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Great Pop-up books

Last week, I wrote about my own pop-up work. I’ve admired pop-ups since I was a kid, although I had only one pop-up book throughout my childhood. It was called Les Dinosaures and it was in French. I don’t read a word of French, but I examined the book until I shredded it. I suppose after my parents saw the wreck I made of that book, I never got another one until I started buying my own in adulthood. Below are a few of my favorites. As you can see, pop-ups cover any topic, from the literary to the historic to the nerdy. Pop-ups convey wonder and humor. I’d love to hear pop-up suggestions, too!

The White House: A Pop-Up of our Nation’s Home

Hot off the presses, a 2016 pop-up book. In my favorite page, opening a tab opens a curtain, but a photo would hardly do it justice. Little delights abound in this book. I found my copy at the LBJ presidential library in Austin, Texas.

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Moby Dick

I found this lovely pop-up at the Kansas City Art Museum. Their gift shop had dozens of pop-ups, and in a frenzy, I had to choose one. This book has ships with riggings, pull tabs, and twisting whirlpools. It’s cartoonish and I love it.

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Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy

I have a habit of finding my pop-up books in strange places; my Star Wars pop-up book came from the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys. The museum contains numerous lovely dollhouses, historic and modern, in southwestern styles, Victorian styles, and more. It’s also full of Star War toys. This pop-up book is so jammed full it can be hard to open. The back panel features Luke and Vader facing off with lightsabers, which light when the page is opened. My favorite page shows Anakin Skywalker in the Vader mask–as you open the page, his face disappears into the mask. A true nerd’s pop-up book.

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America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book

Perfect for the 100th Anniversary of the Park System, it’s the National Park pop-up book. This book alternates between pop-up pages and flat pages, which is a great way to fit a little more information into the book. The Yellowstone geyser page is lovely, but so tall it was tough to capture photographically. Appropriately, I got this book at Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Popping up again

I love pop-up books and cards. They join art and engineering in a way that tickles my brain. I love collecting books, and I love designing too.

That love of design has led me to reopen my Etsy store, ViroBooks. My shop has posters, pop-up cards, and hand-bound books.

My latest project is a set of four greeting cards: Cats dreaming of mischief. The cover shows a cat curled in sleep, and four different interiors show different kinds of idyllic kitty mayhem.

I had such fun designing and assembling these cards. I am brimming with inspiration, so look to see some future works related to New Mexico, Albuquerque, science, and more!

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Sports photography: Great fun, great challenge

I love the Olympics. It’s the best time to view water polo and women’s sports. I marvel at the myriad body shapes and talents. I love the history of the events. I am an Olympics nerd, and this time every four years I watch a LOT of TV.

The beautiful HD video that streams into our homes every day masks the difficulty that is sports photography. Sports photography is the most challenging type of photography I’ve encountered. Subjects move quickly, and you can’t always get very close to them. For indoor events, available light is limited, strange in color, or multi-colored. The subject can approach quickly making depth-of-field an issue. My favorite sports, water sports, have a couple extra layers of difficulty: the camera dislikes water, and half the game happens under it. I’m still not as good at sports photography as I’d like to be.

Below are a few of my favorite sports images from over the years. Some are very old and maybe not as good as newer ones, but I remember the feeling I got capturing them. I remember how I fought for good images with my low-ISO camera and my poor-quality zoom. I spent hours in post-processing working to get what I could.

If you’re interested in sports photography, college events are great practice grounds. You can often get closer than at pro events and catch unusual sports too. Be aware of the camera policies in place, however. When I moved to Virginia, I was dismayed to find that the ACC allows no lenses over 3 inches in length, at least for football. If you can get close to the action, beware for your body and your camera. I developed a great reflex for shielding the camera from splashes during water polo games.

And without further ado, some of my favorite sports images.

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Art Deco Posters: Water Polo, the gentleman’s game

The Olympics are coming up! It’s that rare time when non-professional sports get to shine! As a lover and player of water polo, I get so inspired watching the amazing men and women of the world expressing their mutual disdain through grabbing, elbowing, and splashing in the big pool. Water polo is GREAT.

As I type this, I nurse a bruise from a deliberate kick in the back, some mystery bruises on my arm, and a sprained thumb. I can only hope I gave as good as I got. But really, one of the wonderful things about water polo is the intensity of the violence compared to the mildness of injury. You cannot fall down or run into a wall, and any underwater shenanigans are dissipated by the water. As I have often said, water polo enables to player to express all of the intent, but little of the impact. That’s perfect!

As I have demonstrated again and again, I love art deco design. I love old art deco Olympic posters; they’ve inspired my water polo art before. Water polo is a niche sport, and there isn’t a ton of art out there for it. Additionally, I enjoy contrasting the gentility of art deco design with the brutal public image of water polo. The soft civility of art deco posters in many way jives with how the game feels as a participant—it’s like a big tea party with all of my scantily-clad friends.

So, as we near these (hopefully sewage free but probably not) Olympics, I hope you’ll enjoy my water polo posters. I got inspired when the Olympic Trials were on TV a few months ago, so you can only imagine how much I’ll enjoy the Olympics.

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Book review: Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner 1993)

Did you know that the longest waterway in California is man-made? Did you that there’s a 300 mile, $4.7 billion, canal from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson? Did you know that Tennessee’s Tellico Dam was deemed economically unsound even when it was 95% built, but it was still completed? Did you know that two bureaucracies, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, basically waged a war of influence in the west, building scores of unnecessary dams along the way? Over the objections of republican and democratic presidents, western congressmen pushed water projects, trading them like currency, trying to tame the west.

Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert exhaustively covers water management in the west from the late 1800s until its publication in 1986. A brief addendum brings the reader up to 1993. Along the way, he details the good (hydroelectric power surpluses for manufacturing during WW2), the bad (taxpayer subsidy of billions of dollars to wealthy corporate farmers) and the ugly (the failure of the Teton Dam eliminating a valley).

Cadillac Desert encapsulates the ways that US government goes bad when we let ideology stand in for sound economics. It’s a tale of bipartisan conspiracy to fund impractical projects for special interest groups. It’s a tale of ecological Manifest Destiny; if rain doesn’t follow the plow, then sheer spending will irrigate the desert into a new Eden. Cadillac Desert is one of those rare wonderful nonfiction books that reframes the world; I finished reading a week ago and I’m still thinking about it, processing it. Any American knows the term porkbarrel; Cadillac Desert reveals the gears that turn it out. It’s a tale that ought to inspire bipartisan furor—billions of dollars spent ruining pristine rivers and driving people from their homes to subsidize often ill-conceived farming endeavors. Farmers in Wyoming subsidized by millions to grow crops that eastern farmers are paid not to grow. But Cadillac Desert makes clear that water projects, at least until 1986, remained treasured in the south and west, even as they court various ecological calamities.

Reisner convinces the reader of these substantial political accusations through example after damning (damming?) example. He details the manipulations and lies that brought the Owens River water to LA via an aqueduct that had to be built with mules. He details the divvying of the Colorado River water, and the projects dreamt up by Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona simply to maintain claim on those apportions, leaving practicality as an afterthought. He describes the unbuilt Colorado Narrows Dam, which was opposed by the state engineer and water lawyer; it was thought to be in danger of collapse, unable to provide water as claimed, likely to damage ecological sites in Nebraska, and it was still almost built. It would have been five miles long and cost $500 million. For various projects, he describes the ecological effects, the hydroelectric production, the salinity challenges, the water table challenges. Several times, he describes beautiful rafting rapids that have been lost forever, buried under reservoirs. He argues that the best dam sites were all occupied by 1960, and all projects built after that have been increasingly unprofitable, pushed by local interest, horse trading, and bureaucratic power games.

So what about since 1986? Reisner’s afterword brings the reader up to 1993. He suggests that the public appetite for projects had waned. I’ve done my own reading trying to understand sentiment in the following twenty three years.

I don’t know how to compare water project lust in 2016 to 1986 or 1950. Today’s projects seem less federal. As a new westerner, Cadillac Desert was an essential read. For those further east, water management is still a nexus of bureaucracy, pork barrel politics, and ecological damage. For the dams we have today, there are questions of maintenance, updating, or removal. Like our under-maintained bridges and highways, dams are one more massive bill to pay, even if we build nothing new. Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, though over twenty years old, is still important and thought provoking in a lot of ways.

 

Writing prompt: Junk Food Day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Junk Food Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)


The priest reached under the alter. With reverence, he placed three relics before the congregation. Antonia craned to see. She could see them through the plastic, bright yellow and emanating well-being. The packages were adorned with ancient symbols and decorations. Though these decorations had smudged and flaked in places, the contents remained intact. It was through the bountiful blessings of the Hostess goddess.

“Behold,” the priest said, “these relics have passed through the generations to us. And today, we shall share these Twinkies in Holy Communion.”

He recited an incantation, said to be the words of an ancient “commercial,” or a spreading of good will. Antonia recognized some of the words, like “fun for the whole family,” but others, like “snackalicious” were beyond her. The ancient civilization had been so advanced. Her father said they couldn’t have been human, or that they must have had the help of clever aliens. The ancients had built mysterious temples thousands of feet high, and roads hundreds of feet wide that extended beyond the farthest known horizon. Today, they knew so little about the ancients. But on holy Junk Food Day, they tasted the Twinkie and rejoiced. The priest went around, slicing off bits for the devoted.

 

Science fiction worlds and the ancient west

After visiting Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, I read archaeological articles about the region. For a region so full of artifacts, we know little about what life was like. We don’t know what their social structure was. We don’t know why they came to the region around the year 900 or why they left around the year 1300. We think the canyon wasn’t fully occupied most of the year, but archaeologists debate whether the region’s role was more economic or religious. We aren’t even sure if the region could sustain agriculture. There’s plenty of speculation, but little certainty. Events that already occurred can be almost as shrouded and mysterious as the future.

I tried to imagine life at the height of the Chaco culture. Science fiction can be about the extrapolations of technology and travel, but its emotional core explores the human response to extraordinary worlds. The Left Hand of Darkness explores the human response to extreme cold and unusual gender dynamics. A Canticle for Leibowitz explores the response to apocalypse, the assignment of blame, and the attempt to rebuild within poisoned ashes. The Wind-Up Girl looks at human response to bioplagues and the biomechanical future.

Imagining life at Chaco Canyon is arguably more alien than science fiction. Science fiction is written for western audiences with western lifestyles. (This is not a criticism—science fiction is fiction first, and sociology study somewhere down the list.) The social hierarchies are familiar. We quickly understand what is considered important and unimportant. The motivations of characters in science fiction are often less alien to me than customs on our own planet. Russians often find smiling a sign of foolishness. Japanese salespeople so dislike saying “no” that they will ignore the question rather than give such a rude answer. These are tiny examples of different outlooks on life, shadows of structurally different mental organizations. These are cultures extensively connected to my own, living with the same technologies and the same global events. Our very language biases our ability to conceive of and express concepts. Ursula LeGuin explored this concept in The Dispossessed, but of course it is still in English.

By comparison, Chaco Culture is almost Martian; it’s 700 years gone, it was isolated in a draconian environment, and even the statistics of their society are now matters of speculation. But we can infer that they found rhythm and certainty in the sky. They made the Sun Dagger and they aligned so many of their buildings to the patterns in the sky. Reading archaeology felt like holding sand; the very question of whether or not the people grew corn on site was a debate waged hotly across decades. But I could look up at the sky and see their sky.

But even the sky we look upon isn’t their sky. Our planet wobbles like a top, and because of that, our window into the stars slowly shifts. Today, the north star, Polaris, is less than a degree from celestial north. (A degree is about the width of your finger when held at arm’s length.) In the year 1200, Polaris was 5 degrees from north. In 900, it was 6.7 degrees from north. We know the sky that they saw, but it’s different than ours. Add in light pollution, planes, and satellites, and it’s very different.

Unlike the stories of time machines, Chaco won’t ever give full answers. In science fiction, we imagine peeling back the fog of both future and past. The lack of answers is really the motivation, though. Science fiction is an expression of human response to things we can barely imagine. It’s an act of exploration, and Chaco reveals how much there is to explore.

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A map of how the celestial north pole moves with time. I never realized how briefly Polaris had been close to north.