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Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“Every record I put on was like a baptism”*…

The sensation of being “in the groove” is the holy grail of jazz. As the renowned drummer Charli Persip described it, “When you get in that groove, you ride right down that groove with no strain and no pain—you can’t lay back or go forward. That’s why they call it a groove. It’s where the beat is, and we’re always trying to find that.”

This expression from the Roaring Twenties is an allusion to an insect secretion. The close fit between a phonograph needle and the grooves in early shellac 78 rpm records determined the quality of the playback. Shellac—a resinous, amber-colored secretion of the tiny scale insect Kerria lacca—served as the key ingredient in the first generation of phonographic disks. Odd as it may seem, a gummy substance manufactured by bugs and their human hosts in South Asia was the pioneering medium for the transmission of recorded sound.

The curious story of how a sticky discharge from billions of insect bodies became a vehicle for the globalization of audio culture spans millennia and crosses oceans…

The miraculous properties, and fascinating history, of shellac: “Like Jazz, Bowling, and Old Hollywood Hairdos? Thank Insects.

* Questlove, Mo’ Meta Blues

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As we gently lower the needle, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix; he was born (Johnny Allen Hendrix) on this date in 1942. Though his career as a front man lasted only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Indeed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”

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Written by LW

November 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“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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“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.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists”*…

In the 21st century, innovation has become the heart and soul of economic policy. Developed and developing nations alike are in the race to leave industrialization behind, adapting instead to technology-focused, entrepreneurial societies.

Customized cancer treatment, faux meat products, and the smart home technologies are frequently positioned as ‘the next big thing’. But which countries are consistently innovating the most?…

The seventh annual Bloomberg Innovation Index highlights the 10 most innovative economies, and the seven metrics used to rank 2019’s top 60 contenders, e.g.:

Review it in full at “The World’s 10 Most Innovative Economies.” (But do note that the metrics are largely scaled to the size of the countries and their economies: e.g., China, which ranks 16th on that mainly proportionate basis, surely ranks higher when one considers the absolute scale/impact of innovation there.)

* Eric Hoffer

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As we ponder progress, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946 that Al Gross went public with his invention of the walkie talkie.  Gross had developed it as a top secret project during World War II; he went on to develop the circuitry that opened the way to personal pocket paging systems, CB radio, and patented precursors of the cell phone and the cordless phone.  Sadly for him, his patents expired before they became commercially viable.  ”Otherwise,” Gross said, after winning the M.I.T. lifetime achievement award, ”I’d be as rich as Bill Gates.”

200px-ALGROS2

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While Gross himself is almost unknown to the general public, he did achieve one-step-removed notoriety in 1948 when he “gifted” his friend Chester Gould the concept of miniaturized radio transceivers, which Gross had just patented.  Gould put it to use as the two-way wrist radio in his comic strip Dick Tracy.

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“You don’t win friends with salad”*…

The best meal I had all pandemic cost $1.14 and took about 90 seconds to make. It was a Margherita pizza inhaled in the car on a desolate day in late April. I know the precise cost because my husband is the chef who made it: 61 cents for a few slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella, 24 cents for the San Marzano tomatoes and salt, a quarter for enough basil leaves to supply the rest of the menu’s needs for free, and just 11 cents for the dough, made from a mix of top-shelf imported Italian flours. In normal times, his restaurant sold a Margherita for $20, but he could get away with selling it for $10 and still reach 10% food cost.

We are a nation in the throes of an unprecedented eight-month pizza binge that shows no signs of abating. Multiple pizzerias in Los Angeles reported a 250% rise in sales on Election Day, and on Thursday, Papa John’s reported quarterly same-store sales growth of 23.8%. For months now, the underlying forces for the sustained pizza craze have been as hotly debated within the restaurant industry as the election results have been parsed by professional pollsters. Stress eating is a major cause; quarantine-induced failure of imagination and the return of three major-league sports within weeks of one another over the summer certainly didn’t hurt.

But the actual reason that doesn’t get nearly enough notice is that pizza is one of the few genres of food that is actually more profitable than — and almost as addictive as — booze. Fries and fried chicken — not wings, but tenders and drumsticks — are the only other foods that come close. If that reminds you at all of the suggestions that await you on Grubhub and Uber Eats, well, that’s what’s left of the menu when restaurants lose their alcohol sales and are forced to fork over a third of their gross revenues to delivery app commissions. There are not a lot of foods where taste collides so perfectly with profit: Pizza stands alone…

But times are nothing if not desperate, and the financial case for making a pivot to pizza is anything but ambiguous. Tens of thousands of independent restaurants have closed permanently since March, but independent pizzerias listed on the delivery app Slice have seen sales grow 60%. The chain Marco’s Pizza, which just opened its 1,000th location, in Kissimmee, Florida, has seen sales surge roughly 50% every week since mid-April, according to the consumer data analytics firm Sense360. The pandemic has even breathed new life into the forgotten Pizza Hut chain, which reported a 9% rise in U.S. same-store sales last quarter despite the July bankruptcy of its debt-saddled biggest franchisee, NPC International — which said in a filing that its Pizza Hut division’s 2020 earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) had exceeded its internal forecasts by a factor of eight. And mediocre pizza behemoth Domino’s, which was starting from a much higher base after reporting 38 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth, reported a 16% uptick in same-store sales in its second quarter.

The losing side of this stark new restaurant reality is a virtually endless list, but the unequivocal biggest loser has been the so-called $15 salad genre embodied by the fast-food cum tech unicorn Sweetgreen, which recently announced it would be laying off 20% of its corporate staff in its second round of post-outbreak job cuts. Hard numbers on this mostly privately held category, which includes Chopt Creative Salads, Just Salad, Fresh & Co, and True Food Kitchen — all of which have at one point been hailed as the “next Sweetgreen” — were easier to come by in more prosperous times, but the few out there are ugly. Sweetgreen sales fell about 60% during the eight weeks after the first shutdowns, according to Sense360, and the one publicly traded chain in the salad business, Toronto’s Freshii, reported a 51.4% plunge in its second-quarter sales…

Learn how pizza won the pandemic—and Sweetgreen got left behind: “The Death of the $15 Salad.”

* Homer Simpson

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As we savor a slice, we might send well-preserved birthday greetings to the man who was ultimately responsible for that getting that especially- delicious tomato sauce to your pizzeria: Nicolas Appert; he was born on this date in 1749.  A confectioner and inventor, he is known as “the father of canning.”

In 1795, Napoleon, who famously understood that an army travels on its stomach, had offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food and transporting it to its armies.  Appert, who worked 14 years to perfect a method of storing food in sterilized glass containers, won the award in 1810.

Interestingly, that same year (1810), Appert’s friend and agent, Peter Durand, took the invention to the other side.  He switched the medium from glass to metal and presented it to Napoleon’s enemies, the British– scoring  a patent (No. 3372) from King George for the preservation of food in metal (and glass and pottery) containers… the tin can.

One of Appert’s/Durand’s first cans

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