from either direction.

The image of the two lovers looks at first like it is a simple reflection across the cover’s horizontal axis, but actually it is two similar pictures juxtaposed to give a little nod to the arc of the story.  What’s much more interesting than the image, however, is the text of the title.  This is a rotational ambigram.  Thanks to some inventive calligraphy, the text of the words “The Princess Bride” can be rotated 180 degrees and it will still be legible.  This is a pretty neat trick and I’ve noticed a few other items here at The Library that have employed it:


Paul McCartney released an album a few years ago with an ambigram of his own name on the cover.

angels and demons

And in “Angels and Demons,” the follow-up to his best-selling thriller “The DaVinci Code,” author Dan Brown uses ambigrams as a plot device.  Of course, the book’s cover is itself a rotational ambigram.  Because they are so difficult for artists to devise and draft, it’s quite unusual to see an ambigram on a book jacket or album cover.  Their relative rarity, however, makes them fun to watch out for.

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michaelPollanMichael Pollan, author of group favorite In Defense of Food, has released another work that promises to sizzle in the brainpan. It’s titled Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation, and I’m sure it’s quite tasty. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get my hands on a copy yet, but the folks at Library Journal have, and they dish-up a sweet starred review:

“Pollan…delivers a thoughtful meditation on cooking that is both difficult to categorize and uniquely, inimitably his… Intensely focused yet wide ranging, beautifully written, thought provoking, and, yes, fun, Pollan’s latest is not to be missed by those interested in how, why, or what we cook and eat.”

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Eaarth Prophet

“We’re running Genesis backwards, decreating.”
– Bill Mckibben –

Prophet.  During the course of the Monday Evening Book Group’s March 18, 2013 discussion of Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, somebody referred to Bill McKibben as a prophet.  I think that’s an apt description given his gaunt visage, reminiscent of an old school ascetic, and his perpetual preaching of profound Gaian gospel.  Speaking of wise men, the evening marked the return of Richard “The Professor” Schneider, who did a superlative job of moderating a rather large and enthusiastic ensemble of disciples of the author’s scriptures.  I would also like to say thanks to Tri County NY Transition for helping to promote the event.

As for me, I’ve been reading Bill McKibben for what seems like forever, and for the most part, his head and heart seem to be in the right place.  On the other hand, I have not always agreed with him.  For example, I strongly disagreed with his thinking in Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age.  No surprise there, any writer who traffics in serious issues is bound to kick-up a little controversy.

Analysis of the work reveals that it can be neatly divided into two elements, which we’ll dub descriptive and prescriptive.  The initial portion of the work concerns itself with describing how humanity’s fossil fuel use has already altered the planet.  Mr. Mckibben makes a rather overwhelming case in this regard.  Given this, I was not surprised to find that many members found this aspect of the work quite convincing, but faulted it for generating a sense of helplessness.

Controversy arose, however, when the discussion moved to the prescriptive portion of Eaarth.  At this point, I would like to compliment the group on its decorum.  Twenty-three passionate people spoke from a wide variety of perspectives, and everybody was kind enough to entertain notions that were likely far removed from what they considered ideal.   I also want thank everybody for putting-up with my playing devil’s advocate.  My decision to do so stems from an Aristotelian ideal that states:

It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.

I think that the adoption of this sort of mindset is vital if we’re to solve what Mr. McKibben labels “the biggest challenge humans have ever faced.”  If we’re to succeed we must be well-informed, and we’re going to have to consider all of our options with an open mind.  I promised to provide proof that there are smart folks proffering solutions other than those advanced by Mr. McKibben, and they will be the subject of a number of upcoming posts.  To get the ball rolling in this direction, check-out my post on Stewart Brand’s wonderful Whole Earth Discipline, which is well-worth the time it will take to read it.  

  • Religious Roots of Planetary Plunder
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Science as Savior
  • Distributed Power
  • Nuclear Power: Panacea or Pandora’s Box
  • Vertical Farming


Bill McKibben’s Home Page

NPR On Point Interview

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

5 McKibben Must Reads

Bill McKibben is prolific with a capital P.  With that in mind, please allow me to share five of my favorite McKibben creations, which serve to illustrate the breadth of his work.

Deep Economy

The Global Warming Reader

Hundred Dollar Holiday

Long Distance

Wandering Home

Final Thoughts

the Fault In Our StarsOur next gathering is slated for April 15, 2013, and will feature John Green’s spectacular novel The Fault in Our Stars.  This will be the group’s first foray into the Young Adult genre, and I am quite confident that it’s going to be a smashing success.  Afterall, it comes highly recommended by Michelle “Gonna Be A Great Librarian” Lettus.  But don’t just take our word for it, check out Amazon’s enthusiatic summary:

“In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has created a soulful novel that tackles big subjects–life, death, love–with the perfect blend of levity and heart-swelling emotion. Hazel is sixteen, with terminal cancer, when she meets Augustus at her kids-with-cancer support group. The two are kindred spirits, sharing an irreverent sense of humor and immense charm, and watching them fall in love even as they face universal questions of the human condition–How will I be remembered? Does my life, and will my death, have meaning?–has a raw honesty that is deeply moving.”

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Whole Earth Discipline

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”
– Stewart Brand –

When I was a boy, I silently endured the endless garage sales my mother perused with great ardor.  I hated them until the day I discovered an oversized tome titled The Whole Earth Catalog.  It was the brain child of Stewart Brand, and I read it until it fell apart.  Thus began an intellectual bromance that endures until this very day.  Later on in life, I made a regular pilgrimage (an hour plus drive) to the nearest bookstore that carried his delightful but unfortunately now defunct journal Co-Evolution Quarterly.  In light of my confession, imagine my delight when I discovered Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist Manifesto.  Mr. Brand’s analysis of the romantic roots of environmentalism, support of genetically altered crops, and pro nuclear power stance are interesting to say the least.  Whether or not he’s “right” about these matters, he makes an incredibly compelling case.  What will you think?  I’ve read this one over and over.  I urge you to do the same.  Still not convinced?  The video above serves up an introduction to the books contents.  Let me know what you think.

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Special Event 5/6/2013

Crandall Public Library will show director Jeff Orlowski’s acclaimed new documentary Chasing Ice at 6:30 pm on Monday May 6, 2013.  The film will be followed by a short presentation and conversation with John Cerveny, an authority on climate change from the Al Gore Climate Reality Project team.

Chasing Ice employs time lapse footage taken over the course of a year by National Geographic photographer James Balog to document the shrinking of glaciers worldwide.  Stunning photographs from Montana, Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska make an abstract distant-seeming issue, as immediate and timely as Hurricane Sandy.  The film has been lauded by critics, both for its artistry, and the powerful message it conveys.  As one pundit professes:  “Astonishing cinematography and gripping narrative carry the viewer into reaches of the creation rarely encountered by any human. What we find there is beautiful beyond description and, disturbingly, disappearing. Everyone should see this film.”

Guest speaker John Cerveny’s frustration with conventional efforts to address climate change motivated his decision to become a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project team.  As he explains, “I feel like the issue is too important to allow it to be sidelined, ridiculed or ignored as it has been in the current political environment. Absent real leadership on the issue from our elected officials, my belief is that we need to tackle this as best we can by sharing the story and inciting action at all levels in every way possible.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. calls Chasing Ice “the smoking gun on climate change.”  Al Gore has stated that “The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to unleashing a global cultural movement demanding action on the climate crisis.”  What will you think?

The event is co-sponsored by Crandall Public Library and Tri-County NY Transition, a local grassroots group proactively addressing the challenges of global warming and fossil fuel dependency.  Sure to be thought provoking, the festivities begin at 6:30 in the Christine L. McDonald Community Room.

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Posted by Anne Nelson

Dorodango (literally “mud-dumpling” or “mud-ball”) are small lumps of mud that have been dried and then polished to a high shine and perfectly spherical shape. They tend to be between the size of a golf ball and a billiard ball, and they can very quite widely in color (it depends on the source of the soil), but it is the depth of the dorodango’s finish that makes it so intriguing. Dorodango are lovingly buffed until they are as smooth as marbles. The finish, however, has an interesting depth and luminosity that is often compared to the glaze on pottery or the patina on highly polished leather or wood. Dorodango are well known in Japan, where children have long crafted them at recess or after school. However, the art has become reinvigorated in recent years and many adults now practice the pastime as well: the hobby is meditative, cheap, and the time invested is rewarded with a lovely, one-of-a-kind conversation piece. Photographs of very sophisticated artisinal dorodango are easy to find on the internet, as are instructional videos like the one below.

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Nixie Tube Clocks

 Posted by Anne Nelson.  Photo courtesy of Antonw.Nixie Clock

The ubiquitous digital displays on alarm clocks, watches, cable boxes, calculators, and microwaves have been the same for decades: boxy, red letters on an LCD screen.  Since the 1970s, LCD displays have been ever-cheaper and (not coincidentally) everywhere.  Numbers are displayed by activating combinations of seven light-up segments.  Taken in groups, these segments can suggest a number or symbol, but it is impossible to form a curved line and so the display is fairly limited.  Before the LCD screen became widely available, the best way to make a digital display was with a Nixie tube.  Nixie tubes are glass bulbs containing layers of pre-shaped numerals (or letters, signs, or symbols) that can be displayed one at a time.  Although more tubes are required for applications in which several characters must be displayed at once (as in a clock), and the tubes themselves can be quite fragile, the display is more legible and aesthetically pleasing than that of an LCD screen.  Thus the Nixie display has come to have a fairly devoted niche following among electronics enthusiasts.  Although the sturdier, cheaper LCD display replaced the Nixie in technical and consumer products decades ago, hobbyists can still obtain unused Nixie tubes to use in their own DIY projects. Handmade Nixie clocks in particular have become beloved conversation pieces for many design-conscious electronics aficionados.

Daylight Savings Time begins this Sunday.  Don’t forget your clocks!

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