Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

On the idea of reclamation


(A barnwood desk from Woodland Creek Furniture)

I thought I would take a moment to address a question that’s come up before, but has been asked again recently upon the announcement of my Hendrick’s Artist Box — whether I really do cut up old books and magazines, and whether such a thing is proper. Marksman Gemmel D. wrote me today:

Dear Mr. Malki,

I discovered your web comic a few months ago, and it has made me laugh countless times. You are a truly creative person, with a sense of humour I can appreciate.

That being said, I fear I must admit to being appalled at the way you decorated your box for the Hendrick’s Gin Curate a Box project.

I understand that you make collages of 19th century images to create your pieces, but I naively assumed that you made copies, not that you actually cut up these publications.

I must say I am a little upset. Old books, magazines and newspapers are important artifacts; They tell us things about our history and our society that the history books can’t. In fact, they are a priceless resource for historians and genealogists, sociologists and anthropologists.

If it can be avoided, they shouldn’t be destroyed, even to make art.

Please don’t think I’m being pushy or overbearing, but Is there any way you could make or use copies of these texts, and preserve the originals for future posterity? You must have a large collection of fine pieces – the pages used for the Hendrick’s box were from Scientific American and Punch magazine. I don’t need to tell you that Punch was one the first satirical magazines, and great writers like William Makepeace Thackeray wrote for it.

Any library or University would probably love to have your collection in later years. Your collection could be invaluable for future generations, but not if it is cut to bits.

If you read all the way to the end of this e-mail, I thank you for hearing me out. I’m not trying to tell you how to do your work; I know nothing about art, and can’t even draw a straight line properly. I’ll even understand if you’re angry at me. But I do feel that we should preserve as much of our past as we possibly can.

This is a serious issue, and one that I want to clarify for the record. Here’s the response I wrote:

Thanks for the note. I agree that old things have value, and should be preserved. That’s part of why I love doing Wondermark — I get to take things that very few people get to see nowadays, and reinvent them and share them with a wider audience.

To make my regular comics, I work entirely from digital scans of the original work. I have a large library that is not depleted in any way by the work I do.

But to make the Hendrick’s box, I wanted to do something different. I perhaps did not make clear enough that the work I cut up for the box was all, essentially, trash — the Punch pages were from a volume that was rotting and falling apart; the Dickens covers were received in a dusty box that was basically just a heap of paper. I have made a habit of accepting, and deliberately acquiring, material like this that otherwise would just go in the garbage. I buy books on eBay with tobacco stains, children’s crayon marks and missing covers that collectors and historians have no want nor need of. The life I give them, in the main, is life they otherwise would not have.

I have not made that as clear as I perhaps could have, for folks who are less familiar with my process than I myself am. I hope that sets your mind at ease somewhat.

It would be a tragedy to tear down a barn simply to make a desk. But I believe it is an art to take the planks from a barn that has already been condemned, and make a lovely desk from them. Thanks for the email, Gemmel.

Antlerman REVEALED

More than one person has written in asking about the bike-rider character from Comic #684! Well, his name is Malfidactus O’Rourke and he is originally from Duluth. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and he plays racquetball when he can find a partner who likes to go early on weekdays. He lives in a two-bedroom townhouse just outside of Chicago and he recently had a terrible, terrible hunting accident.

The LAST WORD on the Oenophile’s Quandary??

It is high praise for a question-poser indeed when a totally independent third party is provoked to write over 1600 words in response to all facets of the question — all of it interesting and civil.

Such is the case today. Mr. Ryan O’Connell, a winemaker in France, has taken my exploration of the Oenophile’s Quandary and explored it even further:

If optimal stopping applies to the oenophile’s quandary, it’s because the oenophile must settle on a date to consume each bottle. In that sense, each bottle has a stopping problem where the oenophile must decide to wait for a better occasion to drink the wine. So really, you’re not choosing wines. You’re choosing dates. And the quality of the wine has very little to do with the enjoyment. It’s more the context in which you consume the wine. In this sense, the quality of improvement over time is less relevant and the oenophile’s quandary is reduced to an expression of optimal stopping. Is quality of improvement over time a necessary condition? No. You can lose quality of improvment over time and you’ll still have a basic stopping problem because some days will be better than others for drinking that special bottle.

YOU TOOK THE BAIT RYAN AHA HA HA seriously I love it when folks do this.

ALSO: A commenter points us in the direction of the actual paper in which Dr. Dixit used Elaine (from Seinfeld)’s critical contraceptive-sponge shortage to determine the numbers alluded to in my previous post. Here it is! (PDF)

Revisiting the Oenophile’s Quandary

In last week’s comic #654, my characters discuss a philosophical question known as the Oenophile’s Quandary — when to enjoy something that is being saved for a special occasion, and which in fact even improves with time. Of course, I made up the Oenophile’s Quandary, as I do every plausible-sounding fact that somehow worms its way into Wondermark (including this fact stating that fact), but a few kind readers followed up with me with additional information on the topic.

In a tweet, @flyingpawn pointed me to an economist’s answer to essentially this exact question:

Dear Economist,
I have inherited six bottles of excellent wine, which I plan to consume, over time, on special occasions. But how do I know when to open a bottle when I don’t know what occasions lie ahead? I don’t want to use up all the bottles within a few months on mediocre occasions, but neither do I still want to be hoarding them until I die.

I am pleased to announce that the question is answered definitively in the article, with numbers, the answer attributed to economist Avinash Dixit. There are some base assumptions made in the calculation, so it may not apply to every unique situation, but at least someone’s taken a stab at it and for most people it’s just nice to have someone else tell them an answer that sounds pretty authoritative.

In trying to track down the actual calculations done by Dr. Dixit, or any substantiation at all of the answer, I learned that the Oenophile’s Quandary may not be a question of philosophy but rather of mathematics — in particular, the theory of “optimal stopping” as applied in statistics or economics. An article in American Scientist puts it this way:

A decision maker observes a process evolving in time that involves some randomness. Based only on what is known, he or she must make a decision on how to maximize reward or minimize cost. In some cases, little is known about what’s coming. In other cases, information is abundant. In either scenario, no one predicts the future with full certainty. Fortunately, the powers of probability sometimes improve the odds of making a good choice.

Economists put equations to these questions, assuming that each variable has some hard quantifiable element to it. For Oenophile’s Quandary questions to rest in the realm of philosophy, then, they must deal with purely subjective issues. May the quality of aging wine be measured objectively?

A tweet from @OldMiner pointed me to this article about the aging of wine:

MYTH: Old wine tastes better than new wine.
REALITY: Although all wines change with age, very few wines noticeably improve beyond a few months and wine maturity does have its limits.
MY CONTENTIONS: Part of the problem is that some wine increases in monetary value as it gets older. The public fails to grasp that the value only rises because of the wine’s increasing rarity, not its increasing quality.

So where does this leave us? Wine may still be good (as in the question at the top of this post) without necessarily improving with age. Is the quality of improvement over time a necessary condition of the Oenophile’s Quandary? Is the question of enjoyment one that can be answered with economics, or should it be left to philosophy? What occasions have caused you to crack open a special bottle of whatever? Leave a comment and let us know!

Happily Ever After, Even Now

Movies in which couples overcome various misunderstandings to eventually hug and kiss as the credits roll ask us to believe that their characters will be together forever.

So I got to thinking: assuming that the couples who get together at the end of movies stay together into the foreseeable future, what must they look like now? Surely they are still together, making coffee in the mornings, shuffling children off to this activity or that, taking trips to see plays and figuring out new digital cameras on the occasional Alaskan cruise.

I present the following as aids to your imagination, helping you to picture the lives of these fictional characters extended out ten, twenty, thirty years until the strange story of their first, accidental meeting is family legend retold every Thanksgiving to the grandchildren: “You know I used to fly Tomcats in the Navy — well, one day, Grandma waltzed into my classroom at Miramar, and I about flipped my lid. I told her about a MiG I’d seen recently, and she tried to freeze me out. And then I played volleyball for a while with Uncle Iceman.”