I written many times before that I like to find family photos that encapsulate a feeling — a time and place, a moment in our collective lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite photos of this summer.
Technical note: this was only possible with a water resistant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with previous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is courtesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode. It’s not perfect: zoom in and there’s some distortion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid background of the slide and on bottom where there are artifacts in the contrast with the far background of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imaging works.
The most popular post on my blog, year after year (and now decade after decade), is a 2005 piece on baby names: Unpopular Baby Names: Avoiding the Jacobs, Emilys and Madisons. We used the techniques listed to aid in our attempt to give our own kids classic names that wouldn’t be overused among their peers. The 2015 numbers are out from the Social Security Administration. How did we do? The charts below shows the respective rankings from 2015 to the year they were born.
The names of our two “babies” — Gregory, 5, and Laura, 4, are both less popular now than they were the year we named them. Yea! They’re both in the low 300s – viable names but far from overused.
Francis, now 10, was dropping in popularity and dropping into the low 600s. With that trend, we actually worried about the name becoming too unpopular. But an uptick started in 2010 and became pronounced in 2013 when an Argentinian named Jorge Mario Bergoglio decided to start calling himself Francis. The name is now in the high 400s.
The popularity of our eldest son’s name, Theodore (“I’m Theo!, don’t call me Theodore!”), started off in the low 300s was holding steady within a 20-point range for years until around 2009. In 2015 it cracked the top 100. It’s only at 99 but clearly something’s happening. Equally disturbing, “Theo” wasn’t even on the top 1000 until 2010, when it snuck in at position 918. Since then it’s leap 100 spots a year. It’s currently at 408 with no sign of slowing.
And for those of you looking to spot trends: did we just call our names early? Maybe “Francis” isn’t a slow climb but is about the go shooting for the top 100 in two years time. Maybe “Gregory” and “Laura” will be all the rage for mothers come 2020. Yikes!
Fascinating article breaking down the stats on alcohol use in the Washington Post in 2014.
Here are the two pieces that strike me: The “top 10 percent of drinkers account for over half of the alcohol consumed in any given year” and this top 10 represents people who drink an average of 10 drinks per day.
I’m not a teetotaler and I’m glad stats also show that most Americans are light on the alcohol — 30 percent don’t drink and another 30 percent are moderate. But 10 drinks per day average is a serious alcohol problem — with serious social implications and costs. Half of the industry profits come from these drinkers. The article quotes an expert:
If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent.”
This guy in Streetview is standing near the spot where the world’s first #selfie portrait was taken in 1839.
Robert Cornelius was one of the first people to try to reproduce Louis Daguerre’s photographic technique after news of the breakthrough reach Philadelphia. A chemist working at his family’s gas lighting company, Cornelius started experimenting with different chemical combinations until he found a way to reduce exposure times so that a person to sit still long enough for a portrait. In October 1839 he took a picture himself “in the yard back of his store and residence, (old) 176 Chestnut Street, above Seventh (now number 710), in Philadelphia,” according to an oral history published half a century later (PDF). Cornelius recounts:
It was our business to make a great variety of articles of plated metal. Very soon afterwards, I made in the factory a tin box, and bought from McAllister, 48 Chestnut Street, a lens about two inches in diameter, such as was used for opera purposes. With these instruments I made the first likeness of myself and another one of some of my children, in the open yard of my dwelling, sunlight bright upon us, and I am fully of the impression that I was the first to obtain a likeness of the human face.
Remarkably, in 2014, the Cornelius and Co. building is still there on Chestnut Street, though barely recognizable, with an extra floor on top and extensive façade changes. It’s a discount drug store. The back is the narrow alley named Ionic Street, home to dumpsters and people wanting to stay out of sight. The yard is to the right of these dumpsters. With #selfie such a popular hashtag, Cornelius’s picture has circulated on a lot of internet lists as the “world’s first selfie.” But it’s historical significance is far greater: it is the first photographic portrait of our species. I’m not typically one for hyperbole, but we humans started seeing ourselves differently after that portrait.
I originally assumed the building on the right of the alley stood where the yard had been but a satellites turns up a surprise: the yard is still there! Looking at the 710 property from above, the buildings facing Chestnut and Ionic are separate – with a large open space in between! There are two sections that look almost to be garden beds.
Yo Philly, how has 710 Chestnut Street not been snatched up and turned into a museum of photographic history? The first floor could focus on nineteenth century Philadelphia innovation, with the still-existent inner courtyard turned into a tourist destination? It would be like catnip. What self-respecting modern tourist wouldn’t walk the few blocks from Independence Hall to take their picture at the very site of the world’s first selfie? I know Philly typically doesn’t respect any history past 1776 but come on!
Outreach, Family, Pacifism, and Blog Culture
At year’s end it’s always interesting to look back and see which articles got the most visits. Here are the top-five QuakerRanter.org blog posts of 2013.
This grew out of a interesting little tweet about search engine optimization that got me thinking about how Friends Meetings can retain the curious one-time visitors.
My father-in-law died in January. These are few pictures I put together while Julie was still at the family home with the close relatives. Thanks to our friends for sharing a bit of our life by reading this one. He’s missed.
A look at Friends testimonies and the difficulties of being a fair-trade pacifist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the early Friends were faced with similar challenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.
A number of new services are trying to update the culture of blogging. This post looked at comments; a subsequent one considered how we might reorganize our blogs into more of a structured Wiki.
This year saw a lot of hang wringing by mainstream journalists on the anniversary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dissenting voices were regularly locked out of debate ten years ago – and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.
I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read articles that were written this year. Many of the classics still outperform these. The most read continues to be my post on unpopular baby names (just today I overheard an expectant mother approvingly going through a list of over-trendy names; I wondered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain clothing from Gohn’s Brothers continues to be popular, as does a report about a trip to a legendary water hole deep in the South Jersey pines.
I began Conrad’s classic tale as a follow-up to last month’s State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Her heroine traveled to the most remote reaches of the Amazon; all stories that make the trip from the blandness of civilization (Minnesota in Patchett’s case) owe a debt to Conrad’s classic tale of a steamboat trip far up the Congo River.
The book certainly has its oddities, starting with the narrative voice: we are listening to a story told aboard a ship on the Thames that is waiting for a change of tide to send it on its way out to sea. The narrator-within-the-story, Marlowe, tells the entire tale in flashback, with Conrad only occasionally coming up for air to the deck of the Thames boat (Heart of Darkness was written as a three-part serial; I assume these narrative breaks are the stitching between installments).
I had heard much about this book over the years so I was curious to see the exact nature of the depravities upon which the infamous Kurtz had indulged himself. But two-thirds of the way through the book I realized we were never to really learn them. We know there’s a remote camp by a lake and an African tribe that regards him as some kind of demi-god, and we hear tell that he’s lawless toward other Europeans and single-minded in his quest for ivory. But these are all barely more than hinted glimpses.
The story turns out to be not so much about Kurtz as it is about Marlows’ imaginings as he gets deeper into the continent and gathers clues about the mystery man at the top of the river. I found this to be a relief, as Conrad seems almost as uninterested in fleshing out the Africans along the way. Kurtz is a brilliant civilized man; in the jungle his savagery is unleashed and he becomes a force unto himself.
I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the n******, to invoke him – himself his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone, and I before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air.
Yes, this is a working definition of a psychopath. If this were a modern Showtime or AMC television show, this would be the start of the action: the producers, writers, and actors would leave little gore or depravity to the imagination. But for Conrad this is the morality tale at the heart of the book. Shortly after being found, Kurtz conveniently dies and our narrator sails back downstream, going (we are helpfully told) twice the speed as before, back out to the ocean and civilization.