May 1, 2008
…in your mind’s eye. Even back in the 1920s, one New York restaurant critic waxed nostalgic for what he called the “Golden Age” of dining in Manhattan. The blog for New York’s Freebird Books and Goods posted an entry in March about historic restaurant guides, including The Restaurants of New York, a 1925 guide by architect and New Yorker contributor George Chappell. Chappell laments Delmonico’s move from lower Manhattan to its uptown quarters on 44th Street. (You can find a complete history of that restaurant on SteakPerfection.com.) He relates wistful memories of Keen’s, Browne’s and dozens of ethnic restaurants in a section on “the foreign feeding grounds.”
As a guidebook, Chappell’s work probably doesn’t meet the minimum standards the average tourist might expect, blogger Michael Dashkin writes. But as an historical document, it gives us a unique look at the sights, sounds and smells of a time and place we’ll likely not see again. And the snippets Dashkin provides hint at a piece of literary nonfiction with a distinct voice and personality most guidebooks don’t even try to achieve, or probably shouldn’t.
April 26, 2008
A search for anything related to manuals on the Library of Congress Web site yields 50 pages of links, most of them having to do with library cataloging, followed by dancing, followed by courts martial. A couple pages on a plantation manual authored by South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond (1807-1864) caught my eye, though. Hammond finished the manual in 1858, not long before the Civil War. He gives detailed instructions on how long to let female slaves nurse their babies, how much time they could spend each day with their babies, and countless other aspects of daily life as a slave and plantation
April 17, 2008
A slightly opinionated interpretation of America’s sexual revolution and a brief history of toys and games lead off today’s list of oldies but goodies. Below are links to descriptions of the earliest handbooks on the following topics:
- Card playing
- Christian sexuality
- Collecting Tibetan postage stamps
- Defending management in labor disputes
- Epistolary theory
- Greek myth
- Homing pigeon training (I think)
- Public speaking
- Seafaring (in English)
- Traveling in Europe
April 7, 2008
This is just an experiment to see if I can generate more traffic by cravenly invoking that magic three-letter word, “sex.” I’ve already covered “God” once, but He’ll probably be back. You should never count Him out, I’ve found.
Back in the early 1990s, the good-old days of the Internet, I trolled for jobs on a Darth Vader-like Next computer in the basement of a parking lot at the University of Maryland. Most budiing sex addicts fell back on words rather than pictures to satisfy that particular monkey on their backs. I peered over at the undergrad next to me, responding to a chat posting from someone calling himself or herself “Turbocock.” I thought to myself, “Ha! I’ll never sink so low as to go looking for love in all the wrong cyberplaces.”
And then, once I graduated in 1994 and found myself out in the real world, I worked long hours by myself and wondered what good it did. In the middle of that existential dilemma, I found a site called Babe.com, and thus began an inexorable descent into a netherworld I wish I’d never encountered. That was back when my office only had one computer with Internet access, and a lot of sites didn’t load properly. Babe.com worked just fine though. Maybe that’s why I stayed late.
Rather than continue to rot my brain with thumbs of happy nudists and other people I’ll never meet or understand, I’d like to try to inject a modicum of common sense into the pursuit of pleasure. That’s why I read Sex in History. I’ve spent too long perusing Web sites that offer a version of sexual relations that, if it is realistic at all, is probably real for about .00001 percent of the general population.
April 6, 2008
I have always wondered when tourism began, and I have also wondered why. I still don’t know why for sure, but if the Pagan Holiday Web site is right, I not only know when, I also know where. Pagan Holiday is the U.S. title of travel writer Tony Perrottet’s book, Route 66 A.D., which grew out of Perrottet’s discovery of the oldest guidebook in the New York Public Library, a tract from the second century A.D., called Description of Greece.
It seems the ancient Romans first had the idea of going places just to take in the sights, but that was after they had conquered those places first, of course. So, that’s my conjecture—that tourists are basically the conquerors’ relatives who go to the lands of the conquered to order dinner and drinks. In case you’re wondering, yes, I am a socialist and a bleeding-heart liberal.
Of course, I have been a tourist, too, but I suppose I try to justify it by making sure I learn something about the places I visit. When I went to Rio, I learned that Brazil used to be the capital of Portugal, and that “Ipanema” means “dirty water.” One of our tour guides there delighted in telling us that he got a lot of his ideas from an American Web site that told businessmen where all the good strip clubs were.
April 2, 2008
…eventually digitized. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s nice to know I’m not the only nutjob writing about manuals down through the ages. The Old Car Manual Project has gathered together a bunch of—you guessed it—old car manuals and breathed new life into the tired art of Web design. With its sparkly graphics, the site celebrates the glory days of humongous cars, when America seemed to have its shit together.
That “Father Knows Best”/“Bobbsey Twins” pablum had to make way for the truth sooner or later, but by getting rid of the clean lines and smooth curves of 1950s graphic design as well, I think we threw out the baby with the bathwater. I hope the bathwater has evaporated by now. I’m also hoping the baby hasn’t wandered away to be raised by wolves.
The folks at Toolmonger.com also look as if they share my fondness for documents that tell you how to do stuff.
If you need to send a message to someone, but don’t want your enemies to intercept it, you could try steganography. An archived Web page on TextFiles.com calls it “the ancient art of hiding information in some otherwise inconspicuous information,” like a secret message hidden in a painting or sewn into a rug, or instructions written in invisible ink on a holiday card. This TextFiles.com page shows you one way to conceal electronic messages in .wav files, using a program called “S-tools.” Dating from 1994, the document is pretty ancient itself, by the standards of Web chronology.
In the modern age, some observers believe terrorists have used steganographic techniques to embed their communications in graphics files, like eBay photos or pornography. The 40 or so Web sites I checked seemed split down the middle between “this is so far-fetched it’s not worth my time” and “this is happening right now—we’ve got to do something!” The FBI in 2004 said no images studied on eBay or Usenet had hidden data.
For all I know, this post could be riddled with steganography. All I can say for sure is that if it is, I didn’t put it there. I have no freakin’ idea how to do stuff like that.
April 1, 2008
Someday, I will write a book on the history of manuals called That Thing No One Reads. I hope I will not tempt fate with such a title. If your boss has just told you to write a manual on some scintillating topic like uploading content to your company Web site, and you want people to actually read it, some of the following links may help:
- How to Write Great Instructions
- How to Write for Busy, Grouchy People
March 31, 2008
Today’s list gives you a smattering of the oldest extant handbooks on the following topics:
- Christian time-reckoning
- Making comics
- Making paper models
- Making political speeches
- Public speaking
- Strategic living
- U.S. Government