Stephen Colbert Commencement Address

Stephen Colbert’s 2006 Commencement Address at Knox College
In addition to very good advice I learned in my improv class earlier this year, he adds this:

I have two last pieces of advice. First, being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. And lastly, the best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a doctorate in fine arts for doing jack squat.

Links 2006-05-30

Core Dump
“At first glance, technical writing and Disney don’t seem to have much of a connection, but their rides are complex machines, and they do need manuals. Here’s the Standard Operating Procedures for Pirates of the Caribbean from 1975. The page has links to scanned images of the manual.”

Four Types in ZhurnalWiki
“Someone once told me of a military strategist’s way to characterize people along the dimensions of intelligence and motivation:”

7-Zip
ZipCentral
Two freeware alternatives to winzip

No S Diet: No snacks, sweets, seconds, except on days that start with S.
“There are just three rules and one exception:
* No Snacks
* No Sweets
* No Seconds
Except (sometimes) on days that start with ’S’. That’s it.”
My diet of choice

Very cool illusion


Paper Sculpture - a photoset on Flickr


Erase permanent marker from your dry erase board - Lifehacker
“WikiHow has a simple method for removing permanent marker from dry erase boards:”

Birthday Calculator
Enter your birthdate, click on Submit, and then scroll down for fun statistics and your astrological data (such as your age in dog years, estimated date of conception, the BTUs produced by the candles on your next birthday cake, and so on)

In Our TIme - Faeries

From Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter on the Mythology of Faeries:

Two of the things we missed out this morning might be of interest to you. The first is related from the 13th century chronicle of Gerald of Wales. Gerald of Wales was travelling around Wales preaching the Crusades, and while he did so was chronicling encounters along his way. Fairy mythology tends to track uncertainty, to flare up around times of anxiety, and here it is accompanying the upheaval of the Crusades. Gerald records how on his travels he meets a monk called Eliodorus, who tells him that when he was a child he used to visit the fairies. They were little people (the ones he met were men), vegetarians, and they don’t live the way we do. Gerald is a man who is both very well educated and also extremely proud of this – he is not at all a credulous man, but he relates Eliodorus’ tale in good faith, he doesn’t say ‘I believe in fairies’, but he does accept Eliodorus as an honest educated Christian man relating a true personal experience.

Eliodorus told his mother, who asked him to bring back proof of their existence, to steal something from them and bring it back, so he steals a golden ball from them to take home. The fairies chase him, catch him just before he crosses the boundary to the homestead and steal the golden ball back. They disappear and he never sees them again. This is core tradition for fairy lore – the fairies symbolically are associated with the wild outside, unstructured nature and childhood – they can’t cross his mother’s threshold which represents the structured human adult world, and Eliodorus can’t take the fairy trinket into that world.

Eliodorus says it’s all for the better really that he never saw them again, they had been distracting him from his studies and after this he settled down, concentrated on his studies, and eventually became a monk. Again it is significant that the fairies were distracting him from becoming an adult, from his studies, from serious and sober Christianity.

I was very disappointed not to get round to the Cottingley Fairies. This is a fascinating story which we discussed at some length in the Green Room afterwards. However, the only satisfying way to tell it is to tell it at some length which Nicola Bown told us in preparation for the programme. The Cottingley Fairies concerned a photograph taken during the First World War by a couple of young working class girls. Nicola told me that the original picture was taken in 1917 during the war. There were poems by Rose Fileman published in Punch about fairies, the first with the line ‘there are fairies at the bottom of the garden’, and the next week ‘there used to be fairies in Germany’ – with the implication they had been driven out by the war.

The family of the girls who took the pictures took Punch, so it’s likely the girls were influenced by these. The older girl, Elsie, was working in a photographic studio, so she had the techniques to take the pictures and develop them. She made models on card of fairies and propped them on hatpins and dusted them with chalk to make them seem translucent. They took the photo for their parents, but also because Elsie wanted to take artistic photos, which was common at the time – and that’s where the story should have ended.

About 3 years later Elsie showed an elder woman friend who was a theosophist, who sent the picture to Edmund Gardner, a leading theosophist in London. He took it as proof of his beliefs, took it to a professional trick photographer to authenticate it, and asked him to touch it up for use in a magic lantern show. This is when the perspectives and sizes were changed, and the image we now know came into being. He then took it to Conan Doyle, who had been a spiritualist since his son was killed in WWI. Gardner asked him to publish the picture in The Strand Magazine, where the Holmes stories were published. Conan Doyle agreed, and published them in 1920.

Both men were middle class establishment men, the girls were working class young girls. When Gardner asked the girls for more photos how could they say they made it up? There’s an immediate press furore, the girls are ‘outed’, Elsie loses her job, they spend the rest of their lives tainted by the argument about whether they had attempted to defraud the public. Gardner also made them sign away the copyright on the pictures to him. He was going to be their protector.

In a way the girls have to take the pictures on Gardner’s behalf because of the 19th Century invention of childhood – these stories about innocence, childhood as a special time unsullied by the awful realities of adulthood – so it wouldn’t have worked if the photos had been taken by a middle aged gentleman.

And you might enjoy revisiting a few lines of this by William Allingham, a poem, The Fairies:

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!
Down along the rocky shore
Some make their home–
They live on crispy pancakes
Of yellow tide-foam;
Some in the reeds
Of the black mountain-lake,
With frogs for their watch-dogs,
All night awake.

The rest is mystery.

Fit

Since 1994 when I bought it used, I’ve driven a 1992 Chevy Lumina. I got it with about 78,000 miles on it, and it last week flipped over 200,000. (Today, it’s about 220,218.)

I’ve toyed over the years with buying a new or used car, but it never seemed the right time: not enough money, shaky job, no job. Recently, though, my job has proven itself to be steady and supportive and my car has over the last year had its water pump, battery, and starter replaced, and new tires are in the near future.

My old boss used to say that you could handle only so many crises at one time and you don’t want your car to be one of them. Your car may have to get you out of a crisis, so that’s one area of your life that you want taken care of. So, on the grounds that it’s best to fix the roof before it starts raining, and seeing that ol’ Lumy was going to turn 200K, I decided it was time to get that new car.

I set the parameters for the search as: it would happen in the second quarter of the year; I would go about it in an easy and relaxed manner; I would not let anyone, anything, or any event pressure me into making a quick decision; as much as possible, I wanted a low-haggle deal.

Ramit details his decision-making process in his sprightly new-car rant. I won’t go into similar detail here, except to say that after driving used cars all my life, I was ready for a new car with modern safety and convenience features. Airbags! Keyless entry! ABS! Cupholders!

I threw myself into the process by first picking one or two cars to focus on. I started at the library with The Car Book 2006’s list of recommended vehicles, moved on to MSN Auto’s ratings, Consumer Reports, and other sites and rankings.

The Web has made car-shopping so different from the old days. Information is so plentiful you can drown in it. I find it useful to pick one or two sources at the beginning that I trust, then after I’ve got the lay of the land, expand my search radius to other sites.

I also wanted a way to track my online searches; this seemed like a perfect time to explore PBWiki. I’d had a free account for a while but hadn’t really hit on a use for it; so I took this occasion to create a car-buying page that basically became my online scratchpad, holding the data I collected and ongoing notes as my ideas changed. I found that my del.icio.us account was also extremely helpful in collecting relevant reference links. (Look for the “cars” tags.)

Aside: I found that after I’d decided on a specific car, I really didn’t need the PBWiki page anymore for collecting car ideas or links. Instead, it became a page where I recorded ongoing progress and data. I hardly ever refer to the car information now.

My online info gathering eventually rotated around Edmunds.com, especially its terrific user forums. Any car’s make and model has its own dedicated forum area and so, in economics parlance, I was a free-rider on the enthusiasm and research of others.

And now–a digression on logic and intuition. At a previous job, one of my managers sent me on a research mission within the company on how our software was perceived; he was particularly interested in anecdotes, he said, even more than raw data. Anecdotes communicated. I found that, as much as MPG ratings mattered, I tended to read more closely the Edmunds.com forum posters, especially on their experiences and their problems. I paid special attention to those people who posted negative points of view and found them very valuable. As a former arts reviewer, I know that when you like something, you tend to gloss over its shortcomings.

I also remember an episode from “The Paper Chase” TV series when it was on Showtime. Prof. Kingsfield corrected a student who was making an incorrect but “logical decision” (this is from memory): “I have spent years trying to make students consider the facts and think logically. But there are certain facts–emotional facts, personal facts–against which the great god Logic is impotent.” Emotional facts–I’ve always liked that concept. Logic has its domain and its uses, but it’s not an all-purpose tool; like a knife, it’s useful in specific situations and not in others.

In the comments to Ramit’s rant, many people dinged him for not acting logically and hewing to his own financial best interests. They seemed to be accusing him of making an emotional, non-fact-based decision, and then backfilling the decision with logic to justify it. I suppose it depends on what you hold to be your highest priorities. It also depends on what facts you consider to be paramount in your decision making.

Psychologists have proven that every decision we make–political, financial, sexual, career–is first and foremost an emotional decision. That’s the legacy of our lizard brains. No one can ever render a completely objective decision, because our minds simply don’t work that way. Yes, we do use logic to justify our emotional decisions, and then remember or convince ourselves that the decision made logical sense all along.

So, how did I use intuition and logic to help me make a decision? I started out interested in the Scion xB, then heard a few anecdotes from acquaintances about the low-powered automatic version (I don’t drive stick, sorry). I then moved to the Honda Element, which is the car whose looks I really liked the most anyway. Read the Edmunds forums and you’ll see that its owners love it. LOVE it. I figured I would too–it was such a sharp-looking car. But a friend’s mechanic said his customers were disappointed with its low mileage and that stuck with me.

I’d long thought of a compact SUV as being my next vehicle. I’m 6’3”, about 220 lbs (as of today–I hope to see it go down soon!), have a tall torso, and wanted a car that I didn’t have to crouch or scrunch myself into. I didn’t want another sedan.

My intuition told me to try the Element but stay open to other possibilities. At the Honda dealer, I sat in the CR-V–my hair brushed against its roof. No go. In the Element, I had plenty of hair room and it felt like driving in Liz’s old Astro van. The Element handled OK, seemed a little underpowered, but it’s a 4-cylinder, what did I expect? I didn’t get a thrill from driving it though. And the reports from owners that they were averaging about 20 MPG really gave me pause. Three or four years ago, it would have been OK to buy a car with that kind of mileage. But today, with prices nearing $3/gallon, it struck me as irresponsible for me to buy a car that didn’t get at least 25 MPG, or better.

(I really didn’t consider the Prius or any other hybrid vehicles; I’m sure they’re great cars, but they were more expensive and I’m in agreement with their critics who say they don’t make financial sense. I know people who love their Prius, and that’s great; they made their decisions based on facts that were significant to them.)

I’d defined for myself that my next car would be mainly a commuter vehicle, running errands, the occasional long trip. The salesman steered me to a Honda Fit. It’s Honda’s “Scion-killer,” a subcompact hatchback with estimated 31/37 MPG. Yes, I have to bend down a bit to get in, but the cockpit felt comfy and the car was just fun to drive.

Liz asked me what I meant when I said it was “fun to drive.” Sorry – I can’t quantify “fun.” But it became a significant personal and emotional fact.

Also, it’s MPG ratings and its price impressed me. It’s not without problems; the Edmunds forum for the Fit has a couple of threads on overcoming the car’s shortcomings. But as others have commented, if you want a Fit with fill-in-the-blank, then buy a Civic or Accord or CR-V or Element or whatever. The Fit is what it is.

I also had to come back to what I’d always said about cars (my cars, anyway): they’re boxes on wheels. They get me from here to there. I don’t want to get emotional about a box on wheels. However, I also don’t want to get angry everytime I fill up the tank. And since I’ll be spending significant amounts of time behind the wheel, I do need to be sensible about the box’s comfort and amenities.

I only test-drove two cars–the Fit and the Element. I thoroughly researched the Fit, took a second test drive with Liz, and made the emotional decision that this was the car I wanted. It fit my price range, it was fun, it was a counter-intuitive car for me to buy after years of saying I wanted a bigger car, blah blah blah. I think Liz is a little skeptical of the decision since I really didn’t drive any Toyotas or other cars (and I have to say the Kias and Hyundais also had some compact SUVs I was interested in). But based on my reading, my thinking, and my emotions, it just felt like the right decision.

At that point, logic kicked in: determine the price, get quotes from various dealers, check insurance rates, etc. Logic is very helpful at that point in the game.

Fortunately or not, the Fit is a low-profit enterprise for Honda and the dealers aren’t making very much. They all quoted me the Edmunds True Market Value price for the car, which I’d used as my baseline, and their final prices all clustered very close together. I dealt with these guys via email and it was very pleasant to take time to craft a response and not talk myself into a hole. I know I don’t do well in face-to-face dealings, so having the option of email or fax gives my emotions time to calm down so I can think rationally.

So far, the process has indeed been easy and relaxed. I’ve got my financing and insurance lined up. I’ve not had to “armor up” to do battle with salesmen, an experience that others look forward to but that I never did. I’ve not had to factor in any emotional wear and tear to the cost of the vehicle. There are still unknowns, to be sure: how will the seat feel after sitting in it for an hour? Are the headlights properly aimed? Will I miss an armrest?

Now I’m just waiting on the car. Given increasing demand and short supply, waiting for the Fit in my color (Blaze Orange Metallic) may mean waiting till August. My logical self is telling my increasingly antsy emotional self that it’s character-building to delay gratification. But it’s a hard sell.

Addendum: My Fit arrived on July 27 and I’m really enjoying it. I donated the Lumina to TROSA and that went OK. Before donating the Lumina, it got a good washing at the Durham Ritz car wash; it was the least I could do for a car that served me well for so many years. When I took ownership of the Fit, the business manager said that if you ordered some Fit models today, it might be December before they arrived.

Poetry Daily: From "Epitaphs"

I like reading Poetry Daily (wish it had a proper RSS feed). I’ll sometimes print out poems I like and put them in my Poetry folder to pull out and marvel.

This poem, by Abraham Sutzkever (translated by Jacqueline Osherow) stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of how poetry differs from prose, how brief poems can open vast spaces.

Links - 28 Apr 2006

…accumulated since Easter…

…compiled over the last few weeks, as you can tell from the Easter
links…

Flickr Photo Download: SearsWishbook.1983EC.P408
Ad for a newfangled CD player from the Sears 1983 wishbook

Tricks of the Trade: Philosopher
“How to win any argument”
For those of us who saw “Thank You For Smoking”


Career Calculus

RecipeSource: French Fry Spam Casserole

Technotheory.com - Wallet Efficiency
A recent interest of the efficiency blogosphere

Yahoo! Picks - April 18, 2006
“But the tribulations have only just begun for the marshmallow rabbit. For these brave, sugary little souls, the bunny apocalypse has arrived…”
Peeps Tortures

Asteroid » Easter turducken
“As with traditional turducken, Easter turducken starts from the inside
out. The core is formed with miniature Cadbury cream eggs”
A Cadbury egg, inside a Peep, inside a hollow chocolate bunny – with photos!

hellokitty psychological test
If you can’t trust Hello Kitty,. who can you trust, really?

Don’t Click It
Experimental interface, Flash-enabled. Move the mouse around BUT DON’T CLICK. Click and you get told off, kinda.


Le Petomane

Wikipedia’s entry on Le Petomane includes this wonderful paragraph:

In the following decade Pujol tried to ‘refine’ and make his acts ‘gentler’; one of his favourite numbers became a rhyme about a farm which he himself composed, and which he punctuated with the usual anal renditions of the animals’ sounds. The climax of his act however involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Alan Moore interviews

For a man described in many articles about him as a recluse, Uncle Alan sure granted lots of interviews, mainly in reaction to the V for Vendetta movie (which I enjoyed). Here are some links to interviews I collected. Keep in mind, when you read, that Vendetta artist David Loyd supported the film and was a co-creator of the comics series.

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at COMICON.com: A FOR ALAN, Pt. 1

MILE HIGH COMICS presents THE BEAT at COMICON.com: A FOR ALAN Pt. 2

MTV.com interview
I love how the interview really takes the Devil’s Advocate approach: why aren’t you thrilled and impressed that your story is now a great big Hollywood movie?

Alan Moore | The A.V. Club

Alan Moore Interview Index
A very decent compendium of interviews from the early 90s onward

Cinescape interview - ‘Lost Girls’ - Part 1, Part 2
Good longish interview (esp. the second part) on art, pornography, and breakfast cereal. One of the better of the latest round of interviews with AM, as it gets more into philosophy, and less on his gripes with the industry. One of the fanboy comments from the first interview bears repeating here:

Holy crap, you got to interview Alan Moore? And you didn’t just spend the whole time peeing your pants and screaming “ALAN MOORE! ALAN MOORE!”? That’s what I would’ve done.

Goethe

From the In Our Time newsletter on the Goethe discussion:

The talk in the Green Room went on for quite a while. Not unexpectedly. We
failed to include a great many of the aspects of Goethe that makes Goethe
Goethe. On the programme itself I pointed out that we said nothing
whatsoever about his work as a scientist, although it was an area in which he
was frustrated at not being recognised as highly as he thought, and some of
his contemporaries thought, he deserved to be. His work on colours, for
instance.

Nor did we go into his almost rabid anti-Christianity. He called it, let us
be polite here, a load of manure. It’s not too difficult to see a direct
line to Nietzsche from this one. He hated the symbol of the cross. In fact,
he was quite a good hater. He hated the peasants because they had too much
emotion and not enough intellect and yet, in his early days, the days of
storm and stress, he himself stormed against classicism and stressed the
primacy of passion.

Nor had we time to mention that, despite his well-publicised relationships
with women (and eventually he married the lower class Christiane Vulpius
after she had beaten off Napoleon’s army at her front door) he was, by the
standards of the time, remarkably tolerant of homosexuality. He praised the
openness of homosexuals in Rome and there seems to have been evidence of his
own bi-sexuality.

Sarah Colvin observed that one of the reasons there were so few women in
Goethe studies was that when they came across the women he wrote about, they
tended to criticise the way in which the women were portrayed and any
criticism of Goethe was considered to be anathema to the great Goethe
scholarship establishment and they were given the cold shoulder.

This was confirmed by the other two, ie: that there is a halo around Goethe
studies still and you take your PhD in your hands when you attack it. Dan
Wilson, who revealed the darker side of Goethe in Weimar, ie: his treatment
of the peasants and his sending of prisoners onto the battlefields against
the law and the various other authoritarian views he took, was rounded on by
many Goethe scholars and outrage was expressed across that world.

This must come in some way from the need for Weimar to be the other Germany
after the Second World War. Germans quite understandably had to look for
somewhere and someone that represented the opposite of Hitler and Fascism.
They lighted on Goethe and Weimar. Now that that is being seen as a
blemished place (though no comparison whatsoever with the Third Reich), hands
are thrown up in horror.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Orson Welles on art & remembrance

Courtesy Netflix, I saw Orson Welles’ F for Fake, a fascinating document. I saw it, listened to the commentaries, and saw it again. It’s a dense, layered, rich lasagna that uses fakery to talk about fakery. It has some bravura editing for the time (1974 or 1976, sources vary) and includes some very personal Wellesian material.

The Wikipedia page on F for Fake includes the following passage, where Welles muses on the anonymous artists and craftsmen who built Chartres Cathedral.

Ours, the scientists keep telling us, is a universe which is disposable. You know it might be just this one anonymous glory of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose when all our cities are dust; to stand intact, to mark where we have been, to testify to what we had it in us to accomplish. Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them for a few decades, or a millennium or two, but everything must fall in war or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash: the triumphs and the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. A fact of life … we’re going to die. “Be of good heart,” cry the dead artists out of the living past. Our songs will all be silenced - but what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.

(originally posted in 2006-04-15, updated for micro.blog)

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

Damn Interesting » Tin Foil Hats Proven Ineffective

Shakespearean Insult Generator

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages
My notes from a demo I gave to a local STC SIG

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?