Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Miranda And Caliban In A Late 60s Piano Bar

This is going to be a very strange post.

And I apologize in advance if any of this offends anybody.

Here’s some set-up for this.

At the end of last year, I did a post that included three jokes “a nineteenth century comedian might tell” — New Calendar And Pioneering Birds. And recently I did a post that included a visit to “The Obsolete Technology Website” — Searching For Miranda And Caliban.

Today’s post is something like sort of a kind of combination of those two posts. Today’s post is three jokes that are themselves obsolete technology, obsolete humor technology, because the jokes are about people and personalities and a whole era that probably almost nobody these days even remembers.

So I’m including Wikipedia links at the end of the post to all the people the jokes are about. That of course won’t really capture the tone of the people and their personalities, but, well, I wanted to do the post anyway.

It seems to me that in the world of writing, there must be nothing worse than dubious jokes which have to include Wikipedia links to even make sense to anybody in the current world.

That having been said, for some reason that my conscious mind has no grasp of at all, a few days ago I made up these jokes.

The only context I can imagine for these things is that maybe there’s an outside chance a mad scientist, mouse or otherwise, will invent time travel for real and I’ll be able to go back and get a job singing pop songs in a piano bar in some highway town between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the late Sixties or early Seventies, and, someday back then, I will need patter to fill time between songs.

I don’t know. Your guess is probably better than mine.

Maybe someday a future me will use a time machine to come back and explain why I made up these things. I don’t know. But I’m going to put these here just in case.


1) A Laugh-In’s Bikini Girl Joke

Bob Newhart and Goldie Hawn walk into a bar. Kurt Russell is sitting at a table and looks up and says, “There you are, Newhart! I just spent the last half hour looking all over the bar trying to find where you were playing hide-and-seek with my Goldie.” And Bob Newhart says, “What a coincidence. I just spent the last half hour looking all over Goldie trying to find where to play hide-and-seek with my bar.”

2) A Rat Pack Joke, Part One:

Joey Bishop, Charlie Callas and Shelley Berman walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, you guys just missed Joey Heatherton, Angie Dickenson and Shirley MacLaine.” And Joey Bishop says, “No, you heard wrong. We just missed Joey Heatherton, but you should see what we did to Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine.”

3) A Rat Pack Joke, Part Two:

Joey Heatherton, Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, you girls just missed Joey Bishop, Charlie Callas and Shelley Berman.” Angie Dickenson and Shirley MacLaine don’t say anything, they just blush. And Joey Heatherton says, “No, we didn’t. But they did just miss me again.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Goldie Hawn
at Wikipedia

Bob Newhart
at Wikipedia

Kurt Russell
at Wikipedia

Joey Bishop
at Wikipedia

Charlie Callas
at Wikipedia

Shelley Berman
at Wikipedia

Joey Heatherton
at Wikipedia

Angie Dickinson
at Wikipedia

Shirley MacLaine
at Wikipedia

Monday, April 29, 2013

Madness And What The Mouse Saw

“I’m sorry I gave you bad info,” the mouse said,
“but sometimes it isn’t really clear to us mice
which of you humans are female and which are male.”

“I knew Ub Iwerks was a man,” the writer said,
“but it was fun going back in time and seeing
the Iwerks/Disney friendship as a mouse saw it.
To be honest, in a theater production,
Anne Hathaway might do a good job as Iwerks.”

The time-traveling mad scientist mouse just shrugged.
“The story’s about mice and people,” the mouse said.
“The real people never wondered if the real mice
were male or female. Why should the mice have wondered
about the people? Why would it even come up?”

“In a theater production,” the writer said,
“casting a woman to play the part of a man
underscores the marginal nature of gender
that is the marginal nature in that story
but at the same time would create controversy.
Some people think gender can’t be marginalized.”

The time-traveling mad scientist mouse just shrugged.
The mouse looked at the writer. “What are you again?”

“I’m a man,” the writer said. “And, umm, what are you?”

The time-traveling mad scientist mouse just shrugged.
“I’m a female. But don’t get any ideas.”

The writer laughed. “At some point I’ll have to decide
how to animate the mice. How they should be drawn.
Some people think gender can’t be marginalized.”

“You can create a conversation,” the mouse said,
“and have Iwerks and Disney discuss mouse gender.
That would be a tease if an actress plays Iwerks.
And you could indirectly explain your own mice.”

“That’s a good idea,” the writer said, nodding.

“I’m a scientist,” the mouse said, shrugging again.

“True,” the writer said. “But you’re a mad scientist.
And why exactly are you a mad scientist?”

“Mice don’t think it’s good for mice to mix with people.”

“Same here. I’d probably be called a mad writer.”

For a moment the scientist and writer sat
silently, enjoying each other’s company.

“I hope the play can get a good budget,” one said.
“It’s nice to see a cool story about friendship.”

“Yes,” the other agreed. “It’s more or less true, too.
Although probably it’s easier to believe
in the time-travel part than in the friendship part.”

Nodding, they both shrugged, and they both laughed quietly.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Time As Wreckage And Broken Guitar Strings

Back when the Police were very, very hot, some late night TV show broadcast live coverage of some big European music festival. The Police were performing live. In the middle of some song—I don’t even remember which song—Summers was playing one of those beautiful chord-and-melody solos he built his style around and SNAP right there live on television he strummed a chord and one of his guitar strings broke. Instead of getting all shocked or panicked, Andy Summers reacted very cool and professional. And interesting. When the string broke—it was his fifth or sixth string—he just stared at his fretboard and his face got this very cool expression, it was something like amusement, something like a serene, Zen-like amusement. And without missing a beat—literally without missing a beat—he just shifted his left hand three or four frets up the fretboard and continued the chord-and-melody solo playing the exact same chords and notes, but playing them on the middle or bass strings rather than the treble strings. It was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever seen a performer perform.

A shadow moves under a streetlight
She looks at the brightness next to it
The shape that was casting the shadow
Is a man turning to walk away

When I make up a melody
I play a guitar with a pick,
my left hand fingers like slapstick
falling, tangled, then working free,

performing like a company
of clowns orchestrating a trick
just right, not too slow, not too quick,
with slides and hammers desperately

wrestling down each note and approach
and the song is the mess they make.
There’ll be smiles if their act rings true.

If not, clowns are beyond reproach.
And who cares if guitar strings break—
People who play guitars break, too.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Time As Wreckage, Blood As A School Device

The Torn Picture Of A Guitar

A Shattered Chessboard

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Time As Wreckage, Blood As A School Device

The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was recovered in 1900–1901 from the Antikythera wreck, but its significance and complexity were not understood until a century later. Jacques Cousteau visited the wreck in 1978 but, although he found new dating evidence, he did not find any additional remains of the Antikythera mechanism. The construction has been dated to the early 1st century BCE. Technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century AD, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.

A wooden fence still stands there. Children bring
bits of food to the ruins by the shore
and leave the food by the frame with no door
and mice come. Kids wait for the other thing

and tell stories and laugh but their hands wring
as the kids jump over boards from a floor
rather than step on them. Kids know folklore.
Kids know the words to say, chant, even sing

as if the wreckage were a mad device,
a construction of wood fragments on rocks,
a device to occupy the creature,

keep it busy trapping, eating the mice,
like bloody gears turning in bloody clocks.
Kids learn time like it’s a bloody teacher.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Madonnas In The Meadows

Today I want to tie up a couple of little loose ends. I don’t know what I’ll be posting about the rest of this week, but I want to do a couple of things today that will sort of wrap up stuff from recent posts.

I spend too much time, I know, thinking about entertainment and art—there’s a real world out there. I know. And I’m going to be talking today, again, first about Vermeer, and then about the TV show “Smallville.” And the show isn’t even in production any more. I know that, too.

But the thing is, when you spend any time at all with what is almost euphemistically called the “fine” arts it is almost a relief to return to what is simply and appropriately called pop art, popular art.

Last week Friday and this week Monday make a kind of case-in-point.

Monday I did a post about VermeerMan Reading A Book At A Window—and over the weekend I was reading about Vermeer and those paintings are certainly very beautiful and certainly very peaceful and certainly very serene and all that jazz.

But you know it’s the “fine” arts world and almost nothing is what it appears to be and even those Vermeers are examples of that. Most everyone knows—at this point in history—that a great deal of European art contains images where the models were, bluntly, hookers. Of one kind or another. It’s just the way of the world. Fillide Melandroni, Victorine Meurent. Models. Hookers. Six of one, half a dozen of another. It’s the world of the “fine” arts. You just try to roll with it.

Okay. Anyway.

But Vermeer.

But those beautiful, peaceful, serene Dutch women. Those peaceful interiors. It’s all so serene. Beautiful, too.

Yeah, right.

Look at this painting. This is called “The Milkmaid” and it is usually regarded as Vermeer’s “first” masterpiece, although most of his paintings aren’t dated so nobody knows when this was painted. And this is almost certainly a “real” Vermeer—whatever that means. I take it to mean that this was almost certainly painted by the central guy, the best of the painters who crafted the images that we now collectively call “Vermeers.” Okay, so, isn’t this a wonderful image? Peaceful. Serene. Just a wonderful young woman pouring milk. Modern American and south European types who are fans of Vermeer sometimes refer to this painting as a “Madonna of the meadows” because of the simple purity of the image.

Okay. It turns out an art historian sees some different things in this image, armed as he or she is with knowledge of the customs and practices of northern Europe in the seventeenth century. First of all, the whole “milk” and “milking” business would have been emblematic to a seventeenth century Dutch man or woman of the same things Shakespeare’s “country matters” would have referred to.


Here’s the way a real art historian puts it:

The essential reason that The Milkmaid has been so profoundly misread as a madonna of the meadows—“her stature is enhanced by the wholesomeness of her endeavor: the providing of life-sustaining food”—is that the painting comes from a social context that largely disappeared in western Europe during the past century and was never quite at home in America (Jeffersonian exceptions aside). One could compose a dissertation on the social life of gentlemen and female servants or simply follow Samuel Pepys through the pages of his diary, with its oyster girls, kitchen maids, and, at an inn in Delft, “an exceedingly pretty lass and right for the sport.”

Isn’t that nice?

I’m being snarky. That’s the “fine” arts world. Almost any time I look in there I come out and just want to watch “Smallville” for hours and hours and pretend the whole world is smart and decent high school kids trying to deal with the operatic melodrama of superheroes and supervillains.

And I know they’re actors and actresses which, for the most part, takes us back into the world of the “fine” arts. But my thinking just stays in “Smallville.”

Okay, so, anyway, I’ve had enough of the “fine” arts for a while.

“...an exceedingly pretty lass and right for the sport.”

Yeah. Thanks.


So last Friday I did a post built around “Smallville”—Lana, And The Pretty Unclear Parts—and I used a couple of images and a bit of drama from season six. I really like season three best, and most of season four. But a couple of years ago I also purchased seasons five and six because those two years wrap up the whole saga of Lana choosing between Clark and Lex. Mostly, still, I like season three best. But last week I went back and watched seasons five and six again and I noticed a trivial little thing that somehow I had missed in earlier viewings.

In my post Big Grasshoppers, Fake Driving, Other Stuff I talked about little errors you see if you watch things carefully. Film people call such things “continuity errors.”

This is an example of that.

At the end of season five of “Smallville” a very long story-arc is concluding where Lex is becoming possessed by the evil General Zod of Krypton. In the season finale of season five, Lex is compelled to drive out to a deserted field where he will be kidnapped by the robot spaceship known as “Brainiac.” Lana chases Lex through the woods and across a field. It’s a meadow! It is windy. Her hair and clothing are blowing in the breeze. We see she is wearing big loopy earrings and a flashy necklace because her jewelry is jostling around when she runs and everything is blowing in the breeze. Look, here is Lana stopped, looking at Lex as the robot spaceship is moving overhead. Notice you can clearly see the big hoop earrings and the necklace:

After a bright beam of light kidnaps Lex, as the light is fading Lana runs into the beam and, to no avail, looks up searching for Lex. Look at Lana the very next second in the light:

No earrings and no necklace.

It’s a continuity error.

Apparently the special effects shot of Lana in the flickering lights was filmed quite separately from the scene out in the field. And even though this was the big season finale, the climax of one of the biggest stories the show ever told, the filmmakers didn’t notice that Lana’s jewelry didn’t match from one cut to the next.

So, it’s a little thing. But it’s interesting. To me. And, I know, who cares, the show has been off the air for years now.

But I just wanted to wrap up that “Smallville” stuff.

And now I have.

I don’t know what the rest of the week will be, but I’m going to try to move away from both “Smallville” and so-called “fine” arts stuff.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kings And Queens Of The Mixed Up Seas

If we can believe the possibly dubious but very well-made and entertaining movie “Anonymous,” possible real-life supervillain Robert Cecil, this guy, may have matched wits and competed ruthlessly against Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and completely defeated him and then at some point in history said something like this to the man who may have been the real-life Shakespeare, the Earl of Oxford, that guy down there:

“Why do you think he worked so hard to become your guardian after your father died? He had it all planned years in advance. He would teach you everything he knew about statecraft, marry his daughter to you, and, after Elizabeth's death, proclaim you
heir. His own grandchild to follow you on the throne. But he couldn't possibly predict what kind of failure you would become. How you would fail in politics, ignore your estates to the point of bankruptcy, all to write[Cecil sneers]poetry. You could have been a king, Edward. And your son after you. Except for the fact that you were, well, you.”

If history is what we make it, and there’s some evidence it is, then I’d make history arrange for possible real-life supervillain Robert Cecil, this guy, to match wits and compete ruthlessly against Britney Spears, pop star, and completely defeat her and then at some point in history say something like this to the woman who very probably isn’t the real-life Shakespeare, the pop star, that girl down there:

“Why do you think he worked so hard to become your guardian after your father died? He had it all planned years in advance. He would teach you everything he knew about statecraft, marry his son to you, and, after Elizabeth's death, proclaim you heir.
His own grandchild to follow you on the throne. But he couldn't possibly predict what kind of failure you would become. How you would fail in politics, ignore your estates to the point of bankruptcy, all to sing
[Cecil sneers] pop songs. You could have been a queen, Britney. And your daughter after you. Except for the fact that you were, well, you.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Man Reading A Book At A Window

Over the weekend I stood by my window here south of Chicago, enjoying the seventeenth century Dutch sunshine in Delft and reading a book about a bizarre episode in the fine arts world that happened just before, during and just after World War Two.

This book. “The Forger’s Spell,” by Edward Dolnick.

It’s a very interesting book, very entertaining, and it has a very strange element to it, also. Before I get to the strange element, I want to talk about a couple of other things.

First of all, the copy I read was a library book. When I checked out the book, I noticed someone had folded-over a corner of one of the pages. I unfolded the corner without looking at the page. I figured either that was as far as the previous reader got before getting bored and abandoning the book, or the previous reader had found something on that page extremely interesting and wanted to remember the location. I wanted to read the book without expectations, so I unfolded the corner and just started at the beginning.

When I got to the page that had been marked by the folded-over corner—I could tell because the page had been folded so long the paper had become creased—the stuff on the page was so interesting that I folded-over the corner again, just as I’d found it. This is what was on the marked page:

The revolt against Spain began on June 5, 1568, when two Dutch noblemen, the Count of Egmont and the Count of Hoorn, sought to negotiate with King Philip’s representative in the Netherlands. By way of response, the Spanish official arrested the two Dutchmen and had them beheaded before a gaping crowd. Peace would not come for eighty years. The war was “still going on when Vermeer was born,” one historian writes, “as it had been when his father—and probably his grandfather—were born.”

Against this backdrop, Vermeer’s achievement stands out all the brighter. A few years ago, the journalist Lawrence Weschler traveled to The Hague to cover the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal. There he fell into conversation with the tribunal’s chief judge, who spent his days listening to detailed accounts of torture. The judge told Weschler the story of a torture victim who had gone mad. Weschler asked the judge how he coped with such testimony. On his lunch hour, the judge replied, he hurried to the Mauritshuis Museum “to spend a little time with the Vermeers.”

Weschler, too, had been communing with The Hague’s Vermeers. (The Girl with a Pearl Earring, A View of Delft, and Diana and Her Companions are at the Mauritshuis.) The judge’s remark, Weschler wrote, opened his eyes to “the true extent of Vermeer’s achievement—something I hadn’t fully grasped before. For, of course, when Vermeer was painting those images which for us have become the very emblem of peacefulness and serenity, all Europe was Bosnia (or had only just recently ceased to be): awash in incredibly vicious wars of religious persecution and proto-nationalist formation, wars of an at-that-time unprecedented violence and cruelty, replete with sieges and famines and massacres and mass rapes, unspeakable tortures and wholesale devastation.”

Perhaps it is not surprising that Vermeer chose to spend his days depicting quiet.

That’s pretty cool stuff. It reminds me, of course, of the Impressionists dealing with the Franco-Prussian War, and the Paris Commune.

It’s a bizarre inequality: How much peace and tranquility the entire world has derived from looking at and contemplating the beautiful and peaceful images created and passed along by the Impressionists, as compared to the almost unimaginable sufferings the artists themselves experienced living through their whole world—their ideal of the most civilized possible world—devolve into chaos, violence and brutal widespread death.

It’s the same kind of bizarre inequality—if not more so—with Vermeer. He was certainly part of a community in Delft and well-respected in his own lifetime. But he did not have around him an entire social movement the way the Impressionists had. He was not surrounded by passionate companions engaged so energetically in the same artistic struggle as he was, the way the Impressionists were. And the paintings he created—the few paintings, possibly less than fifty; there are almost as many self-portraits of Van Gogh in existence as there are paintings of any kind by Vermeer—and the few paintings Vermeer created have been a fountainhead of peace and reassurance and sanity and even humanity to every generation since. (Even when Vermeer was not famous as a name, his paintings were still loved and widely hung, just often attributed to an inaccurate source.)

And it’s bizarre too, isn’t it, that our own time marginalizes peaceful images, reducing the entire concept to heartless mechanical rubbish like the cottages of Thomas Kinkade or the landscapes of Bob Ross?

And our own time, of course, glorifies the exact opposite. Recently, an entertainment world businessman was quoted as saying, “It’s cool to be Quentin Tarantino.” And a very famous animator recently described how his very special, personal project will be “grim, but also funny and salacious and sexy”.

What the hell is wrong with us?

Everybody around the whole world—all economic strata, every educational background, every cultural background—can recognize and respond to the beauty and serenity and deep humanity in the images created by the Impressionists and by some individual artists like Vermeer, but nonetheless, every mainstream source of art and entertainment in the modern world is dedicated to cranking out images that are the exact opposite, images that glamorize and even romanticize violence, brutality and animal rage.

What the hell is wrong with us?


The strange thing about the book “The Forger’s Spell” is a very strange thing indeed.

Like almost all carefully written books about forgery in the fine arts world, the author acknowledges that the issue is almost certainly vastly more widespread than anyone will speak about publically. And, frankly, most experts publically will admit the issue is very widespread to begin with. So, we can only imagine how bad the problem of forgeries must really be.

This book looks very carefully at one very famous case—the Van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer paintings—and it touches on any number of almost unbelievable conditions within the fine arts world that make forgeries possible: The narrow training of many experts, the pressures of big money, the politics of prestige, the difficult nature of the artifacts themselves, the obscuring veil of time, and, of course, the pernicious and/or mischievous creativity of sometimes immensely talented artists and/or con men.

But the author—and I’m guessing this must have been on purpose—the author doesn’t raise one very particular and interesting point, although he writes so very carefully and so very fully around the particular and interesting point that you can see the unwritten bit, so to speak, outlined by what is written.

Before I state that particular and interesting point, it’s worth saying that one reason the Van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer are so interesting is because Van Meegeren was such a bad artist and the forgeries themselves look nothing like any known or suspected Vermeer images.

What the hell were people thinking?

Nobody knows what people were thinking.

The author, here, examines a lot of psychological theories of perception and expectations, and the cultural imperatives within any given time period.

But, still, nobody knows what people were thinking.

The Van Meegeren forgeries were ugly paintings that looked nothing like any known Vermeer, yet they fooled art experts and collectors and all the fringe kind of advisors that move within the big-money art world.

The point that seems to stand out to me as particular and interesting is that the author, here, never delves into the issue of unusual characteristics within the accepted body of Vermeer paintings.

Again, the author writes around the issue. He specifically brings up that within the forty or so paintings almost universally accepted as real Vermeers there are two “groups” of paintings. The author writes:

But the great riddle is that the two groups seem to have almost nothing to do with each other. Even today scholars point at the gulf in bewilderment. Many of them cite The Milkmaid as Vermeer’s first masterpiece, the earliest painting in Hannema’s second group. But eloquent as the scholars are in praise of The Milkmaid, they stammer when they try to sort out how Vermeer achieved the new look. “It is,” the art historian Christopher Wright observes, “as if Vermeer had suddenly decided to change his style almost out of recognition.”

He never asks: Could the “two groups” have been painted by two, or more, different painters?

But even beyond the “two groups” business, there are elements within even the most famous of accepted Vermeers that are strangely not discussed. In the famous The Girl with a Pearl Earring the model’s very close, very engaging and direct gaze is very unusual and to a modern eye looks almost like a Manet painting rather than something from two hundred years earlier. The almost equally famous Allegory of Faith has a typical Vermeer interior, but in the middle of the floor is a bloody, writhing snake [!] that looks like cover art from a fantasy or science fiction book. The almost equally famous Painter in his Studio has too many bizarre points to even list completely: The painter is working but his painting supplies are out-of-reach; he’s applying color to an almost blank canvas, not a carefully shaded under-painting; and probably most odd, at the scale the artist is portrayed as working, the model in front of him wouldn’t even fit on the artist’s canvas.

There are other similar issues with other accepted Vermeer paintings.

The author simply never asks: How many accepted Vermeers are actually very, very beautiful and successful forgeries that never got questioned and never got caught?

Throughout the book the author gives examples of people reacting very badly to discovering that paintings they had loved were actually forgeries. Many people react very badly to such news. Some people burn such paintings. Some people, but very few, simply shrug and say a beautiful image is a beautiful image and it doesn’t really matter if a master in Delft painted it four hundred years ago or, say, a master in Britain painted it one hundred years ago.

I guess the idea is the accepted body of work is so small and brings so many people so much joy that there is just no strong imperative to cause any trouble at all about it.

On one hand that makes sense.

But if a person accepts that line of thought—that a possibly unreal belief is okay because of some perceived larger existential good—doesn’t that raise the possibility of all sorts of dubious temptations?

Should historic narratives be true, or just appropriate?

Should historic biographies be true, or just appropriate?

Or should there be two sets of “facts” available: The general mass-market set, and a more detailed and more “true” set for people interested enough to investigate some issue further?

These are complicated issues and I certainly don’t have any deep answers.

But I do have one thought on this topic.

In the New Testament, there are incidents where Jesus addresses a general crowd and speaks in parables. Then, later in private, the apostles ask Jesus what He meant by this or that parable. Jesus then provides the apostles with an elaboration on how the parable was meant to be interpreted. In those instances—every time, and without exception—the meaning Jesus explains to the apostles is completely consistent with a simple, thoughtful reading of the parable itself. Jesus never, not once, engages in tricky word play or odd figures of speech and He certainly never implies one meaning to the masses and reveals an entirely different meaning to the apostles. Jesus doesn’t always say the same thing to the general public as to the, so to speak, “insiders.” But Jesus never, not once, provides two different meanings. The parables are always clearly driving at the exact same point Jesus reveals to the apostles.

My experience is that very, very few people choose to follow the example Jesus sets in the New Testament.

I wonder what the world would be like if more people even just tried to follow the example Jesus set with the parables?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lana, And The Pretty Unclear Parts

LANA: “I just keep running what happened through my head.”

CHLOE: “Lana, you can’t blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”

LANA: “That part I’m pretty clear on.”

CHLOE: “Look, nobody wanted to see her die. But if you hadn’t come when you did it would have been my obit on the front page. Maybe. Of section D. Anyway, thank you. Again.”

LANA: “How do you do that? Just brush it under the rug, as if nothing happened?”

Episode 120, Season 6

In the TV show about Superman
as a young man, the TV show “Smallville,”
very often characters asked questions,
and when the other character answered,
they answered a question that wasn’t asked.

Characters who deal with superheroes
just keep running what happened through their head
and things are as unclear to them as to
characters who deal with supervillains.

I’d ask a question about cameras.

I’d ask about photographs and paintings.

And I know Chloe would just say something
about how newspapers run on deadlines
and it would be ridiculous to wait
for a painter to compose a painting
when a breaking story is happening.

I wouldn’t even bother asking her
why she had answered that way. Once you know
the person you’re talking to is thinking
of supervillains and superheroes
I think the only way to understand
why they’re answering you the way they are
and what might be your question’s real answer
is just to run what happened through your head
again and again, the way a painter
might stand in front of a blank white canvas
just stand there staring at the empty space
or work away scribbling in a sketchbook
trying out random shapes on random shapes
until, in their head, an image takes form
that they can paint on the canvas by craft.

And I know Chloe would just say something
about how newspapers run on deadlines
and it would be ridiculous to wait
for a painter to compose a painting
when a breaking story is happening.

A camera’s a mechanical thing
and it can be something like hypnotic
watching gears turn and all the gear teeth mesh.

Who wants to watch an artist stand around
staring at a canvas, or sit around
sketching random scribbles on scratch paper?

I’ve come to suspect questions and answers
are something like a boring old art form
and we should build museums for people
who run things through their heads like gears turning
when they could be watching real gears turning.

I spend so much time lost in fantasy
that it feels strange to feel so terrified
at having slipped away for an instant
but I ask myself what if this woman
had a voice that sounded like the actress
who played “Lana Lang” and had noticed me
looking at her and had smiled and said, “Hi.”

I don’t think I’d be here typing these words.

It’s like a LuthorCorp experiment
is going on around me in real life.

And Chloe says these things never end well!

... if I never see
Miranda though I know
where to look, then I hope
Miranda won’t hate me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Notes From France! (Victorine Meurent Update!)

Yesterday was my seventh complete year here at the blog.

Today has been a strange day. I’ve had some less-than-wonderful things to do out in the real world, and I was taking my time about a post for today because I wasn’t sure how to start out my eighth year blogging.

Then this afternoon some weird things happened.

First of all, before I get to today’s weird things, I want to say that the strangest thing about doing this blog—by far and absolutely the strangest thing—is the extreme coincidences I’ve sometimes experienced. It’s happened four or five times over the course of these seven years, but the coincidences have been so bizarre and of such a personal nature that I haven’t even blogged about them because they’ve just been, well, so weird and so personal.

Generally they’ve been interesting, too, so it’s been fun. But it’s been fun mixed in with crazy. Sometimes quite a bit of crazy.

Someday I’ll go back to the beginning and recount the incidents as a kind of chronology. It would be a strange post, but I suppose it would be fitting someday to do the summing up.

Not today though.

Today I’ve got some other things to talk about.

Weird coincidences, though.


First I’m going to start with an easy thing.

Last year, in fact coincidentally right around this time last year, I did a few posts talking the extraordinary French musician Olivier Messiaen. For instance,

Songs A Husband Heard

A Process Of Passages

I had been reading the great biography of him by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone.

I had planned to write more, but then a really, really dumb thing happened.

I put the hardcover book on top of a large bookcase. At some point I bumped into the bookcase and the book fell down, behind the bookcase, between the bookcase and the wall.

Well, the bookcase was large and heavy and kind of jammed into a corner. I couldn’t reach around the side and it was too tall for me to reach down from the top.

So the book was kind of lost back there just a few feet out of reach.

When I did spring cleaning last week and moved everything out and around I was finally able to move the big bookcase and get my Messiaen book. So I’ve washed off the dust and cobwebs and here it is:

It’s a really good book and I’m glad to have it back. I’ll be getting back into it again, slowly but surely, trying to read it more carefully. I like everything about it except one thing: The authors do not dwell on Messiaen’s approach to music theory at all. There are mentions, almost in passing, to his “modes of limited transposition.” But they seem to get into it without background as if readers will just know what is being talked about. And I am unclear, really, about what many Europeans seem to take for granted as a common understanding or common practice in general about “tonality,” which I’ve come to believe has some context encompassing key structures versus twelve-tone chromatic writing. In quoted letters people sometimes write of the tension between “destroying tonality” and “enriching” it, and they write as if the debate and its bounds and its parts are common knowledge. Maybe in academic circles it is old hat, but it is mostly unknown stuff to me. I was hoping this book would contain more details. If it does, I have to read through more carefully to find them. I’m working on it.


I’ve got a couple more things about France. And they’re both good.


My e-mail day, today, started with me getting a note France [!] from a French researcher who is preparing a documentary on Manet. She had seen the photograph of Victorine Meurent here at the blog and asked me if I could give her some background on the image.

The photo she’s talking about is at my post: “Indigestion” (And A Victorine Meurent Update!)

On that page I include a link to the photographer’s blog where I got the photo, and a link to the British newspaper article about Meurent the photographer had quoted.

After I replied to the French researcher explaining that I didn’t have any new info except for those two links, I looked around the net for a bit to see if any blogs I’ve since stumbled across may have new info. I didn’t find new info, but I discovered something unpleasantly surprising.

That photo here at my blog and at the photographer’s blog is not a photo of Victorine Meurent.

Damn it!

I’ve posted about the French photographer Nadar—in “Ah, That Renaissance Sunshine”—and I assumed if it was a photograph of Victorine Meurent it would have been Nadar who took it. Well, in the course of looking through Nadar photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum I saw that the photograph from the photographer’s blog was actually Nadar’s wife, Mme. Ernestine Nadar. Here’s a link to the J. Paul Getty Mme. Ernestine Nadar page.

So, that’s sad, all this time I thought I’d seen a picture of Victorine Meurent but it was really the photographer Nadar’s wife.

Damn it!

Still, I guess it’s better to know what’s real, rather than to keep believing something unreal.

I guess.


Finally, in the course of looking around for a second photograph of Victorine Meurent I thought I remember seeing recently at a painting blog, I didn’t track down a second photograph, but I stumbled across a remarkable essay at a different painting blog, an essay about Manet and his possible use of photographs himself!

Alexi Worth is an American artist and writer who lives on the east coast. Worth wrote a very interesting essay about Manet and photographs:

The Lost Photographs of Edouard Manet, by Alexi Worth. The subtitle is: Why did the young Manet choose an unusual kind of lighting? And why did no one notice it for 100 years?

It’s great stuff!

If Manet used photographs, this wouldn’t be incredibly surprising. Even though the Impressionists themselves didn’t speak a lot directly about their use of photography, from journals and correspondence of people close to them it has become clear that photography was a very happening topic in that era. Degas, of course, did photography himself and often based his own images on the croppings and angles more or less common to photographs which had been, up till then, almost unknown in paintings. And even Manet has been directly mentioned in letters as using photographs to help achieve likeness of individuals within some of his large group scenes.

But there is speculation that Manet’s famous “front lighting” and his extreme approach to lights and darks while minimizing halftones may be a more direct response to the look of photographic imagery.

This is certainly an interesting thought. And, to be honest, once you think it and then review Manet’s paintings, it is almost one of those things that seems something like bluntly visually obvious. That doesn’t make it true, of course—I mean that Manet made extensive use of photographs or that the (then) very popular “look” of photographs had an influence on Manet’s approach to highlights and darks—however it is certainly something worth giving a great deal more thought to.

At least for me. But hardly a day goes by, for me, when I don’t struggle with issues around the focus of photography versus drawing/painting.

I’d just written a post about it the day before I found the Manet essay: Saturn In Libra In Our Night Sky

I can’t tell you how much thought I’m going to give this business of Manet’s possible use of photographs. I was already interested in the topic of Impressionists and photography, and this just brings the topic to center stage.


So that’s some of what’s been going on here today.

Music stuff and painting stuff and photography stuff.

Somewhere Between Chicago And Paris


Somewhere between Chicago and Paris.

Somewhere between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

Assuming distance is real. Assuming time is real.

Possibly I should just say “here” and leave it at that.

I mean, rather than think “here” is, in fact, between “this place” and any other place or “this time” and any other time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Saturn In Libra In Our Night Sky

Last week when I did the post about Saturn on the cusp between Virgo and Libra, Everything’s Still There, I went back and re-read my 2008 post Libra And The Alchemical Sky.

Even though I’m not that great a fan of Vermeer’s paintings, I was struck by how beautiful that image is, the Vermeer oil painting, “A Woman Holding A Balance.”

Wikipedia’s page on Vermeer passes along the estimate that Vermeer completed, probably, about three paintings in a normal year.

And I got to thinking, again, about what place a single image can have in a culture. And especially what place a single image can have in a culture like ours, defined by moving pictures of various kinds.

This Woman From The Canals Of Mars

Refuge, Sanctuary And Asylum As Synonyms

Pretty Crates Above Train Tracks

I love moving pictures of all kinds. But I love paintings, too. But there doesn’t seem to be much of a place in a culture defined by moving images for still, individual images.

They don’t seem to be things that can co-exist, both as dynamic, happening forces within a culture. The moving images seem to displace the still images as a dominant medium. Or so it seems to me.

Single images certainly still exist, but could a painter—a painter like Vermeer—support himself or herself today, doing three paintings a year?

This is really interesting to me. Wondering what we’ve gained, what we’ve lost. So I’ve been trying to think of something to write about that kind of thing. Moving images. Still images.

Tuesday evening I wrote this.


Some estimates are Vermeer completed
three or four paintings in a normal year.

If Vermeer had taken his idea
for the scene “Woman Holding A Balance”
and created it as animation
say a three minute music video
rather than composing an oil painting,
if Vermeer worked at a normal frame-rate
and painted at his normal working speed
and maintained his exacting quality
it would have taken him on the order
of fifteen hundred years to do the work.

Putting in fifteen hundred years of work
tests an artist’s commitment to their craft.

But then the completed work in itself
would testify to the artist’s passion
and to the artist’s belief in the piece.

Probably the finished animation
would be very beautiful to look at.

A woman with a hand-held scales device.

The scales moving slightly, rising, falling.

The woman inclining her head slightly.

Light shimmering on the scales and woman.

In a museum or a rich person’s house
two people would watch the animation.

One would say, “Fifteen hundred years for this?”

The second person would look at the first,
just stand looking, their head inclined slightly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

“Please, Can We Stop Now?”

“Please, can we stop now?”

Before we end the conversation, I want to ask about the controversy over your quotations in your songs from the works of other writers, such as Japanese author Junichi Saga’s “Confessions of a Yakuza,” and the Civil War poetry of Henry Timrod. Some critics say that you didn’t cite your sources clearly. Yet in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. What’s your response to those kinds of charges?

“Oh, yeah, in folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition. That certainly is true. It’s true for everybody, but me, I mean, everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me. And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who’s been reading him lately? And who’s pushed him to the forefront? Who’s been making you read him? And ask his descendents what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it’s so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It’s an old thing—it’s part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that. Yeah, and for what? For playing an electric guitar? As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord and delivering him up to be crucified.”

Bob Dylan
Rolling Stone Interview

An electric guitar that’s not plugged in
can play quieter than an acoustic.

If you live in an apartment building
and you don’t want to disturb your neighbors
but you like practicing and composing
during the quiet hours after midnight
practicing and composing working on
an electric guitar that’s not plugged in
is a thoughtful approach to your neighbors.

If you plug headphones into a keyboard
that can synthesize other instruments
you can make any guitar sounds you like
with less noise than an unplugged electric.

The process of fingers moving on keys
is completely different than against strings
but you won’t disturb your neighbors at all.

It sounds devious. Even subversive.

Writing folk songs or jazz songs silently.

I think it’s devious and subversive.

I don’t mean working at night silently.

I mean just writing folk songs or jazz songs.

I think you have to do that kind of stuff
late at night. When nobody is looking.

Then during the day you can search around
for someplace to play where someone can hear.

Folk songs. Or jazz songs. Please, let’s not stop now.

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Wild Dogs As Acoustic Holdouts

Random Thoughts On This Bonfire Around Us

This Evening At The Stilyagi Bar®

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gadget Pollution: A Robot Love Sonnet

I love these robots this digital art
something broken something ready to break
and I want more much more than I can take
but there’s nothing that’s the magical part

it’s easy to make a practical start
start middle or end whatever you make
pumps lost mechanical blood through a fake
beautiful and transformational heart

I’ve designed a watercolor image
I want to paint when I’m sailing myself
some boats somehow find ways to fail to float

a man and woman surveying damage
blaming their boatyard the wind the rock shelf
never doubting their skill to sail the boat

Friday, April 12, 2013

This Business Of Looking For Dinosaurs

There are a couple of stores around here
that sell DVD’s for about five bucks.
They’re general merchandise stores not stores
devoted to entertainment business.

Five bucks for a movie means that movies
are a disposable commodity
to the business world decision makers.

The magazines nobody buys cost more.

I guess soon enough nobody will buy
movies. They’ll die like magazines and books.

"Our mass conversion to a digital and cloud-based society is picking up steam and impacting DVD / Blu-Ray, consumer products and distribution to say the least," says Gomez. "It makes sense to move people around as a result, or to even cut staff. We last saw this at the studios not long after DVD sales peaked earlier last decade."

Jeff Gomez
Media Analyst
quoted in Here's Why Disney Is Cutting
Jobs By The Hundreds

by Kirsten Acuna
at Business Insider, 4/12/13

I wonder if there are times, I wonder
if there is a kind of daily rhythm,
people in the donut shop parking lot
could take advantage of when driving out?

I wonder if there are times, I wonder
if there is a kind of daily rhythm,
someone might notice if they pause to check
before driving out through the back exit?

I wonder if there are times, I wonder
if there is a kind of daily rhythm,
where if you time it just right you drive out
onto unpaved ground where dinosaurs walk?

She looks around because I am turning
before we have gotten to the corner.

I enter the donut shop parking lot.

“Are we going to get donuts?” she asks,

“No,” I say. “We’re just taking a short cut.”

I drive to the back of the parking lot.

She points. “The street is right there. This isn’t
much of a short cut. What are you doing?”

“We missed the traffic,” I say, “coming out
of the parking lot by the restaurant.”

I stop and study the exit ahead.

She looks at me. She is studying me.
She sees I am looking at the exit.

“Oh my God,” she says, and bursts out laughing.

I drive forward out of the parking lot
onto the side street where we would have turned.

She is still laughing. “Were you looking for
dinosaurs?” she asks. “Did you try to drive
into the donut shop lot and time it
so that you would drive out through a time warp
leading to the time of the dinosaurs?
Does it make you sad that something you wrote
didn’t work out to be true in real life?”

“It didn’t hurt to try, did it?” I ask.
“And wouldn’t it have been fun if it worked?”

She is still laughing. “No, it didn’t hurt.
And if it had worked I don’t know if ‘fun’
is the first word that would have come to mind.”

I smile and look at her as I’m driving.
“From here,” I say, “it looks like you had fun
even though my time warp scheme didn’t work.”

She won’t look at me now. She says, “Hurry
and get home. I have to use the bathroom.”
She won’t look at me but she’s still laughing.

Looking for dinosaurs can be as fun
as finding them. I think it’s something like
art work. I mean, looking for dinosaurs.

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Five Parking Lots And I Wonder

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As I type this, it is late Friday night. All day the internet has felt slow and erratic to me. And people at some corporate sites have told me their equipment was feeling strange, too.

I haven’t seen any news sites cover this—at least as I type this—but various technical sites are now discussing that a very well organized and very large scale internet attack happened today.

Apparently there were at least two phases (or more, if the attack is still happening).

First many different Wordpress hosting sites were attacked. Then those infiltrated sites with high-bandwidth servers were coordinated for use in other attacks.

I don’t know what the ultimate goal of today’s attacks is believed to have been. I have heard some technical types say they have additional information they don’t want to share online yet. So I bet we’ll be reading more about this over the weekend.

One way or the other.

What a funny coincidence that Business Insider does an article talking about the widespread practice of giant corporations to shift media life into the so-called “cloud” and that very day the cloud itself gets attacked.

Clouds were more fun when they were just clouds.

But then so was everything else!

Dumpling Kaiser #1: Dumpling

Dumpling Kaiser #2: Dumpling Rising

Dumpling Kaiser #3: Jack And Jill

Dumpling Kaiser #4: Clouds

Dumpling Kaiser #5: Thinking About It Now

Thursday, April 11, 2013

“Wood Of Ancient Castles And Cathedrals”

The violin first emerged in northern Italy in the mid-1500s. Many of the most distinguished violins ever created were produced by famous local families of violin makers—such as Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari—in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Stradivari was the most famous of these craftsmen, and produced over 1,100 violas, guitars, cellos, and violins. Around 600 of his instruments exist today.

Many top musicians today prefer to play instruments created by Stradivari or his contemporaries. But scientists have found it difficult to pin down the exact difference between a modern violin and a Stradivarius.

"It may be that Stradivarius violins are so well made that they are easier to play" to their best potential, said John Topham a tree ring expert and violin maker in Surrey, England. "The finest instruments are the ones that allow musicians to express themselves best," he said.

Henri Grissino-Mayer, co-author behind the new study and tree ring scientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said there is continuing debate as to whether these instruments do indeed sound superior and what, if anything, explains that quality other than the legendary skill of their makers.

"There are many competing hypotheses … and a lot of it is grounded in folklore," he said. "Some people even believe [Stradivari] used the wood of ancient castles and cathedrals."

Is this a junkyard church, this decay
around us, bricks, steel and broken glass?
Do rusted gears not turning say mass,
is their oxidation how they pray?

Backstage the girls were playing
Five-card stud by the stairs

Lily had two queens and was hoping for a third
To match her pair

Outside the streets were filling up
A window was open wide

A gentle breeze was blowing
You could feel it from inside

Lily called another bet
And her draw card was the Jack of Hearts

One of my favorite songs—of all time, in the whole world—is an old folk song by Bob Dylan that takes about ten minutes or more to play. It has sixteen verses and no choruses. It tells a mysterious story and it is an amazing piece of writing: It is carefully ambiguous and, depending on your mood, you can draw any number of meanings from the song. Who was who? Who did what? Who lives and who dies? The song is very clear about telling a specific sequence of events, but at the same time it still leaves those key questions as not-quite-revealed or resolved. It’s so wonderful. Only, I think, a folk song—or a written poem—could do something like that. A visual depiction in a graphic novel or a movie, I think, inevitably would limit the possible meanings by actually depicting this, that or another thing, which would take away some of the mystery. And people reading a modern novel, I think, would expect all answers to be provided, every detail to be explained.

Songs and poetry—well, folk songs and poetry—can be much more mysterious, much more human and interesting.

“Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is an interesting song, too, because when some musicians perform the song, you can actually see them and hear them trying to hurry up and get through it. [laughs] People, probably especially musicians, are so conditioned by commercial radio and commercial pressures on recorded music in general, that the notion that they should, perhaps, slow down and enjoy the telling of a long story so that the audience could enjoy listening to a long story never even occurs to them.


I was thinking about this kind of stuff because a couple of high-profile synthesizer makers are teasing, right now, that soon they will release new operating systems for their musical instruments. This actually happens a lot nowadays, but today I’m going to single out these two because they caught my attention since they’re doing it at the same time.

If an object has an “operating system” is it a musical instrument? Or is it a computer? Can it be both?


First, Teenage Engineering has a graphic up on their site—currently at least, it will change but this is a screen grab from just now—that links to a YouTube video of a TE person playing an OP-1 with the new OS:


These days at first glance this might not even seem noteworthy, since many of us deal with computer companies all the time and, for instance, Microsoft and Apple issue updates to their operating systems regularly. In fact, some companies—like, for instance, Google—update products automatically and users sometimes, suddenly and unexpectedly, find themselves doing one thing or another and having the software react quite differently than it always has in the past. Some people find this disconcerting. In some cases companies—like, for instance, Google—have modified their updating policies. But sometimes companies just go ahead and keep changing things without notice.

Imagine one morning a violin player picked up her violin and moved the bow across a string and the violin suddenly sounded like a flute.


Wood of ancient castles and cathedrals
is still wood. It hasn’t turned into steel.

I know a long folk song. When I play it
on an arranger keyboard workstation
or on an electric guitar plugged in
to an arranger keyboard workstation
that is processing the guitar’s signal
I like to create some variation
for each one of the song’s sixteen verses.

I mean I create some variation
in my playing not the thing’s programming.

I like to be clear that I’m playing live
and not looping a recorded pattern
since each verse is harmonically the same.

Digital electronics can do that
and the robot musicians deep inside
a modern instrument that’s not made from
wood of ancient castles and cathedrals
can skillfully lead you through a long song
counting the bars so that each verse is right.

I love the robots so before I play
the robots and I sit down and I try
to explain to them I don’t know what’s right
and one of the reasons I play the song
is to find out by playing it what’s right
or at least what’s right that time I play it.

I apologize for switching them off.

But there’s something like magic in a song
when the exact meaning is always new
and fingers or the thinking that moves them
can create phrases that are always new
even if the song might be decades old
or even if the song is as old as
wood of ancient castles and cathedrals.

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“The Stars From Here: A Puppet Thriller”


On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #1

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Searching For Miranda And Caliban

That’s a picture of an old computer called a Rockwell AIM-65. That image comes from an interesting place called The Obsolete Technology Website. They have section about the AIM-65 there.

Today’s post is going to be a kind of sequel to my post Revisiting The Cosmac Elf—The Number “1802”!

And I’ve got one or two other old topics to revisit, in the context of this remarkable old machine, this piece of “obsolete technology.”


I’ve been very lucky in my technology life to have worked at one time or another with some famous computers. There were three machines, however, that I always wanted to work with that I never got a chance to even touch. One was the RCA 1802-based machine the Cosmac Elf. Another was a dedicated workstation called a Lisp Machine. And the third was the Rockwell AIM-65 pictured above.

Those three machines don’t really have a pivotal place in the pop history of computers the way some machines I’ve been lucky enough to work with do. For instance, the Data General Eclipse was featured in Tracy Kidder’s great non-fiction book, “The Soul of a New Machine.” And the Xerox Star has become well known among tech types as the first commercial version of the graphic user interface later made famous by the Apple Macintosh. And DEC minicomputers in general became some of the first very powerful systems that were inexpensive enough for small businesses and even some individuals to experiment with on their own without giant data processing departments. At various times in my corporate career I’ve had the chance to work with those systems.

But the RCA 1802 was just a very well-designed chip that I think I would have enjoyed writing programs for. And Lisp Machines were amazingly cool devices—custom hardware designed by software fanatics who loved the Lisp programming language and devised ways to afford custom CPU chips with instruction sets tailored to list processing functions and the programming environment around Lisp code writing. Nowadays it’s not uncommon at all for companies to design custom chips for many different reasons. But Lisp Machines were the first instance I’m aware of when hardware was custom designed for specific software, and it was driven not directly by corporate needs, but by the passions of committed individuals. It was good stuff and I’m sorry I never got to work or play with it.

(We live in interesting times—I use Mathematica, from Wolfram Research, every day and on a standard PC, Mathematica is probably more powerful than any Lisp Machine ever was. Similarly, Common Lisp from Franz, Inc., on a standard PC, is probably more powerful than any Lisp Machine ever was. But that whole context of a dedicated machine combining software and hardware designed by individuals for individuals just seems—to me—to be, I don’t know, I guess, more romantic or something like that. It’s just different than the wonderful and very powerful resources we have now.)

And that brings me to the Rockwell AIM-65. I'm going to start a new section for that, after an asterisk and everything.


In some posts, I’ve talked about how certain gadgets can seem special to me in a good way, for instance Secret Gadgets And Gadget Secrets, but, also, I’ve talked about how even advanced technology can seem dubious to me, for instance the second part of Not A Comet Tale (And Two Quotes).

The Rockwell AIM-65 might be the single best instance of a piece of technology—to my eyes—getting everything right and providing a resource so powerful that even today I’m not aware of anything quite like it.

The machine itself was built around the very common CPU called the 6502. That’s the same chip that was in the Apple II, and many, many other popular computers. So one point that stands out right away is that most of the knowledge anyone acquired working on the AIM-65 (programming software or interfacing hardware) would be helpful in many, many other computing environments.

That's something that gets a little lost nowadays. Apple computers generally are programmed using an Apple tool called Xcode. Windows-based computers are typically programmed using Microsoft's Visual Studio tools. Android systems have their own software development environments. It's certainly true that algorithms are algorithms and general design skills can work throughout the programming world. But my understanding is that nowadays corporations hire different teams—or different people—to develop for different systems because the specific, concrete skills necessary for one are different from the specific, concrete skills used in the others.

A second thing that comes to mind is that the although the AIM-65 was a single-board computer, it had a full ASCII keyboard, a reasonably good (single-line) display, and a thermal printer was standard attached to the system board. The little machine could do it all!

Then there were these two books, both by Caxton Foster, who was an engineer, a physicist and a teaching professor (he was a guy who could do it all!):

Programming a Microcomputer: 6502

Real Time Programming: Neglected Topics

Those books were—and remain!—unique. They introduce in interesting and practical ways, just about (not really, but just about) every general software and general hardware topic a person will encounter in a lifetime of computer work. And the author includes specific code fragments and complete programs demonstrating everything he talks about, algorithms and implementations.

And everything is written in general 6502 assembly language. Everything runs, for instance, on an AIM-65.

I’m not familiar with, or even aware of, anything remotely similar to this situation today.

With an AIM-65 and those two books, a person could learn, and do, amazing things. Very cool things, involving very deep skills and fun, deep knowledge.

(In my post Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story I point out that the small 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope called the Meade ETX, along with a good pair of wide-angle binoculars and the book “Binocular Highlights,” by Gary Seronik, all used together as a kind of set, make a wonderful environment for learning astronomy. That situation comes close to what I’m talking about here.)

When I did the post I link to above, about the Polaroid SX-70, Not A Comet Tale (And Two Quotes), I wrote about the SX-70 camera saying: It did its thing, but it didn’t help anybody really learn anything, get better at anything, develop skills that would be transferable to other technologies.

This is the modern world.

Today there are endless cool gadgets. There are endless cool tools. But with the single exception of that astronomy set-up, there is nothing I can think of that really helps a person learn worthwhile stuff—worthwhile skills, worthwhile ways of thinking, worthwhile ways of interacting with the real universe around us.

This doesn’t seem like a good thing.

And how could things have gotten this way? Why have they gotten this way?

Is this an example of something real, like the light pollution I posted about in Thinking About Real And Fake Villains, where it seems to be a completely random and accidental aspect of the modern world that is—amazingly—kind of exactly what a supervillain might work toward if he wanted to attack the whole human race?

I don't know. But I find this kind of stuff to be, possibly, the most interesting thing about the modern world I can think of.

How did things get this way? Why did things get this way?

I don't know. I don't even know if this is something we can know. Maybe it is something that can’t even be figured out.

I don't know.

But this is stuff I will return to in future posts.

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Miranda’s Words And Caliban’s Music