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29 July 2004

Synthesists
I just re-read this Heinlein essay and I'm not convinced anything is going on with the creation of this new field of science. Certainly not in any institutional way
The greatest crisis facing us is not Russia, not the Atom bomb, not corruption in government, not encroaching hunger, not the morals of young. It is a crisis in the organization and accessibility of human knowledge. We own an enormous "encyclopedia" -- which isn't even arranged alphabetically. Our "file cards" are spilled on the floor, nor were they ever in order. The answers we want may be buried somewhere in the heap, but it might take a lifetime to locate two already known facts, place them side by side and derive a third fact, the one we urgently need.

Call it the Crisis of the Librarian.

We need a new "specialist" who is not a specialist, but a synthesist. We need a new science to be the perfect secretary to all other sciences.

But we are not likely to get either one in a hurry and we have a powerful log of grief before us in the meantime.

Today the forerunners of synthesists are already at work in many places. Their titles may be anything; their degrees may be in anything -- or they may have no degrees. Today they are called "operations researchers", or sometimes "systems development engineers", or other interim tags. But they are all interdisciplinary people, generalists, not specialists -- the new Renaissance Man. The very explosion of data which forced most scholars to specialize very narrowly created the necessity which evoked this new non-specialist. So far, this "unspecialty" is in its infancy; its methodology is inchoate, the results are sometimes trivial, and no one knows how to train to become such a man. But the results are often spectacularly brilliant, too -- this new man may yet save all of us.-- R.A.Heinlein in "Where To?" 1950/1965

Not really sure if there's been any movement on this except for the many "Meta-studies" that have been published recently combining lots of experimenters' results. I suppose it could be in the realm of the creative amateur: feature magazine writers, Usenet, websites, etc.

28 July 2004

Todd Rundgren on the Music Business

From an interview with Todd Rundgren for Linux Magazine (July 2004)

I believe in the free software movement, open source, and all that other stuff, because basically I'd like to live in a world where everyone was rich to the point that they could just give away everything to anyone else: you see someone with a lack, and you have what they need, so you just give it to them, and that's life.

That's not real, I understand, because as brilliant as we all are, we're still dominated by an animal [instinct] that causes us to reflexively protect what's ours. It's as if we're saying, "If you steal my television, I will die, so therefore I have the right to shoot you." Now, if I catch you stealing my television, my attitude is "I feel a little creeped out that you snuck into my house, but if you need the television so freakin' badly, take the damn thing. I can get another TV."

I sort of have the same attitude about the file swapping and things like that. As a matter of fact, it's different for music than for almost everything else. Most musicians and most people who work in the music business have already forgotten what they felt the first time that music touched them.

And in that sense, I consider music a human sacrament. Music was intended to bring you closer to the mind; it was intended to heal, not only physically, but mentally; it was intended to express things that cannot be expressed in any other medium.

What we've done over the past 100 or 150 years is essentially profane this sacrament by saying that you can't listen to it unless you pay for it. And I have a problem with that.

I think musicians were better off when you first of all proved your skill as a musician by pleasing some people with your output, then by pleasing someone with money, enough so that they'd support you so that you could create music. And yes, there was "commercial pressure" (laughs) to please your patron, you know, to write music to please your patron. But, of course, once you did that, you were free to do write anything else you wanted.

Unfortunately, that's gone. And now the bollocks at the RIAA -- who to me are just a bunch of evil thugs -- are trying to intimidate listeners to convince them that music has no sacramental value, that music is simply a product that they own, and that their way is the only way that music can possibly be transferred.

I strongly believe that musicians will always make more money performing their music live for people than they will ever make selling records. Records started out merely as a promotion for a musician's live performance and, in only a very few exceptional circumstances, that's still true. Musicians, if they want a healthy income, must face that fact that they have to go out and play. If they play well enough, people will continue to come hear them play.

Record labels make very poor patrons. Audiences make better patrons, because you can deliver a song at the right time and change their lives, something that makes them loyal to you for a lifetime. It's up to the audience to directly find the musicians they want to support and give them that support directly.

And, essentially, I've been setting up the mechanisms for that. Patronet is my online subscription service that allows audiences to find the artist that they want to directly support.

In exchange, a patron receives what a patron always receives: a first look at whatever the artist is creating and some sort of interaction that an audience-at-large may not have or may not even desire.

With a system like that, why the hell would an artist care about selling records? Artists would just want people to hear what they do, which has always been the objective.

So the troubles the music business has now, I say, it deserves them. It deserves to just die and disappear. And I hope it does. I hope every single label, one after another, just goes right out of business. I pray for it, nearly (laughs).

Because what'll happen after that is that the music business will be back in the control of musicians.

27 July 2004

Breakdown of the human body's 6.71 x 1027 atoms. I have 2 x 1019 gold atoms. Woo-hoo!!

Poverty & Struggle

From a Smithsonian story on Xerox inventor Chester Carlson
... his mother had always somehow managed to make the family's poverty seem like a game -- a challenging puzzle that could be solved with good spirits and ingenuity.


I meant to extend this with more examples but I like this quote so much I wanted to put it up at least as an idea by itself. Oh well!

ATLANTA TIME MACHINE Great site. They did a similar thing in the Boston Globe when I lived there in the mid-90's. This guy did a nice job matching the angles of the original photos -- sometimes it looks like he had to stand in the middle of some busy streets!

26 July 2004

There is a natural progression in art forms: simple, then lovely, then distant, then abstract, then death of the form. Simple can be clumsy and unsophistocated or plain and clear . Lovely is self-evident. Distant begins to pay too much attention to the way it's executed, too self-referential, a third person perspective. Abstract takes the navel gazing to new extremes, typically skill is still important but it's more about propping up something artless with bogus theory and claims of "this is important" where obviously if it was important it wouldn't be necessary to proclaim it so. Death is when the artifact is completely devoid of any pleasure-giving, it must have a placard beside it specifically telling the fickle public why it is art for without that placard it would be misunderstood as just a piece of crap. Death can also be recursive reproductions of any of the earlier stages over and over again.

Painting did this: flat gothic, Botticelli, impressionism, Picasso, Pollack

Art music: Gregorian chant, Mozart, Bruckner/Debussy, Berg/Schoenberg, Billy Joel piano sonatas.

The art forms that were mature by the 1800's are especially prone to this cycle as technique became highly respected. Newer forms were slightly more resistant. Jazz fell to it because the skill level was so high: Armstrong, Miles, Monk, Miles [second quintet], Ayler followed by reproductions of each era over and over again.

Because the artists in those last two stages were considered "important" everyone had to take account of them. New artists were required to reconcile their expression with these ideas. Rock was able to totally sidestep it because skill was never as important. Acts like Zappa, King Crimson & The Residents may come around but nobody follows: technique-wise they can't and record labels won't let them. The furthest along popular rock ever got was Distant with bands like Talking Heads. Country never made it past Simple & Lovely except maybe play-with-the-form work by guys like David Allan Coe (see, it already gets less enjoyable)

Abstract is the trap of the insecure

22 July 2004

Battle of Atlanta

140 years ago today. Just had to post this from Sherman's memoirs

Along the railroad they were more successful. Sweeping over a small force with two guns, they reached our main line, broke through it, and got possession of De Gress's battery of four twenty-pound Parrotts, killing every horse, and turning the guns against us.... These combined forces drove the enemy into Atlanta, recovering the twenty-pound Parrott guns -- but one of them was found "bursted" while in the possession of the enemy. The two six-pounders farther in advance were, however, lost, and had been hauled back by the enemy into Atlanta. Poor Captain de Gress came to me in tears, lamenting the loss of his favorite guns; when they were regained he had only a few men left, and not a single horse. He asked an order for a reëquipment, but I told him he must beg and borrow of others till he could restore his battery, now reduced to three guns. How he did so I do not know, but in a short time he did get horses, men, and finally another gun, of the same special pattern, and served them with splendid effect till the very close of the war. This battery had also been with me from Shiloh till that time. (Vol II, p81)


The area involved has streets named "Battery Place" and "Degress Ave". According to a battlefield guide, the battery just south of the railroad cut lost their guns but had men and horses so Capt. Francis DeGress was able to match them to his recovered battery. He also said DeGress had spiked the guns before giving them up; but Sherman contradicts that saying the guns were turned on them. Wonder which is true?

20 July 2004

There's a bunch of small presses around these days.

Original Books
Four Walls Eight Windows Paul Di Filippo, etc
Golden Gryphon Press collections of short fiction
Meisha Merlin Publishing fun authors
Night Shade Books chapbooks
Subterranean Press darker stuff

Reissues of Classic Works
Hill House Publishers collector quality
Old Earth Books Pangborn, Doc Smith
Stealth Press Books Heinlein & old Nebula collections

Reissues and Complete Collections
Haffner Press Jack Williamson, etc
NESFA Press incredible SF finds

Keep track of everything at Locus Online's Forthcoming Books page