Archive for the 'Arts & Culture' Category

Revisiting my paintings

Thursday, August 25th, 2005
Self-Portrait 1995

Self-Portrait 1995,
originally uploaded by eszter.

Uploading pictures to my Flickr account is a nice little walk down memory lane. Occassionally I’ll be adding photos of paintings I did, for the most part, many years ago. Here is a self-portrait, the only one I’ve ever done. In case you’re wondering why the look is so intense, try painting a self-portrait sometime.;-)

I took a few studio art classes in college. I started with a course called Design I. I had a great time and then pursued some other courses as well. My most productive year was in Geneva where I took a year-long course at the Geneve School of Fine Arts. Although regular students of the University of Geneva could not enroll in those courses, Smith College – on whose junior year abroad program I was taking part – usually managed to make special arrangements for us. It was a wonderful experience. My teacher, Aldo Guarnera, pushed me to paint on huge surfaces I would never have considered approaching on my own. It was quite a challenge. Here are some of the results.

Photo sharing

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

The photo-sharing site Flickr has come out with some nifty features recently that make it even more fun to browse pictures on the site than before. Beware, there are hundreds of thousands of photos to see, and more ways to navigate the Web site than before so a simple click can take you away from whatever it is that you were doing for longer than what you might expect. Of course, just like with blogs and many other things, there is a lot of uninteresting mediocre material. But there are also great pictures to view. To help find these, Flickr came out with the interestingness feature. To figure out what gets highlighted in this section, they are using “a ranking algorithm based on user behavior around the photos taking into account some obvious things like how many users add the photo to their favorites and some subtle things like the relationship between the person who uploaded the photo and the people who are commenting (plus a whole bunch of secret sauce)”. There is a calendar feature that lets you browse the interestingness category by day.

Another new feature is their clustering of tags. First, let me take a step back for those who are not familiar with the service at all. When users upload photos to the system they can tag them with descriptors such as name of location, type of event, etc. Photos across the entire site can be viewed by tags. Say you are interested in viewing photos of Chicago. There are over 70,000 photos tagged with “chicago” so you are likely shown many that are not of interest. Tags in and of themselves are only so useful since someone may tag all their private party photos with the name of the city in which the party took place, but that won’t be of much interest to someone looking for pictures of the urban landscape. This is where the new clustering feature comes in handy. For popular tags, the system now offers you related tags so you can be sure that you’ll be viewing pictures of the Chicago skyline, buildings or Millennium Park if that is what’s of interest. (Note that when looking for something specific, it’s worth checking alternate spellings/specifications. For example, you’ll get more pictures of Millennium Park under the misspelled tag milleniumpark than under the correct spelling millenniumpark.)

Some basics about Flickr: anyone can create a free account, which comes with the ability to feature 200 photos organized in up to three sets with a 20MB upload limit per month. For $24.95/year you get much more (unlimited storage, 2GB upload limit, no ads, etc.). You can add contacts and specify them as acquaintances or friends. When you upload photos, you can specify them as public or restricted to your contacts. You can join communities based on interest and affiliation. You can mark photos as your favorite and find them easily later. You can add notes to photos. You can leave comments on people’s photo pages. It’s a neat service, I recommend giving it a try.

When you upload photos, you can either reserve all rights or specify a Creative Commons license for them. Although many people – especially those who seem to be pros – reserve all rights, many do not. Thanks to the Creative Commons licenses, the site offers great illustrations for those in need of adding some photos to other sites, presentations or whatnot without worrying about copyright infringement.

I really enjoy browsing the site aimlessly, but I also appreciate viewing pictures from people to whom I have some connection. So if you happen to have a flickr account, how about posting a link in the comments? My album is here.

Project Gutenberg

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

It is nice to be reminded of great online resources. Via comes a link to the Australian Project Gutenberg outfit. Project Gutenberg (U.S. link) is a collection of eBooks available online for free. These are books that are now in the public domain and volunteers have prepared them for online availability. Over ten thousand works are on these sites, they’re worth a look!

Networks and tastes

Monday, February 7th, 2005

This on CT.

Retailers such as Amazon and Half use social network methods applied to people’s previous purchasing behavior and demonstrated interest to figure out what other items users may want to buy. MovieLens is an interesting example of a non-commercial service that uses information provided by the user about his or her movie preferences (ratings of movies already viewed) to suggest what additional movies may be of interest to the person based on the movie evaluations of others who exhibit similar tastes. Music Plasma suggests what artists are close to each other based on style and epoch. Unfortunately the site doesn’t tell us much about the underlying methodology.[1] Unlike MovieLens, it seems to rely on information about the position of artists in the network based on shared genre and era to make recommendations (i.e. display linkages) instead of relying on listener feedback about shared tastes. I’d be curious to hear about other similar services resembling any of these approaches. For those interested in visualizations of this type, the search engine Kartoo and the Virtual Thesaurus may also be of interest (the latter is quite restricted for non-subscribers though and I have never been able to access enough of it to be particularly impressed). For more on visualization of networks and an explanation of social network analysis basics, see

fn1. A few months ago I contacted them for more information, but got no response.

Jerry Orbach dies

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

This on CT.

Jerry Orbach, star of Law & Order for many seasons, died last night of prostate cancer. Just last week NBC rebroadcast his last episode in the series. Even though he had left the show, he was taking part in the production of the new upcoming spinoff “Law & Order: Trial by Jury”, which will start airing in 2005 with Orbach performing in three episodes.

Kasey Chambers in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004

This on CT.

I should’ve posted about this earlier, but it’s not too late for those in New York, Milwaukee, Chicago and St.Paul/Minneapolis. The Australian singer Kasey Chambers is touring the U.S. I’ve seen her in concert twice already and it’s an experience not to be missed.

There is nothing obvious about my interest in her music. Less than two years ago a friend of mine asked whether I’d go with her to a concert. I asked her what type of music and when she mentioned “country” in her response (that included references to some other genres as well) I just said “no thanks”. My friend persisted and lent me the CD Captain. I liked it enough to ask for more and then listened to Barricades and Brickwalls. I was sold.

We saw Kasey in Philly in 2003, but she was coming down with the flu so she couldn’t sing all the songs she’d planned. Right after she stopped her tour. As unfortunate as this may seem, we were lucky because this meant that she resumed her tour a few months later in New York. So I got to see her again. And had my dissertation defense not conflicted with another one of her concerts, I would’ve gone to see her one more time.

Luckily, she’s visiting Chicagoland this time around. I’ve even managed to convince five friends to come with me (it actually didn’t take that much convincing). I just bought her Wayward Angels CD so I’m ready for all the new songs as well. Apparently she’s quite a big hit in Australia (others here are better equipped to address that) her popularity in the U.S. still seems limited. Oh well, that just means better seats for those of us who’re interested.:)

Digital culture

Monday, October 25th, 2004

I just returned from a workshop held in Santa Clara, California by the Digital Cultural Institutions Project of the Social Science Research Council where I was a fellow this summer. I met some very interesting people working on important projects regarding digital culture (broadly defined) mosty focusing on how the particular ways in which content is presented and made available to users in digital form may influence the ways in which people are then able to use said content. It is clear from the presentations and discussion that we are facing some huge challenges when it comes to retaining the rights of users to interact with digital cultural projects the way we have been used to in the past (one case in point: Digital Rights Management).

There was one quite amusing component of the meetings. On Thursday, as part of introducing the fellows to each other, we went to San Francisco to check out The Zeum and the virtual arcade at the Metreon. I had never played virtual bowling before nor tried dance dance revolution. It turns out that both are really fun and make for a serious work-out.

Writers Block in Princeton

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

I was in Princeton last week for a few days and had the good fortune to make it in time to view the temporary sculpture garden called Writers Block. The sculptures pay tribute to various Princeton authors and artists. There are just a few days left to go visit it before the pieces will be auctioned off.

I love sculpture gardens and my favorite in that domain remains the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Around the Web in 80 minutes

Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

A few noteworthy items as I catch up with other blogs.

  • Fox News in Arizona suggested in a report (aired twice) that students are committing an “unintentional felony” by registering to vote where they attend school. Hat tip Ms. Musings who provides helpful additional materials on the subject.
  • Ross reminds us that this is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and he is featuring question boxes in the upper left corner of his blog all month with helpful information.
  • From The New York Daily News (hat tip: ionarts):
  • Mayor Bloomberg had little sympathy yesterday for New Yorkers who find the new $20 admission to the Museum of Modern Art a bit steep.
    “Some things people can afford, some things people can’t,” said Bloomberg, whose estimated personal fortune is $4.9 billion.

  • Benigni is shooting a “comedy” about Iraq. (Hat tip: Nomad via Dove’s Eye View)
  • Productive use of email (?)

    Thursday, September 30th, 2004

    I just heard a song on the radio that reminded me of the year I spent in Geneva my junior year in college exactly ten years ago (* gasp *). How could I forget the familiar lines we used to listen to all the time.. “I’m the lyrical gangster, excuse me mister officer.” (from Here Comes the Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze) Oh, the days…

    I decided to email the group of friends with whom I spent that marvelous year. Within minutes I received a couple of responses with the full lyrics and someone even offering to bring the song to our upcoming reunion. These friends were also “thanking me” for getting the song into their heads to the extent that they can’t stop singing it now. I find it amusing to imagine these friends sitting in their offices across the globe, from the State Department to grad student carrels, from embassies to law offices singing “naa-nanananaa-nanananaa-nananaa-nanana”.

    Thanks to email, the dissemination of that important little phrase took only a few minutes!

    Favorite first line – music version

    Thursday, September 9th, 2004

    Matt Weiner over at Opiniatrety puts a musical spin on the question of favorite opening hooks by exploring “the greatest first lines of record albums”. Songs usually either grab me in their entirety or they don’t speak to me much at all so although there are lines I really like, they are rarely first lines. I guess by the time you realize whether you like the first line of a song you are half way through the entire piece so perhaps the effect of that first segment is not as important as it may be for a book. In any case, I thought you might enjoy heading over to Matt’s blog and discussing favorite first lines of songs. There are also a couple of people who comment about first lines of movies in response to the book post. Oh, the possibilities…:)

    Favorite first line?

    Wednesday, September 8th, 2004

    I just came across an interesting site called Opening Hooks, “a collection of literary beginnings”. The creator of the site explains:

    Chip Kidd once said, “A good book cover makes you want to pick it up. End of story.” More often then not, however, a gripping first sentence or paragraph prevents you from putting it back down. The opening hook. It’s a simple concept, reading is linear, time is finite. What keeps a reader reading is the opening hook.

    I don’t have any particular memories of special opening hooks, but browsing through the site’s data base I came across this one: “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” – Yup. I think this one qualifies as a good opening hook. Unfortunately, when I first read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis I attempted to do so in its original. Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt. Perhaps understandably, words such as “Ungeziefer” – or insect – are not part of one’s basic foreign language vocabulary lesson so I’m afraid I had a hard time fully appreciating some of the nuances – huh, some of the basics! – during my first attempt at the novel. Let’s just say I probably spent more time flipping through the dictionary than the book. But reading the sentence in English on that site brought it all back and I do think it qualifies as a good opening hook. I suspect others around here who are much bigger literature buffs than I am will think of candidates for their favorite opening lines without having to go to their book shelves (or browse an online data base).

    Hat tip: Matt Read.

    Happy Arrival Day!

    Tuesday, September 7th, 2004

    Today we celebrate Arrival Day, the 350th anniversary of the first Jewish immigrants’ arrival in New Amsterdam (today’s New York City) on September 7, 1654. The Head Heeb has been preparing for this event for over a year. He explains:

    Arrival Day is a holiday of the American Jewish people rather than the Jewish religion – a celebration of the Jewish community and its contributions to the United States. As such, non-Jews as well as Jews are welcome to join in the celebration. In the wise words of Ikram Saeed, everyone is Jewish today, just as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

    A month ago I participated in a wonderful wedding that offers the perfect story for Arrival Day. I share with you the details of this wedding as a celebration of Jews from all over the world coming together in the United States.

    In early August I returned to Princeton for the wedding of two friends. I had met both the bride and the groom even before they met each other. There is something extra special about friends coming together in that way. The bride had been an undergraduate Sociology major at Princeton (the department in which I got my graduate degree) and once started talking to me in the department’s mailroom after having heard me speaking in Hungarian with someone. Although she grew up in Manhattan, her parents are Hungarian from Transylvania (now Romania) and she, too, speaks the language. The groom and I started our graduate training at Princeton the same year and hung out in the same social circles from close to the beginning of our years there. He is from Australia. The two of them met as a klezmer band was forming at Princeton. They are both music lovers and amazing musicians. Music and their Jewish cultural heritage seemed to bring them together. And now they are a wonderful Jewish couple from different ends of the globe living a life together in the United States. The wedding was marvelous with friends and family of both the groom and the bride putting on amazing musical performances the night before the ceremonies.

    There are several reasons why I live in the U.S. and although no one factor is fully responsible, one contributing reason is that no matter how people try to downplay it, anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe. I prefer to live in a country where I do not have to be on my guard all the time about being Jewish. (I realize experiences must vary across the U.S., but this is my experience having lived in seven states in rural, suburban and urban areas and I appreciate it.) At my friends’ wedding, Jews and non-Jews of numerous backgrounds came together to celebrate in the joy of two wonderful people. In my mind, this story is the perfect tribute to Arrival Day.

    The Head Heeb will be linking to posts that celebrate Arrival Day through the day to be sure to hop on over to his blog for pointers.

    Modigliani in NYC

    Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

    I saw the exhibition Modigliani: Beyond the Myth at The Jewish Museum in New York this week. I highly recommend it, it is a wonderful exhibit. (It|AMP|#8217;s only on until Sept 19th so don|AMP|#8217;t delay.) There was a twenty minute wait in line, apparently much more reasonable than a few months ago. The experience was definitely worth the wait.

    One nice thing about shows that focus on the entire career of an artist is that you tend to learn more about an artist|AMP|#8217;s background than possible through just a few pieces mixed in with works by others. Modigliani died at the age of 34, but created quite a bit during his short life. Before learning about this exhibition, I had no idea that Modigliani was Jewish. One may wonder why that matters, but given the anti-Semitism he encountered once he moved to Paris, and given that much of his work focused exclusively on portraitures and an exploration of identities, it seems this part of his identity would be important for understanding his work.

    Another thing I did not know about Modigliani is that he had worked as a sculptor as well. In fact, it sounds like had it not been for his poor health and the difficulty in obtaining the raw materials for his sculptures, he would have done more with that medium (and it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t). A propos sculptures, as I was looking at some of his sketchings of caryatids I started wondering about the influence of Brancusi on his work. Taking a few steps I was at the sculpture section of the exhibit, and learned that Modigliani had met Brancusi in 1909. Lucky for those in NYC, there is a Brancusi exhibition at the Guggenheim right now just a few blocks from The Jewish Museum also on until Sept 19th. (I cannot vouch for that show as I did not go see it having already seen a Brancusi exhibition in both Paris and Philly years ago, but I suspect this one is similar and thus worth seeing.)

    I loved the way the pieces were laid out in the exhibit. I looked at the following three pieces right next to each other for several minutes taking a few steps back: The Italian Women, 1917; Lunia Czechowska (La femme a l|AMP|#8217;eventail), 1919; and Paulette Jourdain, 1919. (Unfortunately, I can|AMP|#8217;t find the middle piece online nor in the exhibition book. Otherwise I|AMP|#8217;d try to recreate the effect here. There are several variants with that name, the one I am looking for had a strong red background, which was in beautiful contrast with the other two pieces surrounding it.)

    After the Modigliani show I decided to take a look at the permanent collection as well. The material is interesting and diverse with a focus on different historical periods, parts of the world and types of materials. One of my favorite sections was the collection of menorahs on the top floor (especially the modern versions).

    Play: Placebo Sunrise (& The Tipping Point – take III)

    Saturday, June 22nd, 2002

    I saw an off-off-Broadway show yesterday (in reality it was just half a block off Broadway, but this isn’t about geography) called Placebo Sunrise. I can’t fully tell you what it was about, but it was certainly entertaining and different. The stage was not the usual, instead, it extended into the distance in front of the audience as a hotel/resort hallway. There was a lot of great movement with the characters coming in and out of doors and side hallways. The use of the stage was incredible and the actors were great at creating certain ambiance without too many props. I also appreciated the use of dance in this piece. It seemed more like a parody and was acted out in a non-chalant way, but in fact, there was some serious dancing.

    So what about The Tipping Point, you ask. Curiously enough, the second half of the play started with a section that sounded extremely familiar. I have now checked and yes, one of the main characters discusses an idea that is also covered at length in The Tipping Point (pp.177-180.). It’s an argument by anthropologist Robin Dunbar about how the size of humans’ brains is related to the complexity of their social circles. The focus is on the size of the networks and their exponential growth depending on how many people you know. (In fact, this is where the 150 rule comes from that I have already discussed earlier in my comments on the book.) I won’t ge into it in detail, Gladwell recommends the following for a good summary: R.I.M. Dunbar. 1992. “Neocortex Size as a Constraint on Group Size in Primates” Journal of Human Evolution. vol 20 pp.469-493.