Tuesday, October 11, 2016

10 Questions: Columbus Day discoveries

I spent the Columbus Day weekend outside Columbus, Ohio, taking in the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival in Waynesville. It's a craft fair with an amazing amount of Ohio State gear, plus recipes from the local kraut cannery. Sauerkraut Jell-O was nowhere in sight.

Ohio is a battleground state, though yard signs mark this region as Trump country. Nevertheless, this was a no-drama weekend, even while watching the dispiriting Clinton-Trump debate with my inlaws. There was even spare time to assemble Columbus Day table topics for the week ahead.

Fun facts: Seattle and other jurisdictions mark Indigenous Peoples' Day instead. The 1893 Chicago World's Fair marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing. And reports of a Santa Maria shipwreck off Haiti for the most part have been discounted.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic:

  1. What's the New World you want to discover?
  2. What's your connection to other continents?
  3. Should Columbus Day continue as a holiday?
  4. Columbus sought a new route for the spice trade. What's your favorite spice?
  5. Turns out the Earth wasn't flat. How have you dealt with a mistaken idea?
  6. Tell us about your favorite journey.
  7. What was it like on the ship with Columbus?
  8. How do you plan a long trip?
  9. How would you deal with an unexpected visitor?
  10. What's the best result of Columbus' travels?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The curious increment of the blog at the right time

My gateway to the user experience was editing. In 20 years working on the internet, even as a designer I still think like an editor: I use my curiosity to make new connections.

Editors soak up inspiration indiscriminately, like a sponge. You can see this in sly headlines and pop-culture quotations. One day the musical “Hamilton” struts beyond the theater page. The next day, look for random references to Pok√©mon Go.

Our ability to connect seemingly unrelated element is a factor in our success, whatever we fall into. Maybe a critical factor: While few of us can stay in journalism, we keep searching for the next new thing. In my case, I haven't strayed far from publishing: I develop an association website, and start every weekday morning sending subscribers its news headlines.

Fans of the Mark Haddon novel shouldn’t read too much into this notion. Editors still have a fairly conventional view of the world. In this case, my wife was reading "The Curious Incident," and that started me thinking: What is it about editing that makes me at least incrementally better doing other things? Service designer Richard Verne brought a few of us writer-designers together for an IxDA Chicago panel this fall. Writers who fall into design and development fall back on many relatable skills. Working up my talking points, I thought back on the curious increment to my design portfolio.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Keep the unemployment line moving


Picture the number of construction workers. The workforce includes about as many involuntary part-timers.

Looking for confidence in the year ahead? Take heart in unemployment holding at 5 percent. Still, as statistics skeptic Ken Harrelson says, "Don't stop now, boys."

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress yesterday to expect "further improvement in the labor market." The unemployment report this morning doesn't quite back up CNBC's Fedspeak translation, "close to full employment."

One in 4 unemployed people have been searching for more than six months. For each of the nearly 8 million stories in the unemployment office, there are another 8 million tales of hanging onto the edge of the job market, settling for part-time work or abandoning the search entirely.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Lessons from a neighborhood dairy

The Leona's restaurant at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd. is due to be razed, and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks today recommended that the city allow the demolition. A staff presentation suggested the 1920s dairy did not fit the East Village district, showing slides of my Victorian block as proof. The building's piecemeal construction also counted against it.

I've lived for 17 years in East Village, but I grew up in Milwaukee, and my grade school was a converted dairy. Like this building, it was built in sections over time. The dairy was actually the school gym: I played basketball there, I had band practice, I tried to learn the foxtrot. It served well as a school, and taught me something about city history.

This building is remarkably similar in structure. It stands as a lesson in Eastern European settlement of the West Town community and the commerce that kept it running. When I go to Leona's I look at the bones of the building and I see more than a restaurant. To my to mind it contributes greatly to the East Village landmark district, and I encouraged the commission (in just these words) to keep it in place.

Our new alderman, Brian Hopkins, also spoke for preserving the building. He'll have another chance in the City Council to defend a local landmark.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Woodstripper's Ball [and Chain]


Jazz Age musician Bix Beiderbecke, patron saint of woodshedders and woodstrippers (Cliff Wirth / Chicago Sun-Times)

At the Chicago Sun-Times, I talked myself into taking over the Around the House column. After coming into the office every Monday morning with remodeling stories, my boss thought I should put my research to better use.

The great Les Hausner set the feature's first-person format, plus the frequent dashes and paragraph breaks. This installment is a sentimental favorite. It's for serious rehabbers: An out-of-town friend read the piece and asked me, "What was that all about?" But I still giggle over Cliff Wirth's illustration.

It's back to Sundays with Bix.

Bix Beiderbecke, the young man with a horn, on the radio. Bix woodstripper slowly melting the plastic tuning knob.

Like the Paul Whiteman Orchestra cornetist, this stuff could just about cut through brass.

On and off for a year, I would get fidgety feet long before the first downbeat of Dick Buckley's Sunday afternoon as program on WBEZ (91.5 FM). I'd be off the davenport and scraping paint off the woodwork in our pre-Beiderbecke rowhouse.

The stripper calls again this summer, like the trumpet trio in "San." A clothes chute that we liberated from behind a wall needs to go naked. Same for the white sheets of paint behind our bedroom doors, and the weathered green window frames that look like an alligator's backside.