(Roughly) Daily

“Sometimes the only way to move forward is to revisit the things in your past that were holding you back”*…

Adobe Flash was the language of choice for a generation of game developers, helping kickstart an indie revolution on the still-young web of the 1990s and 2000s. But it withered on the proprietary and insecure vine, and both web browsers and Adobe have now canned it, threatening countless games and interactive presentations with the memory hole. The Internet Archive comes to the rescue, not only archiving the flash files but emulating the player itself, allowing history to live on.

“The Internet Archive has begun emulating Flash Animations, Games and Toys in a new collection,” wrote archivist Jason Scott on Twitter. “It’s at https://archive.org/details/softwarelibrary_flash and it’s going to be past 1,000 items in 24 hours. You can add your own and get them running, and the animations have never ran smoother or better.”…

From our friends at Boing Boing: “Internet Archive turns on Flash emulation, already has 1000 items to check out.”

* “Barry Allen” (The Flash)

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As we celebrate that what’s old is new again, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Albert Einstein presented the Einstein Field Equation to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.  Einstein soon after elaborated it into the set of 10 equations that account for gravitation in the curved spacetime that he described in his General Theory of Relativity; they are used to determine spacetime geometry.

(German mathematician David Hilbert reached the same conclusion, and actually published the equation before Einstein– though Hilbert, who was a correspondent of Einstein’s, never suggested that Einstein’s credit was inappropriate.)

On the right side of the equal sign, the distribution of matter and energy in space; on the left, the geometry of the space, the so-called metric, a prescription for how to compute the distance between two points.

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“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy”*…

A hundred years ago a new theory about human nature was put forth by Sigmund Freud. He had discovered he said, primitive and sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings. Forces which if not controlled led individuals and societies to chaos and destruction.

This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.

But the heart of the series is not just Sigmund Freud but other members of the Freud family.

This episode is about Freud’s American nephew Edward Bernays. [See here.]

Bernays is almost completely unknown today but his influence on the 20th century was nearly as great as his uncles. Because Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how to they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Out of this would come a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying people’s inner selfish desires one made them happy and thus docile. It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today…

From the introduction to Adam Curtis‘ remarkable 2002 BBC documentary series, Century of Self, all-too-relevant today– how propaganda, marketing and advertising, political messaging, management techniques all “flowered” from Freud’s seed.

Here is a complete transcript of the series.

Readers can find the (riveting) documentaries themselves at:

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Hypernormalization, Curtis’ 2016 BBC (sort of) sequel is here.

And keep an eye peeled for What Is It That’s Coming, a (tentatively-titled series, projected at nine parts) on which he’s currently at work.

* Adam Curtis

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As we sort signal from noise, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.  Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.

 Title page of the 1859 edition

“One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand”*…

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, “Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression,” or does it mean, “Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default”? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms…

This phenomenon is called enantiosemy, enantionymy (enantio- means “opposite”), antilogy or autantonymy; an enantiosemic term is necessarily polysemic.

Contronyms, also known as auto-antonyms or autantonyms– or just as Janus words: “25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites.”

For a longer list, see “75 Contronyms.”

* Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus)

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As we note that context is everything, we might recall that it was on this date (which is, by the way, Fibonacci Day) in 1644 that John Milton published Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England.  A prose polemic opposing licensing and censorship, it is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression.  The full text is here.

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Written by LW

November 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all”*…

In the early two-thousands, Merlin Mann, a Web designer and avowed Macintosh enthusiast, was working as a freelance project manager for software companies. He had held similar roles for years, so he knew the ins and outs of the job; he was surprised, therefore, to find that he was overwhelmed—not by the intellectual aspects of his work but by the many small administrative tasks, such as scheduling conference calls, that bubbled up from a turbulent stream of e-mail messages. “I was in this batting cage, deluged with information,” he told me recently. “I went to college. I was smart. Why was I having such a hard time?”

Mann wasn’t alone in his frustration. In the nineteen-nineties, the spread of e-mail had transformed knowledge work. With nearly all friction removed from professional communication, anyone could bother anyone else at any time. Many e-mails brought obligations: to answer a question, look into a lead, arrange a meeting, or provide feedback. Work lives that had once been sequential—two or three blocks of work, broken up by meetings and phone calls—became frantic, improvisational, and impossibly overloaded. “E-mail is a ball of uncertainty that represents anxiety,” Mann said, reflecting on this period.

In 2003, he came across a book that seemed to address his frustrations. It was titled “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” and, for Mann, it changed everything. The time-management system it described, called G.T.D., had been developed by David Allen, a consultant turned entrepreneur who lived in the crunchy mountain town of Ojai, California. Allen combined ideas from Zen Buddhism with the strict organizational techniques he’d honed while advising corporate clients.

To someone with Mann’s engineering sensibility, the precision of G.T.D. was appealing, and the method itself seemed ripe for optimization. In September, 2004, Mann started a blog called 43 Folders—a reference to an organizational hack, the “tickler file,” described in Allen’s book. In an introductory post, Mann wrote, “Believe me, if you keep finding that the water of your life has somehow run onto the floor, GTD may be just the drinking glass you need to get things back together.” He published nine posts about G.T.D. during the blog’s first month. The discussion was often highly technical: in one post, he proposed the creation of a unified XML format for G.T.D. data, which would allow different apps to display the same tasks in multiple formats, including “graphical map, outline, RDF, structured text.” He told me that the writer Cory Doctorow linked to an early 43 Folders post on Doctorow’s popular nerd-culture site, Boing Boing. Traffic surged. Mann soon announced that, in just thirty days, 43 Folders had received over a hundred and fifty thousand unique visitors. (“That’s just nuts,” he wrote.) The site became so popular that Mann quit his job to work on it full time. As his influence grew, he popularized a new term for the genre that he was helping to create: “productivity pr0n,” an adaptation of the “leet speak,” or geek lingo, word for pornography. The hunger for this pr0n, he noticed, was insatiable. People were desperate to tinker with their productivity systems.

What Mann and his fellow-enthusiasts were doing felt perfectly natural: they were trying to be more productive in a knowledge-work environment that seemed increasingly frenetic and harder to control. What they didn’t realize was that they were reacting to a profound shift in the workplace that had gone largely unnoticed.

The knowledge sector’s insistence that productivity is a personal issue seems to have created a so-called “tragedy of the commons” scenario, in which individuals making reasonable decisions for themselves insure a negative group outcome. An office worker’s life is dramatically easier, in the moment, if she can send messages that demand immediate responses from her colleagues, or disseminate requests and tasks to others in an ad-hoc manner. But the cumulative effect of such constant, unstructured communication is cognitively harmful: on the receiving end, the deluge of information and demands makes work unmanageable. There’s little that any one individual can do to fix the problem. A worker might send fewer e-mail requests to others, and become more structured about her work, but she’ll still receive requests from everyone else; meanwhile, if she decides to decrease the amount of time that she spends engaging with this harried digital din, she slows down other people’s work, creating frustration.

In this context, the shortcomings of personal-productivity systems like G.T.D. become clear. They don’t directly address the fundamental problem: the insidiously haphazard way that work unfolds at the organizational level. They only help individuals cope with its effects…

From Georgetown professor Cal Newport (@CalNewport2), a history of personal productivity– how it transformed work… and at the same time, utterly failed to: “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done.”

* Peter Drucker

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As we tick our to-do lists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1810 that Baltimore jeweler Peregrine Williamson was issued the first patent for a metal writing pen.  (His patent, #1168, is among the “X Patents,” those lost in the Patent Office fire of 1836.)

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“The cinema is an invention without any future”*…

Some lost films are more lost than others. There are very early works that no one now alive has seen, and we have little hope of recovering. While later silent feature films were duplicated and distributed widely, there are hundreds of short experiments by the first film-makers, movies no more than a few seconds long, that no longer exist even as a memory.

It seemed too good to be true, then, that lost films by Georges Méliès could really have been found by chance in a German bookshop in 2013. Yet a dogged research project by an independent scholar from France, Thierry Lecointe, has helped uncover miraculous images from lost films, not just by Méliès, but also by Alice Guy-Blaché.

The frames were preserved as images printed on to the card pages of tiny flipbooks. With digital technology, the flipbooks, known as folioscopes, have now become something like film fragments again. The photographer Onno Petersen shot each page in high-resolution and the motion-picture restoration expert Robert Byrne, from the San Francisco Silent Film festival, produced animations revealing such treats as a long-lost magic trick, dance, comic sketch or a train caught on camera more than a century ago

Some of the earliest experiments in film 120 years ago were reproduced as flipbooks for wider audiences. Now a painstaking restoration project has brought long-lost gems back to life: “What the flip! The chance discovery that’s uncovered treasures of the very earliest cinema.”

See also Variety‘s account of a similar reclamation project: “George Melies Flip Book Sets off Crowdsourcing.”

* Cinema pioneer Louis Lumière… who was, happily, wrong

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that “Tweety,” the star of 46 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, made his official debut in “A Tale of Two Kitties.”

Originally created by Bob Clampett (who also created the first version of Bugs Bunny and went to to such marvels as Beany and Cecil), Tweety was redesigned by Fritz Freleng– who took over when Clampett left Warner Bros, reimagined Tweety, and crucially, added Sylvester the Cat. The first short to team Tweety and and his hapless nemesis, 1947’s Tweetie Pie, won Warner Bros its first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Both Tweety and Sylvester were, of course, voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

In related news, there is a live action reboot of Tom and Jerry on the way…

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