Jess Nevins at No Fear of the Future takes us through various historical Lords of the Grain and lands with both feet on Gustav Vasa, and (in a tale that diverges into lutefisk, takes in the surprising [albeit alleged] origins of Madame du Barry's passion for chocolate, and Diderot's bon mot that "the potato is righly held responsible for flatulence. But what is flatulence to the vigorous organs of peasants and workers?") links to a Swedish cuisine summary that includes this delightful factoid:
In one year people all over the world in 40 countries buy 60 000 tons crisp bread. Sweden is the biggest consumer and every Swede consumes 4 kilos of crisp bread every year.I'm one of the addicts of knäckebröd, plowing through a few cases of the stuff every year (a case of Siljans has 14 units, each with 6 rounds). Great all by itself, even better with cheese or smoked salmon...
Over at Jason Scott's ASCII weblog there's a transcript of a Coast to Coast radio interview with Steve Wozniak from April 2006. It's an interesting read on several grounds, but especially for some things it says about Education, and the contexts of family support and teachers and one's own activities. A few juicy snippets:
Woz: ...I lived with a bunch of kids that had engineers for parents. So they had electronic parts around the house. They had parents that could teach us how things worked and how to hook up some of the parts to get some interesting things to happen...
...Actually, my whole technical evolution was very much accidents. It was not planned by myself. There were no classes, there were no books, it was all accidental. I would stumble into journals. I would stumble into magazines. I found that was what my interest was. You know what your interest is, and not everybody comes up with the same. And it's accidentally inspired maybe by the fun I had with my electronics friends I had in the neighborhood... I was one of the math/science stars of the school and we would get the awards and all that, but I was also in electronics class. We had a great electronics class in our high school and the teacher realized that I knew it all and I was just playing pranks and wiring other people's radios to blow up if they asked me for help...
...So, the teacher said, "You know you're good at giving pranks." So he arranged for some help. This is very unusual when a teacher sees a student that could be helped with a lot of stuff that's not in the school. A lot of teachers will say, "You know what, the education is here in this school and these books and my class," and that's all we take responsibility for...
...what I would do is drive up with a friend of mine, Alan Baum, up to Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. And we'd go there on a Sunday. And the reason we'd go there is there's a lot of smart people that work at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and wherever smart people work there's open doors. So, we would actually drive to the main building and we'd walk up some stairs and try some doors and eventually we'd find a door open from the outside, and we'd go in. And they had a computer library in there, a technical library. I found computer manuals and there were little cards where you could fill out your name and address and they would send you a computer manual. Sylvania sent me manuals to their computers, ...Hewlett Packard would send me manuals to their computers. Digital Equipment would send me theirs. A company started up called Data General and they sent me theirs.
...Fill out the cards, and we'll send you a manual describing our computer because to get this magazine, back in those days, you were probably an engineer. You are the sort of person who might buy our expensive computers. And I would sit down at home, whenever I had a free weekend. I would sit down and pull out blank paper and just start designing that computer. And if I'd already designed that computer, I would design it again using the latest, newest chips. My dad would get me the chip manuals of the newest, latest chips, and I would design it with fewer parts as a goal. I started making a game out of this, and the game was: how few of chips can I do it in? And I started coming up with tricks in my head as a young high school kid, that I knew that nobody else in the world was doing with chips...
[at University of Colorado] ...I wanted to write every program that I could think of. Programs to calculate mathematical tables of numbers, things like Fibonacci numbers, powers of two, these great tables that you'd find in the tables of the books that engineers have to use to do their jobs. And I wrote so many programs, and I could run them three times a day. It was back when you had to type out punch cards, submit them, come back later to the computer to get your printouts and see that it's done. I would run them three times a day, seven programs each, 60 pages each time, piling up reams and reams of output in my dorm room. And they cut me off. I didn't realize they had a class budget. I thought, "You take a computer class, you get to write programs." No. I ran our class five times over budget, which is more than twice the tuition of the second highest out of state tuition university in the country, and I was so scared that my parents would find out that I could never afford to pay that money back. They made it sound like they were going to bill me. So I didn't try to go back there my second year.
This fragment from a recent episode of This American Life tells me more than enough about my own proclivities (1:12)
A few days ago I linked to a video of a ukulele number yclept "Monkey's Brain" and was prompted to hunt down the perpetrators (The Hoppin' Haole Brothers, who "mix the tropical-bopical sounds of paradise with the energy and rhythm of hot jazz and country swing"), with a CD at CD Baby... so I ordered it and it came. I don't expect that just everybody will appreciate this sort of thing as I do, but you might try this 2:00 piece of Hosin' Down the Devil to see if you're Type A or Type B...
Over at if: book there's a pointer to an interview with Alan Kay ("The PC Must Be RevampedóNow") that speaks some inconvenient truths. A few outtakes (bolded here and there, for emphasis) that might inspire you to read the whole thing:
Computers are mostly used for static media, basically text, pictures, movies, music and so forth. The Internet is used as a distribution network, so computers are essentially players for this media. This is incredibly useful, but it tends to overwhelm uses that require a much longer learning curve.(the last point is in the same ballpark with Dan Bricklin's recent posting)
When I started in computing in the early sixties, people realized that while the computer could simulate things we understood very well, one of its greatest uses was simulating things that we didn't understand as well as we needed to. This has happened in the sciences; physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists could not do what they've been doing if they didn't have powerful computer simulations to go beyond what classical mathematics could do. But it's the rare person who quests for knowledge and understanding....
[Doug] Engelbart, right from his very first proposal to ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency], said that when adults accomplish something that's important, they almost always do it through some sort of group activity. If computing was going to amount to anything, it should be an amplifier of the collective intelligence of groups.
...the computing profession acts as if there isn't anything to learn from the past, so most people haven't gone back and referenced what Engelbart thought.
The things that are wrong with the Web today are due to this lack of curiosity in the computing profession. And it's very characteristic of a pop culture. Pop culture lives in the present; it doesn't really live in the future or want to know about great ideas from the past. I'm saying there's a lot of useful knowledge and wisdom out there for anybody who is curious, and who takes the time to do something other than just executing on some current plan.
...the dominant operating system architectures that we have are all from the sixties. Basically, the people who do operating systems got used to this kind of layered architecture in an operating system, and they tend to keep on feeding it, even though layered systems don't scale very well. This is an example of the invisibility of normality. We're not even aware that we're accepting most things we accept. Any creative person has to try and force their brain to reconsider things that are accepted so widely they seem like laws of the universe. Very often they aren't laws of the universe; they're just conventions.
...The spreadsheet, for example, with a few changes in it, would be thought of as being a highly parallel simulation engine. If you think of the purpose of the spreadsheet being not only to tabulate what did happen, but to give you an idea of what could happen, you would immediately redesign the spreadsheet and integrate it with graphical displays or visualization in a very different way. You would be on the road to a different kind of computer literacy.
Things connect. Sometimes the linkages are obscure, or tolerably tendentious, or simply risible, or maybe they're just co-incidental. And I suppose sometimes their Moment hasn't come, and the nascent dots aren't connected. The last few days have brought onto the stage several threads for which I'm seeking the Nexus. A prize to the reader who can construct it from these bits, each of which can be read as a sort of Cautionary Tale
Digression: Hillaire Belloc was not, perhaps, a very nice fellow, but his Bad Child's Book of Beasts and Cautionary Tales for Children were staples of my own youth. Consider:The candidates for interconnection: Amédé Ardoin, Thomas Midgely, and Harlan Ellison. Not exactly household words, but all have re-crossed my path lately, so I'm sporting with their possible interlinkage.The Dromedary(end Digression)
The Dromedary is a cheerful bird:
I cannot say the same about the Kurd.
Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"
Or likewise "Ugly James,"
Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"
Or "Bill Bandy-knees":
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
Amédé Ardoin came up this morning via Old Blue Bus, one of the music blogs I follow. The link to Two Step de Eunice will probably disappear in a few days, so listen while you can. The specific point of interest of the moment is the Tale of his death, which seems to have several variants:
Ardoin's death remains shrouded in mystery. One report has him being brutally beaten after wiping his brow with a handkerchief handed to him by the daughter of a white farm owner. According to McGee, Ardoin was poisoned by a jealous fiddler. More recent studies have concluded that Ardoin died of venereal disease at the Pineville Mental Institution.
Craig Harris, All Music Guide)
A cousin of renowned black Creole accordionist Alphonse "Bois Sec" Ardoin, he crossed racial boundaries by performing with noted Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. However, he stepped too far when at a dance around 1941 he wiped away sweat with a handkerchief offered by a white female. Suffering a terrible beating after the dance, he eventually died of his wounds, emotional and physical, at Pineville on November 3, 1942.
And the third came up because I've been reading in Harlan Ellison's anthologies Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) and exploring who Harlan Ellison was/is and what he's done. The two anthologies enjoy a reputation as ground-breaking collections --see James Schellenberg's review as an example. The missing third anthology is the subject of a long-running soap opera which (among other things) provoked Christopher Priest's The Book on the Edge of Forever --see Amazon reviewers' comments for more on "a fascinating account of one of the most famous non-books ever not-published", and note that "Ellison has been severely criticized for neither publishing the volume nor returning control of the stories to their authors, some of whom have since died."
Dunno how many readerss [sic!] would be likely to see Dan Bricklin's blog, but anybody who enjoys OMG and/or AHAH! moments will be piqued by the Steve Kohler screencast of Michael Wesch's video embedded in a spreadsheet:
I think we're going to be thinking about these technologies very differently very soon now...
...like excess. My favorite Ukulele Disco items to date:
Gardner linked to a Jake Shimabukuro clip that I'm still recovering from... and so I explored the Midnight Ukulele Disco site a bit further and found depths of depravity that still have me slaverin'. Case in point: Amy Gordon does Betty Boop (and some lyrics here and more on Helen Kane)... but you'll find others YOU will enjoy even more. A fine thing for a winter's day.
I've been working over some old old old tapes of radio shows, recorded while I was on sabbatical at Stanford in 1979-80. I mentioned KFAT a few days ago, and this wonderful bit of station-break madness came up last night: Alan Seidler, aka The Duke of Ook [1:35], from long before there was an Oook, or anyhow before I'd discovered the alter ego that inhabits me, or vice versa. I've had The Duke's record since it first ummmmm emerged in the mid-1970s, on Blue Goose Records. It's a Cult Classic, long out of print but maybe gonna be re-released real soon now.
I had to order the CD update for The Complete New Yorker in order to reread Jonathan Lethem's Personal History essay "The Beards: An adolescence in disguise" (from the 28 Feb 2005 issue, pp 62-69), and found that I remembered bits of it clearly but that I'd missed a lot too. It's a fine piece, especially if you're trying to sort through your own history of interests and ummmm obsessions. A couple of especially juicy bits, in which I don't exactly recognize myself but can see how one might extrapolate:
Attempting to burrow and disappear into the admiration of certain works of art, I tried to make such deep and pure identification that my integrity as a human self would become optional, a vestige of my relationship to the art. I wanted to submit and submerge, even to die a little. I developed a preference, among others, for art that required endurance, that mimicked a galactic endlessness and wore out the nonbelievers... By trying to export myself into a place that didn't fully exist, I was asking works of art to bear my expectation that they could be better than life, that they could redeem life. I asked too much of them: I asked them to be both safer than life and fuller, a better family. That, they couldn't be. At the depths I'd plumb them, so many perfectly sufficient works of art became thin, anemic. I sucked the juice out of what I loved until I found myself in a desert, sucking rocks for water. (pg. 67)...this in the context of last night's Radio Open Source program The Ecstasy of Influence and the Harper's piece of the same name.
The work I've chosen bears a suspicious resemblance to the rooms themselves [ref: Every room I've lived in since I was given my own room at eleven, has been lined with books]. My prose is a magpie's. Perhaps anyone's writing is ultimately bricolage, a welter of borrowings. But, of the writers I know, I've been the most eager to point out my influences, to spoil the illusion of originality by elucidating my fiction's resemblance to my book collection... My rooms might have been armor, a disguise or beard, but I wanted millions of admirers to peek inside and see me there, and when they did I wished for them to revere and pity me at once. The contradiction in this wish tormented me, so I ignored it. Then I became a writer and it began to sustain me. (pg. 69)
Co-incidentally, over at The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik's Postscript for Whitney Balliett has this nice bit:
As the music he loved aged, he was often left without a subject, and those of us who revered his writing sometimes wished that he could have discovered in himself a more sympathetic ear for the sounds of newer jazz. But he was too honest to pretend to admire what he didnít, and it was the great American music of the twenties through the eighties (the seventies, a jazz Indian summer in New York, were a high-water mark for him) that remained his subject... (12 Feb 2007, pg. 31)In a related vein, my recent encounter with the video of Harlan Ellison reading Prince Myshkin (click on 'Prince Myshkin') led me to revisiting the Ellison-edited Again, Dangerous Visions "speculative fiction" anthology of 1972, and that, in turn, provoked this scribbled rumination:
1972 to 2007: 35 years, and still the stories seem fresh --or perhaps it's that those issues still define what's important for me, like Ursula LeGuin's "The Word for World is Forest", which is at base an examination of Ecology.So here I am, drifting toward joining those "old guys" who remember and value what others have forgotten, or are so young as to never have known...
And it was Ecology that was the epicenter for my Generation, though my own take on it was more geospatial than energetic.
But the moniker "speculative fiction" (in Ellison's Introduction to the collection, and elsewhere) is worth considering anew. I just have this feeling that the world would have gone another way if more people had read this stuff...
Dan Visel has an interesting meditation on collaboration-and-design over at sidebar ("the back porch of the Institute for the Future of the Book"). It's all worth a thoughtful read, but for me the money quotes are near the end, where the title of the piece ("the jazz age") earns its keep:
I'm not arguing that collaboration can't create something as grand as a symphony. It certainly can. But the things that collaboration can create are qualitatively different, and should be understood as such. (Bernard Rudofsky's Architecture without Architects could be brought in here, though that's been explored before.) When we think of collaboration in music, we don't think of the classical tradition; we think about jazz. I think that's a useful reference point: collaborators on networked books could be like jazz musicians, not having a score, but knowing how to improvise within predefined structures like twelve-bar blues. Even free jazz isn't free, though: when you listen to those old Ornette Coleman records now, the first thing you notice is how carefully structured they seem.
(There's something interesting about jazz becoming culturally dominant at the height of modernism; perhaps this is a natural response. Around the same time, the Surrealists were denigrating the novel as a form because it was too planned, too rational. They declared a similar preference for the improvised: automatic writing or drawing for example. There's an enormous amount of Surrealist poetry; a near-complete count of Surrealist novels could be made on two hands. [hmmm? take a look at City Lights offerings])
What we need to be thinking about is how jazz players learn to be jazz players. You can't stick a classically trained trumpeter in a jazz combo and expect he'll do a fine job: he won't. But that's essentially what we're trying to do.
And: we need to be looking at how jazz is designed: what sort of structures lend themselves to improvisation and collaboration?
Sez Alan Levine:
Scratch All Future Conference Presentations on Web 2.0I'd have chosen different music, but the content is truly amazing.
(from Kansas State University)
From Open Source, about an impending show:
We canít stop talking about Jonathan Lethemís essay in this monthís Harperís. If you havenít read it, you really should. Nothing that follows in this post will be nearly as interesting. Go ahead. And this post will still be here when you return. You know you want to.Those of us fascinated by the cultural phenomenon (and the practical process) of mashups and the general subject of repurposing will be especially interested in both the essay and the forthcoming podcast.