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Tagged with “book:author” (9)

  1. Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last - The Long Now

    How stories last

    Stories are alive.

    The ones that last, Gaiman said, outcompete other stories by changing over time.

    They make it from medium to medium—from oral to written to film and beyond.

    They lose uninteresting elements but hold on to the most compelling bits or even add some.

    The most popular version of the Cinderella story (which may have originated long ago in China) has kept the gloriously unlikely glass slipper introduced by a careless French telling.

    “Stories,” Gaiman said, “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.”

    Northwest coast native Americans have a tale about a beautiful woman and young man whose forbidden love was punished by the earth shaking, and black ash on snow, and finally fire coming from a mountain, killing many people.

    It stopped only when the beautiful woman was thrown into the burning mountain.

    That is important information— solid-seeming mountains can suddenly erupt, and early warnings of that are earthquakes and ash.

    As pure information it won’t last beyond three generations.

    But add in beauty and forbidden love and tragic death, and the story will be told as long as people live in the mountains.

    The first emperor of China died 2,300 years ago.

    He was so powerful that he was able to totally conceal the location of his tomb, and all that was left was stories about the fabulous treasures buried with him.

    There was said to a whole army of terracotta warriors and ships floating on lakes of mercury.

    A few years ago a terracotta warrior was dug up in a field in China, and then a whole army of them.

    Archaeologists figured out where the emperor’s mausoleum must be buried, but first they did something not normally done at archeological digs.

    They checked if there might be any incredibly poisonous mercury around.

    There is.

    Gaiman said he learned something important about stories from his cousin Helen Fagin, a Holocaust survivor who taught class in a Polish ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

    Books were forbidden on pain of death, but Helen had a Polish translation of Gone With the Wind she read at night, and she told its story to her entranced students by day.

    “The magic of escapist fiction,” Gaiman said, “is that it can offer you escape from an otherwise intolerable situation, and it can furnish you with armor, knowledge, weapons, and other tools you can take back into your life to make it better.”

    “‘Once upon a time,’ Gaiman said, “is code for ‘I’m lying to you.’

    We experience stories as lies and truth at the same time.

    We learn to empathize with real people via made-up people.

    The most important thing that fiction does is it lets us look out through other eyes, and that teaches us empathy—that behind every pair of eyes is somebody like us.“

    Stories have their own form of life, Gaiman concluded.

    “You can view people as this peculiar byproduct that stories use for breeding and transmission.

    They are symbiotic with us.

    They are the thing that we have used since the dawn of humanity to become more than just one person.“

    —Stewart Brand

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  2. Jeff Benjamin | Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets

    Managing partner of Philadelphia’s celebrated Marc Vetri family of restaurants, for over 15 years Jeff Benjamin has helped make the Vetri brand synonymous with quality fine-dining with his impeccable standards, attention to detail, wide range of taste, and strong work ethic. He also supports many philanthropic causes and nonprofit organizations, including Little Smiles and The Great Chef’s Event, which benefits Alex’s Lemonade Stand. In 2008, Benjamin and Vetri created the Vetri Foundation for Children, a charity that focuses on promoting healthy eating and the childhood obesity crisis. Including observations about reserving tables, what your server truly thinks about you, and what it takes to get kicked out, Front of the House is a behind-the-scenes look at the art of exceptional restaurant service.

    In conversation with Danya Henninger, local editor for, restaurant critic for the Courier-Post and a regular contributor to

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  3. Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

    Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.

    Through his witty and literate books — and his new School of Life — Alain de Botton helps others find fulfillment in the everyday.

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  4. Richard Kurin: American History in 101 Objects - The Long Now

    American objects

    Figuratively holding up one museum item after another, Kurin spun tales from them.

    (The Smithsonian has 137 million objects; he displayed just thirty or so.)

    The Burgess Shale shows fossilized soft-tissue creatures ("very early North Americans") from 500 million years ago.

    The Smithsonian’s Giant Magellan Telescope being built in Chile will, when it is completed in 2020, look farther into the universe, and thus farther into the past than any previous telescope—-12.8 billion years.

    Kurin showed two versions of a portrait of Pocahontas, one later than the other.

    "You’re always interrogating the objects," he noted.

    In the early image Pocahontas looks dark and Indian; in the later one she looks white and English.

    George Washington’s uniform is elegant and impressive.

    He designed it himself to give exactly that impression, so the British would know they were fighting equals.

    Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick was given to him by the French, who adored his fur cap because it seemed to embody how Americans lived close to nature.

    The gold top of the stick depicted his fur cap as a "cap of liberty."

    Kurin observed, "There you have the spirit of America coded in an object."

    In 1831 the first locomotive in America, the "John Bull," was assembled from parts sent from England and took up service from New York to Philadelphia at 15 miles per hour.

    In 1981, the Smithsonian fired up the John Bull and ran it again along old Georgetown rails.

    It is viewed by 5 million visitors a year at the American History Museum on the Mall.

    The Morse-Vail Telegraph from 1844 originally printed the Morse code messages on paper, but that was abandoned when operators realized they could decode the dots and dashes by ear.

    In the 1840s Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry collected weather data by telegraph from 600 "citizen scientists" to create: 1) the first weather maps, 2) the first storm warning system, 3) the first use of crowd-sourcing.

    The National Weather Service resulted.

    Abraham Lincoln was 6 foot 4 inches.

    His stylish top hat made him a target on battlefields.

    It had a black band as a permanent sign of mourning for his son Willie, dead at 11.

    He wore the hat to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.

    When you hold the hat, Kurin said, "you feel the man."

    In 1886 the Smithsonian’s taxidermist William Temple Hornaday brought one of the few remaining American bison back from Montana to a lawn by the Mall and began a breeding program that eventually grew into The National Zoo.

    His book, The Extermination of the American Bison, is "considered today the first important book of the American conservation movement."

    Dorothy’s magic slippers in The Wizard of Oz are silver in the book but were ruby in the movie (and at the museum) to show off the brand-new Technicolor.

    The Smithsonian chronicles the advance of technology and also employs it.

    The next Smithsonian building to open in Washington, near the White House, will feature digital-projection walls, so that every few minutes it is a museum of something else.

    —Stewart Brand

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  5. The Digital Human: Dark

    Aleks Krotoski charts how digital culture is moulding modern living. Each week join technology journalist Aleks Krotoski as she goes beyond the latest gadget or web innovation to understand what sort of world we’re creating with our ‘always on’ lives.

    Aleks Krotoski explores our relationship to the dark, and how reconciling ourselves to it - via technology, can be good for our physical and emotional wellbeing. Produced by Victoria McArthur and researched by Elizabeth Anne Duffy in Edinburgh.

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  6. Saying Information Wants to Be Free Does More Harm Than Good - Cory Doctorow

    Here’s a reading of my essay Saying Information Wants to Be Free Does More Harm Than Good, just reprinted in my second essay collection Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century.

    Mastering by John Taylor Williams:

    John Taylor Williams is a full-time self-employed audio engineer, producer, composer, and sound designer. In his free time, he makes beer, jewelry, odd musical instruments and furniture. He likes to meditate, to read and to cook.

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  7. George Dyson: No Time Is There—- The Digital Universe and Why Things Appear To Be Speeding Up - The Long Now

    When the digital universe began, in 1951 in New Jersey, it was just 5 kilobytes in size. "That’s just half a second of MP3 audio now," said Dyson. The place was the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. The builder was engineer Julian Bigelow. The instigator was mathematician John von Neumann. The purpose was to design hydrogen bombs.

    Bigelow had helped develop signal processing and feedback (cybernetics) with Norbert Wiener. Von Neumann was applying ideas from Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel, along with his own. They were inventing and/or gates, addresses, shift registers, rapid-access memory, stored programs, a serial architecture—all the basics of the modern computer world, all without thought of patents. While recuperating from brain surgery, Stanislaw Ulam invented the Monte Carlo method of analysis as a shortcut to understanding solitaire. Shortly Von Neumann’s wife Klári was employing it to model the behavior of neutrons in a fission explosion. By 1953, Nils Barricelli was modeling life itself in the machine—virtual digital beings competed and evolved freely in their 5-kilobyte world.

    "In the few years they ran that machine, from 1951 to 1957, they worked on the most difficult problems of their time, five main problems that are on very different time scales—26 orders of magnitude in time—from the lifetime of a neutron in a bomb’s chain reaction measured in billionths of a second, to the behavior of shock waves on the scale of seconds, to weather prediction on a scale of days, to biological evolution on the scale of centuries, to the evolution of stars and galaxies over billions of years. And our lives, measured in days and years, is right in the middle of the scale of time. I still haven’t figured that out."

    Julian Bigelow was frustrated that the serial, address-constrained, clock-driven architecture of computers became standard because it is so inefficient. He thought that templates (recognition devices) would work better than addresses. The machine he had built for von Neumann ran on sequences rather than a clock. In 1999 Bigelow told George Dyson, "Sequence is different from time. No time is there." That’s why the digital world keeps accelerating in relation to our analog world, which is based on time, and why from the perspective of the computational world, our world keeps slowing down.

    The acceleration is reflected in the self-replication of computers, Dyson noted: "By now five or six trillion transistors per second are being added to the digital universe, and they’re all connected." Dyson is a kayak builder, emulating the wood-scarce Arctic natives to work with minimum frame inside a skin craft. But in the tropics, where there is a surplus of wood, natives make dugout canoes, formed by removing wood. "We’re now surrounded by so much information," Dyson concluded, "we have to become dugout canoe builders. The buzzword of last year was ‘big data.’ Here’s my definition of the situation: Big data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of throwing it away."

    —Huffduffed by smokler

  8. Margaret Atwood’s Brave New World Of Online Publishing : NPR

    Charles Dickens wrote many of his greatest works in serial form, but serial publishing has fallen by the wayside since his day. Now, it’s being revived online, and Margaret Atwood is publishing a future-dystopia novel called Positron in installments via the literary website Byliner.

    —Huffduffed by smokler