Links: Power and cyborgs

Caterina.net: Power reveals

“Power reveals. When a leader gets enough power, when he doesn’t need anybody anymore–when he’s president of the United States or CEO of a major corporation–then we can see how he always wanted to treat people, and we can also see–by watching what he does with his power–what he wanted to accomplish all along.”


The Cyborg Name Decoder
Mine is M.I.C.H.A.E.L.: Mechanical Intelligent Construct Hardwired for Assassination and Efficient Learning

Don Quixote

Another In Our Time newsletter, this one on Don Quixote (a book I’ve tried reading a couple of times and just can’t get through):

Well, James Naughtie has put his foot among the pigeons. How do you pronounce Don Quixote? I pronounced it in the English fashion and had there been any objections from the academics who so sturdily spoke about the knight errant this morning, I would have asked them whether any other pronunciation would have made the word ‘quixotic’ redundant.

For your information, we spoke to Edwin Williamson prior to the programme (who was tremendous in encapsulating the biography of Don Quixote), on the pronunciation of Don Quixote. He pointed out that Don Quixote is an archaic Spanish spelling that has now fallen out of use. The Spanish now spell and pronounce it as ‘Don Quijote’ ie. don-key-hoe-tee.

However, Don Quixote has always been a highly international piece of literature. The Italians have always pronounced it ‘don-key-show-tay’; the French have always pronounced it as ‘don-key-sho-ta’; and the English have always traditionally pronounced it as ‘don–quix-ot’.

The adoption of the Spanish pronunciation in the English language has only appeared with the wide inclusion of the book onto the undergraduate curriculum in many American Universities over the last 20 to 30 years. The vast majority of English academics still refer to the book in the old English pronunciation ‘don-quix-ot’ out of habit and in recognition of the book’s status as an international classic.

So there we are on that one.

There was much commendation of Cervantes’ masterpiece on this morning’s programme, but in one of Barry Ife’s articles about the book, he included a review by Martin Amis. I think this may entertain you. “In March 1986, Amis reviewed a reprint of Tobias Smollett’s translation of Don Quijote for the Atlantic Monthly, and he characteristically took the opportunity to get one or two things off his chest. ‘While clearly an impregnable masterpiece,’ he wrote, ‘Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw – that of outright unreadability.’ For long stretches (approaching about 75 per cent of the whole) it is ‘inhumanly dull’. This epic is epic in length only, he argues; ‘it has no pace, no drive…it simply accrues. The question “what happens next?” has no meaning because there is no “next” in Don Quixote’s world: there is only “more”.

Warming to his task, Amis goes on to describe the first 20 chapters or so as ‘squalid, savage and attritional’ as the knight, impelled by ‘madness and high ambition’, and the squire, by ‘stupidity and greed’, beat up sundry innocent carriers and other passers-by in the pursuit of wrongs to right. Unprovoked except by chivalric paranoia, Don Quixote tries to murder a Biscayan traveller, gets involved in a brawl in an inn, chops up ‘about seven’ little lambs during an attack on a flock of sheep, and ‘continuing on his sociopathic way’ assails some defenceless mourners, robs a barber, pummels an itinerant prison guard, and frees a band of convicts. At this point, says Amis, it dawns on the reader that there are still 700 pages to go.”

So Don Quixote not only still stirs the blood, but it stirs the mind of writers.

One of the things I most appreciated was the life he had led. Not wholly unlike that of Chaucer. It is something that we may return to – the connection between the life of a writer (and other artists too, I’m sure) and the work. Nowadays we seem to be consumed with the idea of the lone or specialist writer, setting up tower on his or her own from the very beginning. Here with Cervantes we have a man who would probably have described himself, until late in life, as a professional soldier who finally turned to writing to scrape a living.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Charlemagne and writing

Some of the scholarly chat programs on BBC4 radio have their own newsletters, as most media do nowadays. I enjoy downloading the latest In Our Time program each week and subscribe to host Melvyn Bragg’s newsletter, where he adds his own thoughts on that week’s topic and provides little scholarly nuggets that didn’t make it into the show.

It seems a shame not to share some of them, so here’s what his newsletter contained on the Charlemagne program.


Nevertheless, I was fascinated to read about handwriting and classical manuscripts. In her notes made for the programme, Mary Garrison told us that when Charlemagne started, the level of Latin learning was so low that he needed the English and Irish, who were not native speakers of Latin, to help with Latin texts and learning. They were the ones who said “this is how you spell it; this is how you pronounce it”. So there was a huge change in the literary record and the pronunciation. In terms of literacy (the schoolmasterly type) Charlemagne and Alcuin said you must put spaces between the words, you must use neat handwriting, you must spell things correctly. A new form of handwriting was introduced, and a new way of pronouncing Latin, which hastened the split between Latin and the vernacular – some people hate Alcuin for that reason. It was much as if you or I went to France and said any word that ends in ‘er’ where you would pronounce ‘a’ you now have to pronounce ‘ayr’. But this change in pronunciation is a big thing – it has to do with getting it right.

I was delighted to re-encounter Alcuin whom I first met 47 years ago at university and became reacquainted with when I wrote a novel set in the less & less called “Dark Ages”. The power of the few men who worked in Lindisfarne and Jarrow in the time of what could be called the Northumbrian Renaissance – the Lindisfarne Gospels, the works of Bede and then the passing on of learning to Boniface who became an advisor to Charlemagne’s grandfather and then to the great Alcuin himself. Again and again you find that if a cultural force is strong enough, it does not have to be particularly big to have a most tremendous influence. I always think there’s something romantic and even noble about these men, usually Celts, always monks, who took their learning and their Christianity deep into Europe after having developed it on islands around Britain.

This is some more information about Alcuin that I want to put your way. In fact, I think we should come back to him in a year or so and do a full programme on him. Julia Smith told us that Alcuin (735-804) was at the centre of theological debates at Charlemagne’s court about revising and editing new versions of the Bible. Alcuin had a vision that Classical learning composed the pillars that held up the temple of wisdom, it was a means to achieving higher ends. To this extent, he was especially passionate in advocating a return to Classical standards of Latin grammar and did much to train the successive generation of scholars in writing good Latin. Alcuin’s achievement in asserting a correct Latin was an impressive one, given that vast areas of the southern Carolingian empire (the North was German speaking) still spoke a romance Latin and considered themselves perfectly proficient (although of course theirs was a corrupt version). Alcuin succeeded in teaching Latin to these people as a foreign language, a language which many felt that they had been speaking since infancy.

His was not the most original of minds at court, but he had a beautiful skill for condensing complex patristic texts and summarising them in accessible form. He was adept at repackaging the thought of men like Augustine (theologian, 354-430), Jerome (theologian, 347-420), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan, 340-397) and Gregory the Great (Pope who lived 540-604); in mediating between the patristic thought of the late antique period and the less learned readers of his own day. Alcuin wrote digests, rather than commentaries, for it was generally assumed that most members of the church would not want to read the original works or be capable of doing so.

One discussion in the Green Room was what would have happened had Bede had assistance and, as it were, research scholars to work with him. Mary Garrison suggested that his work on tides, for instance, could have been developed to the advancement of science almost a thousand years before Newton! Some claim, but housed on Lindisfarne, he was well-positioned to watch and calculate the tides which sweep across the causeway and swirl dramatically around Holy Island.

Linksalot

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Shakespearean Insult Generator

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages
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Grand Illustions - Toy Collection - Dragon Illusion
“This little dragon is made out of paper - you simply cut it out and stick it together, and stand it on a table or window ledge. But when you move around, the dragon’s head seems to follow you around the room. Have a look at the video, to see what we mean. The effect is really uncanny.”

A Unique Gift! Your Own Optical Illusion! - Turn Your Head
“Your profile captured forever in an object of art. “

Fight the Corporate Bull with Bullfighter - Lifehacker
“It will scan your documents for over-utilization use of jargon synergy while at the same time increasing your ROI suggesting alternatives that cut the corporate business BS from your documents:”

PowerSquid roomy power strip - Lifehacker

William Shatner DVD Club
Yet another great offer I’ll have to pass up.

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages

Here’s my first Backpack page that I created for a SIG meeting today. It describes how to create a feed from feedless web pages. It’s a nice all-in-one page.

Backpack is great for presenting this kind of information and I was quite amazed at how quickly I could produce some nice-looking text modules, reorganize them, and so on.

For speed of page creation though, I like my PBWiki a little better.

"A common destination with room for all"

Scott’s friend Chrystal has a nicearticle on religious choices.

My family is a perfect example of American religious diversity. Two parents had five daughters and, as of this writing, none share a common religion. We have a Catholic, a goddess-worshipping Wiccan, one three-quarters of the way to Buddhist nunhood (complete with shaved head!), one Mormon, and one Unitarian. The final member attends a Baptist church, but once they formed gay unions, other Baptists quarreled about the church’s designation. So far we have no Muslims or Jews, but the week is young—who knows what the future holds?

Modest Change 3: Exercise

For the past decade or more, I’ve fumbled around for an exercise program I could stick with. Given my size (6’3” and about 215 lbs, as of this writing), I’ll need to be strong and flexible as I get older. Otherwise, the nurses helping me out of my elderly bed will have to be pretty strong or have a pulley and gurney handy.

Exercise clubs have not worked for me. I like yoga but feel I need more resistance and cardio training. I’ve cobbled together workouts from Joyce Vedral, Body for Life, Men’s Health, and many other books and websites.

Two books came my way recently that changed my attitude to exercising and have provided me a very good workoout that energizes but doesn’t fatigue.

The first, which I saw at the library, was Five Factor Fitness by Harley Pasternak. It promises a lot and mostly delivers, despite its rather gimmicky “5” theme: a 25-minute daily workout, done 5 days/week, 5 meals a day, and a set of recipes with meals containing only 5 ingredients.

What attracted me was the book’s modest size (the recipes take up about half of the book) and the modest time requirements; although he advertises 25 minutes, it’s really more like 35, but that’s OK, that’s doable. I also like the balance in the workouts. He recommends only 2 weight-lifting exercises per workout using dumbells, which are my tool of choice and all I’ve used the last several years. His routine emphasizes low-intensity lifting, with low weights but more sets and reps. The workout requires at least 5 minutes on the treadmill at the beginning and end of the routine, getting your heart rate up to its optimal workout zone for at least 5 minutes the second time, and an abdominal (“core”) exercise, which is also high rep and multiple sets.

What I like about the workout is that the goal is not to push yourself to exhaustion, as seems to be the case with all the other routines that promise a quick 6- or 12-week turnaround. At the end of my previous hour-long workouts, I’d be fatigued and sore and would really have to drag myself to the next workout. By contrast, the 5-Factor workout leaves my arms and legs pleasantly buzzing with energy. When I was doing my workouts in the morning, I felt energized for the rest of the day. My earlier wake-up time has pushed my exercising to the afternoon, but it’s short enough that it’s done and I’m showered before supper.

But while perusing the Amazon comments for the book, I ran across Cal Dougherty’s review (and his other fitness book reviews) where he cites a book called Joe X by Avery Hunnicutt.

Joe X is one of those books that couches its lessons in the form of a novel and dialogue between a mentor and a novice. It’s a form I find tedious in the extreme. Although many Amazon reviewers liked the novel, I skimmed through it to get to the nuggets of fitness philosophy I was interested in. (And the good stuff is all recapitulated at the end of the book in an appendix.)

Hunnicutt advocates going light on resistance, paying attention to your body, raise the weight for one exercise only and then only minimally, and look at this as a 30-year or even 40-year fitness plan instead of as a 12-week full-body turnaround.

So, I’ve adapted aspects of both of these books. I follow the 5 Factor plan because I’ve learned my body likes to be exercised regularly and the routines offer enough variety and challenge that I haven’t tired of it so far. From Joe X, I’ve taken on the idea of low-resistance weights and keeping my eye on the long haul.

For the past 4 or 5 weeks, I’ve been using only 5-lb. weights, which I would have laughed at before. I bought 25- and 30-lb weights a few years ago because I felt my chest and back needed more resistance. I don’t believe that anymore. It’s more important to me now to establish the habit and routine of regular exercise rather than taking my muscles to failure.

The blend of these two approaches is, for me, a modest change in my exercising that’s yielded enormous benefit. I feel good physically, my sleep patterns have become more regular, and my moods have evened out–the latter is another reason that regular exercise is good for me, as I tend to be sedentary.