Buildings for Books: Book Mountain + Library Corner

Spijkenisse, in the Netherlands, has a spectacular new library. Books may be on the way out, but buildings for them seem to get better and better (the Danish National Library in Copenhagen, Black Diamond, is also gorgeous). 

The idea of having the books housed within a free standing enclosing structure is also used in the Beinecke Library at Yale (thin panes of marble there rather than glass) and also King George III’s library at the British Library. But both of those are glassed in and a bit forbidding (understandably as they are rare book collections). I love the “pile of books in a train station” quality that this new one has. The café at the very top is a nice touch. Another potential stop for my “library tour” of the world…

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
King George’s Library within the British Library

Brilliant Innovation: Automated Luggage Tags

A fascinating story in Slate about the humble airline luggage tag, making a convincing case that it is a masterpiece of industrial design and brilliant engineering.

Airline tags then and now; as collected by the Smithsonian

Many interesting observations, including:

But crucially, an ABT doesn’t just contain a bar code—it’s also custom-printed with your name, flight details, and destination. That made the global implementation of ABTs much easier, because early-adopters could introduce them long before every airport was ready—a huge advantage when it comes to seamlessly connecting the world’s least and most advanced airports. And of course, ABTs can still be read manually when systems break down.

Nice to know the Air and Space Museum archivist is keeping track of them. Check out the beautiful slides of pre-ABT art (which the article suggests might come back courtesy of RFID).

Engineering as Art

Well, engineering is art…just by different means. Abundant evidence is on display at the Boston Public Library in a exhibition tied to an MIT project about the architecture and engineering of Rafael Guastavino and son, the Spanish builders responsible for a unique kind of tiled vault and dome that made possible many of the great public spaces on the East Coast of the U.S. (The vaulted ceiling leading to the great staircase of the BPL not least among them.)

Information on the MIT project, including the researchers and masons’ effort (recorded in video) of trying to build this kind of vault (for which no written instructions in English exist!)

Timewaster: Where do the States Go?

Via Flowing data, a good time waster to see if you know where the states fit. (Should be ridiculously easy, as they give you the name of the state. But I’m a native mid-westerner and screwed up all of those states, and ended up with a B- minus. Now I realize I should have borrowed my friend’s copy of “How the States Got Their Shapes.

Twitter and Campaigning

Good piece (tipped by Ed Kilgore) on the history of Twitter as a vector of political mis-information. Scientists have been studying its influence in the Coakley Brown election.

As pundits, journalists and citizens traverse the still-evolving social media landscape, scientists are doing the same. Using tools from linguistics, computer science and network science, these researchers are uncovering the digital calling cards of spin. Amid all the genuine discourse, teams are turning up speech dressed in truthful clothing squawked by impersonators, whether a single citizen with an agenda or a well-oiled political machine.

Later in the piece:

The Coakley Twitter bomb was an early case of what Filippo Menczer, a specialist in complex networks and Web data mining, calls “astroturfing.” To the untrained eye, a surge in vitriol against a candidate can appear to be a grassroots outcry, growing naturally from constituent concern or discontent. But in actuality, it’s machine-made artificial grass, or AstroTurf. Astroturfing campaigns (which are prohibited by Twitter policies) can give the impression that a discussion is truly representative of what a lot of people are thinking, Menczer says. This could prompt people to change their minds at the polls, he says, or to not vote.

Apparently Google Bombing is passé. (Although now the first result for Santorum is still not his site, it’s the Wikipedia article about the google bombing.).

Interesting points later on about the Turing test and bots and the suggestion that soon, already?, 10% of our social networks will be bots we think are humans. (Apparently bots get sleep/wake patterns programmed in so people think they are real.) If these bots hook up with the ones that like looking at cat videos, goodbye bandwidth!


Beautiful Words: Ella

About to enter in the whirlwind that is real estate acquisition and moving, so less writing and more linking on the blog.

Will try to go for quality, not quantity. To wit:

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong doing Autumn in New York.

And Charlie Parker for good measure.

(Like so many “American” standards, Autumn in New York was written by a Russian Jew: Vladimir Dukelsky, better known as Vernon Duke.)

Reasonable Words About an Unreasonable Man

We only bury saints it’s said, “never speak ill of the dead,” with John Silber of BU fame, or perhaps infamy, being the latest to get the full hagiography.

The Brainiac blog from the Globe tipped me off to at least one naysayer (I seem to remember quite a number during Silber’s contentious BU tenure, and I didn’t even live in Boston during those years. He was a national symbol of a certain flavor of authoritarian academic leader.)

Brainiac quoting philosopher Brian Leiter’s blog:

Silber, who began his career as a Kant scholar (!), but was best-known as a serial violator of academic freedom as the tyrannical ruler of Boston University for more than a quarter-century, has passed away. It’s curious how gullible journalists repeat the myth that he enhanced BU’s academic stature, and cite as evidence a few Nobel Laureates in literature whom he hired in their dotage. Where is the evidence that he helped create and sustain top 20 PhD programs in any fields that didn’t have them? I’m not aware of any–maybe economics? Older philosophers will recall the exodus from the Philosophy Department in the late 1970s and early 1980s (including Alasdair MacIntyre), as philosophers fled the autocracy. (The Department today is probably stronger than it was then, I should add, but much of that happened despite or after Silber over the last 15 years.) I imagine similar things happened in other departments. He may well have improved the school’s finances (as the linked article claims), but it’s not at all clear he improved the academics. That appears to be a self-serving myth he promoted, and which journalists simply repeat.

If you missed the whole Silber era, there’s a nice 60 Minutes piece on him, which I remember watching on TV.

Classical Revolution: Not Your Piano Teacher’s Recital

John Cage, who seems to be showing up in this blog a lot these days, had some dismissive words about “conventional” classical music. “I am less and less interested in music because I find environmental sounds and noises more aesthetically useful than the sounds produced by the world’s musical cultures….A composer is simply someone who tells other people what to do. I find this an unattractive way of getting things done.” Although, as Philip Clark reports in his wonderful Gramophone piece where I found this juicy morsel, Cage was saying this while also flirting with Maoism, who would seem to be the ultimate in telling people what to do.

Composers do tell people what to do–still leaving wide leeway about just how to do it, but even beyond playwrights, they dictate the content of an experience down to the precise rhythm (never that precise when I am playing the piano or singing, sad to say).

By association, they dictate what an audience in a classical concert setting will experience. Sit quietly, and through some magic of group introspection let the genius of, for example, the Moonlight Sonata wash over you. (Link is to Wilhelm Kempff’s beguiling utterly centered performance of it.)

This is a concert format that’s okay with me, I grew up with it, whether hearing some musical giant like Van Cliburn amaze with thundering octaves in Chopin, or sitting through student recitals that go no deeper than “The Happy Farmer.” Either way, you sat quietly, you worried about when to clap, you hoped that it wouldn’t go over your head, and for every amazing bit, there were two or three, that were let’s face it a bore.

There are signs afoot that this old format is crumbling. Classical performances have been cropping up in bars, and now often include pieces that call for a lot of improvisation. Classical ensembles like “Brooklyn Rider” seem to have the vibe and cred of indie rockers.

A nice piece in SF Weekly’s Exhibitionist blog outlines an effort in San Francisco called Classical Revolution.

It sounds wonderful:

In the fall of 2006, a group of classically trained musicians began playing a weekly chamber session at the Revolution Café on 22nd Street in the Mission. Charith Premawardhana, the founder of Classical Revolution, says that he and his cohorts wanted to take the environments in which they had met and played — basements and living rooms, mostly — and transfer that vibe to a café setting. In the beginning, he says, “it was mostly so that we could have a fun place to play music. But it’s served a lot of different purposes since then. It creates a space for chamber music that’s more casual and fun. People can show up and dress how they want, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

It also sounds a lot like the house parties Schubert composed for and attended, still the best way to experience his chamber music and songs, a few people around the piano.

Gaffes: A Typology

Gaffes by politicians have been with us a long time, but during a lackluster and overlong campaign season, they loom large. (Perhaps it helps that they are usually short enough to fit in a tweet, and thus go viral at the speed of light?)

Commentator Paul Waldman has a nice rundown of gaffes by category, and some speculations on their possible impact. He misses my fave of late, not by a politician, but from another category of paragon of public life, the major league baseball player. Remember Ozzie Guillén? who back in April decided Miami would be a good audience to express his grudging admiration for Fidel Castro.

Ozzie knew better (outrageous comments are part of his brand) but we do now all live in the era of “is this thing on?

The “country” where Reagan probably thought everyone spoke “Latin.”
And another wonderful one from Reagan: “Well, I learned a lot… I went down to Latin America to find out from them and (learn) their views. You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.”