Category Archives: entanglement

fingers on the pulse of the Zeitgeist

I seem to be running into more and more instances of eloquent now-just-hold-on criticism of technological triumphalism, indeed seeing them wherever I turn: the finishing a few days ago of Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life [really cheap ($2.51) as a Kindle ebook…], an article in The Guardian recently on the decline of retail jobs (End of the checkout line: the looming crisis for American cashiers), and then via my RSS feed from O’Reilly, Fredrik deBoer’s post Study of the Week: Of Course Virtual K-12 Schools Don’t Work. All of these have the same basic caveats about the smoke and mirrors of the digital world, and similar warnings about trafficking with the ogres who lurk behind the curtain.

Another instance, via long-form journalism in the [unfortunately paywalled] London Review of Books 17 August issue, is John Lanchester’s You Are The Product, which reviews three books (Wu’s The Attention Merchants, Garcia Martinez’ Chaos Monkeys, and Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things), and is mostly concerned with the evolution of Facebook. An especially trenchant bit:

…even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens… its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality.

My years as a librarian and early adopter of emergent technologies more or less ended when I retired in 2005, and I’ve been pretty choosy about entanglement with the subsequent social media silos—no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. Flickr yes, because it offered an easy means to store and distribute photographic images (but one dreads what Verizon might do with the product). And I’ve been blogging since before instantiation of the term ‘blog’ (I called them ‘logfiles’ and used them to keep track of and distribute my various projects). I like to control and manage my own digital real estate, and pretty much everything I’ve done in the last 20+ years is tucked away somewhere at http://oook.info/, including the self-hosted WordPress blog in which I’ve been tracking my doings [somewhat fitfully] for 13+ years.

For me, the epiphanic enabling technology was hypertext, and I’m still back somewhere in the 90s in terms of my sophistication with html. Basic html has served me well as a means to construct and distribute documents, to who-knows-what audiences. And, fact is, I don’t really care much about the scale and scope of Audience; the stuff is out there to be discovered via Google and Internet Archive, and linkable by me whenever I want to pass something along to one of those like-minded others. I’m content to be little-known.

Which is a long way of saying that I want nothing to do with thefacebook, with its fatuous likes and insidious back-end data mining. I won’t claim consistency in re: the latter, since I’m happy for Amazon to send me stuff I want via Prime, and to bewilder Google with off-the-wall searches that they can’t possibly monetize. But for Facebook, it’s the Nancy Reagan option: Just Say No.

co incidence

I really admire Andy Ilachinski’s photography, and often enjoy the enlightenments of quotations he pairs with images in his Tao of Digital Photography blog. This morning’s Schopenhauer passage projected me into a 3-way conjunction with a deceased wombat and a decaying stump:

…All the events in a man’s life accordingly stand in two fundamentally different kinds of connection: firstly, in the objective, causal connection of the natural process; secondly, in a subjective connection which exists only in relation to the individual who experiences it, and which is thus as subjective as his own dreams, whose unfolding content is necessarily determined, but in the manner in which the scenes in a play are determined by the poet’s plot….
(http://tao-of-digital-photography.blogspot.ca/2017/04/a-great-dream.html)

This morning I happened to learn that Patrick the Wombat had expired in Ballarat, probably around the time I discovered Patrick’s visage at the dead center of a tessellation of an elm stump at Horton Landing, Nova Scotia:


elm stump5x2

(zoom in to inspect the visage more closely here)

Just sayin’

Bancroft and Tyszkiewicz

For the last few days I’ve been transfixed by a skein of mysteries connected to a grave site in Père Lachaise:
Clara's tomb
The questions at issue have changed as I’ve excavated bits of fact and built new conjectures from successive discoveries, and I need to go beyond the summary I’ve been writing for the currently-under-development v2.0 of Remembered: a graveyard book v1.0. The actors in this particular drama are:

  • Clara Elizabeth Peabody Bancroft (1826-1882), the lady of the statue
  • Edward Payson Bancroft (1823-1865), her husband
  • Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz (1857-1883), their daughter (also known as Klara Elżbieta Tyszkiewicz – Łohojska)
  • Count Benoit [Benedyk Henryk] Tyszkiewicz (1852-1935), husband of Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz
  • their children Benedykt Jan Tyszkiewicz (1875-1948), Edward Tyszkiewicz (1880-1951), and Elizabeth Marie Tyszkiewicz Plater-Zybeck (1882-1969)
  • …and several other relatives of the above

The dates of death of the first three are the armature of the unfolding saga: it seems that Edward and Clara Bancroft were touring Europe in 1865, when Edward died in Naples (of what we don’t know, but he was subsequently interred in Mount Auburn cemetery). Clara herself was a wealthy widow when she died in Paris in 1882, and her daughter Elizabeth inherited a bundle but died in Switzerland in 1883, but (according to the plaque on Clara’s monument) her last wishes were that her mother’s tomb include a statue depicting her strewing roses:

Son gendre et ses petits enfants pour accomplir les dernières volontés de sa fille la comtesse Tyszkiewicz ont élevé ce monument témoignage d’un vieux souvenir

Her son-in-law and grandchildren, to fulfill the last wishes of her daughter the countess Tyszkiewicz, have raised this monument in witness of an old memory

The very opulence of the statue is reason enough to inquire further, but it’s as difficult to know where to start as when to stop the inquiry. Among the questions that arise (and that Google isn’t quite helpful enough with): how did Clara Peabody (a daughter of a mildly distinguished New Hampshire family) and Edward Bancroft (a very young Boston “broker”, possibly of stocks but maybe of Civil War-era cotton) meet and come to marry? What made the considerable fortune that Clara Bancroft inherited on her husband’s death? How did their daughter come to meet and subsequently marry a very young Polish count? Of what did the Countess Tyszkiewicz die (possibly TB? or some after-effects of the birth of her daughter?) and where is she buried? What happened afterwards in the lives of the Count and his children? How did the Count’s estates fare in the catastrophes of 20th century Poland?

As I’ve said in Remembered, this is all the stuff of a story that might be written by Somerset Maugham or Saki, and just the sort of digression that I’m susceptible to. Along the way I’ve been enticed into exploring the worlds of 19th century Polish nobility, Civil War banking in Boston, naval architecture (the Count commissioned the construction of a moderately famous yacht), sugar beets (the Count was evidently deeply involved in their cultivation on his estates in the 1890s), lawsuits (the three Tyszkiewicz children attempting unsuccessfully to get at the principal of their grandmother’s trust fund, of which they were the beneficiaries), and the online versions of the Almanach de Gotha. Each of those raises more questions than it answers, and a passage I read just this morning seems especially trenchant:

Archeology is always an encounter between a fixed past and a shifting present; we bring to it our fantasies, prejudices, and predilections—this year different from last year, next year different again. (Charlotte Higgins, New Yorker blog, 3 June 2016)

The trouble, or perhaps it’s the wonder, or the joy, is that pretty much each photograph in Remembered inspires or demands similar searchings and findings. That being the case, the revision of Remembered is proceeding more slowly than I’d wish.

Siblime and Ridiculous grade into each other

Lowell Cemetery

I spent the weekend in Massachusetts, much of the time skulking in graveyards with intent to depict. Lots of food for thought in my Flickr photostream, as I try to work out where this Remembered project is headed.

I visited the South Duxbury graveyard which was my own introduction to such spaces, probably before 1950.

Myles Standish grave

I remember that I was impressed that Myles Standish was an Ancestor, dead almost 300 years (at the time, he having died in 1656) but still alive and well to me because of the nearby Standish Monument, not half a mile from the place we spent summers in the 40s and 50s, and about the same distance from the site of his house on the shore. Of course there was a healthy dose of bogosity in the whole Longfellow-induced Standishmania thing, but I didn’t know that then.

I stopped to check on the house where I had summered and was astounded to find it gone, replaced by a town-owned park. The vastly ancient cedar tree on the shore is all that remains, and a herd of goats had been brought in to eradicate the infinitude of cat briars that infested the woods when I was last there, probably 8 years ago. It’s a lovely site, and far better that it’s a park than replaced by another of the mogul homes that have sprung up all over Duxbury. Still, it does put one through Changes (as they used to say) to find the world changed out from under. The tree as it was in 1947 is behind the Author:


early yoga

from the depths of memory

I’ve been reading in Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, most recently “The Moslem Wife”, and no doubt that brought this lyric to mind first thing this morning –a song I know from a 1952 Dunster Dunces record that I wish I could find again:

We never mention Aunt Clara
Her picture is turned to the wall
For she lives on the French Riviera
Mother says she is dead to us all

She used to sing hymns in the old village choir
She used to teach Sunday School class
At playing the organ she never would tire
But those dear days are gone now and past

With presents he tempted and lured her to sin
Her innocent virtue to smirch
But Aunt Clara was strong and she never gave in
'Til he gave her the keys to the church

They said that Hell Fire would punish her sin
She'd burn for her carryings-on
But just at this moment she's toasting her skin
In a villa near Old Avignon

We never mention Aunt Clara
But I think that when I grow up tall
I shall go to the French Riviera
And let Mother turn me to the wall

A bit of Googly diligence turns up other versions, which it’s probably just as well I didn’t encounter as a precocious 10-year old. One such, well worth your time if you are so inclined, boasts this explanatory verse:

So then on the organ she'd practice and play;
The preacher would pump up and down.
His wife caught him pumping her organ one day
And that's why Aunt Clara left town. 

Honeymonstercxix, channeling Hamish Imlach, bless him, knows that one:

…and there are others that may be of interest is Honeymonster’s oeuvre too.

And there’s more backstory, assigning the original to Ruth and Eugene Willis ca. 1936, further elaborated and perhaps inspired by Irene Adler, of Sherlock Holmes fame. Or not. Perhaps Library of Congress has the last word. Or not.

Ten Years

The Blog is 10 years old today, and that calls for some sort of Celebration.

In fact my page-making/html-wrangling life goes back 20 years, and began with online guides intended for distribution to specific audiences, initially in the ‘Library Instruction’ mode. These gradually morphed into subject-defined weblets, and then into dated and accretive logfiles. The earliest logfiles I can still find are from March and April 1998, just about 16 years ago, by which time I’d established the habit of opening a new logfile whenever I began a line of inquiry that I thought would be likely to persist. Many of the hyperlinks I collected in those pages are now dead dead dead, but often it’s possible to see/recover the process of discovery I enjoyed as I searched and read. A few examples: Spring 1995 OED exploration, 1995 page on searches in Biology literature, my first University Scholars course (History of Technology, winter 1999), and a suite of pages for my Fall 2002 sabbatical. Many more can be found via the Web Legacy summary (compiled Spring 2005).

By 2003 I wanted to explore RSS-linked blogging, but couldn’t get W&L’s computing services interested in hosting the necessary software; I finally set up my own oook.info domain in March 2004, and instantiated OookBlog using MovableType software. I’ve used the blog to track day-to-day discoveries and ruminations, mostly as a sort of electronic journal, with myself as the primary reader. In 2013 I transferred the contents to WordPress, and augmented the overall presentation with links to other material at the top of the page.

This morning I decided that improving the tagging of posts would be a good step at Year 10, so I’ve spent today going through the posts to add tags. Along the way I’ve reacquainted myself with stuff I’d forgotten about, and begun to think about things I might do more systematically in the next 10 years. I wish I’d been more systematic about blogging my reading, and I’m not too pleased with the categories or the consistency of my tagging (argybargy and musics show up a lot, also quote and reading; metastuff is my own creation). I’m surprised at the number and diversity of music videos (and note that quite a few are no longer available). The daily capture of my Delicious feed ended in September 2011, but I’ve discovered that my Delicious tags DO still work! The Zotero link is the best I’ve been able to do as a replacement for Delicious.

A few nuggets I was especially pleased to rediscover: the tune Otiose Maggie; a nice grasshopper picture; my first experiment in podcasting: On Musical Variety (2004); elements of my Nova Scotia Faces project: the sad tale of Poor Alice G. and two nice videos; and a scattering of poetical bits: haiku/senryu written while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 2002, a farewell to Makeshift, two on patriotic excess, one on debts of gratitude, and a longer one on connections.

Bits of quotation are everywhere, but today’s Prize goes to Emerson

A man of 45 does not want to open new accounts of friendship. He has said Kitty kitty long enough.

In sum, I’m quite pleased with the breadth and the onward progress reflected in what I’ve found today. I continue to Believe In this medium, even if I’m speaking mostly to myself.

Orfeo continued

It was only two days ago Son John sent me a link to Laura Miller’s Salon review of Richard Powers’ Orfeo: A Novel and, intrigued, I got the book via Kindle. Been reading it ever since, underlining passages and even copying a few of them out. The first that got that treatment:

…people take up all kinds of hobbies in retirement. They visit the birthplaces of Civil War generals. They practice the euphonium. They learn tai chi or collect Petoskey stones or photograph rock formations in the shape of human faces… (Orfeo, page 2 or so)

Uh huh, I thought. Guilty. And it’s gone on like that, until I’m now 2/3 of the way through the book.

Again and again during this immersive reading I’ve found myself resorting to Google and other tools to elucidate some point, and I just found myself using Spotify to listen to Steve Reich’s Proverb, a realization of a Wittgenstein fragment

How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life

No surprise that YouTube has it too:

(and commentator Roger Brunyate sez: “Do read (preferably while simultaneously listening) Richard Powers’ sublime description of this piece on pages 245–254 of his new novel ORFEO…”)

Well. Just goes to show, if it needed reiteration, how amazingly interwoven (Ted Nelson would say ‘intertwingled’) stuff is. I do wish that it was easier to snag bits of text from the iPad version of Kindle, to free them from the silo, because there are many others I’m inclined to stick into my Commonplace books.

maths

All sorts of people will tell you that mathematics and music have profoundly overlapping domains, and the most tiresome of those folks may say that music is entirely subsumed within mathematics. I’ve had (not to say enjoyed…) a lifelong struggle with mathematics, ‘getting it’ up to a point but then losing the ‘it’ and not being able to go further for a while. How many times have I tried to “teach myself calculus” only to founder on one rock or another… Just this morning I ran across a resource that would have made all sorts of things possible, if only I’d had it years ago:

Numberphile on YouTube

I happened upon it via a marvelous video in which Edward Frenkel takes on the question How did the NSA hack our emails?



If I had nothing else to do (i.e., if I didn’t have about 50 other interests I’m happily pursuing) I’d get out my Hofstadter books and dive in again. xkcd warns me what a silly thing that would be…

snow day serendipity

A posting by Mark Liberman at LanguageLog about the Psychoacoustics Lab at Harvard nudged the memory cells and set off a train of associations. The PAL was located in the basement of Memorial Hall (arguably Harvard’s ghastliest building, though there are many claimants to that title), right across Quincy Street from the house where I spent the first 10 years of my life. A bit of googling produced Harvard Crimson stories from 1946 and 1947, and photographs of the PAL faculty and staff, replete with the lab’s cat…

Well, so what? An engaging biographical memoir by George A. Miller [he of “The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two“] sketches the career and character of the lab’s director Stanley Smith Stevens. I went to the first meeting of a George Miller class in the Memorial Hall basement when I was an undergraduate, but it was primarily for graduate students and I realized that I’d never survive it. Other bits of co-incidence with my own experiences include my brother David’s discovery of the psychoacoustical work of Georg von Békésy (done in that very basement) and a link to precursors of the Internet via Licklider and Beranek. And the list of NAS memoirs led me to Eugene Hammel’s for my own mentor G. William Skinner, and to Richard Shweder’s for Clifford Geertz. And the Geertz memoir led me to his 1967 NYRB review of Malinowski’s A Diary in the Strictest Sense of the Term, which provoked me to lay out $20 for a year’s access to full text of the NYRB…

Quite a lot for a snowy morning, which also included a couple of hours of shoveling.