March 2013

Review: Grandpa's Workshop by Maurice Pommier (Lost Art Press)

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Review of "Grandpa's Workshop" by Maurice Pommier (Lost Art Press)

Grandpa's Workshop cover (French version)Grandpa's Workshop was originally written in French, with the author describing much of, perhaps, his own family's history, as described to him by his own Pépère (grandfather). Maurice Pommier, and the translators at Lost Art Press, have created a wonderful book for children in the English speaking world to understand about family history, and how the professions and experiences of our ancestors come down to us in various ways.

Describing a visit to his grandparents home when he was a child, the author shares the stories his grandpa gives him about the tools in his workshop, and the little elves that live there. First popular in the woodworking community, I think this would be a wonderful story to tell any child, particularly by any grandfather who likes to tinker. There's magic in these stories, and humor . . . but also hints of past tragedies and real darkness. It looks into the history as seen by a family in the French countryside, which we must realize has at times been filled with hardship and times of war.

Logo Design for a Demanding Customer

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Red lotus logo elementI've done logos for a variety of people over the years, but it's always been a casual thing. Mostly they come to me because they don't want to pay a real graphic artist to come up with something.  The latest one is for my wife's burgeoning custom jewelry business. She needs a logo for her business cards, website, one sheets, etc.

Embarrassment for Others

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles movie posterYou know that feeling you get when someone on television does something really embarrassing, only they don't seem to realize it, but you feel embarrassed?  You don't? Well, some of us do.

My wife is always making fun of the fact that I get embarrassed for people on a show we're watching. I'll even leave the room if it goes on for a couple minutes. I used to think I was the only one who had this experience, until we realized that our son Liam has it, too.  That was slightly comforting, although I did feel a bit bad for passing along such a stupid trait to my son.  

I've always had this thing, whatever you call it. I remember watching movies back when I was a teenager, or in college, and shrinking down into the seat while other people were laughing at the antics on the screen. The John Candy/Steve Martin movie from the 80s 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles' was a particularly notorious example of this for me. The whole film was one uncomfortable situation after another. It's gotten worse in recent years as this form of humor seems to be more and more prevalent. Last week, my wife suggested we go see the movie "Identity Thief" because we both really like Sookie.  (OK, WE know her as Sookie from Gilmore Girls. Everybody else knows her as Melissa McCarthy.  She's Sookie, dammit.)  I said, "No! That's just Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with Sookie playing the John Candy role!"  My wife is used to me, and she's a saint, so she didn't even blink. 


I've found out that, although there is no word in English for this feeling, there is one in German. It's sort of the friendly cousin of shadenfreud. The Germans call it 'fremdschämen'. It's a Denecanome!  (A missing word)  There was a great posting about this a couple years back on the Quotulatiousness blog by an English guy named Nicholas. It's also listed as one of 14 words that don't exist in English on the Mental Floss blog. They also suggest the Finnish word Myötähäpeä for this concept. So I'm not crazy! There are others of us. However, I may have some sort of unknown German or Finnish ancestry I need to track down now.  (I kid, my family tree is of course liberally infested with Germans.) 

So, "Fremdschäm", is the feeling of embarrassment one feels at the actions of someone else, but NOT because something they do makes you look bad. It's purely an empathetic thing. The transliteration is not actually 'friend-shame', but I'm going to think of it that way. (That would be freundshäm.) A commenter at the Mental Floss site suggests that it's just something experienced by Capricorns, since they're such sensitive souls.  The fact that I think astrology is bullcrap unfortunately has no bearing on the fact that I am, in fact, a Capricorn. Dammit.

So if you're with a buddy or a spouse, and they slink out of the room when you watch an old episode of The Office, or they get red-faced while you are mightily enjoying the latest episode of American Idol or The Voice, it's because they're suffering from fremdshäm.   The fact that they were also likely born in late December or early January to either German or Finnish parents should not be mentioned. It'll just embarrass them more.

There oughta be a word . . .

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A missing thingFor many years now . . . it has to be going on 25 at least . . . I've thought that there ought to be a word in the English language for a thing or a concept with no name. It's the idea of something that doesn't currently have a word to describe it, but probably ought to.  Before we all knew that an aglet was that plastic piece on the end of your shoelaces, that plastic thing was one of these things, Then someone came along and invented the word. All right, it probably was a word in the shoe industry for decades, but nobody outside knew about it.  

But there are lots of examples of actual missing words. An infinite number,if you think about it. There are specific potential words about all of the things in the universe for which we have never even thought. What do you call the act of snowshoeing across the North Pole  . . . of Mars?  What do you call that glowing blue fish that only exists at the bottom of the Marianas Trench and only comes out every 10 years for mating, and which we've never seen? What do you call the top of your foot?  What do you call something that only looks good from far away? (I guess that one would be 'Layogenic' in Tagalog' (Thanks to Mental Floss for that one.)  What do you call that sudden desire to giggle when something tragic happens and your brain goes into shock and doesn't know how to react? What's the word for that mess created by a two year old when eating spaghetti? THAT should have a word.  'Mess' just doesn't do it justice. 

Professional Profile

For many years, I've worked as a 'word guy' in the IT industry. This involved about 20 years working as a technical writer, creating manuals, bulletins, help systems,  training materials, websites, and other documents to support a variety of products. These have ranged from online systems that process health insurance claims, machines that inspect glass bottles and other things as they speed by on assembly lines.

Book: Imager's Battalion by L.E. Modesitt

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Imager's Battalion coverNovel: Imager's Battalion by L.E. Modesitt. Book 3 of 5 in the Second Imager series.

The plot isn't terribly surprising. It's mostly linear and somewhat retreads territory the author covered in his Mage-Guard books. But I read Modessit mostly for his insights on the political machinations of human societies, and to see how a powerful character deals with the situations he faces. Queryt is one of the author's more balanced and generally likeable characters. Yeah, he's trying to accomplish something great, and since he has intangible power (imaging) he sometimes does truly awful things, but he never does it without realizing the costs, and his goals are truly admirable.

Campaign Furniture Designs for Seasonal Storage

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I was thinking. You know, with Chris Schwartz currently focusing on campaign furniture, it had me thinking about other, modern day uses for this kind of design ethos. My understanding of the style is that it is furniture designed of tough woods, but cut thinner than stationary furniture, so it won't be too heavy. It needs to be reinforced at the corners and the latches to withstand travel. It needs to provide compartments to efficiently store whatever the intended contents are.