Led Zeppelin is classic rock. So are Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. But what about U2 or Nirvana? As a child of the 1990s, I never doubted that any of these bands were classic rock, even though it may be shocking for many to hear. And then I heard Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a classic rock station a few weeks ago, and I was shocked.
It was my first time hearing a band I grew up with referred to as “classic rock.” Almost anyone who listens to music over a long enough period of time probably experiences this moment — my colleagues related some of their own, like hearing R.E.M. or Guns N’ Roses on a classic rock station — but it made me wonder, what precisely is classic rock?…
Follow FiveThirtyEight’s deep– and diverting– dive into the data at “Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be.”
* Chuck D
As we roll around in our roots, we might spare a thought for another variety of classic: it was on this date in 1930 that Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington recorded his first big hit, “Mood Indigo.” Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.” With lyrics added by Mitchell Parish in 1931 (but credited to Ellington’s manager Irving Mills), “Mood Indigo” became a vocal as well as an instrumental standard, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone among many, many others.
Readers may recall our old friend Michael “The Man of 1,000 Voices” Winslow. On the heels of yesterday’s visit to the Crypt of Civilization, here is Michael’s tribute to one of the items therein: “The History of the Typewriter.”
* Ernest Hemingway
As we capitulate to QWERTY, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to a eloquent employer of the typewriter, Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906. Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.” One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind. Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil– in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust. That book ended:
Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.
Inspired by the Egyptian Pyramid and tomb openings in the first half of the 20th century, Thornwell Jacobs, President of Oglethorpe University (near Atlanta) and “the father of the modern time capsule,” was the first in modern times to conceive the idea of purposely preserving man-made objects for posterity by placing them in a sealed repository. He began work in 1936; then in 1940, he sealed “The Crypt of Civilization,” a 20′ X10′ X 10′ space built into the foundation of one of the buildings on campus.
Set to be opened in 8113, the time capsule contains microfilm on cellulose acetate film capturing more than 800 classic works of literature, including the Bible, the Koran, Homer’s Iliad, and Dante’s Inferno–approximately 640,000 pages in all– and an original copy of the script of Gone With the Wind; modern techonology, including a typewriter, a cash register, an adding machine, an electric toaster, a sewing machine, and a radio receiver; and a host of other “artifacts of the time,” including: seed samples, dental floss, the contents of a woman’s purse, a collection of Artie Shaw records, a pacifier, a specially sealed bottle of Budweiser beer, a set of Lincoln Logs, and plastic toys of Donald Duck, the Lone Ranger, and a Black doll. The National Bureau of Standards offered professional and technical advice for the artifacts and construction of the crypt, and recommended methods of storage: many artifacts are stored in stainless steel cylinders lined with glass and filled with an inert gas to prevent aging.
The 1990 Guinness Book of World Records cited the Crypt as the “first successful attempt to bury a record of this culture for any future inhabitants or visitors to the planet Earth.”
Message to the Generations of 8113
This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. In receptacles of stainless steel, in which the air has been replaced by inert gasses, are encyclopedias, histories, scientific works, special editions of newspapers, travelogues, travel talks, cinema reels, models, phonograph records, and similar materials from which an idea of the state and nature of the civilization which existed from 1900 to 1950 can be ascertained. No jewels or precious metals are included.
We depend upon the laws of the county of DeKalb, the State of Georgia, and the government of the United States and their heirs, assigns, and successors, and upon the sense of sportsmanship of posterity for the continued preservation of this vault until the year 8113, at which time we direct that it shall be opened by authorities representing the above governmental agencies and the administration of Oglethorpe University. Until that time we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.
- A statement from Jacobs, inscribed on a plaque on the door of the Crypt, which is welded shut.
* William Faulkner
As we try to wait patiently, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792 that a group of 12 Freemasons laid the cornerstone of The White House. Eight years later, John and Abigail Adams moved in.
The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant architect living in Charleston, South Carolina, who won a competition for the commission (and a $500 prize) with a design modeled after Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland. He beat out a future resident, Thomas Jefferson, whose Monticello/UVa-like design was among the many losers.
It’s not known whether there was anything contained within the cornerstone. In fact, thought the building stills stands (albeit rebuilt and expanded after being burned down during the War of 1812), the whereabouts the stone itself are a bit of a mystery.
Eleanor Lutz, a designer in Seattle with a Bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Washington (where her research was in teaching mosquitoes to fly through mazes), has turned her talents to scientific visualization. Her wonderful site, Tabletop Whale, features a weekly animated GIF illustrating both the principles and the beauty of a scientific phenomenon.
Watch them move: more (and larger) animated GIFs at Tabletop Whale.
As we wonder at the working of the world around us, we might recall that it was on this date in 1810 that Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) invited the citizens of Munich to help celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen with horse races and a feast lubricated liberally by beer. The festivities were held on the fields in front of the city gates, named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wiesn.” The event was such a success that the Crown Prince decided to repeat it the following year– and so the tradition of Ocktoberfest was born. The current version of celebration begins in late September and runs through the first Sunday in October, and involves the serving of over 1 million gallons of beer.
“But when I make a good [taxidermy] mount I feel like I beat God in a small way. As though the Almighty said, Let such critter be dead, and I said, ‘F**k You, he can still play the banjo”*…
This isn’t your gun-toting great-uncle’s taxidermy: there are no hunting trophies mounted on smoking den walls or Teddy Roosevelt-inspired museum dioramas. In Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How to Do It Yourself, Robert Marbury introduces a world of bionic crocodiles, pigs in Chanel bowties, impalas with human faces, and polar bears climbing on refrigerators (get it?).
In 2004, with two friends, Marbury established the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART). In the decade since, Rogue Taxidermy–a genre of pop-surrealism that fuses traditional taxidermy with mixed-media sculpture–has evolved into a veritable subculture of people obsessed with turning dead animals into art. “Not since the Victorian era has taxidermy been so popular,” Marbury writes in the book’s introduction. (The Victorian era saw a trend of taxidermists like Walter Potter [see also here] making anthropomorphic tableaux of squirrels smoking cigars and kittens having tea parties.)…
See many more examples– and find out why taxidermy has become again as popular as it was in the Victorian Era– at “Inside The Bizarre World Of Rogue Taxidermy.”
As we ponder retrospective reanimation, we might send carefully calculated birthday greetings to Lewis Fry Richardson; he was born on this date in 1881. A mathematician, physicist, and psychologist, he is best remembered for pioneering the modern mathematical techniques of weather forecasting. Richardson’s interest in weather led him to propose a scheme for forecasting using differential equations, the method used today, though when he published Weather Prediction by Numerical Process in 1922, suitably fast computing was unavailable. Indeed, his proof-of-concept– a retrospective “forecast” of the weather on May 20, 1910– took three months to complete by hand. (in fairness, Richardson did the analysis in his free time while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I.) With the advent of modern computing in the 1950’s, his ideas took hold. Still the ENIAC (the first real modern computer) took 24 hours to compute a daily forecast. But as computing got speedier, forecasting became more practical.
Richardson also yoked his forecasting techniques to his pacifist principles, developing a method of “predicting” war. He is considered (with folks like Quincy Wright and Kenneth Boulding) a father of the scientific analysis of conflict.
And Richardson helped lay the foundations for other fields and innovations: his work on coastlines and borders was influential on Mandelbrot’s development of fractal geometry; and his method for the detection of icebergs anticipated the development of sonar.
Sitting in a Starbucks in Plano, Texas in 1997, “Winter” (who has legally changed his name from Rafael Lozano) decided to visit every one of the coffee chain’s outlets, everywhere they’d popped up around the world. In 1997, that meant 1,400 stores. Seventeen years and more than $100,000 later, he’s patronized 11,733 Starbucks across six continents– a majority , but by no means all of the 17,000 in operation today. He documents his visits and charts the ones he’s still missing on his web site.
A freelance programmer, Winter spends his off-time in independent coffee houses:
I respect Starbucks for its business sense, customer service and amenities including clean bathrooms and WiFi. But unless I am checking a new store off my list, I would not go there for the coffee.
More on this hopped-up hobbyist at “Ultimate coffee fan spends 17 years visiting every Starbucks in the world.”
* Albert Camus (or not: while the phrase is attributed to Camus, uncited, in Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice, there’s no documentary evidence… still, it seems an apposite title for this post)
As we try to remember which size “Venti” is, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that John Wesley Hyatt was awarded a patent on the first celluloid billiard ball. hyatt had developed the ball in response to a competition sponsored by billiard ball maker Phelan & Collander, who were offering a $10,000 reward for a suitable substitute for ivory, the growing shortage of which was threatening their business. Hyatt took the prize– and in the process, created and introduced to the world the first industrial plastic.
On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014.
Isamu Akasaki, 85, left, Hiroshi Amano, 54, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, won “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”– an award that speaks to current concerns over energy efficiency, climate change, and improving living conditions in developing economies:
In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources…
As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources. Materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.
The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power…
[Read more in the Nobel press release]
The Committee’s choice was clearly a worthy one. Still, as a reminder that the field is a very competitive one, it’s worth (re-)visiting the expert predictions that immediately preceded the award. Thompson-Reuters’ annual Science Watch predictions named three potential winners (or groups– the award can go to up to three); while they’ve been right four of the last ten years, and all of their candidates did amazing– and amazingly-important– work, they missed this year. Ditto, the expert panel whose prognostications were reported last Friday by Scientific American.
But maybe most fundamentally, it’s worth noting (quizzically, as SciAm does) that since the Prize was first awarded in 1901, only two women have won: Marie Curie (who was a double Laureate, also winning in Chemistry) and more recently, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who won in 1963.
* Woody Allen
As we size up the sociology of science, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land. Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”
Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s. And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.