Thursday, December 14, 2006

art history part III: Islamic architecture

Beautiful images of Islamic buildings are all over the Web. Islamic Architecture, for instance, offers medium- and large-sized pictures of mosques, palaces, bathhouses, and other architectural treasures from all over the Islamic world. The website is a bit of a pain to navigate -- lots of irritating sidebar ads - but the content is well-researched and very informative.

While the pickings at are a bit slimmer, it's still a good source for photographs of some of the most well-known examples of Islamic architecture, such as the Taj Mahal and the Great Mosque of Damascus. The images are not all well-captioned, unfortunately, so you do have to know what you're looking for.

The cream of the crop, however, is ArchNet's digital library, which offers photographs of hundreds of Islamic monuments around the world. You can search by country, time period, building usage, building style, or site name, and no matter how obscure the site, ArchNet's images are nearly always superb. Just for fun, here's on of my favorite's: the Djingareyber Mosque Restoration in Timbuktu, Mali.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

art history, part II: architecture of the ancient world

Almost as soon as I started writing this post, I realized the futility of attempting to discuss all the possible sources of high-quality digital images of architecture in just one single blog post. So I'm not going to. Today, I'll focus solely on the architecture of the ancient western world: buildings from the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Let's go chronologically.

Joseph MacDonnell, S.J., a professor of mathematics at Fairfield University in Connecticut, has designed a well-documented website on Mesopotamian architecture. Though the images are fairly small in size, they are clear, accurately labelled, and highlight some of the key monuments of art and architecture from this time period. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art History also offers a few small-scale images of Uruk, the first known city.

For ancient Egypt, you might also want to take a look at the Timeline of Art History, which boasts an extensive collection of images and essays on the architecture of this era. And don't miss this page by Professor Frank Toker of the University of Pittsburgh.

Moving on to Greece and Rome,'s Classical Athens page is a fun place to explore photographs of ancient Athenian sites. While not always expertly shot, the pictures are well-documented in sidebar captions -- a big help for people like me who get tired of vague descriptions like, "Parthenon, general view." (General view from which direction!?!?) The Stoa Consortium also hosts a blog on issues of interest to "digital classicists." The most comprehensive collection of digital images of classical sites, however, is Perseus, which users can browse by region, date, site, period, architect, or date of building. Perseus also includes a wide variety of photographs and ground plans of Roman sites. Finally, World Images Kiosk at Cal State boasts a beautiful, if somewhat disorganized, collection of Roman art images.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

the National Biological Information Infrastructure

The National Biological Information Infrastucture (NBII) bills itself as a "broad, collaborative program to provide increased access to data and information on the nation's biological resources." To that end, the NBII website offers links to information on current issues in biology (biodiversity, pollinator decline, West Nile virus, etc.), museums and image collections, geographically-specific biology/ecology information, and conference listings, data sources, and external tools.

The site also features a well-stocked Teacher Resources center, with extensive listings of classroom projects for K-12 students, arranged by topic and grade level. You'll find a wide range of real-life and online activities here, from Net Frog -- an online interactive no-animals-harmed dissection activity -- to epidemic simulations to roach anatomy. (Oh, and if you enjoyed the roach anatomy page, you might also want to try the "Can Cockroaches Learn" lab, which involves running twelve live roaches through several different mazes.)

Fun fact of the day: people who are allergic to shellfish are usually allergic to cockroaches, too. So if lobster tail sends you int anaphylactic shock, it's probably best not to try eating roaches, either. Just in case you were tempted.

Monday, December 11, 2006

'tis the season...

...for coughs, colds, sniffles, sneezes, and (godforbid) the 'flu. And as most teachers know, working in a school filled with germy, sleep-deprived kids spells exposure to all kinds of nasty bugs and viruses.

So how to stay healthy? Unfortunately, there's no surefire method. Eating right, sleeping well, and avoiding stress (ha) are probabably the best ways to stay healthy, along with dressing for the weather and washing one's hands frequently. Getting a 'flu shot is probably a good idea, too, especially if you're older or have a compromised immune system.

If the above fails and you do start to feel a cold coming on, here are some last-ditch remedies, all available online or in your nearby drugstore:

-A few people I know swear that loading up on vitamin C and zinc is a nearly foolproof way to stave off a cold. Dissolving a packet or two of Emergen-C in your water bottle is a tasty way to fill up on C, as is munching on a couple of these orange-flavored chews. I don't know how precisely zinc is supposed to fight colds, but if you want to give it a try, there are plenty of zinc tablets and lozenges out there for your perusal. And even if there's no conclusive proof of the effectiveness of these remedies, the placebo effect can go a long way.

-The conductor/artistic director of my chorus used to urge all his singers to dose themselves with Sambucol, a nasty-tasting elderberry-derived liquid that supposedly prevents or lessens the effects of cold and 'flu. Since taking it on an empty stomach actually made me throw up, I can't exactly speak for its efficacy, but I do know plenty of musicians who swear by it.

-Finally, there's Airborne, a product supposedly developed by a teacher who was sick of getting sick. The effervescent tablets taste hideous, but the chewable ones are quite bearable, and -- who knows -- may actually have an effect.

-Oh yeah, and there's also garlic. If nothing else, at least it'll keep everyone -- sick and healthy alike -- at a safe distance. (It may also protect you from vampires.)

Too bad I didn't listen to my own advice this year. Excuse me now, as I down a capful of Nyquil and head back to bed for the remainder of the afternoon...

Thursday, December 7, 2006

art history, part I

While any school with a full art history program should consider suscribing to Artstor, an expensive but outstanding digital library of high-quality images of artworks, schools that do not offer art history as a separate subject or do not have the budget to support Artstor shouldn't feel completely out of the digital image loop. There are still plenty of free sources of high-quality, well-documented images out there. In my next few blog posts, I'll survey some of the best.

Let's start with New York, my home base.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for one, is constantly expanding its digital collection of zoomable images. The Met's Timeline of Art History is also a terrific source of images, along with timelines, maps, and historical overviews. Located just a few blocks south on Fifth Avenue, the Frick Collection also offers a large online library of zoomable images of many of the well-known works of art in its galleries.

Elsewhere in New York City, the Museum of Modern Art has a searchable online archive of 1690 artists and 5512 objects from the museum's collection. The Rubin Museum, also in New York, specializes in the arts of the Himalayas and offers online visitors a small but well-designed collection of high-resolution images of these objects.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

high school drama help

Some schools have dedicated drama departments. Some schools even hire full-time technical directors to oversee the necessary carpentry, lighting, costuming, and props work for each theatre production.

And then a whole lot of schools simply dump directing responsibilities on whomever they can find among their faculties to volunteer. This post is for any such volunteers who may, at one point or another, find themselves in a little over their heads as far as the technical aspects of theatre are concerned.

Surprisingly, there aren't too many good informational pages for stage carpentry on the web. Most tech. theatre sites are aimed at semi-professional or professional groups, rather than high school drama clubs. Flat Building 101, however, is welcome exception, especially if perused in conjunction with Ben Teague's more diagram-heavy How to Build a Flat: An Illustrated Guide. Teague's guides to platform and stair-building are also extremely informative, with lots of step-by-step advice.

Remember, measure twice, cut once!

For lighting, take a gander at the Stage Lighting page at Lots of useful diagrams of different instruments, as well as advice on how best to configure your lighting plot. If you're a complete lighting newbie, however, you might consider purchasing a more comprehensive how-to book, like the well-reviewed A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting or Designing with Light: An Introduction to Stage Lighting.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

an alternative to Photoshop

Can't afford Photoshop? Consider instead the open-source alternative the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), available cost-free for Windows, Linux, and MacOS. Like Photoshop, GIMP allows users to manipulate and save images in a variety of formats, including GIMP's native file format, XFC -- great for saving images that you plan on working on later.

If you're already familiar with Photoshop, you should have no trouble making the switch to the GIMP. The menu and toolbar designs of the GIMP will look more than a little familiar. If you're new to image-editing -- or if you're hoping to upgrade your skills -- the main GIMP website links to a number of excellent tutorials, all much more readable and informative than anything I've ever used for Photoshop.