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a blog from Eli the Bearded
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Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trashpicking in the Anthropocene by Tim Dee. Copyright 2018, first printing February 2019.

I've read a bit about garbage, most recently Waste and Want by Susan Strasser (1999, but apparently used as a textbook, so easy to find new), so I thought this might be good to get some fresher information. The title, and subtitle, certainly pulled me in.

No. This is a British author writing a lot about his personal experiences, often as a reporter following more serious bird watchers than him. There are, it seems, a fair amount of bird watchers who specialize in watching sea gulls. In many cases these people hang around landfills and transfer stations because the gulls like the easy pickings.

Every chapter is essentially a self-contained essay with at least some tangential connection to gulls. There's one that compares and contrasts Hitchcock's The Birds to the original short story, with some attention devoted to the gulls in each for example. It's not what I wanted, but it's not a bad book.

When I found this in a bookstore (the famous "City Lights Books" in San Francisco, which I was visiting with some out-of-town house guests), I was drawn to the title and picked it up to read a couple of pages from inside. I happened upon chapter eight "London Labour and London Poor". This is one of the least gull-ish chapters, but also one of the most interesting to my tastes.

That chapter is about Henry Mayhew's three volume 1851 (based on 1840s work writing a newspaper column; volume four came out 1862) London Labour and the London Poor (at Wikipdia and volume 1 at Gutenberg, volume 2 at Gutenberg, volume 3 at Gutenberg, but apparently no volume four). Mayhew interviewed and wrote about the most marginal people of the time. The excerpt that made me buy the book:

Trash has a deep and determing place in Mayhew's cosmology. Waste management, in its widest sense, is vital to the story. This begins with the lowest class (Mayhew calls them low but was clearly sympathethetic to such people). The endeavoured to eke out scraps for a penny or two from what others had decided was useless. Contemplating suc lives and such labour makes Mayhew ask big questions. When do objects — or people — cease to have value?

There are dustment in Mayhew — men in the vanguard of professional waste collection. But they were far outnumbered by informal rubbish collectors. On these people Mayhew performs a kind of rescue anthropology. He describes them as if they were members of a ramshackle federation:

  • Bone gubbers and rag-gatherers
  • Pure-finders
  • Cigar-end finders
  • Old wood gatherers
  • Dredgers, or river finders
  • Sewer-hunters
  • Mudlarks
  • Dustmen, nightmen, sweeps, and scavengers

"Pure" is dog shit. Its name alone indicates our classificatory anxiety about its status. It was sold to tanneries, where it was used to cleanse and purify leather. In London, 200 to 300 men were "engaged solely in this business." A covered basket and a glove were required, though many dispensed with the glove, "as they say it is much easier to wash their hands than to keep the glove fit for use." There were even those who worked fakes and passed "mortar" off as pure.

That's great reading. The connection to gulls for this chapter? How the presence of so many and so varied human trash pickers squeezed the gulls out of the easy trash-pickings niche.

Husain Haddawy's 1001 Arabian Nights

I recently saw a list of English literature for programmers, which prompted me to think of this.

I read the Husain Haddawy version of 1001 Arabian Nights not too long ago. I selected it because it's a well regarded translation and closely follows one of the oldest known editions (ca 15th century). It's not originally English, so it doesn't really belong on the list I had seen, but the story construction seems relevant to "Should appeal to the lisp programmer in everyone". There are frame stories within frame stories, with "daily" interruptions and with them reminders of how deep we are: "Oh king, I heard that barber then told the Chinese king that: {continue the "Hunchback" stories}."

Stack is problably never more than five stories deep, shallow for a programmer, deep for literature.

99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions

By Kenja Kawakami (original 1997, American edition 1998)

From the author's introduction:

I introduced the term Chindogu in Japan in 1985. Coind from "Chin" meaning unusual and "dogu" meaning tool, it refers to a most universal concept: a gadget that appears to be useful, but on closer examination isn't. These inventions must exist, but they cannot serve a reasonable function. Inheritant in the premise of Chindogu is this fundamental contradiction.

Real products shown in this book:

Page 14, Rotating Spaghetti Fork, much like this: twirling spaghetti fork Looks like an Archie Mcphee product, though, not a serious tool.

Page 147, Umbrella Hat Plenty available at Amazon: page 1 of search results

Page 35, Cranium Camera Very similar to this one designed for smart phones: universal mount (And oddly categorized at amazon: "Cell Phones & Accessories > Accessories > Car Accessories > Car Cradles & Mounts > Car Mounts")

And the real king: Page 104-5, Self-Portrait Camera Stick keywords = selfie stick Like the other remote cameras in the book, it is shown with a bulb control instead of wireless, but hey, can't anticipate everything.

I had heard on the internet about that last one and when I saw the book for sale used (for a quarter), I decided to risk some money on it.

The Internet book photo going around: image at imgur

Maybe I'll scan a better one tomorrow from my "new" book.

Book at Amazon

The King of Ireland's Son

For reading aloud, one of my favorites is The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum.

Free version at Gutenberg

It's very clearly a transcription of a story with a long oral history to it. The structure of the story telling itself was interesting to me. There are many characters who appear as the central character or a supporting character in different sections, there are many places where digressions into other stories happen or could be made to happen, if you wanted to tell it in a different order. It has many of the standard tropes of fairy tales and also some amusing consequences of that. "Red Riding Hood" isn't a name, it's a decription. The title character, and overall central figure of this book, doesn't have a name, he is merely the eldest (of three, natch) sons of the King of Ireland.

There are a couple of places where a story obviously could have been tied in, to give more background on a character or thing, that have not been used. It gives you the opportunity to spin your own yarns into this or prompt your kids to do so.

For example, from whence comes the Little Sage of the Mountain? And where did the great wing for his house come from?

Final thought: "how you get from A to B is to travel while sharing stories".