Friday, October 31, 2008

What is Ugly?

How do we define beauty or ugliness? Is it a universal standard or does it vary from culture to culture? Is it a point of view? Is it in the eye of the beholder? Or is it related to specific body features? Does "ugly" involve a disfigurement? How is beauty/ugliness related to one's weight or body shape?

Reading the lead article of the New York Times Style section on Thursday (10/30/08) "Move Over, My Pretty, Ugly Is Here," got me thinking.

You see, not only am I tall, and apparently a nerd, but for looks, let's say it's quite not a winning hand. Not that I'd be considered hideous, just a bit homely.

But luckily I can make up in brains what I may lack in looks. And now that I’m living in the neighborhood of middle age, I'm finally over the low self-esteem born in adolescence, when you know exactly where you stand in the pecking order of attractiveness.

Still, I must say I chose MyBlogLog over, say Facebook, because I wanted to be known for my words and thoughts, and not for what I may look like. That's also why I chose a cute avatar to represent my inner self-confidence and put a better face foward.

As I think back to adolescence it was like a domino effect of social segregation. From an early age, the more attractive tend to become the more popular, gaining more friends and social skills. The less attractive, especially if they're shy (like me), tend to fade to the background in social settings, less likely to reach out and make friends. Isolation can lead to depression and doubts about self-worth. Lack of confidence keeps you from putting your best face forward.

This effects both girls and boys. And it can take years to overcome it.

For me, having success in my profession helped a lot. In engineering, appearance and personality are generally less important; what matters to the boss is if you what you're doing and get the job done efficiently. In fact, as I think of all the competent engineers I know, there are both men and women who span the range of body shapes and appearances -- and they generally get along with each other.

The TV show "Ugly Betty" has brought the issue of appearance to prime time. The title character is also a bit homely, yet it doesn't hold her back. She too finds success at work which raises her self-esteem. And there is a related campaign to improve the self image and self confidence particularly of adolescent girls by de-emphasizing appearance.

Amazingly, even people we might find attractive have been through tough times when they were teased about their looks. Sometimes it was cultural. Someone who might have been considered unattractive in her native country, may be consider quite attractive in another culture.

On the other hand, love can overcome other aspects of appearance. The beloved is always seen as attractive. To a mother, her child is alway precious, even is she/he is a bit homely. And as couples grow old together, their appearance change with the addition of wrinkles and weight, or the loss of hair, but, through the eyes of love, they may still see each other as attractive and desirable.

It really seems that appearance is really a matter of viewpoint. Beauty and ugliness are really in the eyes of the beholder.

Now can you find a somewhat homely, aging blogger in the lineup below?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Appreciating Life Better Through Blogging

Blogging on whatever strikes me has intensified my observations and appreciations of the life and events that passes on around me. Life presents opportunities to find beauty and interest in the near-at-hand. (Take this view of a little pond in a new park here in Cambridge.)

Much of the time life becomes a repeated pattern of events: go to work, come home, eat, watch a little TV, pay some bills, keep in touch with friends, etc. Weeks pass as a series of low intensity events while life lives me and not the other way around. We become numb to life -- the intensity can be lost.

When I was younger, there were more spontaneous things I did with friends or places visited, and life had a greater intensity. But now that I'm living in the neighborhood of middle age, this repeated pattern of weekly events lived while trying to keep one's head above water (especially when work is busy) results in a life can become a bit of a rut at times.

But, I've found that blogging is a blessing that gives me an outlet where I can reflect on my feelings of moments and events as they enter my life. Momentary scenes are often filled with an intensity of feelings, thoughts, and connections.

Consider this photo I took: "August Sunset at Longfellow Bridge." This is taken from the train platform of Charles Street station looking west from Boston in to Cambridge. The Red Line subway and roadway cross the Charles River. First thing that moved me was the striking lighting effect created by eclipsing the setting sun with a lightpole, bathing the view in a warm yellow light. And the back-lit cloud over the steam power plant across the river. And the peaceful and empty view with only one young woman standing on the platform, no traffic on the bridge --- all in stark contrast to an otherwise bustling Saturday in Boston. It was Aug. 18th, and I was on my way to see the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona in its first week of release.

(As a transportation engineer, this one photo covers many interests including a unique view of the bridge, the train tracks, the Charles River, and the power plant across the river, one of the few surviving industrial landmarks of a once major manufacturing district built filled tidelands. The platform extension where the photo was taken was built in 1982, as part of a project I worked on).

Here's another favorite "Sunny Lane in Autumn" taken in the midst of Cambridge. On a rare warm October Sunday, with the delicious rays of the sun on my skin (as I yearned for the summer that is now past), I could sabor the respite from cooler days as I strolled comfortably in short sleeves and flip flops all the while taking in the colors of the autumnal arboreal transformation. I had always thought one really needed to get out of the city to see fall in New England. Drive up to New Hampshire and Vermont, take winding country lanes, find an apple stand, and hope it's not raining and cold. But, instead, the beauty of fall comes right to my fair city, if I just go out and appreciate it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall Colors with Uplighting

I always love a garden with up-lighting at night. There's something almost other-worldly and ethereal, yet peaceful about it. And it’s just kinda cool. It’s that white light washing, but not completely obliterating the colors.

So, I came upon this plaza with uplighting on some trees. In any other season, it would be interesting, but at the peak of the fall foliage change, it really caught my eye.

So, I captured them the best I could. These photos almost gets the feel of seeing it with your own eyes.

Then I had some fun altering the lighting and color (it would be cool in a slow disolve video clip).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Well, Guess I Am a Nerd, After All!

In my profile I describe myself as shy and a nerd. You see, in social settings I tend to be shy and, being an engineer, I guess I’m a nerd because I’m pretty good at math and science. But I never never knew for sure if I really would be classified a nerd.

Until today.

In a blog I follow, a recent entry titled “My world has been shattered.” by bcschjenk (, included a definition of “nerd” and, gee, it kinda fits.

The author quotes for the comparison of “geek,” “nerd,” and “dork” as follows:

.......................“Technical ................Social
...Title ............... Skills ................ Skills
Normie .............. No ..................... Yes
Geek ................. Yes ..................... Yes
Nerd ................ Yes ...................... No
Dork ................. No ..................... No”

It goes on to define “nerd” as:

“Nerd: A socially awkward person who has learned technical skills due to the spare time they enjoy from being generally neglected. Their technical knowledge then leads normies to neglect them even further, leading to more development of their technical skills, more neglection, etc. This vicious cycle drives them even more into social oblivion.”

Well, maybe the definition is a little harsh. It’s not like I don’t spend time with others, and some of them may actually be “normies.” And these technical skills I learned in school.

But, to be honest, I am shy and somewhat socially awkward, especially meeting new people. Sometimes I just don’t have much to say. And I don’t mind being silent, even with friends.

(But, you might ask, how can someone so shy write so much in a blog? But, you see, when I have time think, ideas come to me……then I have a lot to say.)

So, I guess I’m sorta a nerd (but not too nerdy, I hope!).

Reference: La Tristesse Durera Toujours (


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Autumn Color on a Warm Weekend

Fall colors on a warm day in New England -- that's a combination you can't beat!

Many tourists come here to see the display of fall colors, particularly in the mountains and hills of northern New England.

But I found that even here in the urban environs, I can find the beauty of the autumnal arboreal palate.

This weekend was particularly sunny and warm -- almost a little return of summer! Nice days for walking around and taking it all in. These are some images of color in the city near home.

A sunny lane - not in the country, but in the city!

Color near the hospital:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tall Girl Story

Author's Note: I have updated this entry to include a comment by Rita Rose who was a friend of Sandy, and knew her better than the author of the article I had read.

Now I have someone I could really look up to! Sandy Allen, at 7 feet, 7-1/4 inches tall, was the world's tallest woman until she passed away last August. Arianne Cohen described an interview with Sandy in an op. ed. article in the New York Times on August 22nd.

Wow, Sandy was over a foot and a half taller than me! At a little over 6 feet, I've always thought I was rather tall, at least compared to other women and girls. Since I'm not getting any shorter (well, at least not until my bones start to compress in old age), I've tried to have fun with my abundance of altitude. Like the picture on the right -- you see, being so tall, you can't get both my head and feet into one picture!

According to Arianne, Sandy greeted her with the joke "If you ever want the ceiling painted, put a hat on my head and tell me which way to walk." (Wow, I'm not the only one to joke about my height.)

A reader of the original post, Rita Rose, a friend of Sandy, replied with much more detail. The quote below (in a different color to distinguish Rita's words from mine) is from the e-mail I received from her:

"Sandy was my friend for 31 years and I knew her better than most people did. While some of what Cohen wrote was true, most of it was not. Here's the original post I made after her misleading article ran in the New York Times:

"Wow, I hate to burst your bubbles about this very touching story, but it's not even close to the truth! Sandy did NOT die alone or live her last years without family and friends. Yes, her school years were tough, but after she got her world's record as an adult her life became much more tolerable. She made good money working at the Guinness Museum of Records and later returned to Indiana to be a secretary.

"Sandy had many, many good friends who surrounded her. At the nursing home, she was well taken care of for the most part (it was, after all, a nursing home). There were 2 local women, her friends, who constantly watched out for her welfare and raised hell if things weren't right. I visited her at least once a month, and would have gone more often but I don't live in her town. She had many visitors -- maybe not every day, but who does? And the 2 wonderful women who watched over her promised Sandy that if she were dying, one of them would be with her so she wouldn't die alone -- and she was.

"Most of her family and friends visited her the day before she died. Her funeral and calling saw many notable visitors -- the mayors of Indianapolis and Shelbyville, some retired Pacers basketball players, Cincinnati Tall Club members and many more -- and more than 400 people signed the guest book.

"If Sandy was alone the day the writer [ed. note: Arlianne Cohen] of this article visited, that was just one day out of many where she had plenty of attention. She shouldn't have judged Sandy's situation based on one day, and without talking to some of Sandy's friends and caretakers. I certainly hope her book was much better researched because this truly is sloppy, exploitative journalism.

"My book, "World's Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High," will be out in November, if anyone is interested. ( for preorder at a discount.) I was Sandy's friend for 31 years and knew her well. The portrayal of her in this story is sad all right -- and not because of Sandy's situation. Please know that she was well-loved and cared for!"


If you find Sandy's story interesting, you can read more:
  • Rita Rose's upcoming book, "World's Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High," Hawtorn Publications, is described at:

  • Arianne Cohen, "Giant Problems," New York Times, August 22, 2008.

  • Arianne Cohen, The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From on High, Bloomsbury, to be released April 2009. (