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Posts Tagged ‘radio

“Central planning didn’t work for Stalin or Mao, and it won’t work for an entrepreneur either”*…

 

Amazon central planning

 

Applying science to social problems has brought huge dividends in the past. Long before the invention of the silicon chip, medical and technological innovations had already made our lives far more comfortable – and longer. But history is also replete with disasters caused by the power of science and the zeal to improve the human condition.

For example, efforts to boost agricultural yields through scientific or technological augmentation in the context of collectivization in the Soviet Union or Tanzania backfired spectacularly. Sometimes, plans to remake cities through modern urban planning all but destroyed them. The political scientist James Scott has dubbed such efforts to transform others’ lives through science instances of “high modernism.”An ideology as dangerous as it is dogmatically overconfident, high modernism refuses to recognize that many human practices and behaviors have an inherent logic that is adapted to the complex environment in which they have evolved. When high modernists dismiss such practices in order to institute a more scientific and rational approach, they almost always fail.

Historically, high-modernist schemes have been most damaging in the hands of an authoritarian state seeking to transform a prostrate, weak society. In the case of Soviet collectivization, state authoritarianism originated from the self-proclaimed “leading role” of the Communist Party, and pursued its schemes in the absence of any organizations that could effectively resist them or provide protection to peasants crushed by them.

Yet authoritarianism is not solely the preserve of states. It can also originate from any claim to unbridled superior knowledge or ability. Consider contemporary efforts by corporations, entrepreneurs, and others who want to improve our world through digital technologies. Recent innovations have vastly increased productivity in manufacturing, improved communication, and enriched the lives of billions of people. But they could easily devolve into a high-modernist fiasco…

But this characteristically high-modernist path is not preordained. Instead of ignoring social context, those developing new technologies could actually learn something from the experiences and concerns of real people. The technologies themselves could be adaptive rather than hubristic, designed to empower society rather than silence it.Two forces are likely to push new technologies in this direction. The first is the market, which may act as a barrier against misguided top-down schemes. Once Soviet planners decided to collectivize agriculture, Ukrainian villagers could do little to stop them. Mass starvation ensued. Not so with today’s digital technologies, the success of which will depend on decisions made by billions of consumers and millions of businesses around the world (with the possible exception of those in China)…

That said, the power of the market constraint should not be exaggerated. There is no guarantee that the market will select the right technologies for widespread adoption, nor will it internalize the negative effects of some new applications. The fact that Facebook exists and collects information about its 2.5 billion active users in a market environment does not mean we can trust how it will use that data. The market certainly doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be unforeseen consequences from Facebook’s business model and underlying technologies.

For the market constraint to work, it must be bolstered by a second, more powerful check: democratic politics. Every state has a proper role to play in regulating economic activity and the use and spread of new technologies. Democratic politics often drives the demand for such regulation. It is also the best defense against the capture of state policies by rent-seeking businesses attempting to raise their market shares or profits.

Democracy also provides the best mechanism for airing diverse viewpoints and organizing resistance to costly or dangerous high-modernist schemes. By speaking out, we can slow down or even prevent the most pernicious applications of surveillance, monitoring, and digital manipulation. A democratic voice is precisely what was denied to Ukrainian and Tanzanian villagers confronted with collectivization schemes.But regular elections are not sufficient to prevent Big Tech from creating a high-modernist nightmare. Insofar as new technologies can thwart free speech and political compromise and deepen concentrations of power in government or the private sector, they can frustrate the workings of democratic politics itself, creating a vicious circle. If the tech world chooses the high-modernist path, it may ultimately damage our only reliable defense against its hubris: democratic oversight of how new technologies are developed and deployed. We as consumers, workers, and citizens should all be more cognizant of the threat, for we are the only ones who can stop it.

At the same time that science and technology have vastly improved human lives, they have also given certain visionaries the means to transform entire societies from above. Ominously, what was true of Soviet central planners is true of Big Tech today: namely, the assumption that society can be improved through pure “rationality.”  Daron Acemoglu— Professor of Economics at MIT,  and co-author (with James A. Robinson) of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty and The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty (forthcoming from Penguin Press in September 2019)– explains: “Big Tech’s Harvest of Sorrow?

[Illustration above from “The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos,” also worth a read.]

* Michael Bloomberg

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As we rethink “reason,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 (one year before Marconi’s first demo) that distinguished physicist Oliver Lodge achieved the first successful radio transmission of information via Morse Code in a presentation to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at a meeting in Oxford.  He sent a message about 50 meters from the old Clarendon Laboratory to the lecture theater of the University Museum.

Lodge continued to develop his approach, and patented several elements of it… running into intellectual property disputes with Marconi.  Finally, in 1912, Lodge, at heart an academic, sold his patents to the more determinedly-commercial Marconi.

220px-Oliver_Joseph_Lodge3 source

 

Written by LW

August 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We will meet; and there we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously”*…

crows

How did a group of crows become a murder? Or a group of starlings a murmuration? The truth is lost to history, but one theory is that many of the English language’s elaborate nouns of assemblage were concocted by a prioress for a 1486 gentleman’s guide called the Book of St. Albans, and mostly meant to show the user’s erudition and wit. Which is still what they do…

Everything that one could want to know about “Nouns of Assemblage.”

* Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (Bottom, Act 1, Scene 2)

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As we come together, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that Dr Lee De Forest, the American inventor of the vacuum tube, conducted the first public demonstration of radio as we know it, broadcasting a live performance of Enrico Caruso from the Metropolitan Opera– a broadcast audible only by the small number of electronics hobbyists who had radio receivers. (He’d tried a “quiet experiment,” broadcasting part of Tosca the prior night.)  De Forest started regular nightly concerts in 1915, increasing interest in radio receivers, which at the time depended on the vacuum tubes manufactured by De Forest’s company.

While DeForest pioneered the commercialization of radio, Italian electrical engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi is traditionally recognized as its creator for his 1896 invention, which transmitted signals over more than a mile. By 1905, ships often used radios to communicate with stations on shore.  Marconi’s work earned him a share of the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics; DeForest got rich… It prefigured, in a metaphorical way the relationship between Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff in the development of television.

Indeed, appropriately enough, it was on this same date 18 years later, in 1928, that the first experimental television sets– with 1.5 square inch screens– were installed in three homes in Schenectady, NY.

Lee DeForest

 

Written by LW

January 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The study of man is the study of his extensions”*…

 

magic-lantern_1_md

The magic lantern was invented in the 1600’s, probably by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist. It was the earliest form of slide projector and has a long and fascinating history. The first magic lanterns were illuminated by candles, but as technology evolved they were lit by increasingly powerful means.

The name “magic lantern” comes from the experience of the early audiences who saw devils and angels mysteriously appear on the wall, as if by magic. Even in the earliest period, performances contained images that moved—created with moving pieces of glass.

By the 18th century the lantern was a common form of entertainment and education in Europe. The earliest known “lanthorn show” in the U. S. was in Salem, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1743, “for the Entertainment of the Curious.” But the source of light for lanterns in this period—usually oil lamps—was still weak, and as a consequence the audiences were small.

In the mid 19th century, two new forms of illumination were developed which led to an explosion of lantern use. “Limelight” was created by heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it became incandescent. It was dangerous, but produced a light that was strong enough to project an image before thousands of people, leading to large shows by professional showmen…

All about the entertainment sensation of its time at the web site of The Magic Lantern Society.  [TotH to friend and colleague RW]

And for a peek at the transition from the static images of the magic lantern to film-as-we-know-it, see “Putting Magic in the Magic Lantern.”

[image above: source]

Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture

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We we watch with wonder, we might recall that it was on this date in 1926 that The NBC Radio Network, the first network in the U.S., was launched.  Carl Schlegel of the Metropolitan Opera opened the four-hour inaugural broadcast, which also featured Will Rogers and Mary Garden; it included a remote link from KYW in Chicago and was carried by twenty-two eastern and midwestern stations, located as far west as WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri.

NBC has been formed from assets already held by its parent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and other assets acquired from AT&T (which had been, up to that point, a pioneer in radio technology).  Crucially, as part of the reassignment permissions granted by the government, NBC was allowed to sell advertising.

NBC’s network grew quickly; two months later, on January 1, 1927, it was split into the Red and Blue networks.  And it quickly attracted competition:  the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1927 and the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1934.  In 1942 the government required NBC to divest one of its networks; it sold off NBC Blue, which became The American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

200px-NBC_Red_Network source

 

 

Written by LW

November 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Don’t just do something, sit there”*…

 

cows

You’ve heard of slow food and slow fashion. Now the BBC is spreading the gospel of slow radio.

The British public broadcaster’s Radio 3 programming this autumn will invite listeners to relax to the sounds of Irish cows being herded up a mountain and leaves crunching on walks through the country. Radio 3 controller Alan Davey tells The Guardian this “meditative, slightly old fashioned” radio will provide audiences with “a chance for quiet mindfulness.”

That sounds a lot like autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or the pleasant calming sensation many people feel when listening to a range of gentle everyday noises, from softly spoken words to someone raking a zen garden…

More on soothing sound at: “The BBC is getting into ASMR.”  And for those who can’t receive Radio Three…

* Buddhist saying

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As we’re muse on mindfulness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1597 that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, then a tax collector in the province of Grenada, was imprisoned in the Carcel Real, the royal prison in Seville, Spain.  Apparently a subordinate had deposited tax receipts with an untrustworthy banker.

Forced to slow down, Cervantes took good advantage of his free time: he started plotting (but probably not actually writing) “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha” (“The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha“)– or as we have come to know it, Don Quixote.  As Somerset Maugham said,”casting my mind’s eye over the whole of fiction, the only absolutely original creation that I can think of is Don Quixote.”

cervantes source

 

Written by LW

September 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”*…

 

bon-mots

Both published in 1897, Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth Century and Bon-Mots of the Nineteenth Century, pretty much deliver what they promise — that is, a compilation of some of the best conversational witticisms of the two centuries. Examples from many famous and expected names adorn its pages — including Joseph Addison, Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Byron — but we are also introduced to more obscure though no less prolific sources, such as the actor Charles Bannister and the Irish politician John Philpot Curran. Although many of the bon-mots might not stand the test of time — so often firmly rooted in the language or the culture of the time as they are — some don’t fair too badly today. Also don’t miss the two introductions which each include entertaining examples of how various writers have defined “wit” (in Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth Century) and “humour” (in Bon-Mots of the Nineteenth Century). Look out also for the fun little “grotesques” that litter the pages of both volumes, by English artist Alice B. Woodward.

Voltaire

Bon-Mots of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century (1897)“; page through them at The Internet Archive.

* Oscar Wilde (featured in the second volume treated above)

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As we celebrate celerity, we might spare a thought for Judy Canova; she died on this date in 1983.  A veteran of a sister act in vaudeville (“the Three Georgia Crackers”), she got her break as a teenager when bandleader Rudy Vallée offered her a guest spot on his radio show in 1931.  Her career spanned five decades, during which she performed as a comedian, actress, singer, and radio personality, appearing on Broadway and in films.  She hosted her own self-titled network radio program, a popular series broadcast from 1943 to 1955, first on CBS, then NBC.

Judy Canova source (and repository of audio examples of her work)

 

Written by LW

August 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I don’t know what this is, but I can’t stop listening”*…

 

Joe Frank passed away last Monday.  A purveyor of humorous, often surreal, radio monologues and dramas, he began his career in 1977 on WBAI in New York, then moved in 1978 to National Public Radio. producing 18 award-winning dramas for NPR Playhouse (while serving as co-anchor of Weekend Edition).  In 1986 he moved to KCRW in Santa Monica, where he produced a weekly hour-long radio program, Joe Frank: Work In Progress, until 2002 He also wrote stage plays and short stories, and saw several of his radio works used as the bases of films and television programs.

Beloved by a loyal audience, he was never widely known.  Still, his influence has touched mass audiences:  Ira Glass (one of whose first jobs was as a production assistant for Frank) credits Frank as his greatest inspiration for This American Life; TAL contributor David Sedaris modeled his work in material measure on Frank; Prairie Home Companion drew on Frank’s approach; and filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Ivan Reitman, and Martin Scorsese have worked from stories from Joe Frank’s radio shows.

Hear his extraordinary work on JoeFrank.com (free registration), Last.FM, and Soundcloud, among other repositoroes.

* Ira Glass, recounting his first experience of Joe Frank

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As we lend an ear, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Huddie William Ledbetter; he was born on this date in 1888.  Better known by his stage name “Lead Belly,” he was  folk and blues musician known for his distinctive vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar (though he also played the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and “windjammer” [diatonic accordion]), and the blues standards he wrote and introduced– covered over the years by acts including Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Johnny Rivers (“Midnight Special”), Delaney Davidson, Tom Russell, Lonnie Donegan, Bryan Ferry (“Goodnight, Irene”), the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Midnight Special”, “Cotton Fields”), Elvis Presley, ABBA, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Animals, Jay Farrar, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Dr. John, Ry Cooder, Davy Graham, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, Grateful Dead, Gene Autry, Odetta, Mungo Jerry, Paul King, Van Morrison, Michelle Shocked, Tom Waits (“Goodnight, Irene”), Scott H. Biram, Rod Stewart, Ernest Tubb, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spiderbait (“Black Betty”), Blind Willies (“In the Pines”), the White Stripes (“Boll Weevil”), the Fall, Hole, Smog, Old Crow Medicine Show, Meat Loaf, Ministry, Raffi, Rasputina, Rory Gallagher (“Out on the Western Plains”), the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Deer Tick, Hugh Laurie, X, Bill Frisell, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Mark Lanegan, WZRD (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), Keith Richards, Phil Lee (“I Got Stripes”), and Aerosmith (“Line ‘Em”)…

Lead Belly. photo by Alan Lomax

source

 

Written by LW

January 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The radio was shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you”*…

 

For your holiday listening pleasure, from Studio Puckey, live radio streams (and more) from around the world: radio.garden.

* David Byrne, How Music Works

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As we touch that dial, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that New York’s “Great White Way” was born when Charles F. Brush successfully demonstrated his arc lamps along Broadway– two years before Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station began lighting New York.

Brush’s New York central power plant dynamos, which powered arc lamps from December, 1880 along a 2 mile long circuit, including Broadway

source

(Coincidentally, on this date 20 years later, Nature reported the invention, by William Du Bois Duddell, an English physicist, of the Musical Arcs– the first fully electric musical instrument.)

 

Written by LW

December 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

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