(Roughly) Daily

“The sound must seem an echo to the sense”*…

As devices once common fall out of use, we stop hearing the sounds that they made…

“Conserve the sound” is an online archive for disappearing sounds. The sounds of a rotary dial phone, a Walkman, an analog typewriter, a pay phone, a 56k modem, a nuclear power plant or even a mobile phone keyboard have partly disappeared or are just disappearing from everyday life. In addition, people have their say in text and video interviews and deepen their view into the world of disappearing sounds…”

The signature sounds of the items above and so many more: “Conserve the sound,” a project of CHUNDERKSEN.

Apposite: “Google Translate for the zoo? How humans might talk to animals,” a review of Karen Bakker‘s The Sounds of Life.

And. of course, 32 Sounds.

* Alexander Pope

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As we listen in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986, in Cleveland, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted it’s first class of members: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Alan Freed, John Hammond, Buddy Holly, Robert Johnson, Jerry Lee Lewis, San Phillips, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, and Jimmy Yancey. The I. M. Pei designed museum opened on June 7, 1993.

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“Other things stop working or they break, But batteries… they die”*…

There’s been a great deal of talk about semiconductors and the implications of a supply chain that depends too heavily on China– and some action (c.f., e.g., here and here). Fair enough: chips are clearly central to the economy into which we’re growing; assuring access matters. But let us not forget their humble technological cousin, the battery. Batteries power an increasing number of the appliances on which our lives increasingly depend; with the world gearing up for the electric vehicle era, we’re going to need them even more. So it could be an issue that the world is much more reliant on China for batteries than for chips…

Battery manufacturing has become a priority for many nations, including the United States. However, having entered the race for batteries early, China is far and away in the lead… In 2022, China had more battery production capacity than the rest of the world combined…

Global lithium-ion manufacturing capacity is projected to increase eightfold in the next five years… China’s well-established advantage is set to continue through 2027, with 69% of the world’s battery manufacturing capacity…

Battery manufacturing is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a major one. Most of the parts and metals that make up a battery—like battery-grade lithium, electrolytes, separators, cathodes, and anodes—are primarily made in China.

Therefore, combating China’s dominance will be expensive. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. and Europe will have to invest $87 billion and $102 billion, respectively, to meet domestic battery demand with fully local supply chains by 2030…

More (and a larger version of the graphic above) at “Visualizing China’s Dominance in Battery Manufacturing (2022-2027P),” from @VisualCap.

* Demetri Martin

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As we recharge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1984 that Apple aired an epoch-making commercial, “1984” (directed by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott),  during Superbowl XVIII– for the first and only time.  Two days later, the first Apple Macintosh went on sale…. battery-dependent portables followed a few years later.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 22, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”*…

The redoubtable Robert Darnton contemplates our technological present and future– and what they might mean for libraries and books…

Information is exploding so furiously around us and information technology is changing at such bewildering speed that we face a fundamental problem: How to orient ourselves in the new landscape? What, for example, will become of research libraries in the face of technological marvels such as Google?

How to make sense of it all? I have no answer to that problem, but I can suggest an approach to it: look at the history of the ways information has been communicated. Simplifying things radically, you could say that there have been four fundamental changes in information technology since humans learned to speak.

the pace of change seems breathtaking: from writing to the codex, 4,300 years; from the codex to movable type, 1,150 years; from movable type to the Internet, 524 years; from the Internet to search engines, nineteen years; from search engines to Google’s algorithmic relevance ranking, seven years; and who knows what is just around the corner or coming out the pipeline?

Each change in the technology has transformed the information landscape, and the speed-up has continued at such a rate as to seem both unstoppable and incomprehensible. In the long view—what French historians call la longue durée—the general picture looks quite clear—or, rather, dizzying. But by aligning the facts in this manner, I have made them lead to an excessively dramatic conclusion. Historians, American as well as French, often play such tricks. By rearranging the evidence, it is possible to arrive at a different picture, one that emphasizes continuity instead of change. The continuity I have in mind has to do with the nature of information itself or, to put it differently, the inherent instability of texts. In place of the long-term view of technological transformations, which underlies the common notion that we have just entered a new era, the information age, I want to argue that every age was an age of information, each in its own way, and that information has always been unstable.

In 2006 Google signed agreements with five great research libraries—the New York Public, Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and Oxford’s Bodleian—to digitize their books. Books in copyright posed a problem, which soon was compounded by lawsuits from publishers and authors. But putting that aside, the Google proposal seemed to offer a way to make all book learning available to all people, or at least those privileged enough to have access to the World Wide Web. It promised to be the ultimate stage in the democratization of knowledge set in motion by the invention of writing, the codex, movable type, and the Internet.

Now, I speak as a Google enthusiast. I believe Google Book Search really will make book learning accessible on a new, worldwide scale, despite the great digital divide that separates the poor from the computerized. It also will open up possibilities for research involving vast quantities of data, which could never be mastered without digitization… But their success does not prove that Google Book Search, the largest undertaking of them all, will make research libraries obsolete. On the contrary, Google will make them more important than ever.

[Darnton makes a compelling eight-point argument, concluding…]

… I say: shore up the library. Stock it with printed matter. Reinforce its reading rooms. But don’t think of it as a warehouse or a museum. While dispensing books, most research libraries operate as nerve centers for transmitting electronic impulses. They acquire data sets, maintain digital repositories, provide access to e-journals, and orchestrate information systems that reach deep into laboratories as well as studies. Many of them are sharing their intellectual wealth with the rest of the world by permitting Google to digitize their printed collections. Therefore, I also say: long live Google, but don’t count on it living long enough to replace that venerable building with the Corinthian columns. As a citadel of learning and as a platform for adventure on the Internet, the research library still deserves to stand at the center of the campus, preserving the past and accumulating energy for the future.

Eminently worth reading in full: “The Library in the New Age,” from @RobertDarnton in @nybooks.

See also: “American Literature is a History of the Nation’s Libraries” (source of the image above).

And apposite: “The Most Influential Invention” (paper)…

* Groucho Marx

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As we’re careful not to throw babies out with the bathwater, we might recall that it was on thus date in 1789 that Boston publisher Isaiah Thomas and Company published what is generally considered to be the first American novel: 24-year-old William Hill Brown’s The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature, which sold (poorly) for the price of 9 shillings.

Title page of the first edition (source)

“There is not a thing that is more positive than bread”*…

A plate from The Book of Bread, by Owen Simmons (London: Maclaren and Sons, 1903).

A remarkable volume, published at the turn of the 20th century, anticipated the rise of molecular gastronomy in the 1990s and 2000s…

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, writes Owen Simmons at the outset of The Book of Bread (1903), a work he hopes will definitively establish “the link between the bakery and the laboratory” and speak to “the needs of the baker and of the miller”. And the text, at times, does indeed read like a lab manual for commercial bakeries: Simmons was a breadmaker’s breadmaker, co-founder of the National School of Bakery in London and frequent contributor to The British Baker. The book contains equations for the conversion of starch into alcohol (by way of maltose, dextrin, and glucose), chemical explanations for why viscoelasticity is “injurious to the proper manufacture of several kinds of biscuits”, and intricate discussions of nitrogenic proteids, which, once transformed into peptones, “nourish the yeast by percolating its cellulose”.

In addition to its scientific learning, the preface notes two unique aspects that set The Book of Bread apart from competitors: a tabulated appendix, featuring the results of more than 360 baking experiments, and its “most expensive illustrations”, which will force readers “to admit that never before have they seen such a complete collection of prize loaves illustrated in such an excellent manner”. An early entry in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s history of the photobook, the attention lent to loaves left the writers in awe: “Here, at the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the humblest, yet most essential of objects is catalogued as precisely, rigorously and objectively as any work by a 1980s Conceptual artist.” Kenneth Josephson’s later photographic experiment, The Bread Book (1973), seems to directly reference Simmons’ work…

More at “The Book of Bread,” in @PublicDomainRev.

Browse the book at the Internet Archive.

* Fyodor Dostoevsky

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As we contemplate carbs, we might recall that it was on this date– National Cheese Lovers Day— in 1964 that, with the aid of a $36,000 grant from the Wisconsin Cheese Foundation, work began on what would be the World’s Largest Cheese, which was displayed, starting later that year, in the Wisconsin Pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.  The 14 1/2′ x 6 1/2′ x 5 1/2′, 17-ton cheddar original– the product of 170,000 quarts of milk from 16,000 cows– was cut and eaten in 1965; but a replica was created and put on display near Neillsville, Wisconsin… next to Chatty Belle, the World’s Largest Talking Cow.

In 2018, Wisconsin added a second record– World’s Largest Cheeseboard.   Weighing in at 4,437 lbs, and measuring 35 feet long and 7 feet wide, it featured 145 different varieties, types and styles of Wisconsin cheese.

The replica on display (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 20, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Demography is destiny”*…

But what destiny? Strong population growth has fueled economic development in some countries (where the phenomenon of economic growth tends to moderate population growth), and it has exacerbated problems in others. Conversely, a shrinking population can vex the prospects for development and growth. The Economist weighs in with thoughts on the world’s two most populous nations– one shrinking, the other growing…

China has been the world’s most populous country for hundreds of years. In 1750 it had an estimated 225m people, more than a quarter of the world’s total. India, not then a politically unified country, had roughly 200m, which ranked it second. In 2023 it will seize the crown. The UN guesses that India’s population will surpass that of China on April 14th. India’s population on the following day is projected to be 1,425,775,850.

The crown itself has little value, but it is a signal of things that matter. That India does not have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council while China does will come to seem more anomalous. Although China’s economy is nearly six times larger, India’s growing population will help it catch up. India is expected to provide more than a sixth of the increase of the world’s population of working age (15-64) between now and 2050.

China’s population, by contrast, is poised for a steep decline. The number of Chinese of working age peaked a decade ago. By 2050 the country’s median age will be 51, 12 years higher than now. An older China will have to work harder to maintain its political and economic clout. [See also:”For the first time since the 1960s, China’s population is shrinking” and “Here’s why China’s population dropped for the first time in decades.”]

Both countries took draconian measures in the 20th century to limit the growth of their populations. A famine in 1959-61 caused by China’s “great leap forward” was a big factor in persuading the Communist Party of the need to rein in population growth. A decade later China launched a “later, longer, fewer” campaign—later marriages, longer gaps between children and fewer of them. That had a bigger effect than the more famous one-child policy, introduced in 1980, says Tim Dyson, a British demographer. The decline in fertility, from more than six babies per woman in the late 1960s to fewer than three by the late 1970s, was the swiftest in history for any big population, he says.

It paid dividends. China’s economic miracle was in part the result of the rising ratio of working-age adults to children and oldsters from the 1970s to the early 2000s…

India’s attempt to reduce fertility was less successful. It was the first country to introduce family planning on a national scale in the 1950s. Mass-sterilisation campaigns, encouraged by Western donors, grew and were implemented more forcefully during the state of emergency declared by Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, in 1975-77… Though brutal, the campaign was not thorough enough to cause a dramatic drop in India’s birth rate. India’s fertility has dropped, but by less, and more slowly than China’s. With a median age of 28 and a growing working-age population, India now has a chance to reap its own demographic dividend. Its economy recently displaced Britain’s as the world’s fifth-biggest and will rank third by 2029, predicts State Bank of India. But India’s prosperity depends on the productivity of its youthful people, which is not as high as in China. Fewer than half of adult Indians are in the workforce, compared with two-thirds in China. Chinese aged 25 and older have on average 1.5 years more schooling than Indians of the same age.

That will not spare China from suffering the consequences of the demographic slump it engineered. The government ended the one-child policy in 2016 and removed all restrictions on family size in 2021. But birth rates have kept falling. China’s zero-covid policy has made young adults even more reluctant to bear children. The government faces resistance to its plans to raise the average retirement age, which at 54 is among the lowest in the world. The main pension fund may run out of money by 2035. Yet perhaps most painful for China will be the emergence of India as a superpower on its doorstep…

The contrasting demographic dynamics of China and India, and what they might mean: “India will become the world’s most populous country in 2023,” from @TheEconomist.

* attributed to Auguste Comte

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1829 that the first part of the tragic play Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe premiered. Originally published in 1808, the tale of Dr. Faust’s deal with Memphistopheles is considered by many to be the greatest work of German literature.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 19, 2023 at 1:00 am

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