Bird Presidents #4: James Manakin

James Manakin

If birds were angels, no government would be necessary.
~ James Manakin

James Madison; the manakin (a male wire-tailed, in this case), which does not ordinarily have a widow’s peak like James Madison’s, though some varieties have other fairly exciting bits of head or neck feathering (helmeted, golden-collared).

Given all the big black area on this one, I deviated from my “nothing but a Micron .005” policy on the first few to do some fill-in with a .05. This seems not to have destroyed the universe, so I’ll keep that in mind for future drawings.

Bird Presidents #3: Ptarmigan Jefferson

03 Ptarmigan Jefferson

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all birds are created equal…
~ Ptarmigan Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson; the ptarmigan, which shows very different coloration from season to season, which fact I’m playing with fast and loose here.

Jefferson has famously been suspected of (and boy howdy is this apparently a matter of protracted historiological contention!), as a widower, fathering six children with his slave Sally Hemings; it’s an idea that makes for a strangely appropriate touchstone in the complicated and contradictory fact of a man who wrote the Declaration of Independence nonetheless himself choosing to claim ownership over a great many fellow humans’ lives.

Scanning these has been an okay way to capture the line art but I’m a big fan of the actual texture and shape of these cards, so I’m following my wife’s suggestion and doing this one as a cropped photograph instead of using the scanner.

Doing things vs. wondering if people will notice

This is a thing I presume lots of folks struggle with, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately:

I spend a lot of time that I could spend doing a thing sitting around peeking at page views and comments and web analytics and tumblr likes and so on, wondering who is noticing a thing I did. And it feels pretty off balance sometimes.

Here’s the givens:

1. I really like making stuff; music, writing, art, humor stuff, weird programming stunts, whatever. Building a thing, doing a thing. I like going from “I bet I could do x” to sitting down and making x happen, or making a solid and realistic plan for how to make x happen; I like turning silly ideas into silly realities. It’s rewarding enough in its own right that when I’m doing it right it doesn’t feel like work even if it takes real effort.

2. But I also like positive feedback. I like to know when people like a thing I made; I like to know when what strikes me as funny or interesting or curious enough to put down on paper (or .jpg or .mp3 or or or) is also curious or interesting or funny to other people. I like that connection, that validation, that sense that I’m not just sitting around in my treehouse by myself. I like it when I see that other people get what I’m after. It’s exciting; it’s gratifying.

And I think both of those are pretty normal and reasonable things, but like I said above, it can get to feeling off-balance. If I’m spending more of my time looking, for the nth time, to see if there’s new thumbs going up on something I posted than I’m spending making the next thing? That feels like a problem. Why am I cycling from one site to the next, dousing for validation, instead of just getting on with the great big stack of Some Day projects that today could be the day for? Why am I sitting around wondering if people will notice what I did, when the answer shouldn’t really matter and the energy I spend on that could be spent making something new?

I try to be self-aware about the whole thing, but self-awareness of a problem and addressing it effectively aren’t the same thing, so some days I end up sitting around sort of being aware that I’m not using my time the way I’d like to be but just not using it well anyway and feeling sort of wrapped up in that conflict and vibrating uselessly. It’s a frustrating thing.

And then I check twitter and flickr and mlkshk and tumblr and metafilter and facebook and my WordPress blogs and my web analytics again. The growth and decentralization of my pool of places-where-I-put-stuff-I-make-or-talk-to-people over time is probably exacerbating this whole thing a bit, and the idea of recentralizing somewhat (likely by routing a lot more of my output through this lately-pretty-dormant blog) has some appeal but isn’t a panacea. (And, turtles all the way down, I would likely do the work to facelift the blog and rework things and then announce that on twitter and sit around wondering who will notice…)

It’s a tricky thing. I’m working on it. I figure a lot of people are. But some days, some months, it feels like more of a thing than usual, and I guess this is one of those.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go draw a picture of Bird President Ptarmigan Jefferson.

Bird Presidents #2: Guan Adams

Guan Adams

No bird who ever held the office of President would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.
~ Guan Adams

John Adams; the guan. Beware the horned guan, he’s a big faker.

Guan Adams is the second Bird President of the United States of, I dunno, Birdmerica? Need to think about that further.

Adams had some pretty crazy hair in some of his later portraits, so I tried to get a little of that going on on this guan though I’m not sure anyone’s buying it.

Bird Presidents #1: Grebe Washington

Grebe Washington

Liberty, when it begins to take wing, is a bird of rapid flight.
~ Grebe Washington

George Washington; the Grebe, which is apparently possibly related to the flamingo.

Drawing loosely modeled on Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Deleware.

So after doing up Theodore Crowsevelt earlier, I got to thinking about other presidential bird names, and pretty soon I was crossreferencing wikipedia lists and to sort of sum up the situation is that

1. I have a spreadsheet now titled Bird Presidents and

2. I think I’ll keep doing these.

I don’t know much about birds or presidents and I can always use an excuse to try and work on my drawing, so it seems like a good little side project.

Bird Presidents #27: Theodore Crowsevelt

Theodore Crowsevelt

We must treat each bird on his merit and worth as a bird.
~ Theodore Crowsevelt

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt; the crow, in this case I think specifically the American Crow though no known species actually have mustaches or wear tiny spectacles.

The first bird president I drew, and so posted out of order. Also I believe I accidentally transposed “merit” and “worth” from the actual quote.

Just a little experiment this morning after I got the name “Crowsevelt” stuck in my brain for some reason.

In retrospect it’s hard to put a mustache on a bird; if I were to do this again I’d probably push the perspective to bring the face forward in the composition and give myself some more room to work with in caricature. But I’m also just not totally sure how to bridge the gap between Teddy and a crow, physiologically speaking, so hey.

Will now spend the rest of the day trying to think of other Presidential bird puns.

Metafilter Frequency Tables: 13 years, 636 million words

I’ve updated today a project I first launched a couple years ago: Metafilter Frequency Tables, a collection of tables calculated from the last 13 years of comments made by users on

The tables break down word frequency for the site as a whole as well as by several major subsites, and for all time as well as by year, month, and day. Each table includes raw count and parts-per-million data for each word. It’s all generated by some perl I wrote that fetches comments from our database and tabulates it into these text files. Read about the methodology here.

This isn’t by far the most carefully constructed set of such tables out there — I am a hobbyist, not a trained linguist, and this whole effort is very much DIY — but it’s the largest I’m aware of focused specifically on this sort of internet-mediated casual textual conversation over the last decade-plus, and I’m hoping it will be of some use or interest to word nerds.

Notes on The Franklin Post

During my senior year of high school, I was a writer for our school newspaper, The Franklin Post. I held onto a few issues after graduating, and lost track of them in one box or another for years and years; I just recently found them again. Below are scans and some notes of the entirety of the April 28th, 1997 issue, along with some clippings from a few other issues.

The Post was produced entirely in-school, by students, up to the point of actual printing; we had a faculty advisor, Helen Wittke, who ran editorial meetings and kept us more or less in check, but as far as I can remember the student staff was in charge of running pretty much the whole show in terms of writing, photography, editing and layout. We had a collection of Macs for workstations, did graphic design and layout work with some desktop publishing suite or another, and physically pasted finished columns and photos together onto large boards for delivery to the printers. The paper was generally eight or twelve pages, eleven by seventeen inch pages black-and-white on newsprint (with the occasional highlight color for some pages/issues; I remember red for the holiday issue, for example).

I don’t remember exactly how I got involved that year; I think I had to work/beg/promise my way around a pre-requisite course I hadn’t taken the previous year and wouldn’t have time for since this was my senior year. I didn’t have any news or journalism experience, but I was an enthusiastic writer and had taken a black-and-white photography class the previous year, so at least I was coming to it with more than just the sort of “maybe I should try that” idle curiosity that got me into a couple disastrous seasons of school sports earlier in my childhood.

And it was a great time, it turned out. If I think about it I’m sure I can dredge up some memory or other of any of my classes from senior year, or high school in general, but Journalism just leaps back to me especially vividly. I’d done some self-guided courses in previous years, for programming credits where the school lacked the enrollment or curriculum to justify a proper classroom experience, but those were more like private study periods than anything; working on the paper was very different, this strange freeform thing, a lumbering collaborative project that we all had to get done together, kicking around at big tables and workstations in a room that really felt like a workshop.

Plus we got away with a whole lot of hanging out and bullshitting. And I was really finally finding my bullshitting legs at that point in my life, after being pretty introverted and socially isolated for a lot of years. I loved it. I was probably a terrible pain in the ass a lot of the time; I remember a few specific situations where I’m certain I was, and that’s just the stuff I had the self-awareness at the time to remember and the sense in retrospect to regret.


Our staff: Misty Redmon, Colleen Coombes, Tobias Green, Bryan Hunt, Brock Briones, Savanna Walls, Nathan Saunders, Beth Coleman, Carrie Brummer, Joy Geren, Jimmy Ho, Derek Moore, Kathleen Peterson, April Rautio, Abbie Vaught, Cydny Winslow, Nick Wolchesky, Willie Schmaltz, and me.

Tobias was always “Toby” to me and might be again at this point; I can’t remember if he really went formal with it in person or just liked how it looked on the byline there. Bryan was sometimes “Mike” because we were terrible people but I’m pretty sure Savanna started it. And Willie was at that point I think already on his way to preferring “Wilder”, which in his defense is a way better name, though my family still calls him Willie because whatever your name was back in middle school pretty much sticks with them forever.

I don’t remember being the Opinion Editor, and in fact checking the staff box for the issue below (the box above is from a different issue) I’m listed there as Sports Editor, which I also don’t remember being. We must have been assigned or argued for monthly editorial assignments? Forgotten detail.

Franklin Post – Monday, April 28th, 1997

Important note, you can click on an image below to get a much higher-res view for readability’s sake.


Page 1:

Franklin celebrates May Fete for 75 years, April Rautio.
Franklin wins award two years running, Savanna Walls.
FHS Mock Trial team’s first appearance at state, Bryan Hunt.

I should apologize for the sometimes dodgy scans here; these were grabbed on a little consumer printer/scannier/copy in a hurry, so margins are a bit tight and a bit sloppy in places, and (as in the break in the center of this page) text occasionally got cut out by bad placement of edges.
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