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Paper, continued

Wednesday, 10 December, 2014 0 Comments

“Why should I want to have a lot of copies of this and that lying around? Nothing but clutter in the office, a temptation to prying eyes, and a waste of good paper.” — John Brooks, Business Adventures

John Brooks (1920 — 1993) was a longtime contributor to the New Yorker magazine, where he worked as a staff writer, specializing in financial topics. His Business Adventures was published in 1969 and perhaps the books’s most relevant piece from today’s perspective is his account of life at Xerox. In the early 1960s, the company introduced a proprietary process that let copies be made on plain paper and with great speed. It had almost $60 million in revenue in 1961 and this figure jumped to more than $500 million by 1965, by which time Americans were creating 14 billion copies a year.

Brooks describes the “mania” for copying as “a feeling that nothing can be of importance unless it is copied, or is a copy itself.” Xerography changed the nature of text distribution more than anything since the time of Gutenberg and stoked up hopes and fears akin to those experienced in the early days of the World Wide Web. When Brooks visited Xerox HQ in Rochester, New York, he found the that the company’s biggest concern, however, was figuring out how to support the United Nations — an admirable ideal, in many ways, but not that relevant to its core business.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center were developing several key elements of personal computing, including the desktop metaphor GUI and the mouse. These radical ideas were frowned upon by the board of directors on the East Coast, obsessed with their charitable giving, so they ordered the Xerox engineers to share the innovations with Apple. The rest is history.

It’s no surprise that Bill Gates, the entrepreneur and philanthropist, finds Brooks so instructive today.

At the paperfull office

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014 0 Comments

The term “The Paperless Office” was first used in business in 1994 by Computhink and the firm still owns the trademark. So, 20 years on, how is it working out? Well, Computhink has been joined by “agile document management” vendors like Alfresco, OnBase and M-Files in the battle to to make the office digital, but paper is proving stubborn. Many people still prefer it for reading longer documents and many companies still don’t understand what the paperless options are. Paper consumption per person is falling, according to the data, but the doubters insist that the paperless toilet will arrive before the paperless office. Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper argue that the paperless office is a myth, which is why they called their book The Myth of the Paperless Office.

office paper

Current reading: The Martian

Monday, 8 December, 2014 0 Comments

The Martian “I guess I should explain how Mars missions work, for any layman who may be reading this. We got to Earth orbit the normal way, through an ordinary ship to Hermes. All the Ares missions use Hermes to get to and from Mars. It’s really big and cost a lot so NASA built only one.

Once we got to Hermes, four additional unmanned missions brought us fuel and supplies while we prepared for our trip. Once everything was a go, we set out for Mars. But not very fast. Gone are the days of heavy chemical fuel burns and trans-Mars injection orbits.”

So says the narrator of The Martian by Andy Weir. The book has been a commercial and critical success: The Wall Street Journal called it “the best pure sci-fi novel in years,” and the film version, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, will be released in November next year.

The book is more topical than ever, considering the spectacular success of the Orion spacecraft, which soared into space on Friday before splashing down on target in the Pacific ocean. NASA says that Orion is destined to be the first of a fleet that will carry humans beyond the Moon to Mars. Opponent say that putting humans into space is futile, expensive, dangerous and ultimately harmful to science. They argue that robot craft represent the future of space exploration. It’s a debate that’s bound to get more heated in the coming years and The Martian offers a cautionary message:

The Ares Program. Mankind reaching out to Mars to send peo­ple to another planet for the very first time and expand the hori­zons of humanity blah, blah, blah. The Ares 1 crew did their thing and came back heroes. They got the parades and fame and love of the world.

Ares 2 did the same thing, in a different location on Mars. They got a firm handshake and a hot cup of coffee when they got home.

Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Com­mander Lewis was in charge. I was just one of her crew. Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” of the mission if I were the only remaining person.

What do you know? I’m in command.

I wonder if this log will be recovered before the rest of the crew die of old age. I presume they got back to Earth all right. Guys, if you’re reading this: It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do. In your position I would have done the same thing. I don’t blame you, and I’m glad you survived.

Before the stars have left the skies

Sunday, 7 December, 2014 0 Comments

The very seasonal Winter-Time is taken from A Child’s Garden of Verses, a famous collection of poetry for children by the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson. The collection first appeared in 1885 under the title Penny Whistles.

Winter-Time

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 — 1894)

December star

Cucurucu

Saturday, 6 December, 2014 0 Comments

“In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.”

A verse there from The Piano by D.H. Lawrence. The poem served as the inspiration for Cucurucu by Nick Mulvey, and the musical influences were provided by the Santo Daime community of Brazil. The video clip was shot by National Geographic’s James Morgan on Nihiwatu Beach in Indonesia.

The Disruptive Polaroid

Friday, 5 December, 2014 0 Comments

To celebrate its 85th birthday, Businessweek has listed the 85 most disruptive ideas that have emerged during its lifetime. They range from GDP to the jet engine, and in between there’s the Pill, Singapore, <h1>HTML</h1>, Starbucks and the AK-47. When you mouse-over No. 84, it makes the whirring sound of a Polaroid picture being taken, and that’s because Edward Land’s innovation is adjudged to be one of the most disruptive ideas in recent times. In his tribute to the camera, Christopher Makos writes:

Polaroids were the first social network. You’d take a picture, and someone would say, “I want one, too,” so you’d give it away and take another. People shared Polaroids the way they now share information on social media. Of course, it was more personal, because you were sharing with just one person, not the entire world.

I met Andy Warhol in the ’70s at the Whitney Museum and started doing projects with him because he loved my photographs. He’d never had a pal who was a photographer, so I was his guru, showing him what cameras to buy, what pictures to take. Andy loved Polaroid. Everything was “gee whiz”; it was brand-new. So immediate.

Taking a selfie with a Polaroid is also very intimate. They weren’t called selfies back then, obviously. People weren’t as self-aware. We didn’t have 10 years of reality TV shows in the social consciousness. But Polaroid marked the beginning of self-awareness.

polaroids

Revolutionary: Watching snow fall

Thursday, 4 December, 2014 0 Comments

In the world of the English idiom, if an activity is like watching grass grow or paint dry, it’s really boring. Watching snow fall is not boring, however, if the place is Bucharest and the year is 1988. Back then, Romania was in the final phase of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s grim Stalinist rule and the most ordinary events assumed extraordinary significance. One of these events was a football match on 3 December between two Bucharest rival teams, Steaua, the Army team, hand-picked by Valentin Ceauşescu, son of the dictator, and Dinamo, the side representing the dreaded Securitate, the secret police.

Despite the wintry conditions, referee Adrian Porumboiu decided that the game should go ahead and it was filmed in low-tech style by three TV cameras. When fouls and fights took place, the director discretely panned over the crowd, almost invisible behind the snow descending in curtains. The film of the game is now a film titled Al doilea joc (The Second Game) and the director is Corneliu Porumboiu, son of the match referee.

The two re-watched the match together, some 25 years later and the father-and-son commentary on the grainy, uncut VHS is layered with meaning. The father can sense the impending national turmoil, the son muses on the archaic poetry of the scene and the whole assumes an extra relevance when one reads about the personality cult and corruption that dominate FIFA, football’s governing body today.

Our Road Goes Ever On

Wednesday, 3 December, 2014 0 Comments

Early reviews suggest that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which marks the end of Sir Peter Jackson’s 15-year trek into Middle-earth, is a bit of a pre-Christmas turkey. Writing in The Telegraph, Tim Robey felt it was padded-out and “begs not to exist“. He dismisses the film as being “neither very terrible nor remotely unexpected. It’s a series of stomping footnotes in search of a climax”.

Still, Peter Jackson is to be congratulated for his tenacious devotion to JRR Tolkien’s legendarium, and he provided us with some memorable images and scenes of grandeur. Let’s see if the next generation of filmmakers can do better. Whatever their efforts, Tolkien will endure because there is something eternally inspirational about his storytelling. Take The Road Goes Ever On, which Bilbo Baggins sings in chapter 19 of The Hobbit, at the end of his journey back to the Shire:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

The spirit of The Road Goes Ever On is captured beautifully by Erik Wernquist in his short film, Wanderers, which is a “vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like.”

Favourite scene: humans base-jumping off the tallest known cliff in the Solar System: Verona Rupes on the Uranian moon Miranda. Voyager 2 flew near to the moon on 24 January 1986, and snapped the image. The cliff might be as high as five kilometres.

Watch out for the currency traps

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014 1 Comment

“We cannot go on with this euro. We must improve the European monetary policy and achieve equality of the dollar and euro interchange,” said former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the Forza Italia party’s ‘No Tax Day’ rally in Milan on Saturday. “We must bring back our right to print money and establish monetary market exchange.”

Meanwhile, Tehran’s economy minister, Ali Tayyebnia, warned yesterday against “frenzied behavior” as Iranians dumped their rials. And in Venezuela, the dollar is now worth 1,700 percent more on the black market than the price the government charges those lucky enough to obtain it legally. Then, there’s the collapse of the ruble. This entire currency business is treacherous so it’s not surprising that when the Financial Times listed its Best books of 2014 at the weekend, the “trap” metaphor appeared prominently in the top titles reviewed.

Traps

The plight of the Assyrians and the Yezidi

Monday, 1 December, 2014 0 Comments

“We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus there for two thousand years. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have been forced violently from their homes. It even seems that the value of human life has been lost, that the human person no longer matters and may be sacrificed to other interests. And, tragically, all this is met by the indifference of many.”

So spoke Pope Francis I and Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul yesterday.

Born in Syria and living in Los Angeles, Sargon Saadi made The Last Plight to combat the world’s indifference to the suffering of the Assyrian and Yezidi people living under the barbaric rule of ISIS. We cannot resign ourselves to a Middle East without Christians.

Acclimatizing to Dublin Bus

Sunday, 30 November, 2014 0 Comments

The function of Dublin Bus is to provide public transport in Ireland’s capital city. According to its website, the service carries 118 million customers a year, employing a fleet of 900 buses and 3,238 full-time staff. Interestingly, for a capital city’s main transit network, no complete system-wide street map is available online. What is online, though, is a reddit thread where people say things like, “I’m swearing a fuck load because it’s the only language appropriate to describe Dublin Bus and their shit-awful service, the fucks.”

It’s easy to spot the overseas visitors to Dublin on the city’s buses in winter. Unlike the locals, who are used to the vagaries of Dublin Bus vehicular heating standards, many visitors find their all-weather gear is essential for both inside and outside wear.

Dublin Bus