jeweled platypus


wednesday, february 10, 2010
Moving on during hummingbird season

I bought myself a new camera on the night in December that I finished my last paper as a Literature student. I was writing about why John Milton includes his personal voice in parts of Paradise Lost, right after completing an explanation of the symbolism and structure of Gawain and the Green Knight… My interests didn’t fit neatly into the Lit major, so I struggled through some of the many essays, but I still wouldn’t have chosen any other major. I loved the College of Creative Studies, and I’m glad I’m done.

Anyway, I like taking pictures for fun, and during college I used a small point-and-shoot that I got in high school. My new one is also a small point-and-shoot, but technology improves in nice ways when you wait four and a half years between upgrades.

window, tree, rain drops

a small glass hummingbird by a window

I’ve moved back home to Los Angeles for a little while, to read and walk and hang out with my family as I figure out where I want to work. That’s our kitchen, where I cook soup that fogs up the windows on cold days.

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thursday, january 14, 2010
Friends and type

2007 and 2008 magazines

My college has a student-run poetry magazine, and I worked on it from freshman year to senior year. I like poetry, but more importantly I like publishing! Sorting bad writing from good writing, and then distributing the good stuff, is a lot of work and is pretty fun. This is a tiny publication, with printing funded by a donation; we sell some copies to students, faculty, and friends. Each year brings a mostly-new staff of volunteer students, and each year they have the chance to make something out of it.

We end up doing what Literature students are supposed to do: reading lots of writing from a wide variety of authors and talking about them in a small self-directed group, dissecting reams of terrible free verse about boyfriends and traffic jams and iguanas. Sometimes I convinced people to talk about product strategy, and sometimes we all went out to eat crepes.

I also rearranged the website, but I mess with websites all the time. More unusual: I got to design the last two print issues (Spring 2008 and Spring 2009), and I chose to make new templates and style guidelines based on the layout in the magazine’s first issue from 1999. They’re not complex, but I liked re-reading The Elements of Typographic Style again and trying to apply what I’ve learned.

publication informationg and letter from the editor

table of contents

a poem

another poem and illustration

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sunday, october 18, 2009
The munitions bunkers of MCAS Santa Barbara

If you drive into UCSB along Mesa Road and you keep your eyes open, you can see this in the dry Goleta Slough between campus and the airport:

a bunker

I didn’t notice those structures until a few weeks ago when I started looking into the history of the building that houses the College of Creative Studies. Our building is one of a few remaining ones on campus from 1942, when the area was a Marine Corps Air Station that trained pilots for World War II. I posted the details I found about our building on the CCS Literature Collaborative blog (with aerial photos!).

During that process, I read the UCSB Long Range Development Plan’s Sensitivity Study for Potential Historical Resources (PDF) and saw a listing for building 802, a “Storage Bunker” that served as a “military ammunitions bunker” for the former Marine base. This is also mentioned in the UCSB Long Range Development Plan’s document about Hazards and Hazardous Materials (PDF): “Ammunition was discovered in a bunker behind the police station in 1988.”

I like local history and ruins, especially military ruins (it’s hard to overstate how much Doug and I enjoyed visiting the forts of the Marin Headlands and Treasure Island), and I started thinking about how to find this strange remnant. A few days later I noticed the structures in the photo above, and then I saw another bunker while walking along Los Carneros Road. They’re pretty well hidden — you can barely see them in the background of this photo — but Doug and I went to find them. Here’s a map.

We parked in the small lot by the police/fire station, and I was a little worried that we would get in trouble for poking around, but none of these small roads/trails had “no trespassing” signs (except the fence marking where the airport begins). Nobody was around on a Saturday afternoon except a couple of firefighters washing a fire truck. And before we even walked all the way to the bunker, we saw this surprise:

a fragment? a fragment?

It’s a tall concrete sculpture, but I don’t know what it means or why it’s there. I don’t think it used to be part of any other structure; the base is angled in a way that would probably make it unsuitable as a load-bearing column. There’s a small black plaque on one side, but I can’t make out what it says except the name “Ciabatton” and maybe the date “1968”. A monument or memorial of some kind? It’s close to the bunker visible from the road:

a bunker

Then Doug and I walked toward this one, which we barely saw among the brush:

a nasty bunker

If you look through the heavy fencing, you can see the number 803 and a faded sign that says “CAUTION: HAZARDOUS CHEMICAL WASTE”. Wow!

Back toward the police/fire station, here’s the bunker (802) that Facilities Management uses for storage:

active bunker

There’s also a fourth bunker, but it’s on airport territory and not accessible.

I asked some of my UCSB friends whether they’d seen these bunkers, and most hadn’t heard of them — or had seen something while visiting the police station (to contest tickets, etc.) but hadn’t wanted to get in trouble by looking more closely. It makes sense that the university doesn’t publicize this utility area or make it very friendly, but I’m glad these structures are still accessible to people who are fascinated by the area’s life as a Marine base. There’s a nearby Air Heritage Museum open a few hours a week (for information, scroll down on this museum list), and someday Doug and I are going to wake up early enough to go there. I’d like to ask them about the weird and lovely concrete monument.

This type of camouflaged munitions storage bunker, distanced from other structures, is common on military bases. I think they’re all beautiful.

Update: As of January 2011, the publicly-accessible bunkers have been torn down, along with the concrete “monument” (which was actually probably just a materials test for building Storke Tower).

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saturday, july 11, 2009
Learning to see wooden poles

When I’m not in a rush to get somewhere, I look up at the tops of telephone poles. I don’t know anything about electricity, but I find myself reading glossaries of linemen’s slang and technical definitions, learning how to refer to the grey buckets that transform electricity for home use (cans, bugs, distribution transformers) and how to identify several other pole features, especially different varieties of shiny ceramic insulators.

Utility pole in Isla Vista Utility pole in Los Angeles

To get from place to place I always walk or look out a car/bus/train window; I don’t know how to drive and don’t feel safe on a bicycle around cars. So I walk a lot, and usually I have something to think about while I’m walking — but if I don’t, and if the sky isn’t too bright, I peer nearsightedly at glossy cylinders tied to wires.

Utility pole in Goleta

I got interested in utility poles in late 2006 after picking a yellowing antiques magazine off a stack in my grandma’s overstuffed house — it had an article about collecting glass insulators, and I was puzzled. I looked at the pictures but couldn’t figure out what these things were. Their collectors didn’t explain; they talked about cataloging varieties and identifying falsely-tinted specimens.

A person's collection of insulators

Later I read more about insulators online, and the fervor of collectors’ websites overwhelmed me a little, but I learned that insulators are devices that sit near the tops of poles to support live wires. Most glass ones have been retired and replaced by ceramic ones, so glass insulators are a beloved collector’s item: produced in a limited quantity, portable, and pretty.

A pole with glass insulators

In December I visited my boyfriend’s uncle’s ranch, which grows junk: rusty vehicles, cow bones, fallen streetlights, and, among the weeds, a pile of ceramic insulators. I took photos up close, admiring the glazed bells. I could have asked to grab a set, but where would I keep such a heavy thing? The pile waits there for me to visit again.

Insulators at the ranch

I like functional and authentic technical equipment, the more elaborate and less appreciated the better. I get excited about trains and oil wells too, but I don’t see them on my walk to class every day — and they have an amount of built-in spectacle already. Reading about insulators led to noticing a whole ecology of lightning arresters, guy lines, strain insulators, and more.

Part of the Iron Zoo

Some of my friends and I have similar childhood memories: we read Richard Scarry books, where friendly drawings with animal-people explain how an entire town functions, from the paper mill to how the roads are laid; we watched the segment of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that explained a crayon factory; and we built flocks of LEGO houses and cars.

Utility poles on Treasure Island

Those friends are now computer programmers, while I didn’t understand math past the first semester of Algebra II and never took a physics class. I don’t understand electricity at all, but you don’t have to be a zoology student to spot birds. (My friend working on a master’s degree in bird research makes time to practice medieval-style archery.) I’ve stopped for minutes to stare at a lineman up in a bucket, grasping a line with a pole.

More utility poles in Los Angeles

One time I considered waiting until the linemen came down and then politely asking them about what they were fixing, maybe even asking where I could find old broken insulators. But I didn’t think they’d welcome my strange questions, and I knew I had to start walking again — quickly, so I wouldn’t be late for class.

Update: There’s some discussion at Snarkmarket.

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sunday, june 28, 2009
Not quite a summer vacation

a street

Unlike the past three summers working in the Bay Area, I’m staying in Santa Barbara so I can take some more classes. I’ll probably graduate in Fall or Winter quarter.

Here is a chart of most of the classes I’ve taken so far, including my current ones:


The subjects are color-coded; a grey box means a half-credit class (or equivalent) and a black box means a full-credit class. See the 2007 chart for more explanation.

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I’m Britta Gustafson.

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