(Roughly) Daily

Archive for June 2009

Most Single-Breath Opera Songs Sung In 10 Minutes (etc.)…

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2289854&dest=-1]

The human spirit stretches to soar.  Now, thanks to THE UNIVERSAL RECORD DATABASE (“The definitive site for human achievement”) there’s an easily-accessible source of benchmarks:

URDB is an open, participatory database for world records. We welcome you to get involved, whether discussing records, beating records or setting new ones of your own. This project is in its infancy, with many features coming in the months ahead. Help us build a community as we collectively push the limits of what mankind can do.

… or just marvel that Michael Kennedy sang 18 single-breath opera songs in 10 minutes, or that Scott Campbell read 52 world cities and their forecasted high temperatures in one minute live on his radio show, or that Erikah Westberry fit 46 pieces of candy corn in to her mouth at once and closed it…  or many, many more– new worlds records al!

As we raise our aspirations, we might note that it was on this date the the “Solid State Age” was born: on June 30, 1948, Bell Labs announced the invention of the “transistor,” and proposed that it might replace the vacuum tubes then ubiquitous in radios and other electronic devices…  The first patent for the field-effect transistor principle was filed in Canada by Austrian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld on 22 October 1925, though Lilienfeld didn’t publish research articles about his devices. Then in 1934, German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil patented another field-effect transistor.  But it wasn’t until 1947, and the work begun then at Bell Labs by a team including John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, Wiliam Shockley, and John Pierce (who named “the transistor”) that it became practical.  (The first working model was completed in December, 1947, but the announcement was held– for further tweaking.)

Replica of the first working transistor

Shop ’til you drop…

(copyright, Norm Feuti)

Americans are saving more…  which means that they are spending less.  Earlier this year average household debt was 134% of average household disposable income.  If increased savings lowers that to, say, 100% (by way of comparison, the figure was in the 70% range in the Eighties), and the savings rate (which was essentially zero just before the bubble burst) returns to its historic (70-year) average of 9%, it will pull something like $4 trillion out of annual consumption…  that’s to say it would reduce consumption by over 20%.  And since consumption has been running over 70% of our roughly $13 Trillion GDP, that could make a dent in the trajectory of our consumer-driven society.  A pretty big dent.*

How might it accrue? Well, there’s the impact on corporate earnings and employment (in an industrial/service base already at pretty serious overcapacity…  and then there are the Dead Malls.

* for more on this phenomenon and what it might mean, this post in Jon Taplin’s blog is a good place to start…  and for a peek at what could become of malls needy of a new purpose, see this post in The Infrastructuralist.


As we cinch up our belts, we might think back to one of the driving forces that created the milieu in which malls were born and flourished: on this date in 1956 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, landmark legislation that funded a 40,000-mile system of interstate roads that ultimately reached every American city with a population of more than 100,000. Today, almost 90% of the interstate system crosses rural areas, putting most citizens and businesses within driving distance of one another. Although Eisenhower’s rationale was martial (creating a road system on which convoys could travel more easily), the rewards were largely civilian. From the growth of trucking to the rise of suburbs, the interstate highway system re-shaped American landscapes and lives… and played a major role in creating the pre-conditions for the growth of the mall.

source: Missouri Department of Transportation


source: BBG

Michael Jackson’s legacy has yet to settle.  There are the songs, of course– from the crystal-shattering Motown days of the Jackson Five to the Quincy Jones era– and there’s the Beatles Song Catalogue (rumored to have been willed to Sir Paul…  though Michael’s creditors may have some issue with that); and then, of course, there’s the lunacy…  But it may be that Michael will be best remembered as an inventor.  To wit, U..S. Patent 5255452, the abstract of which reads:

A system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer’s foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member.

And lest the reader wonder at the utility of such a creation, consider “Smooth Criminal” and its signature dance routine:

As we cant at 45 degrees, we might celebrate the birthdays of an entertainment pioneer of an earlier era, Melvin “Mel” Kaminsky– better known by his stage name, Mel Brooks.  He was born on this date in 1926.  Brooks is a member of the select fraternity of entertainers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. And while of his own work he observed, “my movies rise below vulgarity,” three of his films (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein) rank in the Top 20 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Comedy Films of All Time.

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?”

– Max Bialystock, The Producers

Mel Brooks

Taking tunes along on that summer outing (pre-iAge)…

(thanks, Boing, Boing)

As we adjust our headphones, we might spare a thought for James Smithson, who died on this date in 1829, in Genoa, Italy.   Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, and had published numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry.  In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals; indeed, one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

But perhaps most notably, Smithson left behind a will with a peculiar footnote:  In the event that his only nephew died without heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, and had published numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry.  In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals; indeed, one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

Six years after his death, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, died without children; so on July 1, 1836, the U.S. Congress authorized acceptance of Smithson’s gift.  President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, eight shillings, and seven pence, as well as Smithson’s mineral collection, library, scientific notes, and personal effects. After the gold was melted down, it amounted to well over $500,000– a fortune in those days.

After considering a series of recommendations, including the creation of a national university, a public library, or an astronomical observatory, Congress agreed that the bequest would support the creation of a museum, a library, and “a program of research, publication, and collection in the sciences, arts, and history.”  On August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into law by President James K. Polk.

John Smithson, who had never visited the United States while alive, is interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building (“The Castle,” as it is popularly known).

James Smith

Written by LW

June 27, 2009 at 12:01 am

Blessed are they who preserve and share…

The Library at Celsus

From The Great Library and Mouseion at Alexandria and the Bodleian at Oxford to the The British Library and the Library of Congress, an illustrated (and linked) tour of “The 7 Most Impressive Libraries From Throughout History” (well, in the Western Tradition anyway)…

As we rush to renew our library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1909 that Colonel Tom Parker, (in)famous manager of Elvis Presley,  claimed to have been born in Huntington, West Virginia.  Elvis’ biographer, Albert Goldman, suggests rather that the Colonel was born Andre van Kuijk in Breda, southern Holland, and entered the USA illegally. It was (and is) widely-believed that Parker never owned a credit card and had no passport– possibly to avoid checks that might expose his lack of genuine ID.

Colonel Tom and the King  (source: Virgin Media)

Grim fairy tales…

Dina Goldstein’s Fallen Princess Project…  very grim fairy tales indeed. (From JPG Magazine)

As we wish upon a star, we note that the anti-fabulist Gustave Flaubert went on trial in Paris on this date in 1857 for “offences against public morality,” a transgression attributed by prosecutors to his novel Madame Bovary.


Coincidentally on that same day,  Charles Baudelaire’s slim volume of verse, Les Fleurs du Mal, was published; prosecutors quickly nailed him and his publishers on the same charge.

Written by LW

June 25, 2009 at 12:01 am

What’s black and white and read all over?…

Surely in a world of instant digital bulletins, the competitive answer for traditional newspapers is to differentiate.  If one can’t be faster than the web, or more complete than the web, or more accurate than the web, then one must be…  well, different.

Readers can visit Google Books for a survey of Weekly World News covers through the years (and can click through to read each issue)– news that’s unique in the marketplace, news that no one else had… news that was available at the check-out stand– and on paper.

As we re-read Revelations, we might recall that today is the birthday of Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842), whose marvelous Devil’s Dictionary helped differentiate a series of (mostly San Francisco-based) newspapers from 1869 to 1906 (when a partial collection was published as A Cynic’s Word Book).

Conservative (noun): A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Ambrose Bierce

Written by LW

June 24, 2009 at 12:01 am

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