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Fitzgerald sings Fitzgerald

Thursday, 16 April, 2015 0 Comments

“We’re celebrating 90 years of The Great Gatsby by indulging in some roaring classics from Fitzgerald’s jazzy times.” So writes Scribner Magazine as it presents its Great Gatsby 90th Anniversary Playlist. Topping that list is the Beale Street Blues, composed in 1916 by W.C. Handy. The title refers to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and from the 1958 film St. Louis Blues, starring Nat King Cole, here’s Ella Fitzgerald delivering a fine rendition of a song sprinkled with the liquor that fueled the Gatsby era.

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk
Except one or two, who never drink booze
And the blind man on the corner who sings the Beale Street Blues.

Goin’ to the river, maybe, bye and bye
Goin’ to the river, and there’s a reason why
Because the river’s wet and Beale Street’s done gone dry.

The eyes have it

Wednesday, 15 April, 2015 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby turned 90 last Friday and the publisher has reissued a commemorative edition with that famous jacket art by the Catalan artist Francis Cugat, for which he was paid the grand sum of $100. Those two melancholy eyes and the red lips in the blue of the night sky, hovering above a glowing skyline, evoke the glamour and sorrow that are central to the story.

In a letter to his editor, Max Perkins, Fitzgerald requested that Cugat’s art be retained exclusively for the novel. “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me,” he wrote, “I’ve written it into the book.” What exactly Fitzgerald meant by this is not clear, but it might be that Cugat’s image reflected the billboard for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg that watches over one of the key moments in the novel:

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away.”

The Great Gatsby

Tomorrow, here, the Ella Fitzgerald connection.

The prose poetry of Gatsby

Tuesday, 14 April, 2015 0 Comments

Is there one superfluous word in this passage? Yes, you could cut a few, perhaps, but the result would not be better than the original. Here be the silver pepper of poetry and prose with frogs blown full of life by the bellows of the earth:

“Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone — fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.”

Tomorrow, here, that famous cover by an almost forgotten Catalan artist.

Gatsby at 90

Monday, 13 April, 2015 0 Comments

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, turned 90 last Friday. To mark the milestone, Rainy Day will be devoting this week’s posts to that most magical of novels.

When Fitzgerald died in 1940, aged 44, copies of the second printing of the book were piled up unsold in bookstores across the USA. Now, Scribner sells more than 500,000 copies a year. When did Gatsby go from failure to success? There’s a good argument to be made that the critical year was 1951. That was when J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published. At one point, Holden Caulfield notes that his older brother made him read Fitzgerald’s book. “I was crazy about The Great Gatsby,” Holden tells us. “Old Gatsby. Old sport. That killed me.” With the imprimatur of Holden Caulfield, a new generation felt compelled to read Gatsby and the momentum continues to this day.

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Tomorrow, here, nary a superfluous word.

Road writing

Sunday, 12 April, 2015 0 Comments

Road question

It’s just a shot away

Saturday, 11 April, 2015 0 Comments

Released in 1969, Let It Bleed is one of the greatest of all rock albums, but if you’re looking for flower power, move on. That whole hippie thing was a hoax, say the Rolling Stones as they bury the Sixties with the standout track Gimme Shelter, a primal scream of mayhem that Keith Richards composed in 20 minutes, allegedly.

The guest vocalist on the 1969 album was Merry Clayton and her place was taken on tour by Lisa Fischer, recently of 20 Feet From Stardom fame. In this 1995 performance at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Lisa Fischer is very much the star, however, despite the initial intrusion of Jack Nicholson. Hat tip to Ian for the loan of the album.

The Austrian exception

Friday, 10 April, 2015 0 Comments

Did you know that Austria has alarmingly high smoking rates? In the young adult bracket (18–28 years), 52 percent of men smoke as do 34 percent of women. One would imagine, then, that the “Alpine Republic”, would be eager to eradicate this extreme danger to public health, but none of it. After years of bickering, the country’s governing parties have just agreed that a general ban on smoking in bars, cafes and restaurants will be introduced in May — 2018. Landlords and landladies are up in arms against the legislation, claiming that their businesses will suffer, but we’ve heard it all before.

Stub it out

The Apple Watch as worn by John Gruber

Thursday, 9 April, 2015 0 Comments

Joanna Stern has written a detailed review for the Wall Street Journal: “The Apple Watch makes you look good. But the next one is bound to make you look even better.”

Joshua Topolsky offers a thorough tour d’horizon at Bloomberg: “In some ways, it can be more distracting than your iPhone, and checking it can feel more offensive to people around you than pulling out your phone. The watch wants and needs you now, as its insistent taps make painfully clear.”

Nicole Phelps presents a fashionable appreciation for STYLE.COM: “I came to think of it as a filter instead, bringing what’s essential or pleasurable to me closer to me and editing out the rest.”

But for wannabe insiders, the only analysis that matters in the end is the one offered by John Gruber. While the New York Times enthuses “Bliss, but Only After a Steep Learning Curve“, in typical Gruber style, his review is titled simply The Apple Watch. Snippets:

Time telling is where Apple Watch fares worst compared to traditional watches. That was inevitable. The primary purpose of traditional watches is telling time. Apple Watch is a general purpose computing device, for which telling time is an important, but not primary, use.

In short, I think Apple Watch might be a tougher sell to current watch wearers than non-watch wearers. Non-watch wearers have an open wrist, and if they cared about the glance-able convenience of an always-visible watch dial, they would be wearing a traditional watch already. Watch wearers, on the other hand, already have something on their wrist that Apple Watch needs to replace,3 and the reason they already have a watch on their wrist is that they care about telling time at a glance — something Apple Watch is (and only ever will be, I suspect) merely OK at, not great at…

…The quality of Apple Watch simply as an object is meaningful. When you wear something, it matters how it feels, and it matters how you think it looks. And much like with time-telling as a feature, Apple Watch may well appeal more to those who aren’t currently watch wearers than to those who are.

Apple Watch

The Gruber bottom line: “The single most innovative feature of Apple Watch — the most intimate feature of the company’s most personal device — will only matter if some of the people you care most about wear one too.”

Pretty much like the iPhone, then. Peer pressure and status anxiety will drive sales of the Apple Watch. In other words, it’s going to be a huge success.

Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”

Tyler talks to Thiel

Tuesday, 7 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Conversations with Tyler” is an event series hosted by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in which the economist Tyler Cowen talks to thought leaders about their ideas. He kicks off with Peter Thiel and the subjects range from stagnation to company names to chess to the “Straussian Christ.”

TYLER COWEN: You were born in Germany. You are fluent in German. That’s part of your background. How do you think that’s influenced your worldview, what I would call your implicit theology, how the different pieces of Peter Thiel’s ideas fit together? What’s the role there, and do you still sometimes dream in German?

PETER THIEL: I think of Germany as always incredibly pessimistic, but very comfortable. It is this very big contrast. I’m not sure pessimism is generally that helpful an attitude to have, but the German pessimism is probably a helpful corrective, in the midst of the hyper-optimism that permeates Silicon Valley.

If you are a mildly pessimistic person, you might do well in a place where people are insanely optimistic. If you are a mildly optimistic person, you would do well in a place where people are insanely pessimistic, like, say, Germany.

TYLER COWEN: In the back room, we were talking about Japan, and a recent trip of yours to Japan. Maybe you would like to relate some of what you were saying?

PETER THIEL: They always want you to say things that are sort of contrarian and surprising, and so they asked me at this discussion I was giving in Japan. And the answer that I came up with, which was both flattering to the audience, but somewhat disturbing from our perspective, was I think we always think of Japan as this hyper-imitative, noncreative culture of extreme conformity.

But then it’s an indictment of the West, where I think Japan is no longer the Japan of the Meiji Restoration of the 1870s, or the Japan of the cheap plastic imitation toys of the 1950s. It’s a country that no longer thinks it can get that much by copying the West. There’s probably still some narrow interest in IT and software. Outside of that, I think they are copying the US and Western Europe less and less.

People aren’t even learning English that much anymore. They’re speaking less English than they were 15, 20 years ago. The golf courses are all getting shut down and converted to solar farms or something; people don’t even want to play golf anymore. I think we need to take this as a real critique of our society, very seriously, that they’re finding less that’s desirable to imitate in the US or Western Europe.

Waiting for Blade Runner

Monday, 6 April, 2015 0 Comments

First, the bad news: The Blade Runner sequel won’t start filming until summer… that’s next year. Now, the good news: Harrison Ford will be reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and Ridley Scott, who directed the science fiction classic, will return as Executive Producer. Released in 1982, Blade Runner was critically-acclaimed for its cinematography, special effects, scoring and dystopian vision. The dialogue sizzled, too. Here’s Deckard interrogating Rachael, a NEXUS-6 model replicant, played by Sean Young:

Deckard: “You’re reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl.”
Rachael: “Is this testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?”
Deckard: “Just answer the questions, please. You show it to your husband. He likes it so much he hangs it on your bedroom wall.”
Rachael: “I wouldn’t let him.”
Deckard: “Why not?”
Rachael: “I should be enough for him.”
Deckard: “One more question. You’re watching a stage play. A banquet is in progress. The guests are enjoying an appetizer of raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog.”

While we bide our time until the sequel is released, here’s Blade Runner Reality, an Instagram site crafted by Ryan Allen that’s “Dedicated to finding reality that looks like #BladeRunner.” The images come with appropriate dialogue: “That gibberish he talked was city-speak, guttertalk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you.”

Blade Runner