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Thursday, February 27, 2003

What Happened To Jazz? "What happened to Wynton Marsalis? That may be like asking What happened to jazz? For twenty years the fates of Marsalis and jazz music have appeared inextricably intertwined." But at the age of 40 Marsalis finds himself without a recording contract, and many in jazz feel that "by leading jazz into the realm of unbending classicism, by applying the Great Man template to establish an iconography and by sanctifying a canon of their own choosing Marsalis and his adherents are said to have codified the music in a stifling orthodoxy and inhibited the revolutionary impulses that have always advanced jazz." The Atlantic 03/03

Monday, February 24, 2003

Parting Company? "Companies have become part of the furniture of our lives. Most of us work for them. They make almost everything we buy. Most of our savings are tied up in them. Yet now the furniture seems uncomfortable, broken or downright dangerous. Companies are cutting back jobs and slashing pensions. Far from proving a reliable source of future wealth, they seem to be picking the money out of our pockets. Above all, many who have worked most of their lives in companies have suddenly discovered that they are curiously impersonal things..." Financial Times 02/24/03

A New Improved Analog Future The recent technology revolution has been powered by digital processors. But that’s not the future. “Weird as it sounds, the road to smaller, cheaper, more energy-efficient consumer electronics may be paved with analog technology. These circuits are built from the same components as their digital counterparts but suck 90 percent less battery power. The difference? In an analog device, each transistor acts like a dial, with a wide range of readings that depend on the sinuous fluctuation of voltage, current, amplitude, and frequency. Digital circuits, on the other hand, use the same transistors as simple on-off toggle switches. Analog transistors capture far more information, so you need fewer of them.” Look for the new improved analog at a store near you. Wired 02/22/03

Today’s Teens – Totally Manipulated? Are today’s teenagers totally at the mercy of the corporate messages that everywhere lie in wait for them? “By sheer virtue of their population numbers, buying power and savvy, teens are not merely in vogue. Entire carpeted auditoriums of middle-age movie, TV, retail and Internet executives devote themselves to tracking the spending habits of these juniors, decoding their preferences, catering to their every mass hiccup.” A new book suggests that today’s teens are a “sad, hollow, cheated generation, thoroughly saturated by artful product placement, co-opted by viral marketing, oppressed by the trickle-down effect of the (now rather pockmarked) "contemporary luxury economy." New York Observer 02/19/03

Sunday, February 23, 2003

In Pursuit Of Ennui A new academic history of boredom brings up some interesting notions about the way we spend our lives. The idea of being bored is actually a somewhat recent one, but the minute it got a name, absolutely everyone had to have a piece of it. As the world becomes more saturated with entertainment options, boredom has actually increased, as have attempts to cure it with, well, more entertainment options. "One of the more unexpected findings is that the best cure for boredom might be... more boredom. Or wearing a polar bear costume. In the war against monotony, people have tried all sorts of unusual remedies." Los Angeles Times 02/23/03

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Connecting Up Study About Who We Are "Do we want the center of culture to be based on a closed system, a process of text in/text out, and no empirical contact with the real world? One can only marvel at, for example, art critics who know nothing about visual perception; 'social constructionist' literary critics uninterested in the human universals documented by anthropologists; opponents of genetically modified foods, additives, and pesticide residues who are ignorant of genetics and evolutionary biology. A realistic biology of the mind, advances in physics, information technology, genetics, neurobiology, engineering, the chemistry of materials—all are challenging basic assumptions of who and what we are, of what it means to be human. The arts and the sciences are again joining together as one culture, the third culture." Edge 02/03

Stifling Creativity - Control Concern "How does an economy best promote innovation? Do patents and copyrights nurture or stifle it? Have we gone too far in protecting intellectual property? In a paper that has gained wide attention (and caught serious flak) for challenging the conventional wisdom, economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine answer the final question with a resounding yes. Copyrights, patents, and similar government-granted rights serve only to reinforce monopoly control, with its attendant damages of inefficiently high prices, low quantities, and stifled future innovation, they write." Reason 02/20/03

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Getting To Know You: Art Meets Science Scientists think like scientists. And artists - well, they think like artists. For scientists looking to think about their work from a different perspective, artists might be a great resource. So take some artists and let them play with the machines of science and see what they come up with. That's the premise behind a year-long project in Los Angeles. "Artists see things with different eyes and allow us to take a step back and reflect on what we do. Scientific research is supposed to be about everything, but even at universities we are pushed to be quite narrow. We lose sight of the big picture, so this is a good thing for us." Los Angeles Times 02/16/03

Monday, February 17, 2003

Emotionally Impressed - Studying Emotion And The Arts "Emotion has always been at the core of the humanities: Without the passions, there would not be much history, and even less literature. Indeed the very word "philosophy" begins with philos (love). But only in recent years have scholars begun focusing, without embarrassment, on emotion itself, producing a body of work that regularly crosses the line between the humanities and the social sciences, with occasional forays into neurophysiology." Chronicle of Higher Education 02/17/03

Mutant Gene Responsible For Human Creativity? Some researchers say population increase triggered creativity. But an anthropologist says human creativity is the result of a mutant gene. "There was a biological change, a genetic mutation of some kind that promoted the fully modern ability to create and innovate. When you look at the archaeological record before 50,000 years ago, it is remarkably homogeneous. There are no geographically delineated groups of artefacts. Suddenly, modern-looking people began to behave in a modern way, producing art and jewellery... manufacturing styles and different cultures." The Guardian (UK) 02/17/03

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Words And Writing - Now In 3D! "For a decade, scientists and engineers have used virtual reality and other so-called 'immersive technologies' to help them visualize complex designs and natural phenomena. A project underway at Brown University is taking that concept a step further by exploring how these 3-D computerized environments could expand our understanding of the written word." The man in charge of the project is Robert Coover, who began his examination of what he calls 'The Cave' of virtual environments years ago, with actions as simple and revolutionary as imbedding hyperlinks in his text. Now, the experiment has expanded to include audio, virtual reality, and other innovations so far afield from traditional 'writing' as to seem more like a video game than a novel. Wired 02/15/03

Saturday, February 15, 2003

A Tale of Two Orwells A real, old-fashioned literary spat is developing on the pages of two of America's most respected magazines, and the focus of the debate is George Orwell, the cynical cuss who penned Animal Farm and 1984 and coined the term "Cold War." In the blue corner, arguing for Orwell's continuing relevance in the age of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, is professional agitator Chris Hitchens, backed up by The New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier. And in the red corner, arguing that Orwell wasn't nearly as prescient and sagelike as he is often given credit for, is Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Louis Menand. Let's get ready to grumblllllllle! Los Angeles Times 02/15/03

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Getting Under The Hood Of Human Hardwiring Are personality, intelligence, gender, and the moral sense in the genes or are they the stuff of culture? A new book argues that "new sciences of human nature — combining cognitive science, neuroscience, genetics, and evolution—strongly suggest that our minds are partly 'hardwired' at birth. This hardwiring likely underlies many human universals—forms of behavior and mental structures shared by all peoples in all cultures, e.g., baby talk and incest avoidance. But it also seems likely that such hardwiring underlies some differences among people." New York Review Of Books 02/27/03

Art Isn't For The Rest Of Us! What's all this about trying to get the masses interested in art? They only spoil it for those who actually care... "The row in front of me was occupied by a family — let’s call them the Odious-Halfwits — who spent the entire evening smooching, snogging, conducting and, literally, jumping up and down in their seats in time with the music. They behaved exactly as they would have done in their own home, making not the slightest concession to the fact that, as part of an audience, they were surrounded by thousands of people trying to concentrate on a masterpiece. The truth is that art, by its very nature, is not for the masses. The attempt to prove otherwise is self-destructive." The Times (UK) 02/14/03

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Philosophically Thinking... Are there ny common traits or beliefs that define philosophers? Do they share beliefs or proclivities or personality types? The Philosopher's Magazine took a survey and discovered a group of philosophiles who thought they ought to find more ways of contributing to the world... The Philosopher's Magazine 02/03

Missing (Seeing) What's Right In Front Of You "How can we look directly at things and not see them? The answer is that your brain perceives the world through what amounts to a mental 'soda straw.' When it aims that straw at one thing, all other objects—even those within your direct field of vision—recede into the background. Cognitive psychologists call this phenomenon selective attention, a neural process by which the 'volume knob' on one set of sensory inputs is turned up at the same time the intensity settings of all other stimuli are turned down." Discover 02/03

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Learning To Improvise "For almost as long as we've had digital computers, enterprising programmers have been trying to teach them how to play music. Perhaps the most challenging remaining hurdle is the spontaneous back-and-forth flow of improvisation. Machines are quick to learn when it comes to rolling out standard chord progressions and following predictable rhythms. But they turn out to be lousy at riffing, precisely because riffing is a much more chaotic sort of pattern, one that relies on intuition more than structure. But as daunting as it sounds, free improv may yet become a part of the computer's musical repertoire, thanks to sophisticated software programs." Discover 02/03

Monday, February 10, 2003

Of Power Laws And The 80/20 Rules Weblogs have been touted as the loosing of democratic speech - anyone can publish, anyone can read. But as there are more weblogs, natural powerlaws are kicking in and predictably some blogs are rising above the rest. "For much of the last century, investigators have been finding power law distributions in human systems. The economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that wealth follows a 'predictable imbalance', with 20% of the population holding 80% of the wealth. The linguist George Zipf observed that word frequency falls in a power law pattern, with a small number of high frequency words (I, of, the), a moderate number of common words (book, cat cup), and a huge number of low frequency words (peripatetic, hypognathous)." Thus too, it appears with the success of weblogs... Shirky.com 02/10/03

Network Solutions... "How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior? As simply as it can be asked, this is one of the most fundamental and pervasive questions in all of science. A human brain, for example, is in one sense a trillion neurons connected in a big electrochemical lump. But to each of us who has one, a brain is clearly much more, exhibiting properties like consciousness, memory, and personality, whose nature cannot be explained simply in terms of aggregations of neurons. What makes the problem hard, and what makes complex systems complex, is that the parts making up the whole don't sum up in any simple fashion. Rather, they interact with each other, and in interacting, even quite simple components can generate bewildering behavior." Chronicle of Higher Education 02/14/03

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Fast Food Nation - Not Such a Cultural Monolith After All For years, fast food - particularly of the McDonald's variety - has been the poster child for globalization and the unrelenting blandization of world culture. But scholars are increasingly disputing "the idea that mass production threatens the existence of particular cultural identities, either abroad or at home. After all, regional cuisines are displaying an unexpected vitality in this age of chain restaurants and global brand-names. Why? Many people, it seems, are content to preserve their local cultures through food that is as processed and mass-produced as a Happy Meal." Boston Globe 02/09/03

The Age Of Irony Is Post-Modernism dead? No - it's deeply embedded in popular culture. "The increasing influence of postmodernism on pop culture is born of our overfamiliarity with the tricks of conventional storytelling, according to Poe. We now have generations growing from infancy bombarded by TV and film that employ narrative conventions. What used to be necessary storytelling devices - a recognizable chronology, character development, emotional identification with characters and situations - are becoming clichés. Fans of postmodernism think of themselves as too educated and too smart to fall for those clichés. Postmodernism is ironic; it's always winking at the audience and making them part of the game, enlisting them as co-conspirators." Orange County Register (KC Star) 02/09/03

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Trouble Remembering? The idea of erecting monuments has seemed so old-fashioned for a long time. "The view that memory is an impediment to modernity has been widely shared by architects, artists, and theorists. The obsolescence of the monument became almost an axiom of the modernist creed. But sometimes aesthetic theory and artistic fashion must yield before the harshness of lived history. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial began to change the prevailing opinion that the monument is dead, not least because it availed itself of a modernist vocabulary to accomplish its commemoration." The New Republic 02/03/03

Changing The Way We View Art Back in 1999, Malcolm Rogers made himself rather unpopular with his staff at Boston's Museum of Fine Art, when he consolidated several departments, and even let a few long-tenured employees go. "The radical restructuring made international news in the art world as Rogers dismantled curatorial fiefdoms and folded decorative arts into American and European painting departments. Rogers' rallying cry was 'One Museum,' where curators would work together to display artworks in different media and incorporate work from other cultures and historical periods that served as influences. Paintings, sculpture and decorative arts would be displayed together so that objects could 'speak' to each other. Now Rogers' revolution is starting to evolve in the galleries." Boston Herald 02/06/03

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

A Virtual Culture Online (And It's Evolving) More than 500,000 people are paying $13 a month to participate in a virtual world role-playing game. They choose characters and interact with other players. An interesting thing has happened - a culture is evolving in the game, an economy is being built, and the complexity of the game system is such that anything a player does impacts others. "The intriguing part is that most players expand their assets and abilities not through violence or chicanery, the modus operandi of a typical single-player computer game, but through virtual market transactions." Economists are fascinated... Slate 02/05/03

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Can 50 Million Music Downloaders Be Wrong? A recording company executive says his industry must change its attitudes about consumers trading music files or else their business will die. As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it." Salon 02/01/03

Monday, February 3, 2003

A Mechanical Duck That Pooped Inventors have been trying since forever to create mechanical devices that move or act like live beings. "The eighteenth century was 'the golden age of the philosophical toy,' and its most celebrated engineer was Jacques de Vaucanson. For Vaucanson, recreating life meant imitating its processes and movements — most famously, its bowel movements. While he entertained audiences with automata that played the flute and the organ, his most celebrated invention was a copper duck that realistically 'gulped' food through a flexible neck and then excreted it on a silver platter. First displayed in 1739, the duck caused a sensation." New York Review of Books 02/14/03

Bloomsbury? What Did They Ever Do For Us? "Bloomsbury, the fragile but oddly resilient cargo of intellectuals, art theorists, novelists and wife-swappers who between them exerted such a sinewy grasp on early to mid-century English culture, represents perhaps the most desperate example yet of the reading public's tendency to admire literary people for non-literary reasons, for personality and peculiarity rather than what exists on the page. Look at what Bloomsbury achieved, in terms of books written and ideas entertained, and with a few marked exceptions (Woolf's The Common Reader, Strachey's Queen Victoria) the trophy cabinet is conspicuously bare." The Independent (UK) 02/02/03

Philosophy Through Story? A documentary on philosopher Jacques Derrida poses more questions than it answers. Can you learn about a philosopher's ideas by telling his life story? "How much can be learned of the life of the mind from the life of a great mind? What can a narrative approach, whether in film or in writing, tell us about the seemingly timeless world of concepts and constructs? Derrida notes that he is constitutionally incapable of telling stories, and so he tells none." Boston Globe 02/02/03

Saturday, February 1, 2003

Have Images Of Atrocities Ceased To Register On Us? Back in the 1930 Virginia Woolf believed that just seeing pictures of the atrocities of war would provoke a strong reaction against the waging of war. Susan Sontag wonders if that ios the case today in our media-soaked world. "Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses: a call for peace; a cry for revenge; or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen." The Guardian (UK) 02/01/03

A New "Self-Tuning" "Microtonal" Piano? A British composer claims to have "revolutionised" the design of the piano. The instrument has until now relied on "only 88 notes from their 88 keys. This limitation has made the piano's 'fixed tuning' unable to cope with the differing scales of Persian, Chinese and Indian music. Mr Smith's device could open up whole new markets for the instrument in places where it has previously been seen as an expensive piece of western furniture. The innovation threatens to make professional piano tuning defunct, since players will be able to perform 'user-friendly' corrections to their instrument themselves, possibly while they are playing." The Guardian (UK) 02/01/03

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