Category: IDEAS

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Ted White Interview

The amazing thing about Ted White is his fantastic memory. In a multi-hour interview, sponsored by the heroic team at Fanac, the editor, author, music-critic, and guru of science fiction fandom was i

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Beatnik Riot of Washington Square 1961

The recent interview of Ted White, organized by the heroic people at the Fan History Project, got me thinking about White’s early career with Metronome. By his own account, White’s move to New York i

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The Virtual Wave Engulfs Planet Earth

Upon the strange occasion of meeting with some people from out of town two days in a row, I realized the extent to which my social interactions have migrated to the Internet. Here we were, in the 3D

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Memory and Hong Kong

The reality of Hong Kong has always been subsidiary to its unreality. That hilly, rugged terrain, murderously hot most of the year, was infested with things that bite. Over land slithered cobras,

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Solstice is the shortest day

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of year. It was a rainy day, with temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit here in New England. Global warming, being the long term rise of temp

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The Magic Flight of Thought

  Today I was talking to my sister (Happy Birthday, Chi!) and we were chatting about the crazy speed of new technology. How strange it is to collapse our life experience into a series of new devices and how they affected us, and then try to imagine what it is like to be born digital, with all this shiny stuff that has no historical context. As Peter Goldman said: “Between the twitterverse and the 24-hour cable news cycle our history keeps disappearing.” Now, everything is instantaneous, all knowledge is free, one-to-one communication is a such a waste of time… “duh! old timer, how can you be so passé.” This got me thinking about the impact of earlier communication technologies and what they were like in the popular culture before they were taken for granted. What was it like 100 years ago, when the telephone was first established as a fixture of modern life? In 1880, there had only been 108,000 telephones in use, by 1890 there were 467,000 telephones installed. Think of the rapid change as this newfangled device penetrated American society. 1900 600,000 (for 76,000,000 people) reaching 0.79% of the population 1905 2,200,000 (for 83,000,000 people) reaching 2.6% of the population 1910 5,800,000 (for 92,000,000 people) reaching 6.3% of the population During the first 25 years of its existence the telephone was physically accessible to less than 1% of the population, but that number nearly tripled between 1900 and 1905, then doubled again, between 1905 and 1910. This exponential growth, and the exposure of greater and greater numbers of people to this technology — which could project their voice instantly to almost anywhere — must indeed have seemed like magic, like something from mythology come to life! So it was not surprising to find an advertisement in the 1914 Farm Journal in which the American Telephone and Telegraph Company actually portrayed their service in mythological terms. AT&T was established only nine years earlier, in 1885, and by 1914 they had been riding a totally unparalleled explosion of telephony…and yet, from their point of view, they had more than 90% of the population left to capture as customers! How to capture their imagination and then their money? That must have been the operating question for the AT&T publicity machine of the time. And here is what they came up with:

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A Mirror Full of Noir: Tyador Borlú Gets Lost

Just finished China Miéville’s _The City and the City_, a very satisfying, even inspiring, book, rich with metaphor and symbolism. It is like a film noir, set in a mythical Eastern European city — I’m convinced it is partly based on Prague — where populations living in mutually incompatible paradlgms “unsee“ each other. The beauty of this idea is that, (quite beyond the metaphor,) it could be almost any *real* city; with populations that are utterly invisible to one another. Old and young, rich and poor, leftist and fascist, black and white: there are, in fact, far too many axes of unseeing in our everyday lives…