Because They're There

From Robin Sloan’s latest newsletter:

Beware, anytime you hear anybody talking about reading novels as self-improvement – because they “increase empathy” or something like that. A close cousin is when people say you should read science fiction because it “helps you imagine the future.”

Here is my proposed alternative: read novels because there are novels…

It’s unfortunately very common in the San Francisco of 2019, this quest for a deeper “because” that finds its foundation in self-improvement. Resist.

MusicProf78's YouTube Channel

For the last few decades, I’ve loved listening to popular music of the 1910s, ‘20s, and ‘30s. They can be Tin Pan Alley songs, songs from popular Broadway or theatre shows of the era, or recordings of vaudeville performers who were captured on shellac before all memory of their performances faded away.

These old 78s captured a vitality, brightness, and joy along with sharp musicianship: the energy and craft of these performances make for constant delight. Occasional cringes, yes, but mostly delight.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1280.0"]<img src="http://brownstudy.micro.blog/uploads/2019/246b851127.jpg" alt=" A side of one 78 RPM record had a playing time of between three-and-a-half and four minutes; hence the reason so many pop songs still rarely go beyond four or five minutes. For classical works, with of course longer running times, multiple discs were packaged into albums, evoking the look and feel of photo albums. Hence the reason we still call a collection of songs an “album” or so the story goes as I learned it. (Image by  Greg McMahan  from  Pixabay  ) " />  A side of one 78 RPM record had a playing time of between three-and-a-half and four minutes; hence the reason so many pop songs still rarely go beyond four or five minutes. For classical works, with of course longer running times, multiple discs were packaged into albums, evoking the look and feel of photo albums. Hence the reason we still call a collection of songs an “album” or so the story goes as I learned it. (Image by  Greg McMahan  from  Pixabay  ) [/caption] 

MusicProf78’s YouTube Channel collects hundreds of popular songs from this period and, wonderfully, breaks them into collections by year. And not only music from the early 20th Century: he has collections of songs by playlists from 1926 through 1966. His Miscellaneous Playlists also look enticing!

See also:


Critical MAS: Tips on Quitting Facebook

Michael Allen Smith’s nine tips for getting out of Facebook (see his post for details):

  1. Define the Reasons You Want to Leave

  2. Remove the Facebook Mobile App

  3. Log in and Out With Every Visit

  4. Stop Posting

  5. Find Other Ways to Connect to Good Sources

  6. How Will You Spend Your Liberated Time?

  7. Start Data Scrubbing (optional)

  8. Create a New Profile Page Elsewhere (optional)

  9. Walk On

I’m still tied to FB because of the various programs I’m a paid member of, so I have not quit yet. But my participation is minimal. I send direct messages to friends and will take a few minutes to scan the first screen of notifications once a day or so. But that’s it. I rarely post in any of the forums.

I’ve been on FB since 2006 or 2007, when it was available only to college students. Even if I left, they have years worth of analytics on me.

Dracula as Hero of His Own Story

The latest production from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss is a revamping of Bram Stoker's venerable Dracula. Unlike their retooling of Sherlock for the modern-day, this version promises to stay in its late 19th-century setting. 

But what caught my eye in the Radio Times announcement is this passage, which hinges on what makes their adaptation unique:

...[T]heir big pitch to the BBC and Netflix has been to finally make Dracula “the hero of his own story” – the central focus of the narrative rather than a shadowy villain for more traditional heroes to overcome...

“Because we sort of made a promise to ourselves and the people who are making it, paying for it, that we’d make Dracula the hero of his own story, and less of a shadowy presence...[said Gatiss].

In Bram Stoker’s original epistolary novel of 1897, Dracula is only ever seen through the eyes of humans trying to escape him or bring him to heel, with the Count representing a malevolent threat to humanity without any real sense of his inner life or perspective.

According to Moffat and Gatiss, their new Dracula – played by Danish actor Claes Bang – will bring that interiority on screen. Though, as noted above, it’s not been quite as easy as they anticipated when they first pitched the reinterpretation…

“We quickly found out why he’s often kept a shadowy presence!” joked Moffat.

If Moffatt or Gatiss want to see one take on this approach, then I point them to the marvelous The Dracula Tape, a 1980 novel by the sf/fantasy author Fred Saberhagen. 

  <img src="http://brownstudy.micro.blog/uploads/2019/4e4c8e1042.jpg" alt="" />

In it, Dracula tells his story to a tape-recording interviewer and it is an absolutely bloody brilliant retelling. All of the novel's events are told from the other side of the mirror, as it were. Misunderstandings are made plain. Odd events are made sensible. For example, Dracula points out the idiocy of Van Helsing performing a blood transfusion without knowledge of blood types, which of course leads to disastrous consequences.

But, don't forget this is the Prince of Darkness, so he's the very definition of "unreliable narrator." Still, his contempt for Van Helsing is spirited and apt; Van Helsing is such a stick in the novel, so unlike the dashing and heroic Peter Cushing. (Stoker must have had in mind an actor in the troupe he stage-managed who specialized in German or Dutch accents; this is the only way I can comprehend the presence of such a bizarre character).

Saberhagen was a jobbing sf/fantasy author who wrote a similar "what-really-happened" story of The Monster in The Frankenstein Papers and went on to write a series of Dracula-as-avenging-good-guy novels, plus a Dracula meets Sherlock Holmes pastiche. I've not read all of these books; those I have I remember as average stories, competently told, not very memorable.

But The Dracula Tape is different. There is a magic and vivacity, a real grappling with structure, storytelling, and doing something new with this well-worn and familiar tale. For me, Saberhagen never bottled this vintage of lightning again in any of his other work.

As for Moffat and Gatiss's plans: I hope their production is a success. I worry a bit about their going back again and again to the pulp culture well of their childhoods. Moffat's career as a television writer saw him create a terrific series for young people (Press Gang) and several popular sitcoms set in the everyday modern-day where he honed his techniques; he also tried, bless him, to be up to date with the young people in Coupling. His modern retelling of Jekyll was big, colorful, and fast-moving; a great experiment on the way to his more successful Doctor Who episodes but not satisfying all on its own.

After spending so many years working with other writers' and creators' material -- Jekyll, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and now Dracula -- albeit with plenty of his own imaginative juice thrown in — it would be heartening to see Moffat go back and start creating again from whole cloth, maybe leave the toybox of his youth, with its spaceships and vampires, behind. I'd love to see him stretch his wings as Russell T Davies did with Cucumber Banana Tofu and A Very English Scandal

Ambling Through the Ambience

A great find, via the ever-essential Open Culture:

For those who think 50 minutes is too short and those piano notes too recognizable, may we suggest this 6-hour, time-stretched version of the album Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, created by YouTube user “Slow Motion TV.”

iPad Pro Observations

I subscribe to Daniel Lemire’s blog. He is a computer science professor at the University of Quebec.

While his posts on optimal sorting and benchmarking bounce harmlessly off of me, I appreciate his take on academe, research, and the state of science and technology. His weekly links of what he considers notable science and technology stories in the news or research journals consistently interests me (example).

In one of his longer posts, he had a few observations on his attempt to use an iPad for his daily work.

His point about focusing on only one application at a time is a good one; it’s not as limited as the old days of using DOS software, but when I’m writing on the iPad, task-switching is a little cumbersome. And I agree that working with text is awkward; I use a clipboard utility that helps a little, but I really prefer a mouse over tapping to select or move text.

I don’t use my 10.5 iPad Pro daily; I use it mostly for web surfing or reading; I can’t say I’ve noticed my reading comprehension or activity to have changed. Perhaps I’m not using it enough. I am one of those readers who remembers the quote is on the bottom of the right page (spatial/geographic memory), an ability frustrated by any e-reader.

I liked his last observation:

My final point is that working with an iPad is more fun than working with a laptop. I cannot tell exact why that is. I’d be really interested in exploring this “fun” angle further. Maybe it is simply because it is different, but it is maybe not so simple. My smartphone is “fun” even if it is old and familiar.

I think one reason an iPad might be more fun to use is that we still haven’t quite unlocked how to work with it effectively. Once it becomes as boringly dependable as a laptop, it will likely lose some of its allure. The fact that it’s still a little difficult to use, that we still have to think about it a little, gives it a little more challenge that makes the experience a little more fun.

"Dearest Liz"

Here, I am shamelessly aping Michael Leddy’s post, which should come as no surprise as I shamelessly steal many ideas and techniques from his blog.

What makes this video from Field Notes particularly dear to me is that 1) my wife’s name is Liz, 2) she is an editor, and 3) she is equally precise, though not as vicious.

[vimeo 317097991 w=640 h=360]

Jeanette Winterson on broken hearts and time

Jeanette Winterson:

My heart was broken recently and I keep the pieces on the back step in a bucket. A heart can mend but unlike the liver it cannot regenerate. A heart mends but the break line is always visible. Humans are not axolotels; axolotels grow new limbs. A broken heart will mend in time, but one of the contradictions of being human is that we have so little time for the mending we must do. It takes years to know anything, years to achieve anything, years to learn how to love, years to learn how to let love go when it has worn out, years to find that loneliness is the name for the intense secret you can’t share. Years to share what you can share. Years to be hurt. Years to heal.

Do I Need to Digitize This Album? Or Can I Download it Instead?

I could take the time to record both sides of an album, edit those recordings, create metadata, find the album art, and maybe create a digital booklet to go with it.

But Is there an easier way?

  • Check Amazon for CD or streamable version. If the album is streamable or available as a CD, then I won’t bother recording it. A digital copy will cost some money, yes, but the sound will be good, and the album art and metadata will be in place. Does the record mean so much to me I want to buy the CD? That will be One More Thing to add to my load, when the goal is actually to lighten my load.

  • Check iTunes. Some vendors sell their wares in one place but not the other, so it pays to check both.

  • Check YouTube or Vimeo. I use Replay Media Catcher to capture the audio; there are numerous similar utilities out there.

  • Check archive.org’s Audio collections. This is the court of last resort, but obscure treasures do show up here.

Is This an Album Worth Keeping?

After I finish digitizing a record and putting it in the Donate box, I pluck the next one from the shelf. And then a series of questions present themselves.

  • Am I interested in keeping a digital copy of this record? If I’ve forgotten I had it, if I haven’t thought about it in decades, then maybe I don’t need to keep it. Into the Donate box it goes.

  • Do I want to give it a listen before I Donate it? If so, I may as well record it so I’m not risking damage to the record by playing it twice. On a few occasions, after listening to a few tracks, I know I don’t want to keep it. Into the Donate box it goes.

  • And the question of the moment: would it bring me joy to keep a copy of this album? I am currently stuck in a loop of recording some albums simply because no CD or other form of it exists elsewhere and the collector/hoarder in me is greedy to keep a copy “just in case.” (This one, for example.) Honestly, if that mythical case was going to happen, it would have already happened. Let it go.

If by the end of these questions I decide that I do want a digital copy of the record, I have another little checklist I go through. More tomorrow.

Lovers of Art?

From The Decatur Review, February 24, 1961:

Art lovers are purging the nudes from the Decatur Public Library's art books.

This is the most frequent type of mutilation encountered here, Miss Esther Larimer, chief of center public services, said today...

Magazines are the prime target here, Miss Larimer said, with recipes and other short items being removed by borrowers.

Reference books, usually used in the library or taken out on charge cards, have escaped damage to a large extent.

Something about paintings, however, bring out the clipping instinct...

The thing to do is read them, enjoy them and return them undamaged when due.

As we sift memorabilia from the attic, we find clippings of graduations or job changes and promotions. But it's often the other side of the clipping that is more interesting. (Austin Kleon has referred to this experience, how the little-valued of yesteryear becomes the most-interesting of today.)

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="320.0"]<img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/baefa-loversofart.jpg" alt="  The Decatur Review , February 24, 1961 " />   The Decatur Review , February 24, 1961 [/caption]

Fasting February

Search this blog for "diet" and you'll find many posts on various strategies I've tried.

After many decades of staying in the 210+ range, I got down to the 205 +/- 5 lbs range and stayed there for a couple of years. But I wanted to do better.

Last year, after many years of off-and-on fasting regimens, I tried the One Meal A Day (OMAD) eating plan. I found it to be pretty easy and I got down to 194 lbs., the lowest I've been as an adult in living memory. (Although I think a weekend spent helping a friend move in late-July heat probably sped that loss.)

But I relaxed the diet's constraints over the holidays; being at home during the government shutdown was restful, but it did not stop me from snacking. It’s time for a reset.

A few years ago, Liz and I tried a No-Sugar February; I think I lost 6 pounds. We found February to be a good time to try an extended challenge: it’s a short month, so anything seems possible. Also, it’s a respite between the Festivus excesses and the coming of Spring. February is a good month to hunker down and refocus.

Of course, trying to lose weight when it’s cold outside is a challenge. The body resists losing weight anyway and more so during the cold, dark days of winter.

Nonetheless, I've decided to go back to strict OMAD for February. When I implemented OMAD last year, I ate one meal a day roughly Sunday-Thursday, and relaxed the rules on Friday and Saturday. This time, I will eat only one meal a day from the first day of February through the last.

Per Joe's rules for prep: my chosen weight range is 185-200, my 4-hour eating window is from 6-10pm, with my preferred hour for eating 6-7pm. My weekly weigh-in will be Friday morning.

I know there will be some days this month when I have lunch with a friend or Liz and I may have an early supper -- that's OK. That will still be my only meal and I go back on schedule the next day.

But one OMAD rule I cannot follow at this time: I gotta have cream in my coffee!

If I fall off the wagon (a snack, an extra meal), then I get back on as soon as I can. I appreciate the moment as an opportunity to experience and express gentleness toward myself, and carry on.

Joe's OMAD site and forum have lots of information, and his YouTube channel hosts an impressive number of homemade videos filled with tips on practice and -- what seems most important to him -- mindset. I think Joe considers weight a thinking problem as much as a physical problem. Facing down one’s cravings is an opportunity to wrestle with your ego and your relationship to food. I think that, for Joe, the winner -- or loser -- is your character.

Myself, I want Fasting February to be as non-dramatic, non-struggling, and conflict-free as possible. If I fumble now and then, it’s because I’m human or I’m not working the system right. I have generally had trouble-free days when doing OMAD, and I’m confident most of February will go that way.

My weight this morning was 204.2. Check in on March 1 to see how I did.

Art is What Gets Away With You

Jeanette Winterson, one of my favorite writers on the meaning, experience, and vitalness of art:

Art isn’t what you can get away with … The work tells a different story. Art is what gets away with you. Every encounter with a work of art is an elopement. The seduction of the self, the abandonment of the self to a different kind of experience, is what art offers. Every renewal of the artistic method and process is an attempt to wrestle art out of the marriage and into the love-affair. By which I mean the Keep Out signs of convention, respectability, familiarity, jargon. The high priest cult of ‘art’ is a lie about what art is. Art is feeling and experience and excitement before it hardens into meaning.

The Tomb and the Telephone Box

From The Public Domain Review:

Though Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that the nineteenth century “forgot about Soane”, it was ironically through his funereal-architecture that his spirit was revived. The ruined classical architecture of death had become one of the utilitarian icons of the twentieth century. These boxes are now relics on the streets, preserved by English Heritage and frequented by the occasional tourist … Like their architectural inspiration, these boxes now act as a memorial to a form of life now passed.

R.I.P., Super Dave Osborn

The passing of Bob Einstein also brought the passing of his alter-ego, the heroically ill-fated daredevil stuntman Super Dave Osborn.

I’ve never seen Curb Your Enthusiasm so I missed that phase of Einstein’s career, but through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Super Dave was a regular guest on Johnny Carson and David Letterman’s late night shows. He played his character deadpan straight and bonehead stupid (why did he keep trusting Fuji to mastermind these stunts?? why did he never learn to do a test run first??).

Looking at the videos on the Super Dave Youtube channel, I’m impressed by the bone-dry way he set up the spectacular ending to these bits. The meticulous build up of ridiculous detail, the razor sharp editing of the climactic end of each bit, the sound editing (listen to Super Dave talking up to the microsecond that the axe falls) (and remember this was done back in the analog days of tape and film), and the amount of real-life planning and setup it must have taken to set up the reality of these set-pieces that existed only to be utterly demolished — along with Super Dave.

Here’s a good video to get the flavor of these bits: the deadpan build-up of detail, the stretching-out of the moments leading up to the blink-and-you-miss-it visual punchline, and really, just the sheer silliness of expending all this effort just to watch Super Dave get smashed to pieces.— I love it.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbUc5nsAPTo&w=640&h=480]

See also

Listening to Records via iMac Speakers

So far, the only way I’ve been able to listen to these records has been when recording them via Audio Hijack. This entails creating a file that has to be deleted. The process felt heavier than it needed to be but I could not figure out how to use AH to simply listen to my records.

Ah, but it takes only a few moments to search on “how to play usb turntable via imac speakers” and I found the very page I needed: ION’s support page on how to listen to records from its USB turntable through computer speakers. Since I’m using an ION TTUSB 10 turntable, it was the perfect page to find.

This will make previewing albums a lot easier.

Lady Posing Naked Behind a Guitar

The Guardian justifiably criticizes Avril Lavigne’s promo shot for her new album (while linking out to other pictures of attractive women hiding behind musical instruments). As the writer, Leonie Cooper, says:

So what does this particular pose mean? A number of things, actually, none of them particularly heartening.

I read an interview with a female classical trumpeter who disliked the princess getup she was photographed in for her CD cover. She said she had fought so many battles with the label to record the music she wanted, that she compromised on the outfit and photo. I’ve not seen Lavigne’s side of the story; it would be interesting to know her take on it.

Dangerous Songs?

Pete Seeger wrote the liner notes to his 1966 release Dangerous Songs?, a collection rather loosely grouped under that theme.

Any work of art, from a Michelangelo painting to a Beethoven symphony to a play by Shaw, has a point to make. If we disagree with its point, we call the art “propaganda.”

A lullaby is a propaganda song, in the opinion of the three-year-old who doesn’t want to be put to sleep.

A hymn is a controversial song. Try singing one in the wrong church.

Even the singer of bawdy songs is protesting — sanctimoniousness.

The author of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams and Dream Your Troubles Away” penned the most common propaganda of all.

His final paragraph:

You’ll have to decide for yourself about all these songs: who they are dangerous to, and what for, and whether they are dangerous to you. We all know there are two sides to every question. There are two sides to a piece of flypaper, too, but it makes a great difference to the fly which side he lands on.

Yours stickily,

Pete Seeger

I quibble with some of this — not every work of art has a “point”, not all questions have only two sides — but there may be more in common between 1966 and 2019 than I’d like to acknowledge.

The Vinyl Digitizing Project: The First Cull

As part of my winter project to cull/digitize our combined vinyl collection, I’m now handling records I’ve not touched since we moved here 25+ years ago. I’ve learned quite a bit via my experiments and will likely document them here.

It would be crazy-making to digitize everything or to meticulously categorize the records ahead of digitizing. Also, this is meant to be a fun little project not a crazy-making one. So I’m sweeping through our records in waves.

Here’s the first pass:

  1. Take a handful of albums from the shelf.

  2. For each album:

    1. Is it Liz’s? Her albums go to the right of the shelf. She’ll review them and let me know if she wants them digitized or donated. If it’s not Liz’s, it’s mine.

    2. I can usually tell right away if the record is one I want to get rid of: I may have a CD of it already or I’m just not interested in it anymore. Into the donate box it goes.

    3. If there’s the least glimmer of interest — I may just want to listen to the record out of curiosity — I put the record back on the shelf (lean it away from Liz’s records!)

My goal is to record one album a day, edit the recording, import it into iTunes, and then put the album in the donate box. I’m not interested at this point in keeping any albums as artifacts, or maybe a few: the Sgt. Pepper’s album and Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (more on Matching Tie) come to mind.

After I put an album in the donate box, I pick the first one on my side of the shelf and put it on top of the turntable lid. That’s the next one I work with.

And then, yes, another process kicks in. More on that later.

Learning from Flawed Teachers

Austin Kleon remembers great advice from Jeffrey Tambor (“Worrying is not preparation”) and wonders what we can learn from people we used to admire:

It’s like they say in A.A. and Levon sang in The Band: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

The need I will take is the teaching. The rest I will leave is the teacher.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for and learning from better men, or better yet, better women.

(Take time to read Austin’s sketchnotes from Tambor’s talks. They’re good.)

Doug Toft, in writing about the possibilities and limits of enlightenment, includes a depressingly long list of spiritual teachers whose destructive behavior wrecked their students’ lives.

Harlan Ellison often cited a quote: “Never meet an artist whose work you admire. The artist is always so much less than the art.” (Ellison is a person whose spirit and work ethic I always admired from my teens to adulthood, but whose work and personality I left behind. As Kleon notes, we’re infatuated by our ideas of the images these people project, but we’re also infatuated by our ideas of who we think these people are.)

I believe that teachers, artists, and those public personalities we admire share with us the best part of themselves. That’s what touches us and that’s what we latch on to. Separate the teaching from the teacher and the art from the artist — the good art and teachings will stand on their own.

Lawns Are an Ecological Disaster

I’ve always hated cutting grass, from my teenage years when it was my only source of income to being a homeowner. And of course, they’re biological and chemical nightmares:

“I’ve heard lawns compared to a biological desert … That’s really unfair, because deserts can be very diverse places.”

Many years ago, I attended an exhibit on American lawns. A few squibs I remember:

  • Lawns are status symbols. A large expanse of lawn shows you’re rich enough to own such a large property and to tend it.

  • Lawns are security buffers. A large expanse of lawn, sans trees or bushes, means no one can sneak up on you without being seen. High-security institutions have big open fields around them.

I cannot wait for the day when I can sell off my lawn mower and never walk behind one of those damned things again.

See also

The American Obsession with Lawns - Scientific American Blog Network

Reading for Information vs Transformation vs ...?

Steve Edwards reads a lot into his bookstore visits:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers … Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

Later on, he discovers folks in the bookstore who do not seem buffeted by these gales of self-interrogation:

They scan titles and pull books from the shelf and study dust-jackets in deep concentration: older folks in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. People with far more stories than my meager few. Lifelong readers. Book addicts. I watch them sometimes and wonder what drives their choices. How does reading evolve? Are books to us as leaves are to trees, feeding us while we hold them, then decomposing and feeding us again after we’ve let them go? I’m heartened by my elders. Humbled. I wonder if instead of asking “Who do I want to be?” they ask themselves, “What do I want to read?”

If I read PG Wodehouse to answer the question “Who do I want to be?” then I was definitely asking the wrong question. But I think I was still reading the right book — for me, on that day, at that time.

At 57, my advice to Steve would be to follow Randell Jarrell’s imperative: “Read at whim! read at whim!” And relax, for God’s sake.

And Yet It Fools Everybody

Callow American reporter — and skeptic — Jack Walser ponders “half-woman, half-swan” Sophie Fevvers’ trapeze act and remembers ancient tricks he saw performed when he traveled the world:

In Kathmandu, he saw the fakir on a bed of nails, all complete, soar up until he was level with the painted demons on the eaves of the wooden houses; what, said the old man, heavily bribed, would be the point of the illusion if it looked like an illusion? For, opined the old charlatan to Walser with po-faced solemnity, is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984) (Penguin reissue, 1993)