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The well of mystery

Sunday, 31 January, 2016 0 Comments

It was my mother’s custom to fill bottles with water from each holy well she visited. “A neighbor from another world / Residing in a jar / Whose limit none has ever seen” is how Emily Dickinson describes the mystical spirit, the magical genii, that was conserved in those bottles. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson contains 1,775 of her compositions. Number 1,400 begins: “What mystery pervades a well!” Here, the well is not just a vital source of water but a spring of spiritual refreshment.

In the fifth verse, Dickinson issues a stern warning about the arrogance of those who fail to respect “nature”, with its “ghost” of the supernatural, and she concludes by addressing a universal remorse: The regret “That those who know her, know her less / The nearer her they get.”

What mystery pervades a well!

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far–
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass–
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea–
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun's well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir

Going to the well for water: St. Pecaun’s Well is at the eastern end of the Glen of Aherlow, between Bansha and Cahir in Tipperary


What is the Finnish word for scam?

Saturday, 30 January, 2016 0 Comments

On 28 November 2014, we posted an item titled Jolla is pronounced “yolla’. It was about a Finnish startup, “which topped the crowdfunding target it had set for its Sailfish OS tablet in just two hours. Now, almost $1.3 million has been pledged and the campaign has 12 days left.” The Indiegogo crowdfunding platform said a total of $2,571,382USD was raised and the “Original campaign was 479% funded on December 9, 2014.”

And now? “Dear Jolla Tablet supporters and other Jolla followers, Happy New Year! Together, let’s make this an ever better one than last.” So began a post that appeared on the Jolla blog on Thursday. The date was 28 January, but Antti Saarnio (“your Jolla captain”), awakening from his Nordic hibernation, did not seem to think that it was a bit late in the month for greeting 2016. That should have raised a few red flags. The post was titled “Jolla Tablet: Aiming for Closure” and it contained the following disclosure:

“We have been analyzing different alternatives regarding the Jolla Tablet project situation. But no matter how you come at it, the tight financial situation remains a major constraint and therefore a main driver of the solution. Furthermore, due to the delays in the latest financing round it has simply become too late to produce all the tablets for the project. The supplier no longer has the needed components and many of them are no longer available. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done now to change this.”

Jolla said that it had shipped 121 of the tablets and it will deliver another 540 units next month and that will be the end of “the world’s first people powered tablet.” Everyone else will be offered refunds, but “Due to the financial constraints this will happen in two parts: half of the refund will be done during Q1/2016, and the other half within a year, our financial situation permitting.” Good luck with that.

Jolla

Note: The Finnish word for word for “scam” is huijaus (noun), and the verb to to defraud or embezzle is vedättää. This does not suggest that the Jolla founders intended to scam, defraud or embezzle, of course.


Bernie’s excellent video

Friday, 29 January, 2016 0 Comments

The prize for the best presidential campaign video so far goes to Democratic Party hopeful Bernie Sanders. The appeal of “America | Bernie Sanders” is heightened by the use of the song America by Simon & Garfunkel from their Bookends album. According to Marc Eliot, author of Paul Simon: A Life: “America creates a cinematic vista that tells of the singer’s search for a literal and physical America that seems to have disappeared, along with the country’s beauty and ideals.” (That was 48 years ago.)

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag…

…Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America.”

By the way, Bookends was released in 1968, the year of the Olympics in Mexico City, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two US medalists, gave the black power salute during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Also in 1968, the Black Panther Party declared that every member had to study Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book “to advance his or her knowledge of peoples’ struggle and the revolutionary process.” Bernie Sanders has never publicly expressed admiration for Mao, but he joined the Young People’s Socialist League, the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party of America, while at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. You’d never think it when looking at “America | Bernie Sanders”, though. The “peoples’ struggle” has changed, but the song is still the same.


The Daily Telegraph and the could/would jet

Friday, 29 January, 2016 0 Comments

Fancy flying from London to New York in 11 minutes? From New York to Sydney in half an hour? Read on. The Daily Telegraph delighted its readers earlier today when it greeted them with the headline “This private jet would get you from London to New York in 11 minutes.” Right at the get-go, Lauren Davidson tells us that “a seven-hour flight across the Atlantic can feel interminable,” which is very true, and then she delivers the good news: “But a new design for a luxury business jet could get you from London to New York in 11 minutes — and from New York to Sydney in half an hour. The Antipode is a 10-seater aircraft that would be able to travel at 12,427 miles per hour.”

This is all very exciting, but the presence of “could/would” there suggests that Telegraph readers won’t be able to avail of the service this weekend. And more “woulds” follow: “Charles Bombardier, the Canadian inventor, released a concept design last year for the Skreemr, a jet that would be able to fly at Mach 10. Travelling at 7,673 miles per hour, the 75-seater Skreemr would get from the UK to the east coast the US in around 30 minutes.”

Daily Telegraph news values We are into the seventh paragraph before Ms Davidson brings us back down to earth, so to speak: “However, Mr Bombardier confessed his concerns that materials ‘able to withstand the heat, pressure and structural stress’ of the aircraft had not yet been invented.” Whether she’s referring to the Antipode or the Skreemr in that sentence is unclear, however.

Although the Antipode aircraft has not yet been invented the Daily Telegraph seems to believe that this non-breaking story is homepage newsworthy. Why? Is there a shortage of “real” news? Is Charles Bombardier a friend of Sir David Rowat Barclay and Sir Frederick Hugh Barclay? The truth may be more mundane. Back on 16 January, Forbes ran a story titled “Exclusive: Fly From New York To Dubai In 22 Minutes On Board This Hypersonic Private Jet Concept.” Kristin Tablang’s article is far less sensational than Lauren Davidson’s one and it’s much better for that.


Paging Mr Page

Thursday, 28 January, 2016 0 Comments

In total, I have encountered Mr. Page three times for a total of five minutes or so. Once was at an off-the-record gathering where nothing interesting happened, and another was at a press event where he politely shook my hand before heading in another direction.

The other time, I was at Google’s Mountain View campus, talking to an executive, when Mr. Page rode up on his bike to say hello to his employee. I introduced myself as a New York Times reporter and he immediately pedaled away.

“That went well,” the executive said.

So writes Conor Dougherty, who covers Google for the New York Times. He’s been seeking an interview with Larry Page since August 2014 and the result is “Try to Interview Google’s Co-Founder. It’s Emasculating.” And it’s revealing.


Minsky and Mozart

Wednesday, 27 January, 2016 1 Comment

In a blog post tilted Farewell, Marvin Minsky (1927 – 2016), Stephen Wolfram, Founder & CEO of Wolfram Research, pays tribute to the American pioneer of artificial intelligence and co-founder of the AI Lab at MIT, who died on Sunday. Snippet:

“Marvin immediately launched into talking about how programming languages are the only ones that people are expected to learn to write before they can read. He said he’d been trying to convince Seymour Papert that the best way to teach programming was to start by showing people good code. He gave the example of teaching music by giving people Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and asking them to transpose it to a different rhythm and see what bugs occur. (Marvin was a long-time enthusiast of classical music.)”

RIP, Marvin Minsky, genius and trailblazer of advances in mathematics, computational linguistics, optics and robotics. Apropos Minsky’s genius and love of classical music, as the world knows, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major) is a famous chamber ensemble composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and today happens to be his birthday. Happy 260th, dear Mozart!


Rumsfeld develops an app at 83, posts on Medium

Tuesday, 26 January, 2016 0 Comments

Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is supposed to have said “A week is a long time in politics.” And it’s true. Just look at those Clinton-Sanders poll predictions from Iowa. The same could be said of the internet, except the window is narrower. A day online is the digital equivalent of the political week: “24 hours is a long time on the web.” Yesterday, we were quoting Dave Winer’s blog post titled Anywhere but Medium and who is posting on Medium now? Donald Rumsfeld. “At 83, I Decided to Develop an App” writes the nemesis of Saddam. The app is called Churchill Solitaire and it has a fascinating back story that involves Hitler, a young Belgian government aide named André de Staercke and, of course, Sir Winston. Snippet:

“Churchill Solitaire is a game that is a host of contradictions — simple yet complicated; frustrating yet fun. Now it lives on for a new generation — a fitting tribute to a great man. And starting this week, it is available to the world on the AppStore and will soon be coming to other platforms.

I can’t say if this is the last app I’ll ever be involved in — after all, I’m only 83! But it is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to worry about.”

Whatever one thinks of Donald Rumsfeld, one should be willing to accept the wisdom of the opening statement of his Medium post: “Among the things one learns as time passes is that everyone has to age, but not everyone has to get old. One of the best ways to stay young is to keep learning.”


Twitter and Medium warnings

Monday, 25 January, 2016 1 Comment

“Look at how slowly Twitter has improved their platform, and all the new features are for advertisers, not for writers. I suspect Medium will go down a similar path.” So writes Dave Winer in a terrific blog post titled Anywhere but Medium. It’s an urgent warning to writers about the dangers of building their houses on someone else’s land.

Launched by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams in 2012, Medium is a publishing platform that describes itself as “a community of readers and writers offering unique perspectives on ideas large and small.” After the announcement of Twitter’s IPO in 2013, one report speculated that Williams, with a 30 to 35 percent stake in the company, would see his wealth grow from $2 billion to $8 billion. Now, he’s in dangers of becoming a millionaire. Twitter is flirting with being the oil of the social media industry and its stock value has dropped more than 50 percent in the last 12 months.

Something had to go and in a remarkable coincidence last night, four top @twitter executives suddenly felt the pressing need to spend more time with their families. “Big Exec Departures at Twitter: Media Head Stanton and Product Head Weil Leaving” is how Re/code broke the story. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded with a tweet in which he sought to “set the record straight.” But nobody is being fooled by the “well-deserved time off” line.

Mark Little, who set up News Corp-owned social news agency Storyful, is the new Twitter vice-president of media for Europe and Africa and he proclaimed to be “heartbroken” by the leave-taking of Katie Jacobs Stanton:

All this heartbreak and gratitude brings us back to Dave Winer and his brave and valuable post about the dangers of a monocultural Medium monopoly:

“Medium is on its way to becoming the consensus platform for writing on the web. if you’re not sure you’re going to be blogging regularly, the default place to put your writing is Medium, rather than starting a blog on Tumblr or WordPress.com, for example. I guess the thought is that it’s wasteful to start a blog if you’re not sure you’re going to post that often. It’s something of a paradox, because blogs are not large things on the storage devices of the hosting companies…

… Medium is a startup, a well-funded one for sure, but they could easily pivot and leave all the stories poorly served, or not served at all. I’m sure their user license doesn’t require them to store your writing perpetually, or even until next week…

…You have a choice. Post your writing to places other than Medium. And when you see something that’s interesting and not on Medium, give it some extra love. Push it to your friends. Like it on Facebook, RT it on Twitter. Give people more reasons to promote diversity on the web, not just in who we read, but who controls what we read…

Can we reserve competition in the middle of the web, so we get a chance for some of the power of an open platform for the most basic type of creativity — writing?

When you give in to the default, and just go ahead and post to Medium, you’re stifling the open web. Not giving it a chance to work its magic, which depends on diversity, not monoculture.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times explains Twitter. It’s that man Trump, again:

New York Times


Fin de siècle

Sunday, 24 January, 2016 0 Comments

The story doing the rounds is that a wealthy art collector visited the Paris home of the Irish photographer Kevin Abosch last year and saw this 162 x 162 cm print of a potato hanging on the wall and inquired about buying it. Abosch said the price was non-negotiable: €1,000,000. The buyer bought the photo.

Potato

Back in 2013, The Potato Diggers by Paul Henry was sold in London for €400,000, a record price at auction for the artist. Henry was born in Belfast and studied in Paris at the Académie Julian and at Whistler’s studio at the end of the 19th century.

Paul Henry

“It is easy to think of potatoes, and fortunately for men who have not much money it is easy to think of them with a certain safety. Potatoes are one of the last things to disappear, in times of war, which is probably why they should not be forgotten in times of peace.” — M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf


Love After Love

Saturday, 23 January, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1930, the poet and playwright Derek Walcott was born in Saint Lucia, an island country in the eastern Caribbean. In 1992, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”. How does his verse rate? The poetry critic William Logan damned it with faint praise: “No living poet has written verse more delicately rendered or distinguished than Walcott, though few individual poems seem destined to be remembered.” This one is, we feel.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Letters home


Newsweek has gone to the dogs

Friday, 22 January, 2016 0 Comments

One expects certain things from the Daily Mail site. Its “sidebar of shame,” a strip of thumbnail photos down the right side, which specializes in breasts and buttocks, sets the standard. It’s not surprising then that the Daily Mail would title a story “Indian boy, seven, is forced to marry a DOG to ward off evil spirits after his horoscope suggests his first wife will die young.” That headline alone contains more jaw-droppers than a week’s worth of the Telegraph, the Guardian and Newsweek combined.

Background: With Newsweek, one has, or had, different expectations. Founded in 1933 in New York City, Newsweek was one of America’s “big three” weekly news magazines, along with Time and U.S.News & World Report. It covered news, politics, business, entertainment, science, religion, sports and the arts with style and a liberal verve and had a circulation of 3.3 million copies in its heyday. But that was then. In 2010 , the Washington Post Company, its then owner, sold the magazine to 92-year-old audio pioneer Sidney Harman for $1.00. Newsweek merged with The Daily Beast website later that year and under the guiding hand of Tina Brown, the Beast’s editor-in-chief, it ceased print publication with the 31 December 2012 issue.

Foreground: But there was life in Lazarus and IBT Media announced it had acquired the title in 2013 and it relaunched a print edition of Newsweek on 7 March 2014. For those unfamiliar with the media scene, IBT Media is connected to the Korean pastor David Jang, who is not without controversy.

All that brings us back to dogs. “I ATTENDED A SWANKY WEDDING FOR INSTAGRAM-FAMOUS DOGS” is a recent headline in the new Newsweek. Zach Schonfeld’s article contains the following gem:

The dogwalker asked who I work for.

“Man, Newsweek is covering this?” he asked in disbelief. “Our society is so fucked, man. We’re gonna look back years later and be like, ‘Dog weddings? That was the end.'”

Indeed.