Tidying Up Beyond Marie Kondo

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The KonMari Method of tidying up one’s life focuses on household possessions, but I’ve been thinking of ways of decluttering my mind, my routine activities, my computer, my physical and digital subscriptions, and what I own in the cloud. In the 21st century, ownership can be quite different from the 20th century, because many of the things we once physically held can be digitized. Then, there’s the whole issue of own versus rent – house v. apartment, car v. Uber, DVDs v. Netflix, magazines v. Texture, CDs v. Spotify.

I have many rooms in the cloud that need tidying up.

minimal1

For example, I have this blog at Auxiliary Memory, but I also have a traditional web site at a hosting service for The Classics of Science Fiction. That site has been static for years because I’ve forgotten how to program in PHP and MySQL. I’ve been meaning to update my data, but that would mean a tremendous amount of work. I recently moved the content from my web site to this site, and that has simplified things. I will soon be able to cancel my hosting service. One less bill, and one less room in the cloud to keep tidy.

My friend Mike and I are working to update the Classics of Science Fiction list. My first plan to simplify was to move from a hosted MySQL server to using Access on my local computer. Then Mike suggested we jettison the database and use a spreadsheet for our data. Even simpler. Then we decided to even jettison the spreadsheet, and keep the data in .csv text files that we process on the fly. Mike is writing a program that will generate HTML code for using on my blog. Once you take the tidying up process beyond mere possessions, it become obvious that clutter is everywhere.

Another way I could reduce the psychological clutter in my life is by focusing my writing. Right now I write about whatever idea grabs my fancy – often because I’m fascinated by everything. The trouble is I can put in hours of work on some ideas and get no readers, and for other topics get hundreds of hits. Auxiliary Memory could be greatly improved if I narrowed the topics I covered. This would spill over to my reading, documentary watching and thinking. I could declutter my mind by deciding which subjects I want to truly learn, and which I should ignore.

Marie Kondo has a lot to say about getting rid of books. For a bookworm, that’s very hard to do. One way I’ve cheated is to stop buying physical books when I can, and bought ebooks instead. Out-of-sight is out-of-mind. But now my Kindle library is becoming cluttered. The same thing has happened with my music. I ripped my CDs and put them in the cloud, but I mostly play music from Spotify, so I have three large libraries of music to deal with – physical, cloud and rented. If I committed completely to Spotify I could simplify things greatly. I got rid of about 600 CDs, kept 600 that were my absolute favorites, and have another 600 I’m trying to decide if I should keep or jettison. I only play CDs on rare occasions. I wonder if it’s time go completely digital?

I moved my photographs to the cloud, so I have two large collections – one physical, one in the cloud. Is it time to commit to just one?

I gave up cable TV years ago, but ended up subscribing to several digital services. I just canceled Hulu, Pandora and The Great Courses Plus. They are all great services, but ones I seldom use. I was also subscribing to several digital magazines through the Kindle. I canceled them. I’m torn about Texture. It’s $15 a month and lets me read 150 magazines, but I hardly use it. On the other hand, it lets me have access to magazines that would otherwise clutter up the house. Then again, maybe it’s time to give up magazine reading. I actually spend most of my journalistic reading via free web content on my iPhone. I subscribe to The New York Times on the web. It’s great content. But I often forget to read it.

I do worry that all this decluttering is impacting the economy. If everyone followed a Zen-like path of simplicity, the economy would go down the drain. Can we create a decluttered economy that provides jobs for all?

The biggest way I can simplify my life would be to sell the house and downsize. I’m tired of repairs and worrying about the yard. I’m tired of furnishing rooms we don’t use. I’d love to move to a retirement community where I lived in an apartment or condo without a yard, but I worry about noise pollution. I love playing my music loud, and my movies in surround sound, and I hate hearing neighbors. I’m sure they’d hate hearing me. I suppose to could live with headphones.

I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on moving, which means I need to keep tidying up this house. After Susan and I went through one phase of Marie Kondoizing, getting rid of several hundreds pounds of junk, we felt much better. But I think we could still jettisons hundreds of pounds more.

Once you start thinking about clutter, you see it everywhere.

JWH

Why Do We Fall In Love With The Past?

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 28, 2016

We explore the past through infinite paths. The past no longer exists, yet we recreate “what was” with artifacts that continue to exist in the now. We use our neurons as virtual reality machines to remember. Most of us have a rough map of our own life, and hazier maps of our own culture. Beyond those maps lie the unknown territory of the collective past, which we are all deeply rooted. We have all shook hands with someone who shook hands with a 19th century person, who had shaken hands with someone from the 18th century. I am old enough to have shaken hands with many people born in the 19th century. Every history book we read weaves thousands of threads that link us to a past.

Have you ever contemplated how we build the past in our minds? As individuals we use memories. We talk to other people and use their memories. Novels, movies, songs, television shows, paintings – are fundamental ways of recalling the past. Art is recorded memories. Think of cave paintings, probably among our oldest memories. Slowly, education and scholarship evolved to organize the details of the past. Whether you’re studying math or The New Testament, you’re recreating the past. The discipline of history isn’t that old in the big scheme of things. In recent times we have journalism and the internet to extend our sense of the past.

Whenever we play an old piece of music or see a work if art in a museum, it connects us to people, places and things who lived and died long ago. For example, I’m currently reading I Am Alive and You Are Dead by Emmanuel Carrère (19281982, San Francisco, Berkeley, Point Reyes, Santa Ana) a biography of Philip K. Dick. Or I recently saw The Revenant (1823, Montana, South Dakota) about Hugh Glass. I could link to dozen more movies and books I’ve recently seen that connect me to the past. Just follow those few links to understand how we network with the past, and how far and quickly that web of memory will carry you away. Trying to grasp the fullness of past is like falling into a black hole.

1920s - Dad's father on right - with parents and brothers - cropped

Here’s a photo of my father’s father, his brothers and their parents (my great grand parents). I know next to nothing about these people, and can only remember a couple of anecdotes. What would it take to learn about them?

The answer comes in a book I just finished, The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, who took a couple years out of his life to learn about his ancestors on his father’s side. This wondrous book will delight lovers of history, art and culture. There’s enough material here for six fascinating historical movies, and seeds for many more. The challenge here is for me to describe it in a way that will make you want to read it. It’s not a book for everyone, but it is a book for everyone that loves the past.

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

When I was young, I’d often hear or read that America had no old culture, not like the Europeans. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand what they meant. Except for a few mementos, like your granny’s quilt, or collecting antiques, we seldom dwell on our own heritage. We’re always thinking about the next new gadget to buy (as we throw away the old ones), or the next new show to binge-watch. Some Americans are into genealogy, but not that many. We generally embrace the pop culture of our teenage years, which we cherish our whole life, but few people branch from from there.

Edmund de Waal has written a book that succeeds in capturing a panoramic snapshot of his cultural heritage that spans three centuries. The Hare with the Amber Eyes starts off as a quiet unassuming memoir that slowly builds into an atomic explosion of multicultural history of art collecting. The story is anchored by a collection of 264 Japanese netsukes that came into his family in 19th century, and de Waal inherited in 21st. The book is set in Paris, Vienna, Odessa, Tokyo and London.

I have read this book for three book clubs now. It’s a challenge to explain its appeal. If you love art history, especially French Impressionism, or how Japanese art came to 19th century Europe and 20th century America, this book will appeal to you. If you like to read about Jewish history, especially about Jews living in Odessa, Vienna and Paris in the 19th and 20th century before WWII, this book will grab your attention. If you are fascinated by the American occupation of Japan after the war, the book has insights for you too. If you’re fascinated by Nazi art theft like The Monuments Men (the book, not the movie) and The Woman in Gold (the movie), then this book has stories for you. If you’ve ever tried to write your own families history and wondered what kind of effort it takes, then this book is for you. If you love the PBS shows Antiques Roadshow and Finding Your Roots, then this book is for you.

Most of all, if you’ve ever seen old photographs of your great grandparents and your great great grandparents and wonder what their daily lives were like, this book is for you.

I would be hard press to make a list of all the subjects de Waal touches upon in his small book. The frame of his story is to take his 21st readers back to the 19th century Paris to explain how his family first acquired the netsuke. His story begins in France as Impressionism is coming into vogue, which is concurrent with Europeans becoming obsessed with Japanese culture and art. The story then travels to turn of the century Vienna, past WWI, through the years between the wars, WWII in Europe, to the Japanese occupation by Americans, and then into the home stretch of this century. Along the way, The Hare With Amber Eyes encounters many famous people and events in 20th century history. If de Waal played six-degrees of separation, he’s only a few degrees from some very historical folk. Yet, de Waal current life is very unassuming. He’s an artist, a maker of porcelain. When heading into the past, you never know what you’ll find. Besides, we have four grandparents, eight great grandparents and sixteen great great grandparents. It gets pretty easy to make some marvelous connections.

My goal is to try and explain why I liked the particular details in The Hare With Amber Eyes, and that’s rather difficult. I’m not that into Japanese netsuke, although they are impressive little sculptures. There’s no reason for me to identify with de Waal’s genealogy, my family was nothing like his. What enchanted my reading is their love of art and culture. The book’s connections to 19th century Paris and early 20th century Vienna provides vivid details of what it’s like to be great patrons of art. The book gives me another side of the history of Impressionism – the buyers side. Charles Ephrussi, who originally bought the netsuke, was even painted into Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” Charles is the guy in the top hat. What a way to be remembered!

But why should I care about Charles? Reading The Hare with the Amber Eyes makes me wonder why I care about anyone in the past. But I do. We all do. Most of us are obsessed with the past. I keep looking at that painting above and wonder what it was like to have been at that party. In the book, the netsuke are touchstones to the past. De Waal owns them now, and the netsuke put him one degree from Charles and many of his relatives between the 1870s and now. They tie a family history together. De Waal focuses on three of his ancestors, and the cities that shaped their souls, Paris, Vienna and Tokyo.

I can’t think of anything I own that ties me to the past like that, other than photographs. I wonder how many hands have held that photograph of my great grand parents? My mother’s mother, Lou Dare Little, was born in 1881. She held my mother’s side of the family together for decades. She bore five daughters, which held the family together for several more decades. But now that only my Aunt Louise is still alive, the family seems to be coming undone. What de Waal shows with The Hare with Amber Eyes, is how history and art can sew a family back together. However, it took two years out of his regular life to accomplish that effort. My cousin Jane wrote a book many years ago that tied the descendants of Lou Dare Little together – at least for a while. How many of my cousins and their descendants will keep reading Jane’s book in the future? Will anyone from newer generations write another book? We don’t have anything like the netsuke to travel into the future, to get later generations to remember us. Or do we?

I’m not sure I’m accomplishing my goal here. All I can really say is read The Hare with the Amber Eyes, and let it convey what I want to say. It is a cornucopia of memory triggers. But also, every time you turn on your TV, or go to a movie, think about what you’re seeing is saying about the past. Whenever you read a book, have a family reunion, or go to an antiques dealer, think about how the past won’t let us go, or we won’t let it go.

JWH

Photographs I Wished I Had Taken

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, January 5, 2016

With smartphones, we always have a camera ready to snap a pic. Growing up my parents would only splurge for a roll of film on special occasions, like a cross-country vacation, or a big Christmas. Even after I moved out on my own, I seldom bought film. So I don’t have many photos from my first fifty years of life. Now that I’m getting older and my memory is going, I wish that I had pictures of people, places and pets that I never took.

For example, the other day I struggled to remember what the old Periodicals Department looked like back in the early 1980s, when I worked at the Memphis State University Library (now University of Memphis). I don’t know why I started thinking about this large room where I lived 8:00-4:30 with fourteen other people for six years. We had 15 desks crammed together. It was during my early thirties. We each had to work one night during the week and about every fifth weekend. I volunteered for Fridays since I was married. There was always a regular crowd of lonely folks hanging out at the library on Friday nights. Like the English professor who would visit for an hour ever Friday and tell me about his rare Bible collection or the rug factory his Lebanese immigrant family owned, or the hipster dude who came in like clockwork to read the Playboys, and called the Commercial Appeal the “commercial appall” – a joke I heard hundreds of times.

My memory has no images for their faces. Nor can I really see that workroom I spent so many years toiling away, typing up missing serial orders on a manual typewriter. I’ve search Google images in vain to find a photo of that Periodicals Department. One of the few times Google has let me down. I have fleeting mental fragments that I can’t put together into a whole scene. Like the rickety wood cart we kept the Commercial Appeal and Wall Street Journal on until we got them on microfilmed. They were the two most requested items at the desk, so we’d roll that cart up close to our stools. I also remember the two blond wooden tables that were shoved together to make one long work area for sorting the mail. We checked in hundreds of magazines and newspapers every day. I try to imagine, Rita, Jane, Mike, Barbara, Kitty, Pam, Floyd, Jack, Delores, Robert, Margaret, Carol, Susan and Mary at their desks.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about that room and those people. I left it thirty years ago and seldom thought about it since. But my mind wanders and memory fragments stab me, and the black holes trouble me. I guess that’s part of getting older.

I fantasize about a different life, an alternate history, of living with digital cameras since I was born back in 1951. I wish I had taken a photograph of every house I lived in, from all angles, and showing each room. I wish I had taken a photograph of every vacant lot and patch of woods I played in. I wish I had a photograph of every pet I own, and every friend I had, and every pet they owned. I wish I had photographs of every school I attended, with all my teachers, classmates and classrooms. I wish I had a photograph of every library, bookstore and record store I’ve visited. I wish I had pictures of every place I worked and everyone I worked with.

My father was in the Air Force and we moved around even more often than normal servicemen. My dad was a restless guy who volunteered to be relocated. We’d move to a new city, rent a house, start at a school, then buy a house, and switch to another school. I’ve lived in dozens of houses, and attended at least 15 schools before I got out of high school. I worked at a lot of different jobs starting as a paperboy at 12, and until I got married. But once I got married, I stayed at the same job for almost forty years, although I worked at a bunch of different departments, offices and buildings. Because I was the web photographer for our college in later years, I collected those pictures into a folder before I left. When I look into that folder so many memories are unleashed. I wish I had folders for every place I lived, studied and worked. I wonder what memories are buried in my head that would be released with the right photo to trigger them?

I’ve written about the ache for photos to help remember before, see “Homestead AFB Library 1962-1963.”

Generally, when we take pictures, we usually take pictures of people, or our pets. I have a fair number of those to comfort me. What I miss, are pictures of buildings, rooms, computers, radios, baseball gloves, stereos, cars, television sets, bicycles—all missing objects that now haunt me in their absence. I miss things. I miss places. I miss roads and paths. I miss trees and shrubs. I miss bookcases, books, record cases and records. My mind longs to see how things were shaped and laid out. I miss seeing down long tree lined streets or sandy paths through woods, that I walked and hiked.

I wonder how many visual vistas my brain has recorded. They pop up in dreams and sometimes when I’m awake. Could I learn to recall them? Our brains seem to have a compression algorithm that is very lossy. Or is that just a faulty recall mechanism. My dreams often seem of much higher resolution than my recalled memories during conscious moments.

If I had the photographs I wanted, would looking at them burn their limited views over my natural memories? This makes me wonder if I did have photographs of all these things, how would I organize them? How often would I look at them. Would they boost my ability to remember or make my memory processor weaker?

Young people growing up today with smartphones that can take pictures, videos and sound recordings. Will having huge libraries of external memories alter their souls? What will their nostalgia be like in 50 years? Will having so much external evidence make them into different people than we are now? Aren’t we different people from those who lived before photography?

1958 Jimmy-Patty-Becky-Jody-Christmas-1958

I can remember the Christmas above. It was one of the big ones. I don’t remember being so small though, nor my sister and her friends being so tiny either. We were giants back then. We were the King and Queen of our street. I led the Eagle Club, and my sister had her Please and Thank You Club. My sister Becky is the redhead, and that’s Patty Paquette flashing her underwear, and Jody playing with a flower pot. I wish Michael Kevin Ralph was in this photo. You can’t see the details in the grass, but that yard is full of stickers. This was Hollywood, Florida, 1959, and stickers were a big problem for us kids who loved to go barefoot. I had just turned eight. This was a new subdivision called Lake Forest, and only half the block was built. The sidewalk actually ended halfway round the block. We’d roller skate to one end of the sidewalk, and then skate back to the other end. It was wonderful when the built the other half and we could skate the whole block. Down the street was an empty lot, where Mike and I built a fort. It was a pit covered over with old branches, brown Christmas trees and abandoned boards. Later the Catholic Church conquered our fort. We should have fought harder.

If I kept looking at this photo I could write a hundred thousand words. A thousand is too few.

JWH – Essay #994

Why The Selfie Is Significant

I was in the middle of my physical therapy exercises this morning when I realized the significance of the selfie.  Most people think the selfie is silly, and so did I, until I realized how important a form of communication they were.  The selfie has reach the stage of pop-culture success that it’s now the subject of parodies.  It’s quite easy to dismiss the selfie as a narcissistic fad, but a flash of insight tells me that the selfie represents a breakthrough in language.

If you typed a text to a friend that said “I am at the beach” it conveys a certain amount of information.  But if you sent them a selfie of yourself with a beach and ocean in the background you’re sending them many magnitudes more information.  That old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words in quite true, and maybe even an understatement.  But the selfie goes beyond beating a few words with massive amounts of data.

pug at beach

Language is a code.  It’s symbolic.  Pictures are also symbolic.  They give the illusion of reality, but they aren’t.  But they are far closer to modeling reality than words.  And the most important aspect of the selfie is modeling the self – the I.  We all struggle throughout life to express ourselves, and we always fail.  We neither know ourselves, nor can we describe ourselves.  A photo does a pretty good stand-in, much better than words, especially if it also expresses action and place. 

If a photo captures an image of our self doing something in the moment it’s very close to expressing where we’re at.  Sure it’s not as deep as Proust, but it’s far better than the words the average person can express.  Not only does a selfie capture us in the moment, it becomes a much better memory than we can store by chemicals etching our neural pathways.

A selfie of yourself at the beach is proof that you were indeed at the beach, now, to your friends, and to yourself, in the future.

And I think the selfie portends more than that.  The history of the human race is really a history of language and information.  We didn’t become the crown of creation until we acquired language, but no matter how significant that accomplishment was, language has huge limitations as a form of communication.  Think of this way.  Let’s say you were at the beach and wanted to tell your grandmother about the experience.  You could send her a text, write a long email, call her on the phone, send her pictures or send her a videos of several events of your time at the beach.  Which mode of communication gives your granny the best sense of your time at the beach?

What smartphones are doing is allowing us to communicate in two new languages – images and videos.

Sadly, I’m not a smartphone person, or a selfie taker.  I live in the old world of words, and I realize I’m being passed by young people who speak in new languages that I have few skills at using.  Of course there are limits to every language.  Selfies show the outside of things, and even if they can infer a lot about our inner states, they can’t compete with words at expressing our thoughts.  I can’t help but wonder for those people who talk in selfies aren’t outer-world oriented.  One criticism I’ve read of the selfie is young people feel if they don’t have a picture of an experience it didn’t happen, that a selfie is a kind of proof they really did do something.

This is really a weird concept to explore.  It suggests that television and movies have influenced our sense of reality, so that if we aren’t in the picture or the video we’re not there.  It suggests our sense of self is shifting from inside our heads to the pages of Facebook, and that’s quite fascinating.

Some people have already begun to think of the selfie as an art form, but I’m thinking the selfie is a kind of language, one that communicates a sense of self, and says a lot about self image.  I don’t like my physical image, so I use an ugly dog as a stand in.  I see myself in words instead.

JWH – 8/17/14

Finding Vivian Maier–The Emily Dickinson of 20th Century Photography

This afternoon I saw a fantastic documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, about a person I’ve never heard of who deserves widespread fame.  Her name was Vivian Maier, and she was a nanny most of her life, and it wasn’t until she died that John Maloof, a young writer discovered she was also a photographer when he bought a box of her negatives at auction.  Vivian Maier, who was quite secretive about her private life, was not reclusive like Emily Dickinson, but she hide her art away, and the documentary even questions whether or not if Maier would have liked her pictures shown.  Maloof estimates he’s eventually accumulated 150,000 thousands of her negatives.  The documentary ends up being about many things, including Maloof’s tenacity of tracking down Vivian’s legacy and making it known.  He has her photographs on display in galleries around the world, and has published two art books of Maier’s work, with another coming out soon.

Maier died in 2009, and Finding Vivian Maier isn’t even the first documentary about her.  There’s another documentary, Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny’s Pictures, directed by Jill Nicholls for the BBC that was rereleased in the U.S. as The Vivian Maier Mystery.  Maier was also the subject of other short films, and many news reports and essays.  Her story is so great that it’s impossible not to retell.

I don’t think I can tell her story better than these films I’ve found at YouTube.  If you get the chance, see Finding Vivian Maier at the theater, because her photographs are beautiful blown up on the big screen.  Maier mostly took street photos in New York City and Chicago, but did take an eight-month round the world trip by herself.  The bulk of her photographs were taken in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and she captured a unique view of history.  Her photographs are gorgeously composed of daily life on the run.  Probably many of her subjects never knew they were being photographed.

I highly recommend watching these YouTube clips full screen.  Be sure and set the resolution to 1080p or 720p.  Maier also took many 8mm films.  These are interesting, but not beautiful like her black and white photos taken with a mid-format Rolleiflex camera.  Her Rollei photographs blow up on the big theater screens magnificently.  Maier also took color 35mm pictures too, but I like the black and white pictures best.  The film also shows huge crowds flocking to her exhibits.  I’ve love to go see them.  I’m surprised I’m so late discovering her, but then I think most people haven’t yet either.

Just look at the many images here.  The number of pictures taken is tremendous, and the variety of subjects is astounding.

Watching Finding Vivian Maier evokes all kinds of philosophical questions about art and life.  Why did she take so many photographs and not print or try to get them exhibited?  Like one documentary commentator said, for many of her images, the only time she saw them was when she pressed the shutter release, and even then she was probably looking at the scene and not the composing screen.

Maier is like the existential God who created the universe and then walks away from his creation.  Despite all the mystery surrounding Maier, it finally comes down to the art standing on its own.  Her images are captivating, haunting, riveting, compelling, and all the words you can imagine that say they make you want to look and look and look.

Vivian-Maier

JWH – 5/13/14

Are Young Women More Artistically Beautiful Than Other People?

If we were robots, with video camera eyes, everything in our visual field would be of equal value.  So, why do our brains light up when we see flowers, sunsets and young women?  Will we ever be able to program a robot to have a sense of beauty?

And if biology is the basis of beauty, why isn’t food and potential mates the only things we see as beautiful?  How did a sense of beauty evolve in our minds?  Does it serve a purpose?  Isn’t a sense of beauty one of our most motivating qualities?

I love looking at photographs.  I have a dual monitor setup and use John’s Background Switcher to display 8 photos on my desktops every 10 seconds, chosen from sites like 500px, Flickr and others.  This way I see scenes from all over the world, nature, animals, forests, oceans, lakes, mountains, stars,  buildings, bridges, and sometimes people.  What’s strange is for some sites, when they show people, 95% of the time it’s a young woman, probably age 18-25.  Now these are supposed to be art photos, not sex photos.  Why are young women more artistically appealing than other people?  Is there a reason other than sex?

Photographers do like taking pictures of other kinds of people, but even then the range is limited.  It’s cute kids, or very old people with tons of wrinkles.  (I assume wrinkles are very artistically inspiring, especially in black and white.)  But statistically, young women are the dominate subjects for photographs of humans.  Why do young women trigger the neurons that define beauty in our brains – more than any other object in reality?  I don’t know how woman and gay men rate the beauty of young women, but I often hear them talk about beautiful women, so it isn’t just us guys brainwashed into seeking sex objects.

It’s not news that young women appeal to photographers, but I’m wondering why.  Is it just sex, or are young women more aesthetically pleasing than other types of people, or even natural objects?  Can we ever see young women without our brain being distorted by sexual programming?  Aren’t flowers, sunsets, old cars, dogs and cats just as beautiful?  And if artistic photographs were mainly about sex, why aren’t women photographers uploading pictures of young men in equal numbers?  And what explains heterosexual women preferring to look at young women?  Why aren’t women’s magazines, and their ads, showing an equal distribution of women of all ages and sizes?

If you follow photography you eventually realize certain subjects are more popular than others.  Today’s amateur photographers are just amazing, equal to the best professionals just decades ago.  Just look at a site like 500px.com.

The annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue just came out, and it gets a lots of attention.  Why does it only show young women in swimsuits?  Why not older women, or men?  Sure sex sells, but why don’t we have a wider range of sexual stimulation.  It’s often said we are a youth oriented culture – is that because we define beauty by being young?  Is it possible to culturally reprogram ourselves so old men and women in skimpy bathing suits would be beautiful?

I think the photo above of Anna Bella is beautiful because of the woman, and because of the photographic composition, but could not a sixty-something woman have posed for the picture and the photo been just as beautiful if the picture had been composed for artistic reasons?  Or is lustrous hair and fair skill absolute aspects of beauty?

I think the picture of the pug dog below is beautiful.  I have no sexual attraction for dogs, and think pug dogs are ugly, but I think this photo is artistically beautiful.  However, most of the photos I think of as stunningly beautiful at 500px either have gorgeous nature scenes, or they are of young women.  However, if I put the picture of the woman above on the wall, my wife will think I’m a dirty old man, but think nothing if I put up a picture of a pug.

Even though I think pugs are butt-ugly, I think they are beautiful to look at.  What explains that?  Is cuteness an aspect of beauty?  It would explain all the pictures of puppies, kittens and kids.  How do we explain sunsets and flowers twisting our beauty sensors to 11?  How much do bright colors figure in our sense of beauty.  Think of fall trees.

Photography sites have billions of images of animals we find beautiful.  What makes them beautiful?  Not all animals are beautiful either.  Puppies are cute, but a mangy dirty puppy isn’t.   What makes one tiger stand out over another?  Why are flowers so beautiful, or rolling hills?  I’m sure there are thousands of books devoted to defining the philosophy of beauty, but shouldn’t it be obvious?  Can beauty be scientifically determined?  Or is it always something in the eye of the beholder?  How many things do we find beautiful?  Is it endless?

What moves us?  That tree on the bare hill has impact, especially against the spectacular sky.  What about the women below?  The picture is beautiful, but there’s something beautiful about the woman too, as if her rich life experience shines out.

Photograph Wharf Lady by James Nielsen on 500px

I’d like to know about the science of beauty.  If we ever built robots with artificial intelligence that were self-aware, and conscious beings like ourselves, will they have a sense of beauty?  And if they do, will what we think as beautiful overlap?  Has there been any studies trying to find out if animals have a sense of beauty?  Do dogs looking at people think some people are more beautiful than others?  Are their favorites young women?

And is beauty just visual?  Aren’t some smells wonderful, and others stinky?  Are some sounds lovely and others ugly?  Even textures and tastes have their aesthetics.

I keep an extra monitor going, not to have room for work windows, but to be constantly stimulated by beautiful scenes.  Every ten second I see four more images on my left that inspire me about this world and reality.  Lately, I’ve been most inspired by pug dogs.  I’m not a dog person, I’m a cat person.  But these weird little pugs have caught my attention.  By the way, I like the gray woman below not because she’s beautiful, but because her grayness contrasts beautiful with the dirt and rocks.  How can we possible explain why black and white is often more beautiful than color?  Whatever beauty is I haven’t a clue to explain it.

left screen1

JWH – 3/7/14

John’s Background Switcher 4.8

I love photos.  I also love making my computer desktop into a photo gallery.  I hate icons on my desktop – I want all the space for photos.  Over the years I’ve tried various desktop background switchers, but the one I’ve stuck to because I love it best is John’s Background Switcher.   Last month John Conners released version 4.8 which added two nifty features, Dropbox support and collages.

If you want to see photos from your collection on a regular basis, then I highly recommend John’s Background Switcher.

This is what my desktop looks like as I write this – my blog editor and the photos around it.

background-collage2

Normally I have John’s Background Switcher pick just one photo at the time, but I’m enchanted by the new collage feature and will stick with it for a while.  By the way, it’s teaching me I need to edit my collection better, and make sure all photos are turned properly.  And it mixes in family photos, with photos I collect and use for this blog.  That makes for some odd combinations.  And it also shows that some photos should be culled from the collection because they’re bad photos.  I have a nasty habit of keeping all shots because I think of them as history, but I need to think of photos as art instead.

This constant bombardment of the senses can be distracting, so sometimes I hide the photos by opening browser windows.  Or it’s easy to turn off JBS.  But usually I love being surprised and reminded by scenes of the past.  It’s like having floating memories on my desktop.  And I have it set to change every minute.  It’s amazing how many faces I recognize, and from any age in people’s lives.

background-collage6

What’s even more fun is setting this up with two monitors.  Sometimes I run the second monitor just for the photos.  The surprise of seeing certain photos can inspire my writing, or remind me I need to reconnect with people, and since I collect historical photos, it reminds me of other times and places.

One of my many retirement projects is organizing my photo collection.  Susan and I inherited her family photos and my family photos when our parents died years ago.  Plus I love to collect photos.  When I see a cool pic on the net, I snag it, and add it to a file called “Wallpapers” – which has sub-folders for many types of images.  I also like to collect images of book and album covers, and I’ve started collecting art pictures too, especially from  Colossal.  I’ll be writing more about my photo organization project in the near future.  I just wanted to promote the new version of John’s Background Switcher for now.

The program is only for Windows – although John has promised a Mac version,  and I’d actually like to see it on Linux too.  The advantage of John’s Background Switcher, besides it’s many configuration features, is it lets you link to many popular photo sites to get random images from other people.  These include Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Facebook, Vladstudio, SmugMug, Picasa, etc.  This is great because there are so many amazing amateur photographers out there.  However, I must warn you, if you use this feature at work, sometimes photos will pop up that might be embarrassing – like some beach babe when the boss is in your office to give you a new task.  People often came to my office would stare at my monitor, and not look at me when they were talking.

JWH – 1/13/14