What I did on my summer vacation, 2011 edition

My family and I went on vacation last week. Nothing major… a driving tour of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Duluth, Minnesota. A “greatest hits” tour, if you will. There were some things I’d rather forget (a constantly spreading crack in the windshield from a rock that hit it two hours into the first day of the trip; the daily kid freakout in the hotel because we weren’t at the pool yet; watching lots of Disney Channel), and other things I’ll always remember (jogging along the canal waterfront in Houghton at 6 AM; eating a sandwich of salmon, egg and radish on grilled lefse).

But the most enduring overall memory of the trip will probably be the collection of nearly 150 Instagram photos I took on my iPhone during the course of the trip. Instagram’s images may be low-resolution (612×612 pixels), but the endearing and quaint qualities its filters and effects lend, combined with the modern technologies that underly it (and allow for things like instant worldwide sharing, geolocation, and printing a poster of your photos), make it a transformative tool for turning cell phone photos into meaningful artifacts.

And, with that grandiose setup, here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting photos I took on the trip.

I found what was quite obviously not a naturally-formed rock on the shore, and placed it on top of what was also quite obviously not a natural piece of driftwood.

I doubt Roger Ebert was actually at McLain State Park, north of Hancock, Michigan. But someone by that name apparently was.

Whoever wrote this must have been under the effect if they thought they could fit the entire phrase in that amount of space.

Retaining walls can be ugly. Someone in Houghton did their part to change that.

Rosie throws a rock while Fletcher looks on.

I had some fun experimenting with different arrangements of natural elements, and artificial photographic effects.

I think this was a strawberry, growing wild on a rock near Lake Superior.

A stern warning from the monks of Society of St. John, in front of the Jampot.

This disturbing mural greets the inebriated patrons of the Ambassador Restaurant in Houghton, Michigan.

Rosie found a piece of bark on the beach near the mouth of the Presque Isle River in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

I’m no botanist, but this is a cool looking flower.

Not “You Are Here.” Just… “You.”

I’ve always found artsy photos of derelict businesses appealing, so I had to try my hand at it.

There’s nothing to see out there, but you can see it up close.

I discovered what appears to be half a bowling ball amidst the rocks on the lakeshore north of downtown Duluth.

Amazingly, in all of the times I’ve visited Duluth in my life, I’ve never approached the lift bridge on foot. So I never saw details like this…

…or this.

I like the composition of this photo, with Fletcher in the foreground symmetrically balanced against the lighthouse in the background.

Toy cars on I-35. OK, they’re not really toy cars, of course, but a clever bit of tilt-shift trickery.

Another thing I’ve somehow managed never to experience before was Canal Park in the fog. Until now.

Before writing this post, I tried to research the history of… this thing… sunken in the waters of the Duluth Lakefront just northwest of the canal. But it appears to have been purged from the city’s history. Kind of like… this.

Update (8/5/2011): A former coworker has identified this as the “Ice House”… it even has a Facebook page. Sadly, I still can’t find any more information about its history. How can there possibly not be any more information about this thing online? Is Duluth really so ashamed of it that all but its teenaged, diving residents deny its existence?

There was a cool exhibit called “Masters of Disguise” at the Great Lakes Aquarium. Chameleons are awesome.

So are mantises that look like twigs.

While eating lunch at Takk for Maten in downtown Duluth, I couldn’t help noticing that this giant onion is totally gonna eat that guy!

The only thing worse than Arial is a careless mix of Arial and Helvetica

I snapped these photos yesterday in the parking lot of the Lyndale Rose Garden in Minneapolis. Why, at a garden with huge displays of flowers, fountains, sculptures and more, would I bother taking not just one but multiple photos of the pay machine in a parking lot?


In particular, ever since I saw the documentary Helvetica, I’ve been observing instances of the use of Arial — that abomination of a Helvetica knockoff Microsoft foisted upon the world by being too cheap to license Helvetica for Windows — on public signage. In days gone by, the default, almost ubiquitous, font on all sorts of public signs was Helvetica. But in the modern PC era, these signs often use Arial, the readily available not-quite-lookalike, instead.

But this pay machine is something else entirely. It displays a schizophrenic mix of Arial and Helvetica.

'PAY HERE' and taped-on sign in Arial
The most readily distinguishable difference between Arial and Helvetica, as I’ve noted before, is the capital R. So this pay machine immediately caught my attention with the giant “PAY HERE” sign at its top, immediately recognizable as Arial. I also noticed that the taped-on “ATTENTION” sign (which frustratingly informed me that the credit card function was not working) was in Arial as well.

Dymo labels in Helvetica
Next I noticed the pasted-on Dymo labels below the change slot, which were printed in Helvetica.

Machine instructions in Helvetica
The instructions printed on the machine, presumably by the manufacturer, are in Helvetica, albeit an ugly, artificially compressed version. So it would appear that the “PAY HERE” sign was a Minneapolis add-on and not part of the original unit.

Move over, Cupcake in Bloom. Qwest has annoyed me more.

Repetition plays a role in my annoyance with advertising. In downtown Minneapolis right now there’s a new set of Qwest ads that are almost as ubiquitous as the previously-ranted-about Cupcake in Bloom from 1-800-Flowers.

There are a pair of these, both annoying, but the dude in this one is just begging to be punched in the face. I would be happy to oblige.

Qwest ad: Punch me in the face. Please!

Real cupcakes that I would like less than the “Cupcake in Bloom”

I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve discovered something even worse than the “Cupcake in Bloom” from 1-800-Flowers. I ranted about this a few weeks back, but in case you missed it and somehow haven’t seen ads for it plastered in every public space in your city, this is what it looks like:


Pretty bad. And for everyone I’ve talked to about it, the consensus is that we’d all prefer a $1 real cupcake to a $25 bouquet made to look like flowers.

That’s how I felt, for sure. Until tonight at Target, when I saw this:

They're cupcakes! They only LOOK like dogs! Isn't that cute and/or clever?

I stand corrected. And this is now the second time I’ve surreptitiously taken a photo with my iPhone inside the same Target store for use on this website. I wonder how long it’ll be before they have their stoner security guard start tailing me when I come in. Maybe I can buy him off with dog-shaped cupcakes.

Countering the theory that familiarity breeds acceptance

It is often said that “familiarity breeds acceptance.” (At least 16,900 times.) I now have evidence to disprove this theory.

1-800-Flowers is heavily promoting a new product called Cupcake in Bloom via the ad boards at stations on the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis. On the face of it this is a profoundly, fundamentally stupid product. Granted, I’m not big on flowers, but I do appreciate a nice arrangement. I do not, however, get too excited about an indiscriminate ball of white flowers, stuffed in a fake muffin wrapper. I would be deeply disappointed if someone I knew spent $25 on one of these for me. I would much rather have them spend one dollar on a real cupcake.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in thinking this product is utterly stupid, which is why 1-800-Flowers is desperately trying to break down our resistance by placing at least five of these ads at nearly every station. On one side of the 38th Street station, for instance, there are eight ad panels. Presently six of these are displaying the Cupcake in Bloom ad. I didn’t even look at the opposite side of the platform to see how many more there might be.

The only possible explanation for this marketing blitz is that the company is hoping that by saturating our visual field with this image, subjecting us to it again and again, we might just eventually get used to it enough to forget how stupid it is. Familiarity breeds acceptance.

Except in this case.

You may notice in the photo below — in addition to the fact that there’s another of the same ad in the background (and this is the opposite side of the board featured in the other photo above) — that someone has defaced the photo of poor Jim McCann, founder of the company and someone who is apparently more than willing to take the credit/blame for this overpriced abomination. Ketchup, it seems. And there’s more ketchup on the other side along with… is that a Chicken McNugget? (Speaking of “familiarity breeds acceptance”…)

I was intending to take more photos (yes, there were at least two more of these signs at the station), but after these two I grew concerned that the Metro Transit panopticon was monitoring my activities: just as I took the second photo the prerecorded message about using the emergency phone to report suspicious activity came over the loudspeaker. Coincidence, perhaps, since they’re really pimping the emergency phone right now, but I didn’t want to test the response time of the Transit Police for something so stupid, especially since I doubt they would believe that this was the reason I was taking photos at the station.