(Roughly) Daily

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions”*…

 

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In 2008, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article with the headline “Overload!,” which examined news fatigue in “an age of too much information.” When “Overload!” was published, BlackBerrys still dominated the smartphone market, push notifications hadn’t yet to come to the iPhone, retweets weren’t built into Twitter, and BuzzFeed News did not exist. Looking back, the idea of suffering from information overload in 2008 seems almost quaint. Now, more than a decade later, a fresh reckoning seems to be upon us. Last year, Tim Cook, the chief executive officer of Apple, unveiled a new iPhone feature, Screen Time, which allows users to track their phone activity. During an interview at a Fortune conference, Cook said that he was monitoring his own usage and had “slashed” the number of notifications he receives. “I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices,” Cook said.

It is worth considering how news organizations have contributed to the problems Newport and Cook describe. Media outlets have been reduced to fighting over a shrinking share of our attention online; as Facebook, Google, and other tech platforms have come to monopolize our digital lives, news organizations have had to assume a subsidiary role, relying on those sites for traffic. That dependence exerts a powerful influence on which stories are pursued, how they’re presented, and the speed and volume at which they’re turned out…

A central purpose of journalism is the creation of an informed citizenry. And yet—especially in an environment of free-floating, ambient news—it’s not entirely clear what it means to be informed: “The Urgent Quest for Slower, Better News.”

* Edward R. Murrow

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As we break news, we might recall that it was on this date in 1704 that the first issue of The Boston News-Letter was published.  Heavily subsidized by the British government, with a limited circulation, it was the first continuously-published newspaper in North America.  The colonies’ first newspaper was (the rather more editorially-independent)  Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, which published its first and only issue on September 25, 1690.)

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Written by LW

April 24, 2019 at 1:01 am

“All men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless!”*…

 

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Chindōgu is the art of inventing seemingly practical but ultimately useless gadgets to enhance everyday life. Popularised in Japan in the 90s by its creator, Kenji Kawakami, it was originally just a comical section that appeared in his monthly magazine, Mail Order Life. From fans attached to your chopsticks that cool your food before you eat it, to a Pritt Stick of butter that allows for easy application onto your toast, chindōgu is the perfect balance between ingenuity and absurdity.

As such, it instantly grabbed the attention of Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek…

To date, there are over 1000 official chindōgu items in existence. Poetic and political in nature, they are comments on the state of consumerist culture and the materialism of modern life. They poke at fun at our reliance on technology and inability to carry out basic tasks like administering eye drops. Though humorous, chindōgu has a set of rules – a list of ten commandments, in fact – that must be adhered to. They are as follows: Chindōgu must be (almost) completely useless; must exist (they should be real, useable objects); must represent freedom of thought and action; must be understood by all (its function should not be obscure); must not be sold (they are not tradable commodities); must not be made purely for the sake of humour (it should also be an earnest attempt to solve a problem); must not be used as propaganda; must not be taboo (cheap sexual humour etc.); must not be patented; and must not be made with prejudice (they must be useable by everyone, young and old, rich and poor).

A perfect fit with the other tongue-in-cheek projects that make up his portfolio, including his Make Alpaca Great Again series… Daniel knew he had to find a way to shoot this phenomenon…

More at: “Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek recreates the ingenious yet useless inventions of Chindōgu.”

* Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

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As we investigate intention, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the Coca-Cola Company, concerned that it had been loosing share to the sweeter offerings of competitors like Pepsi, introduced Coke II (or “New Coke, ” as it was widely known).  Consumer reaction was swift– and profoundly negative.  Three months later, Coke caved, reintroducing the original formula (rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic)– and enjoyed a boost in sales… leading some charitably to suggest that New Coke was just a ploy.  But the company maintained that it was absolutely for real…  and the episode has become a cautionary example of the dangers in tampering with an established product/brand.

New_Coke_can source

Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

 

 

Written by LW

April 23, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Making money is art”*…

 

art and money

 

In 2005, an unusual painting appeared on the website of the New Orleans Auction Gallery, a small operation headquartered on the banks of the Mississippi River. Twenty-six inches tall and 18 and a half inches wide, the painting depicted Christ in Renaissance-era robes, one hand raised in benediction, the other cupping a diaphanous sphere. “After Leonardo da Vinci (Italian 1452–1519),” read the description. “Christ Salvator Mundi. Oil on cradled panel.”

Among the people to click on the listing for Lot 664 was a Rockland County art speculator named Alexander Parish. Parish has spent his entire career in the art world, first as an assistant, later as an adviser to a major European gallery, and now as what’s known as a picker — a dealer who purchases art from minor auction houses and antiques sales and resells it to wealthy clients at a profit. “A major part of what I do,” Parish told me, “is educated gambling. You get a good feeling about a piece of art, and you place a bet that you know more about it than the auctioneer does.”

Parish felt very good about Lot 664. In fact, although he had only a few postage-stamp-size JPEGS to work with, he thought he might be looking at a piece by a student of Leonardo’s — perhaps the Milanese painter Bernardino Luini. That same afternoon, he sent a link to his friend Robert Simon, the owner of an old-master gallery on the Upper East Side, who has a doctorate in art history from Columbia University with a specialty in the art of the Renaissance.

“My first reaction was that it was a very intriguing painting,” Simon recalled. As he knew, the original Salvator Mundi, painted by Leonardo around 1500, possibly for the French king Louis XII, had been one of da Vinci’s most copied works — dozens of replicas hang in museums around the world, but the original had been lost to history. It seemed possible that another period copy dating to the Renaissance would exist. Simon and Parish agreed to invest in the painting together, with a bid ceiling of $10,000; Parish would handle the bidding via phone. “My memory of the auction is that I just sat there waiting for the price to go up,” Parish said. “But it became apparent that no one else was interested.” His winning bid came in at $1,000.

Today, of course, the contents of Lot 664 are worth far more than that: The picture has since sold once for $127.5 million and again, in a record-setting auction at Christie’s, for close to half a billion dollars…

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Find out how to turn a $1,000 art-auction pickup into a $450 million masterpiece: “The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’.”

* Andy Warhol

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As we appreciate appreciation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that a team of FBI agents went toe to toe with John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and their gang.  The lawmen tried to capture the outlaws at their temporary hide-out, the Little Bohemia Lodge (in northern Wisconsin)

As the agents approached the lodge, the owner’s dogs began to bark. Since the dogs barked incessantly, their warning was ignored by the gang. A few minutes later, a car approached the agents. Thinking that the gangsters were inside, they opened fire in an attempt to shoot out the tires. Shooting high, which often happens when firing on full auto, they hit all of the occupants of the car, and killed one of them. To make matters worse, they had the wrong guys. Dillinger and his crew were still inside the lodge.

Barking dogs you can ignore, but submachine-gun fire will get your attention every time. Dillinger and the boys heard the shots and knew that the heat was on. They opened fire on the agents from the lodge. After throwing some hot lead at the G-men, the gang bolted for the door. Dillinger and two of his guys turned one way and made a clean getaway. Nelson turned the other way, and wound up at a nearby house in a car with the owner of the lodge and a neighbor.

A car containing two of the FBI agents and a local constable approached Nelson. Nelson pointed his gun at them, and ordered them out of the car. When they complied, Nelson shot all three of them. Agent W. Carter Baum was killed; Agent J. C. Newman and local constable Carl Christensen were injured.

The final tally: two dead (one lawman and one innocent bystander), four injured (two lawmen and two bystanders), no gangsters in custody.  [source]

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Little Bohemia Lodge

 

Written by LW

April 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Roughly speaking: to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense”*…

 

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Synonym list in cuneiform on a clay tablet, Neo-Assyrian period

 

synonym is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another lexeme (word or phrase) in the same language. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. For example, the words beginstartcommence, and initiate are all synonyms of one another. Words are typically synonymous in one particular sense: for example, long and extended in the context long time or extended time are synonymous, but long cannot be used in the phrase extended family

Synonyms have several close cousins:  cognitive synonyms like metonyms (e.g., “Washington” for “the federal government”) and words with inexactly similar meanings, near-synonyms, plesionyms or poecilonyms (e.g., “wrecked” or “tipsy” for “inebriated”).

But, pace Wittgenstein, does “synonym” have a synonym?

[Quote and image above: source]

* Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

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As we calculate the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, we might send speculative birthday greetings to Hervé Le Tellier; he was born on this date in 1957.  A linguist and writer, he is a member of the the international literary group Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, which translates roughly as “workshop of potential literature”), which has also included Raymond QueneauGeorges PerecItalo Calvino,  Jacques RoubaudJean Lescure and Harry Mathews.

220px-Hervé_Le_Tellier source

 

Written by LW

April 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There is a phenomenon called ‘Trail Magic'”*…

 

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Each year, about a thousand people complete a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail, walking the 2,192 miles that run from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Millions more follow the trail for some shorter stretch, whether along the alpine ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, or the downtown sidewalks of Damascus, Virginia, making the trail corridor one of the most well used and widely recognized recreational sites in the world.

But the original concept for tracing out a hiking path along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, dreamed up almost a century ago by the planner, forester, and idiosyncratic social reformer Benton MacKaye, was so radical that MacKaye himself feared it would be dismissed as “bolshevistic.” What MacKaye envisioned when he first proposed the trail in a 1921 article for the Journal of the American Institute of Architects was something far beyond a woodsy recreational amenity. This “project in regional planning,” as MacKaye called it, was meant to be a thoroughgoing cultural critique of industrial modernity — a template for comprehensive economic redevelopment at a scale never before attempted in the United States. The project drew on ideas ranging from forest conservation to socialist central planning, and its effects were intended to be felt just as strongly in the booming urban centers of the eastern seaboard as in the devastated hill towns of the Appalachian uplands…

In its original concept, the Appalachian Trail was more than a hiking path. It was a wildly ambitious plan to reorganize the economic geography of the eastern United States: “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.”

* Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, an account of his hike along the Appalachian Trail

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As we walk the walk, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that an act of Congress created Hot Springs Reservation, to be “preserved for future recreation,” in Arkansas.  Established before the concept of a national park existed in the U.S., it was the first time that American land had been set aside by the federal government in this way.  It became a National Park in 1921.

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Pool of hot spring water in Hot Springs National Park

 

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled”*…

 

Froebel

 

In the late 1700s, a young man named Freidrich Froebel was on track to become an architect when a friend convinced him to pursue a path toward education instead. And in changing course, Froebel arguably ended up having more influence on the world of architecture and design than any single architect — all because Friedrich Froebel created kindergarten. If you’ve ever looked at a piece of abstract art or Modernist architecture and thought “my kindergartener could have made that,” well, that may be more true than you realize…

The word Kindergarten cleverly encompassed two different ideas: kids would play in and learn from nature, but they would also themselves be nurtured and nourished “like plants in a garden.” There were literal gardens and outdoor activities, but the real key to it all was a set of deceptively simple-looking toys that became known as Froebelgaben (in English: Froebel’s Gifts)…

Learn about those educational “toys” and their extraordinary legacy, at “Froebel’s Gifts.”

* Plutarch

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As we appreciate play, we might recall that it was on this date in 1987 that The Simpsons made their debut on television in “Good Night,” the first of 48 shorts that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show, before the characters were given their own eponymously-titled show– now the longest-running scripted series in U.S. television history.

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A frame from the final sequence of “Good Night”

 

Written by LW

April 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Big Data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it”*…

 

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You’ve probably heard of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, or even terabytes.

These data units are common everyday amounts that the average person may run into. Units this size may be big enough to quantify the amount of data sent in an email attachment, or the data stored on a hard drive, for example.

In the coming years, however, these common units will begin to seem more quaint – that’s because the entire digital universe is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020.

If this number is correct, it will mean there are 40 times more bytes than there are stars in the observable universe…

The stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares: “How Much Data is Generated Each Day?

* Dan Ariely

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As we revel in really, really big numbers, we might spare a thought for Edgar Frank “Ted” Codd; he died on this date in 2003.  A distinguished computer scientist who did important work on cellular automata, he is best remembered as the father of computer databases– as the person who laid the foundation for for relational databases, for storing and retrieving information in computer records.

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Written by LW

April 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

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