100 Objects

Busying part of the brain with words helps other parts stay engaged in hand work. In the olden days, quilting or painting stems or petals (“coloring in the lines” my friend Joanna Isles used to say) could only be accompanied by music, books-on-tape (if organized), or whatever the radio offered at that moment.

But now the wide world of podcasts means I could listen, while painting and making collage flowers for the show in June, to the British Museum’s series, “A History of the World in 100 Objects.”

The director of the museum, Neil MacGregor, narrates as he examines individual objects chosen from the collection, and includes interviews with experts in history, art, or archeology. Scholars from an object’s country of origin, or practitioners of modern day arts might weigh in – reacting to ancient forms of what they do today.

Some of the objects are rare and unique, some ceremonial, and others utterly common and ordinary. They trace human efforts in a variety of materials from bronze to a plastic credit card (I’m not there yet).

An ancient piece of papyrus titled: “The Correct Method of Reckoning for Grasping the Meaning of Things and Knowing Everything, Obscurities and All Secrets” – seems an early self-help book, says the narrator.

A very early clay tablet – a trader’s notebook – keeps track of beer. Other tablets reveal the magic moments when oral stories began to be written down – giving us the lasting ability to “inhabit the thought worlds of others.”

A stone, carved and chipped to be knife-like and used for skinning animals or similar tasks, appears more chipped than need be, more complicated. MacGregor says that’s a human tendency – to bring complexity, to imagine something extra – a tendency that he describes as leading to art. MacGregor says “making things and coming to depend on things turned us into the humans we are today.”

You can see photos of the objects on the museum’s website, but these objects often live best through words. It’s a good listen – a perfect accompaniment to making things!

Oh So Wrong

Needing an adaptor to connect my laptop to the cable for a new monitor (exciting development for laying out the pocket books on a bigger screen), I visited the local computer store. I said I had a MacBook Pro and got an adapter.

At home I opened the monitor box. It contained a multitude of cords, coiled snake-like in plastic bags. I laid them all out on the table, along with the Apple adapter, but quickly realized my new “Mini-DVI to DVI” adapter was never going to fit into the port on my computer.

I called the store and described my computer as a MacBook Pro, adding that it was a 2006 purchased last January. The young man who answered said the port should be on the right. I said no port on the right, just the DVD slot. He said if the DVD slot is on the side it’s not a MacBook Pro from 2006. I replied that I was sure it was a MacBook Pro.

Each equally politely irritated with the other, we had a couple more exchanges. He said if I brought it in, he was sure he would have the right adapter. OK I thought, glad to take it in, glad to show him the words MacBook Pro.

Never mind that we were really hung up on my wrong date (of course it is a 2010 model). Where did that certainty (and wrongness) with which I said 2006 come from? (Maybe I need different adapter cables to refresh my hard drive.)

Yet another lesson in the “it never pays to reveal irritation” category – a reminder that indignation should serve as a warning sign somehow (specially on my part where technology is concerned). We weren’t rude to each other, but being the sort of computer person who knows the body type of each Mac model, their ports and specifications, he must have been completely flummoxed. What seemed slightly arrogant was really just statement of fact – “You haven’t got a 2006 MacBook Pro.” Right.

He had every reason to be argumentative. I was so sure I was right, and I was so wrong.

So I took my computer into the store (all became clear to my chagrin). He found the “Mini Display port to DVI” adapter that I needed and sorted out all the cables, showing me what goes to what. He tossed a cable in the “free box” (one I wouldn’t need at all), handed me the electrical cord and said, “You can probably figure this one out.” We laughed.

The laughing part was good. And the lesson.