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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Roach

Art of first impressions? In design and life

Blah blah blah blah blah?

0:25 So what the hell was that? Well, you don’t know because you couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t clear. But hopefully, it was said with enough conviction that it was at least alluringly mysterious.

Clarity or mystery? I’m balancing these two things in my daily work as a graphic designer, as well as my daily life as a New Yorker every day, and there are two elements that absolutely fascinate me.

Here’s an example. how many people know what this is? Okay. how many people know what this is? Okay. Thanks to two more deft strokes by the genius Charles M. Schulz, we now have 7 deft strokes that in and of themselves create an entire emotional life, one that has enthralled hundreds of millions of fans for over 50 years.

This is actually a cover of a book that I designed about the work of Schulz and his art, which will be coming out this fall, and that is the entire cover. There is no other typographic information or visual information on the front, and the name of the book is “Only What’s Necessary.”

So this is sort of symbolic about the decisions I have to make every day about the design that I’m perceiving, and the design I’m creating.

Clarity gets to the point. It’s blunt. It’s honest. It’s sincere. We ask ourselves this. [“When should you be clear?”]

Something like this, whether we can read it or not, needs to be really clear. Is it?

This is a rather recent example of urban clarity that I just love, mainly because I’m always late and I am always in a hurry. So when these meters started showing up a couple of years ago on street corners, I was thrilled, because now I finally knew how many seconds I had to get across the street before I got run over by a car. Six? I can do that. (Laughter)

let’s look at the yin to the clarity yang, and that is mystery. Mystery is a lot more complicated by its very definition. Mystery demands to be decoded, and when it’s done right, we really want to. [“When should you be mysterious?”]

In World War II, the Germans really wanted to decode this, and they couldn’t.

Here’s an example of a design that I’ve done recently for a novel by Haruki Murakami, who I’ve done design work for over 20 years now, and this is a novel about a young man who has 4 dear friends who all of a sudden, after their freshman year of college, completely cut him off with no explanation, and he is devastated.

And the friends’ names each have a connotation in Japanese to a color. So there’s Mr. Red, there’s Mr. Blue, there’s Ms. White, and Ms. Black. Tsukuru Tazaki, his name does not correspond to a color, so his nickname is Colorless, and as he’s looking back on their friendship, he recalls that they were like five fingers on a hand.

So I created this sort of abstract representation of this, but there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface of the story, and there’s more going on underneath the surface of the jacket. The four fingers are now four train lines in the Tokyo subway system, which has significance within the story. And then you have the colorless subway line intersecting with each of the other colors, which basically he does later on in the story. He catches up with each of these people to find out why they treated him the way they did.

 this is the three-dimensional finished product sitting on my desk in my office, and what I was hoping for here is that you’ll simply be allured by the mystery of what this looks like, and will want to read it to decode and find out and make more clear why it looks the way it does.

5:19 [“The Visual Vernacular.”]

This is a way to use a more familiar kind of mystery. What does this mean? This is what it means. [“Make it look like something else.”] The visual vernacular is the way we are used to seeing a certain thing applied to something else so that we see it in a different way.

This is an approach I wanted to take to a book of essays by David Sedaris that had this title at the time. [“All the Beauty You Will Ever Need”]

the challenge here was that this title actually means nothing. It’s not connected to any of the essays in the book. It came to the author’s boyfriend in a dream. Thank you very much, so — (Laughter) — so usually, I am creating a design that is in some way based on the text, but this is all the text there is.

So you’ve got this mysterious title that really doesn’t mean anything, so I was trying to think: Where might I see a bit of mysterious text that seems to mean something but doesn’t?

And sure enough, not long after, one evening after a Chinese meal, this arrived, and I thought, “Ah, bing, ideagasm!” (Laughter) I’ve always loved the hilariously mysterious tropes of fortune cookies that seem to mean something extremely deep but when you think about them — if you think about them — they really don’t.

This says, “Hardly anyone knows how much is gained by ignoring the future.” Thank you. (Laughter) But we can take this visual vernacular and apply it to Mr. Sedaris, and we are so familiar with how fortune cookie fortunes look that we don’t even need the bits of the cookie anymore. We’re just seeing this strange thing and we know we love David Sedaris, and so we’re hoping that we’re in for a good time.

[“‘Fraud’ Essays by David Rakoff”] David Rakoff was a wonderful writer and he called his first book “Fraud” because he was getting sent on assignments by magazines to do things that he was not equipped to do. So he was this skinny little urban guy and GQ magazine would send him down the Colorado River whitewater rafting to see if he would survive.

And then he would write about it, and he felt that he was a fraud and that he was misrepresenting himself. And so I wanted the cover of this book to also misrepresent itself and then somehow show a reader reacting to it.

This led me to graffiti. I’m fascinated by graffiti. I think anybody who lives in an urban environment encounters graffiti all the time, and there’s all different sorts of it. This is a picture I took on the Lower East Side of just a transformer box on the sidewalk and it’s been tagged like crazy. Now whether you look at this and think, “Oh, that’s a charming urban affectation,” or you look at it and say, “That’s illegal abuse of property,” the one thing I think we can all agree on is that you cannot read it. Right? There is no clear message here.

There is another kind of graffiti that I find far more interesting, which I call editorial graffiti. This is a picture I took recently in the subway, and sometimes you see lots of prurient, stupid stuff, but I thought this was interesting, and this is a poster that is saying rah-rah Airbnb, and someone has taken a Magic Marker and has editorialized about what they think about it. And it got my attention.

I was thinking, how do we apply this to this book? So I get the book by this person, and I start reading it, and I’m thinking, this guy is not who he says he is; he’s a fraud. And I get out a red Magic Marker, and out of frustration just scribble this across the front. Design done. (Laughter) And they went for it! (Laughter)

Author liked it, publisher liked it, and that is how the book went out into the world, and it was really fun to see people reading this on the subway and walking around with it and what have you, and they all sort of looked like they were crazy. (Laughter)

 [“‘Perfidia’ a novel by James Ellroy”] James Ellroy, amazing crime writer, a good friend, I’ve worked with him for many years. He is probably best known as the author of “The Black Dahlia” and “L.A. Confidential.” His most recent novel was called this, which is a very mysterious name that I’m sure a lot of people know what it means, but a lot of people don’t. And it’s a story about a Japanese-American detective in Los Angeles in 1941 investigating a murder.

And then Pearl Harbor happens, and as if his life wasn’t difficult enough, now the race relations have really ratcheted up, and then the Japanese-American internment camps are quickly created, and there’s lots of tension and horrible stuff as he’s still trying to solve this murder. And so I did at first think very literally about this in terms of all right, we’ll take Pearl Harbor and we’ll add it to Los Angeles and we’ll make this apocalyptic dawn on the horizon of the city. And so that’s a picture from Pearl Harbor just grafted onto Los Angeles.

My editor in chief said, “You know, it’s interesting but I think you can do better and I think you can make it simpler.” And so I went back to the drawing board, as I often do. But also, being alive to my surroundings, I work in a high-rise in Midtown, and every night, before I leave the office, I have to push this button to get out, and the big heavy glass doors open and I can get onto the elevator. And one night, all of a sudden, I looked at this and I saw it in a way that I hadn’t really noticed it before.

Big red circle, danger. And I thought this was so obvious that it had to have been done a zillion times, and so I did a Google image search, and I couldn’t find another book cover that looked quite like this, and so this is really what solved the problem, and graphically it’s more interesting and creates a bigger tension between the idea of a certain kind of sunrise coming up over L.A. and America.

12:22 [“‘Gulp’ A tour of the human digestive system by Mary Roach.”]

Mary Roach is an amazing writer who takes potentially mundane scientific subjects and makes them not mundane at all; she makes them really fun. So in this particular case, it’s about the human digestive system. So I’m trying to figure out what is the cover of this book going to be. This is a self-portrait. (Laughter) Every morning I look at myself in the medicine cabinet mirror to see if my tongue is black. And if it’s not, I’m good to go. (Laughter) I recommend you all do this.

But I also started thinking, here’s our introduction. Right? Into the human digestive system. But I think what we can all agree on is that actual photographs of human mouths, at least based on this, are off-putting. (Laughter) So for the cover, then, I had this illustration done which is literally more palatable and reminds us that it’s best to approach the digestive system from this end. (Laughter) I don’t even have to complete the sentence. All right.

[“Unuseful mystery“] What happens when clarity and mystery get mixed up? And we see this all the time. This is what I call unuseful mystery. I go down into the subway — I take the subway a lot — and this piece of paper is taped to a girder. Right? And now I’m thinking, uh-oh, and the train’s about to come and I’m trying to figure out what this means, and thanks a lot. Part of the problem here is that they’ve compartmentalized the information in a way they think is helpful, and frankly, I don’t think it is at all. So this is mystery we do not need.

What we need is useful clarity, so just for fun, I redesigned this. This is using all the same elements. (Applause) Thank you. I am still waiting for a call from the MTA. (Laughter)

You know, I’m actually not even using more colors than they use. They just didn’t even bother to make the 4 and the 5 green, those idiots. (Laughter) So the first thing we see is that there is a service change, and then, in two complete sentences with a beginning, a middle and an end, it tells us what the change is and what’s going to be happening. Call me crazy! (Laughter)

[“Useful mystery“] here is a piece of mystery that I love: packaging. This redesign of the Diet Coke can by Turner Duckworth is to me truly a piece of art. It’s a work of art. It’s beautiful. But part of what makes it so heartening to me as a designer is that he’s taken the visual vernacular of Diet Coke — the typefaces, the colors, the silver background — and he’s reduced them to their most essential parts, so it’s like going back to the Charlie Brown face.

It’s like, how can you give them just enough information so they know what it is but giving them the credit for the knowledge that they already have about this thing? It looks great, and you would go into a delicatessen and all of a sudden see that on the shelf, and it’s wonderful. Which makes the next thing — [“Unuseful clarity”] — all the more disheartening, at least to me. So okay, again, going back down into the subway, after this came out, these are pictures that I took. Times Square subway station: Coca-Cola has bought out the entire thing for advertising. Okay? And maybe some of you know where this is going. Ahem.

“You moved to New York with the clothes on your back, the cash in your pocket, and your eyes on the prize. You’re on Coke.” (Laughter) “You moved to New York with an MBA, one clean suit, and an extremely firm handshake. You’re on Coke.” (Laughter) These are real! (Laughter) Not even the support beams were spared, except they switched into Yoda mode. (Laughter) “Coke you’re on.” (Laughter) [“Excuse me, I’m on WHAT??”] This campaign was a huge misstep.

It was pulled almost instantly due to consumer backlash and all sorts of unflattering parodies on the web — (Laughter) — and also that dot next to “You’re on,” that’s not a period, that’s a trademark. So thanks a lot.

to me, this was just so bizarre about how they could get the packaging so mysteriously beautiful and perfect and the message so unbearably, clearly wrong. It was just incredible to me.

18:05 So I just hope that I’ve been able to share with you some of my insights on the uses of clarity and mystery in my work, and maybe how you might decide to be more clear in your life, or maybe to be a bit more mysterious and not so over-sharing. (Laughter)

18:30 And if there’s just one thing that I leave you with from this talk, I hope it’s this: Blih blih blih blah. Blah blah blih blih. [“‘Judge This,’ Chip Kidd”] Blih blih blah blah blah. Blah blah blah

Patsy Z  shared this link

TED. 10 hrs ·

Book designer Chip Kidd shares what inspired his iconic covers:

Book designer Chip Kidd knows all too well how often we judge things by first appearances.|By Chip Kidd

How much do you know about orgasm? 10 facts you ignore?

I’m going to show you a couple of images from a very diverting paper in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine.

I’m going to go way out on a limb and say that it is the most diverting paper ever published in The Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. The title is “Observations of In-Utero Masturbation.”

Now on the left you can see the hand — that’s the big arrow — and the penis on the right. The hand hovering. And over here we have, in the words of radiologist Israel Meisner, “The hand grasping the penis in a fashion resembling masturbation movements.” Bear in mind this was an ultrasound, so it would have been moving images.

Patsy Z  shared this link TED|By Mary Roach
Orgasm is a reflex of the autonomic nervous system.
This is the part of the nervous system that deals with the things that we don’t consciously control, like digestion, heart rate and sexual arousal.
And the orgasm reflex can be triggered by a surprisingly broad range of input. Genital stimulation. But also, Kinsey interviewed a woman who could be brought to orgasm by having someone stroke her eyebrow.
People with spinal cord injuries, like paraplegias, quadriplegias, will often develop a very sensitive area right above the level of their injury, wherever that is. There is such a thing as a knee orgasm in the literature.

I think the most curious one that I came across was a case report of a woman who had an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth.

Something in the complex sensory-motor action of brushing her teeth was triggering orgasm. And she went to a neurologist, who was fascinated. He checked to see if it was something in the toothpaste, but no — it happened with any brand.

They stimulated her gums with a toothpick, to see if that was doing it. No. It was the whole, you know, motion. And the amazing thing to me is that you would think this woman would have excellent oral hygiene.

Sadly — this is what it said in the journal paper — “She believed that she was possessed by demons and switched to mouthwash for her oral care.” It’s so sad.

When I was working on the book, I interviewed a woman who can think herself to orgasm. She was part of a study at Rutgers University. You’ve got to love that. Rutgers.

So I interviewed her in Oakland, in a sushi restaurant. And I said, “So, could you do it right here?” And she said, “Yeah, but you know I’d rather finish my meal if you don’t mind.”

But afterwards, she was kind enough to demonstrate on a bench outside. It was remarkable. It took about one minute. And I said to her, “Are you just doing this all the time?”

 She said, “No. Honestly, when I get home, I’m usually too tired.”

 She said that the last time she had done it was on the Disneyland tram.

 The headquarters for orgasm, along the spinal nerve, is something called the sacral nerve root, which is back here. And if you trigger, if you stimulate with an electrode, the precise spot, you will trigger an orgasm.

And it is a fact that you can trigger spinal reflexes in dead people — a certain kind of dead person, a beating-heart cadaver.

Now this is somebody who is brain-dead, legally dead, definitely checked out, but is being kept alive on a respirator, so that their organs will be oxygenated for transplantation.

In one of these brain-dead people, if you trigger the right spot, you will see something every now and then. There is a reflex called the Lazarus reflex. And this is — I’ll demonstrate as best I can, not being dead. It’s like this. You trigger the spot. The dead guy, or gal, goes… like that. Very unsettling for people working in pathology labs.

 If you can trigger the Lazarus reflex in a dead person, why not the orgasm reflex? I asked this question to a brain death expert, Stephanie Mann, who was foolish enough to return my emails.

I said, “So, could you conceivably trigger an orgasm in a dead person?”

She said, “Yes, if the sacral nerve is being oxygenated, you conceivably could.” Obviously it wouldn’t be as much fun for the person. But it would be an orgasm —

There is a researcher at the University of Alabama who does orgasm research. I said to her, “You should do an experiment. You know? You can get cadavers if you work at a university.” I said, “You should actually do this.”

She said, “You get the human subjects review board approval for this one.”

According to 1930s marriage manual author, Theodoor van De Velde, a slight seminal odor can be detected on the breath of a woman within about an hour after sexual intercourse. Theodoor van De Velde was something of a semen connoisseur.

05:50 (Laughter)

This is a guy writing a book, “Ideal Marriage,” you know. Very heavy hetero guy. But he wrote in this book, “Ideal Marriage” — he said that he could differentiate between the semen of a young man, which he said had a fresh, exhilarating smell, and the semen of mature men, whose semen smelled, quote, “Remarkably like that of the flowers of the Spanish chestnut. Sometimes quite freshly floral, and then again sometimes extremely pungent.”

In 1999, in the state of Israel, a man began hiccupping. And this was one of those cases that went on and on. He tried everything his friends suggested. Nothing seemed to help. Days went by.

At a certain point, the man, still hiccupping, had sex with his wife. And lo and behold, the hiccups went away. He told his doctor, who published a case report in a Canadian medical journal under the title, Sexual Intercourse as a Potential Treatment for Intractable Hiccups.”

I love this article because at a certain point they suggested that unattached hiccuppers could try masturbation.

I love that because there is like a whole demographic: unattached hiccuppers.

Married, single, unattached hiccupper.

In the 1900s, early 1900s, a lot of gynecologists believed that when a woman has an orgasm, the contractions serve to suck the semen up through the cervix and sort of deliver it really quickly to the egg, thereby upping the odds of conception. It was called the “upsuck” theory.

07:35 (Laughter)

If you go all the way back to Hippocrates, physicians believed that orgasm in women was not just helpful for conception, but necessary. Doctors back then were routinely telling men the importance of pleasuring their wives.

Marriage-manual author and semen-sniffer Theodoor van De Velde has a line in his book. I loved this guy. I got a lot of mileage out of Theodoor van De Velde. He had this line in his book that supposedly comes from the Habsburg Monarchy, where there was an empress Maria Theresa, who was having trouble conceiving.

And apparently the royal court physician said to her, I am of the opinion that the vulva of your most sacred majesty be titillated for some time prior to intercourse.”

 It’s apparently, I don’t know, on the record somewhere.

Masters and Johnson: now we’re moving forward to the 1950s. Masters and Johnson were upsuck skeptics, which is also really fun to say. They didn’t buy it. And they decided, being Masters and Johnson, that they would get to the bottom of it.

They brought women into the lab — I think it was five women — and outfitted them with cervical caps containing artificial semen. And in the artificial semen was a radio-opaque substance, such that it would show up on an X-ray.

This is the 1950s. Anyway, these women sat in front of an X-ray device. And they masturbated. And Masters and Johnson looked to see if the semen was being sucked up. Did not find any evidence of upsuck.

You may be wondering, “How do you make artificial semen?”

I have an answer for you. I have two answers. You can use flour and water, or cornstarch and water. I actually found three separate recipes in the literature.

My favorite being the one that says — you know, they have the ingredients listed, and then in a recipe it will say, for example, “Yield: two dozen cupcakes.” This one said, “Yield: one ejaculate.”

09:49 (Laughter)

There’s another way that orgasm might boost fertility. This one involves men. Sperm that sit around in the body for a week or more start to develop abnormalities that make them less effective at head-banging their way into the egg.

British sexologist Roy Levin has speculated that this is perhaps why men evolved to be such enthusiastic and frequent masturbators. He said, “If I keep tossing myself off I get fresh sperm being made.” Which I thought was an interesting idea, theory. So now you have an evolutionary excuse.  

 All righty. There is considerable evidence for upsuck in the animal kingdom — pigs, for instance.

In Denmark, the Danish National Committee for Pig Production found out that if you sexually stimulate a sow while you artificially inseminate her, you will see a 6% increase in the farrowing rate, which is the number of piglets produced. So they came up with this five-point stimulation plan for the sows. There is posters they put in the barn, and they have a DVD. And I got a copy of this DVD.

This is my unveiling, because I am going to show you a clip.

Now, here we go, la la la, off to work. It all looks very innocent. He’s going to be doing things with his hands that the boar would use his snout, lacking hands. Okay.

 This is it. The boar has a very odd courtship repertoire.

 This is to mimic the weight of the boar.

11:42 (Laughter)

You should know, the clitoris of the pig is inside the vagina. So this may be sort of titillating for her. Here we go.

 I love this video. There is a point in this video, towards the beginning, where they zoom in for a close up of his hand with his wedding ring, as if to say, “It’s okay, it’s just his job. He really does like women.”

When I was in Denmark, my host was named Anne Marie. And I said, “So why don’t you just stimulate the clitoris of the pig? Why don’t you have the farmers do that? That’s not one of your five steps.”

I have to read you what she said, because I love it. She said, “It was a big hurdle just to get farmers to touch underneath the vulva. So we thought, let’s not mention the clitoris right now.”

12:55 (Laughter)

Shy but ambitious pig farmers, however, can purchase a — this is true — a sow vibrator, that hangs on the sperm feeder tube to vibrate. Because, as I mentioned, the clitoris is inside the vagina.

So possibly, you know, a little more arousing than it looks. And I also said to her, “Now, these sows. I mean, you may have noticed there. The sow doesn’t look to be in the throes of ecstasy.”

And she said, you can’t make that conclusion, because animals don’t register pain or pleasure on their faces in the same way that we do. Pigs, for example, are more like dogs. They use the upper half of the face; the ears are very expressive. So you’re not really sure what’s going on with the pig.

Primates, on the other hand, we use our mouths more. This is the ejaculation face of the stump-tailed macaque.

13:47 (Laughter)

And, interestingly, this has been observed in female macaques, but only when mounting another female.

13:57 (Laughter)

Masters and Johnson. In the 1950s, they decided, okay, we’re going to figure out the entire human sexual response cycle, from arousal, all the way through orgasm, in men and women — everything that happens in the human body.

With women, a lot of this is happening inside. This did not stop Masters and Johnson. They developed an artificial coition machine. This is basically a penis camera on a motor. There is a phallus, clear acrylic phallus, with a camera and a light source, attached to a motor that is kind of going like this.

And the woman would have sex with it. That is what they would do. Pretty amazing. Sadly, this device has been dismantled. This just kills me, not because I wanted to use it — I wanted to see it.

14:45 (Laughter)

 One fine day, Alfred Kinsey decided to calculate the average distance traveled by ejaculated semen. This was not idle curiosity. Doctor Kinsey had heard — and there was a theory going around at the time, this being the 1940s — that the force with which semen is thrown against the cervix was a factor in fertility. Kinsey thought it was bunk, so he got to work. He got together in his lab 300 men, a measuring tape, and a movie camera.

15:26 (Laughter)

And in fact, he found that in three quarters of the men the stuff just kind of slopped out. It wasn’t spurted or thrown or ejected under great force. However, the record holder landed just shy of the eight-foot mark, which is impressive.

15:45 (Laughter)

Sadly, he’s anonymous. His name is not mentioned.

In his write-up of this experiment in his book, Kinsey wrote, “Two sheets were laid down to protect the oriental carpets.”

16:07 (Laughter)

Which is my second favorite line in the entire oeuvre of Alfred Kinsey. My favorite being, “Cheese crumbs spread before a pair of copulating rats will distract the female, but not the male.”




June 2023

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