Words on Printed Books: “Not Dead Yet”

Laura Miller of Salon weighs in on the death of print:

If print could talk, it would surely be telling the world, Mark Twain-style, that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. The market for e-books grew exponentially after Amazon introduced the Kindle, and it’s still one of the most fascinating and unpredictable sectors of a once hidebound industry. But the early-adapter boom is showing signs of flagging and the growth of the e-book market appears to be leveling out. E-books are definitely here to stay, but it seems that many, many readers — a threefold majority, in fact — still prefer print.

Unlike some, her pro-book argument doesn’t hinge on bashing e-readers or self-publishing, per se. She sees perhaps a stable symbiosis between a certain flavor of indie book store and the rush of technology.

Misses what is for me the big problem, e-readers are still mostly a crappy user experience for many of the varied things you can do with a printed book. (CF, Dorothy Parker: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”) But at some point, at least the UX will get better, if not the projectile possibilities.

Also in the “paper=good” category: there’s a kind of wonderfully wacky ad campaign going, Paper Because, that I first saw in the print edition of the NYTimes. It comes from Domtar, a pulp and paper company. “Domtar is committed to the responsible use of paper.” (Please print responsibly, no laser printing if you’ve been drinking!)

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Priceline founder Jay Walker’s library. A little more appealing than a bunch of computers and e-readers somehow.  (Photo links to a video tour on Vimeo, more or less library porn; NSFB–not safe for bibliophiles).
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Funny Words: Automatic Poetry

Google Earth has already created some stunning, if accidental, photography. Now there is a new genre of Google Autocomplete poetry.  Huffington Post has the scoop.

The form has its limitations, although it will presumably be a boon to ribald verse, given how often those terms are searched.

Still, this one was charming:  o-GOOGLE-POETRY-570

And here’s one I did one myself, somewhat meta, I grant you. Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 8.58.28 AMI quite like “anaphora is no noiseless patient spider.” If I had a spider, I would start calling her Emily Anaphora at once. But on the whole I’ll stick to Wallace Stevens,  Frank O’Hara, and the like.

Nifty Web-Based Presentation Tool

I stumbled on a nice presentation format that uses HTML and javascript, and is a good web-based substitute for the hassle of PowerPoint on Keynote. Makes presentations via conference call easier, as you don’t have send everybody massive files and wait for them to arrive.

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You can download the framework and install it if you are that type person, or you can use use the editor that the developer/designer Hakim El Hattab created http://www.rvl.io/. Nice typography too.

Beautiful Music: The Mysterious Barricades

For today, a bit of haunting music by François Couperin (1668 – 1733), “The Mysterious Barricades,” a keyboard piece from his vast output, four volumes of harpsichord music, each with many “orders” of individual works. He taught extensively, and used these pieces to demonstrate keyboard and compositional techniques. (It’s striking that so much extraordinary keyboard music over the centuries was pedagogical in origin: in addition to lots of French baroque examples like this, there Bach’s WTC I and II, the Chopin Études, the Four Opus 7, Études of Stravinsky, and sets for children by Tchaikovsky and Schumann. Easily a whole program’s worth of first rate material.)

But back to Couperin: this is a rondo, meaning a musical structure that sets out one idea, then introduces new material, comes back to the first idea, another new idea, return, etc. Kind of like life.  This one has a gentle motor like rhythm hidden within, and according to an unusually full wikipedia entry for a piece of baroque music, evokes the (unknown to Couperin) world of fractal mathematics.

That’s a stretcher, but, it does seem other worldly. Here’s the piano maniac Georges Cziffra playing it. (For some reason there is a two and a half minute tail on the video.)

And then there is Igor Kipnis playing it on the harpsichord,

Kipnis’ is the first recording I ever heard of the piece, on an LP 30 years ago, and I am still struck by how the structure of piece comes through in his playing. Using the lute stop on for contrast is so touching somehow, as is the elegance of his ornaments–a big deal, no the big deal of 17th & 18th century music, and much clearer on this instrument than the piano.

As for Couperin’s enigmatic title, for me it evokes passages as you move back and forth to the theme, as well as motion down a road. But what might it have meant to Magritte, who used the same title for this artwork?

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The Margritte example was found via an engrossing site about the piece by a philosophy prof/composer who is evidently even more smitten with the piece than I. He has, among other things, many examples of visual art related to the piece, and the factoid that it shows up as background music for Brad Pitt in Tree of Life.

Dilbertian Words: Companies Without Management Structure

No Managers? Even Scott Adams is skeptical, but then realizes it’s how his own start up is working. From his blog:

Valve says the secret of their management-free environment is hiring good people. That sounds right to me. We don’t have any weak contributors in our start-up so we have never felt a need for management.

One of the interesting aspects of better global communications, better access to information, and better mobility is that collectively it reduces the risk of making hiring mistakes. When employers were limited to hiring people who lived nearby, and the only information at their disposal was lie-filled resumes, every growing company would necessarily absorb a lot of losers. But now that entrepreneurs can hire the best people from anywhere in the world, we have for the first time in human history the ability to create teams so capable they require no management structure. That’s new.

I think the manager-free model only works for a business that has high margins and depends more on creating hits than cutting costs. The video game business fits that model, as do many Internet businesses. And in both cases entrepreneurs can hire from anywhere in the world.

Having never worked in a place that was (at least intentionally) manager-free, I can’t rely on personal experience to judge. Although I have been a advocate of “hire good people and get out of their way.” And certainly am with Scott when it comes to management existing, at least in part, to solve its own mistakes. Tip of the hat to Daring Fireball for the link.

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There was a time when I didn’t really “get” Dilbert. Alas, many years have past since that lovely idyll.

Pictures: Maynard Parker Invents Mid-Century Style

Tipped by a review in TLS of a new monograph, I learned for the first time about Maynard L. Parker, House Beautiful‘s resident residential photographer, and perhaps the person who created the idea of what the mid-century middle class American home should look like (much like Julia Child invented, or at least curated, what should be for dinner).

From the review (paywall, sorry):

The dust jacket of Maynard L. Parker: Modern photography and the American dream shows, under a flawless sky, a young woman opening a low gate in a white picket fence to enter a rose-bordered garden overlooking the ocean. Paving stones lead to a a patio with a table surrounded by yellow and blue chairs under a large, tilted parasol. There’s a white scottie dog sitting quietly in the middle distance and, beyond that, a sun-lounger in the shade, next to a clapboard summer house. The woman is wearing a white blouse with red stitching. In one hand she has a small leather purse, in the other some fresh-cut hibiscus. There’s nobody else around. It’s like heaven.

“M. Chaffin residence, Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach, California, 1948” is one of almost 60,000 negatives, transparencies, black-and-white and colour prints forming the magnificent Maynard L. Parker archive at the Huntingdon Library. Parker (1900-76) worked for magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest and Good Housekeeping, but it is with House Beautiful, edited by Elizabeth Gordon, that he is most associated and for which he did his best work. Parker’s images – dramatically lit, carefully styled and powerfully seductive – set the agenda for American domestic design for generations, and his influence persists. This monograph, the first study of his life and work, is as wonderful as it is overdue.

The Huntington Library has all (or at least a vast amount) of his collection online, with an interesting video slideshow introducing it. Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 11.11.01 PMA point that struck me was how powerful the “anti-modern” stance of the magazine (and by implication a whole raft of designers and patrons) was. No Farnsworth House for them.

Most of it dates pretty poorly, but a couple, this kitchen which must have been aggressively modern once, and the odd angles of this the living room below, seem practically like short stories. In the case of the living room, by John Cheever, and not ending well.

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I can’t say that the collection counts as design inspiration exactly, but it is a weirdly engaging way to waste an hour or two. Did anybody really live like this?

Beautiful Music: Abundant Bach

Screen Shot 2013-03-23 at 12.41.06 PMWQXR, New York’s classical music station, is doing 10 days of Bach, complete works or nearly (complete with Bach is a complicated question, as he wrote so much and arranged the works of others).  The station’s festival is called Bach 360 and started on Bach’s 228th birthday, March 21st. I’ve been catching bits of it, including this haunting Duet (the first of 4). New to me, despite years of playing Bach first as a student and now as an amateur pianist. It’s a bit like one of his two-part inventions, and striking for how the frankly minimal melodic content emerges from the maze of counterpoint and yet is still so affecting.

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A couple of other things on QXR if classical music is your thing, a story about “Bach in the Subways,” which is another birthday celebration.

And, of course, they noted the passing of the great Met mezzo Risë Stevens, putting up a podcast of a radio interview with her by George Jellinek from his much missed show, “The Vocal Scene,” in 1983.

Getting in Shape for National Poetry Month

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 2.19.09 PMApril looms, and it’s going to be all poetry all the time for me, at least I hope.

In advance, I’ve always imagined that it was this text (rather than  T.S. Eliot’s famous line) that clinched the celebration being in April.

The opening of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from the Ecker and Crook translation.

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought
Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout
Through every vein with liquid of such power
It brings forth the engendering of the flower;
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown
Through every field and forest, urging on
The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,
His second half course through the Ram now run,
And little birds are making melody
And sleep all night, eyes open as can be
(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),
On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.
The palmers long to travel foreign strands
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire’s end
In England, folks to Canterbury wend:
To seek the blissful martyr is their will,
The one who gave such help when they were ill.

Now in that season it befell one day
In Southwark at the Tabard where I lay,
As I was all prepared for setting out
To Canterbury with a heart devout,
That there had come into that hostelry
At night some twenty-nine, a company
Of sundry folk whom chance had brought to fall
In fellowship, for pilgrims were they all
And onward to Canterbury would ride.

And if you want to get your “Olde English” on, the British Library has lots of resources, including this image from c. 1450.
First page of the Cantebury Tales
Could you make out that first line?

Ere begynneth the book of tales of Canterburye compiled by Geffraie Chaucer of Brytayne chef poete.

Chef poete, now that’s a title!

Beautiful Picture: Toyo Ito wins the Pritzker

Japanese architect Toyo Ito garnered the field’s highest honor this week, which sent me looking for some of his buildings online.

A couple of finds:

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The Tama Art University Library. (Heavy materials used lightly, and evoking that other great library, subject of an exhibit at MOMA up now, the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. )

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I’m naturally interested in how an iconoclast takes on a commission of an opera house, and here is a photo of a model of Ito’s Taichung Metropolitan Opera House in Taiwan (now under construction).

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Hard to get my head around where the theater itself will be and how will it will work, but fascinating in itself that this isn’t obvious.

Some nice words from the Pritzker jury in Ito’s citation:

Although Mr. Ito has built a great number of buildings in his career, in my view, he has been working on one project all along, — to push the boundaries of architecture. And to achieve that goal, he is not afraid of letting go what he has accomplished before.” — Yung Ho Chang, Member of the Pritzker Jury for 2013