architecture (24)
on location (19)
random thoughts (955)
staff (22)
the design life (253)
the writing life (312)
blog archive

Poetry Break

Li Po

you ask my purpose
roosting in jade peaks
smiling yet without reply
heart at self ease
peach blossoms running water
sundown blazes away
having another sky & earth
not among humans

A Melodrama of Money

The headline of Matthew Shaer’s article over at Vulture says it all. “The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’: Or, How to Turn a $1,000 Art-Auction Pickup Into a $450 Million Masterpiece” is an astonishing glimpse into provenance and restoration – and how to market to the “new and not very well-informed global superrich.”

What’s Another Word for Thesaurus?

“Occasionally one makes use of [Roget’s Thesaurus],” wrote Simon Winchester back in 2001. “But one never, never relies on it to help with the making of good writing. It may be used once in a while, to jog the memory, to unstall a synaptic moment. But it should never be trawled through or mined; its offerings should never be taken and transfused into a paragraph as relief for emptiness of thought.”

While B. D. McClay admits that a thesaurus can, indeed, be “a trap for the unwary,” she believes there’s a far worse problem: people unwilling to explore our glorious language for fear of appearing foolish or pretentious. “[T]hey either stay within the bounds of a safe vocabulary,” she writes, “or (if they are a certain business-managerial type) cope by inventing hideous new words. Fear of the thesaurus has unleashed horrors a Chthonic god could only dream of, like synergy and incentivize.”

I think I’m in love.

My own well-worn copy of Roget sits on a nearby shelf – just within arm’s reach – between Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable and The Chicago Manual of Style. I’m obviously not as smart as Mr. Winchester (nor as good a writer), because I honestly cannot imagine doing what I do without it.

And I’m totally fine with that.

Big Announcement

With the recent release of Helvetica® Now, some of you have been wondering what this means for helveticka.

Glad you asked.

We’re pleased to announce that the new, improved helveticka NOW! will open for business May 1. Just like the font, “every character” in our firm “has been redrawn and refit”; our aim “to be more sophisticated and graceful.”

So: CK has agreed to limit his customary cursing to fewer than two F-bombs per client meeting. Linda will actually read the articles in the New Yorker – not just the cartoons. Shirlee is removing all most of the camouflage from her wardrobe. Courtney will no longer drink before 2 p.m. And Skooch is trading his Flamin’ Hot Cheetos for the more upscale Trader Joe’s Spicy Cheese Crunchies.

As for me, well…management determined that no improvement was necessary.

“I feel the need…the need for speed!”

I don’t get particularly vexed over politics. I don’t complain about the weather. And even though millennials should all be rounded up and fired into the sun, it’s not like I get angry about it.

In other words, I’m a pretty easygoing guy.

Until I get behind the wheel and some jack-wagon is in front of me going less than five miles an hour over the speed limit. That’s when a completely irrational, white-hot rage takes over. Words that would make a sailor blush issue forth with reckless abandon as I wish ill upon the driver and his family. “Why me, God?” I scream as I shake my fist at the sky, “Why have you abandoned me to such a cruel fate?”

So, really, I’m a jerk. But it’s not my fault! Society is to blame – specifically, its relentlessly fast pace. “Things that our great-great-grandparents would have found miraculously efficient now drive us around the bend,” writes Chelsea Wald. “Patience is a virtue that’s been vanquished in the Twitter age.” Basically, she says, our internal clocks are out of whack, “stretching out the wait, summoning anger out of proportion to the delay.”

Swell. Another thing to worry about.

Waxing Nostalgic

Several years ago, Pitchfork ranked the top 100 albums of the 1980s. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good assessment, but they’ve since decided to revisit the topic – because the original “represented a limited editorial stance we have worked hard to move past; its lack of diversity, both in album selections and contributing critics, does not represent the voice Pitchfork has become.”

Normally, that sort of flapdoodle would be enough to send me in the opposite direction. I mean, diversity? Who cares? It’s either good music or it isn’t. But since they decided to double down and name the top 200 albums of the decade, well…I couldn’t not click on the link, obviously. And I’ve got to admit, it’s a better list. See what you think.


Over at the New Yorker, Douglas Preston writes about a young paleontologist who “may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth.”

Let us now praise the humble pigeon.

Six months after Germany’s surrender brought an end to World War II in Europe, 31-year-old historian Hugh Trevor-Roper was charged with putting the kibosh on rumors that Adolf Hitler was still alive. And though “[t]he theater in which the action took place was closed; the actors were few and known; there were no seats for the public or the press; no reviews; no bulletins,” his account of the regimes’s last days has yet to be challenged. Unless you count this.

Dostoyevsky: patron saint of hitchhikers?

We’re doomed.


Larry Silverberg, a dynamicist at North Carolina State University – and an expert in the modeling of physical phenomena – has been studying free throws. For 20 years. And he’s learned that a successful free throw comes down to four factors:

First, and most important, is the speed at which you release the ball. It’s also the most difficult to master.

Second is shooting straight. I know, you’d think that’d be at the top of the list, but apparently not.

Third is release angle. According to Silverberg, the best angle of trajectory falls somewhere between 46 and 54 degrees from the horizon, depending on how tall you are.

Fourth? Backspin. Three backward rotations per second, to be precise.

All of which points to the most important of Silverberg’s findings: If you want to be a Steve Nash-level free-throw shooter, all you’ve got to do is practice.

Abandon all hope…

“Hell,” Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, “is other people.” I think he may have been on to something.

But is it? In Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Torment, Marq de Villiers argues that hell is “just a state of mind, a radical separation from god,” and that the very idea of hell has fallen out of favor – even among the faithful. Michael Coren has more over at The Walrus.

Heck, maybe hell is just way more prosaic than fire and brimstone and eternal wrath. Like the kind of place where the peanut butter jar is perpetually empty and the radio station is only tuned to Bon Jovi. That’s some serious torment.


It took Estelle Betzold Doheny nearly 40 years to acquire a Gutenberg Bible. Yet when it finally arrives, “she resists the impulse to rip into the box, leaving it untouched overnight so she can open it with appropriate ceremony the next day.” And I get peeved when Amazon is late.

Michael J. Agovino sees some similarities between jazz and soccer. Eh…maybe.

“It is highly unlikely,” writes Bo Winegard, “that any political party has a monopoly on truth.” There’s a lot to like about the centrist manifesto he published a couple of years ago. Like this:

The past is like an old, unused, and rotting library; the books are full of wisdom, but the building is ruined by insects and decay. The conservative wants to keep the library; the centrist wants to keep the books; and the progressive wants to burn the whole thing down and start over.

Larissa Diakiw visited Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery – the “Disneyland of Death” – and she has some thoughts.

Scott Walker, who “started as an icon and only grew more human,” has died. Pitchfork weighs in on his legacy. (Side note: Soused, Walker’s 2014 collaboration with Sunn O))), is one of the most terrifyingly beautiful albums of recent memory.)

Music Monday

Been listening to some new-ish stuff I picked up in Portland a couple of weeks ago. David Torn’s Sun of Goldfinger (2019) is unlike any of his previous ECM releases. Mary Halvorson continues to dazzle on Code Girl (2018), which features Amirtha Kidambi on vocals. Ólafur Arnalds’ re:member (2018) is gorgeous (likewise Silent Light, last year’s solo offering from guitarist Dominic Miller). The Pineapple Thief’s latest, Dissolution (2018), is the first with new drummer Gavin Harrison, formerly of Porcupine Tree and still touring with King Crimson.

Less new to the rest of the world but new to me: Tim Hecker’s Harmony in Ultraviolet (2006), Ulver’s Wars of the Roses (2011), and Steve Reich’s Four Organs • Phase Patterns (1971), all of which offer varying degrees of awesomeness.

As for what I’m looking most forward to this year, well…this is gonna be pretty amazing. No idea when it’s due to drop, though.

Now and Then

In January 2014 helveticka moved to its current location – a 1930 building that’s housed a number of tenants over the last 89 years. In fact, just before our arrival, it was home to Johnston Printing, a family-owned offset printing operation we’d used for more than 30 years. Back in the 40s, though, P-W Trailer Supply Co. did business here.

Thanks to the prolific commercial photographer Charles A. Libby, images of P-W’s handiwork were captured in 1941. Today, we have access to 150,000 of his negatives – a fifth of which are available digitally – at the Joel E. Ferris Research Archives of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. We’ve tapped into that collection on more than one occasion for our exhibit-related projects.

Poetry Break

W. S. Merwin*

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

*Merwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, recipient of the National Book Award, and 17th United States Poet Laureate, died last Friday at the age of 91. “Separation” was published in the January 1962 issue of Poetry magazine. 


Planning a summer vacation on the Oregon coast? Maybe you should have a Plan B.

“Roughly 100 miles off the West Coast,” writes Michael J. Totten, “running from Mendocino, California, to Canada’s Vancouver Island, lurks the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca Plate is sliding beneath the North American Plate, creating the conditions for a megathrust quake 30 times stronger than the worst-case scenario along the notorious San Andreas, and 1,000 times stronger than the earthquake that killed 100,000 Haitians in 2010. Shockwaves will unleash more destructive force against the United States and Canada than anything short of nuclear war, a giant asteroid strike, or a civilization-threatening super-volcano.”

It’s not a question of if, but when. And we’re definitely due. Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, says it’ll be “the worst natural disaster in American history,” with conceivably more American deaths in a single hour than an entire decade of the Vietnam War.

“Three urban areas,” adds Totten, “home to millions of people across an international boundary, will be more cut off from the civilized world than even the wilderness areas. They’ll be Walking Dead landscapes, minus the zombies.”

“The Great PNW” my arse.

Etymology Wednesday

This is pretty cool (and by “cool” I mean fun for word nerds and, for everyone else, a painful reminder that word nerds exist): “How we got the terms postlude, prelude, and interlude.”

As you may have guessed, they’re all related to lude, an obsolete English word that traces all the way back to 1694 – which, in turn, has its origins in Latin. Curious, I looked up allude, collude, delude, and elude, and, sure enough, it’s the same root.

As for Quaalude, well…the jury’s still out.

back to top    |     1 2 3 4 5 102     |    archive >