tymshft

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Archive for the category “art”

Perceptive RETURN from Travel

There are a number of people who write about traveling. There are blogs (allow me to single out Perceptive Travel for special mention), books, and other media that describe the sensation of going away from your home to a strange and different place.

However, there isn’t really any emphasis in talking about coming home from travel.

Of course, there are a couple of exceptions.

One that comes to mind is The Odyssey. If you want to talk about a long business trip, look to Odysseus. He went away from home for ten years to fight in the Trojan War, and then it took another ten years for him to actually get home. The Odyssey describes the second set of ten years, but it doesn’t end at the point that he says, “Honey, I’m home.” You see, Odysseus’ long absence meant that he had to take care of some personal business before he could relax at home with his family.

The second exception comes not from ancient Greece, but from modern Mississippi. In a post entitled Vujà dé all over again, Shawn Zehnder Rossi describes her feelings upon returning home after spending ten days in Paris. Obviously she experienced a lot of new things during her time in Paris, but her post described what happened when she came back home from her trip. An excerpt:

At home, I add sugar-free syrups to my coffee. But this morning, the sugar-free syrups tasted completely different. What once was a comfort food addition now just adds a strange taste. And it was a strange moment.

I sat in my armchair this morning to watch TV and read my morning news on the laptop — and I had to get used to it again. My bed felt “new” last night. It is a strange sensation to have so many things I’ve known for so long feel new again.

I guess this means that Rossi is…um…a homer.

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Betamax and VHS: 1975-?

I have not had occasion to mention Betamax or VHS in tymshft.

Well, actually I have.

In 2012, while writing about the narrowing of generation gaps, I wrote the following:

The much-talked-about blog When Parents Text recently published a post entitled Collectables. In the series of texts, a father offering something for an auction that his son/daughter was holding. The reaction: “Who would buy those?”

No, the father didn’t offer a John Denver 8-track tape.

And no, he didn’t offer a Betamax tape of The Breakfast Club.

And a 2013 post quoted from my Facebook rant (a “get off my wedding lawn, you Glasshole” rant):

When I was married, my big innovation was to ask the organist to play “Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I didn’t ask my bride to be to parade down the aisle accompanied by a Macintosh Plus, or with a VHS camera.

Some of the readers of those posts may not have been aware of what I was referring to in those posts. For those readers, I’ll catch you up – although as you can see, it’s too late. (Almost.)

I was oblivious to Betamax and VHS when they first appeared (I wouldn’t experience them until almost a decade later), so I’ll turn to Andrew Liszewski (NOT to be confused with A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz) to explain the beginning of Betamax and VHS:

[T]he first home video recorder to hit the market back in 1975 was from Sony, and used the company’s Betamax format. Soon after that, JVC released a competing home video recorder that was lighter, cheaper, and used VHS format tapes that could hold a two-hour movie instead of Betamax’s one-hour limit—and that was the key.

The idea of home video recording and playing was revolutionary at the time. Why? Because back in those days, if I wanted to see a movie, I had to walk five miles through the snow in my bare feet to get to a movie theater. Cable movie channels hadn’t really emerged yet, and it was rare when one of the three networks would show a theatrical movie. (You literally had to wait an entire year to see “The Wizard of Oz.”) So the whole idea of having a movie that you could take home and watch whenever you want was revolutionary. (Of course, the idea of just taping shows off the TV was also revolutionary, as the industry would soon discover.)

Betamax did not immediately go away, because it claimed technical superiority to the VHS format. In fact, when I started working at Logic eXtension Resources in 1983, all of the other employees had Betamax players. If I had bought a player at the time, it would have made sense to go Betamax. But I didn’t, and by the time I did, VHS had won the war.

Or the battle. Because eventually DVDs began to emerge, followed by streaming media.

So naturally, Betamax died due to all of the competition.

When? This year. While Sony quit making recorders in 2002, it was still making tapes in 2015, but planned to stop manufacturing tapes in March 2016.

Which leaves VHS.

Um…

Funai, the last remaining manufacturer of the VCR, will cease production of the players by the end of the month, according to Japanese newspaper The Nikkei (via Anime News Network). The company is citing a declining market and increasing difficulty in sourcing parts as the reasons behind the decision.

While Funai might not be a household name in the West, it did sell VCRs in North America, under the Sanyo brand name. With the rise in popularity of streaming services like Netflix, the declining market for VCRs might not come as a surprise, but something else might: how well they were still selling. Funai reportedly sold 750,000 VCRs in 2015.

Interestingly enough, this doesn’t mean that VHS itself is dead. After all, Betamax tapes were manufactured for over a decade after recorder manufacturing ceased.

So it’s quite possible that in 2026 you might walk into a store (a physical place where you can buy stuff) and see VHS tapes for sale.

But when the VHS tapes finally go away, the last free bastion of owning media will have disappeared.

Granted, you couldn’t completely own the prerecorded content on a VHS tape; you couldn’t edit it to your liking, for example. But at least you knew that if you bought a VHS tape in Rancho Cucamonga, California in 1983, it would still play in a player in Sydney, Australia in 2026 (accounting for TV format variations). Starting with DVDs, geographic encoding became the norm, so a DVD purchased in North America may not play in Europe. And of course with streaming media, sometimes the stream is shut off and you can’t enjoy it any more.

Kinda like seeing “The Wizard of Oz” only once a year.

Sterling Crispin asks what facial recognition is recognizing

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometrics industry.)

Planet Biometrics brought Sterling Crispin to my attention. Crispin is an artist who explores the relationship between technology and humanity.

Technology is an extension of humanity and an embodiment of the human spirit, rather than an external force that one must mitigate. Yet this distributed life-form pulsing on the surface of the earth has its own agency and agenda. My artistic practice explores the relationships between this exponentially growing techno-organism as it relates to spirituality, human consciousness and impermanence.

One of his projects includes his look at my industry. If you are not familiar with the way in which biometric matching systems (such as automated fingerprint identification systems and facial recognition systems) work, it’s important to note that such systems do not compare fingerprints and faces per se. They take images of fingerprints and faces and then process them, reducing them to mathematical representations that can be processed by computers and “matched.” (See this post for an example of how fingerprints are represented in a system.)

The end result is what interests Crispin.

Theoretically, I am concerned with the aggressive overdevelopment of surveillance technology and how this is changing human identity and how humanity interacts with technology. By technology I mean individual instances of technological devices and networked systems like cameras and software, but also what I identify as the ’Technological Other’, a global living super-organism of all machines and software. Technically, my specific focus has been in reverse engineering facial recognition, facial detection, and image correlation techniques in order to reveal how they represent human identity.

The result, according to Crispin, is something that a facial recognition algorithm will recognize as a face, but that does not qualify as a “face” by our common understanding.

Sterling Crispin data mask

While I do not agree with Crispin’s belief that our dependence upon these technologies is somehow converting them into “animistic deities brought out of the algorithmic-spirit-world of the machine and into our material world,” I will grant that the data masks remind us that our biometric records, Twitter avatars, and even voice or video recordings are not us.

However, Crispin’s project doesn’t really touch on a basic conflict in our thinking about surveillance.

In a reactive manner, Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in many calls for police to always wear video recording equipment, so that all encounters between police and civilians are recorded. (I’ve touched on this before.) Many are elated at the fact that the actions of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were captured by a number of cameras in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the same time, some of the same people who are demanding that the police record things are also demanding that the police NOT record things. Crispin is disturbed by the fact that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system can possibly be used on civilians. Many are disturbed by all of those video cameras out there – stationary ones installed by governments and private businesses, and mobile ones on Google Glass and on our own telephones.

You can’t simultaneously demand that things be recorded, and that things not be recorded.

Tangential postscript – earlier in this post, I referred to something that I wrote back in September. Although it was supposedly a fiction story, there was a brief mention of a character named “Officer Jim.”

She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

There really was an “Officer Jim.” For many years, James Conley worked for the Anaheim Police Department. Among his many responsibilities, Conley was responsible for managing the city’s automated fingerprint identification system – initially a Printrak system provided by my employer Motorola, and subsequently a system provided by my company’s competitor 3M Cogent. After I wrote my post with its “Officer Jim,” the real James Conley passed away suddenly. He will be missed.

But women can’t write manly things

I was reading about the transition from Middle English to Modern English, and ran across this statement in a paragraph about William Caxton:

For the first time, nonprofessional scribes, including women, were writing at length.

We certainly can’t have any of that, can we?

Back in the mid-1980s, I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy Fontana, who was a relative of some people at my church. However, most of you don’t know her as Dorothy Fontana. She is more famous by the name that she used for most of her written work, D.C. Fontana. In the 1960s, when Fontana wrote for “The Tall Man” and other TV series, including one called “Star Trek,” there weren’t a lot of women writing for those shows. Actually, there were; you just didn’t know it:

[F]ew women were writing under their own names. Pat Fielder wrote under her name, but Pat is kind of a nebulous name. Margaret Arman. She was a great friend. Leigh Bracket in films and there were others who were active then. Joyce Perry came along. Today, the women on the CSI’s are very strong writers. So it’s changed a little bit, but a lot hasn’t changed. On the action adventure shows, you still see more male names than female names. But, it’s a little better.

So these days, we have extremely famous writers such as J.K. Rowling. (Joanne.)

And we have all the GamerGate ugliness.

It’s a little better, but not by much.

Visiting an art museum with Anne

This is another post inspired by something originally shared by Loren Feldman. The article from The Independent tells of an Englishwoman who chose to end her own life:

Anne told the newspaper she felt email had taken the humanity out of human interaction, and said people were “becoming robots” sat in front of screens.

She described her horror at the rows of ready-made meals on sale in supermarkets, and her fears about the environmental impact of overcrowding and pollution.

“I find myself swimming against the current, and you can’t do that,” she said. “If you can’t join them, get off.”

As I began to read the article, I was asking myself: if Anne doesn’t like certain aspects of 21st century life, she doesn’t have to participate them. She can do whatever she wants.

Or can she, when everyone else around her is immersed in 21st century life?

Let’s say that I wanted to accompany Anne, a former art teacher, to a museum. I’d probably grumble if I had to write a letter to Anne, rather than just shooting off an email. Knowing myself, I wouldn’t even send her a letter as she understands the term; since my handwriting is atrocious, I’d just type something on a word processor, find a stamp, stick it in an envelope, and mail it. I would then prepare for my museum visit by consulting numerous online sources, probably including some “for dummies” online material.

Because of a combination of factors – these online inclinations, my cultural background, and my personality – I would treat the trip to the art museum as a goal to be accomplished. Prepare for trip. Check. Meet art expert. Check. Acquire knowledge from art expert. Check.

I obviously never knew Anne, but I suspect that her thoughts of a trip to an art museum would include the verb “savor.”

And I don’t mean “Savor. Check.”

Some of this has nothing to do with the technological revolution, but it all illustrates how we make assumptions about how society should be. You should have a smartphone. You should have an online presence. You should believe certain things if you want to work at certain places.

Farewell, Anne.

Are we more vulnerable than the Ingalls family on the prairie?

The Ingalls family, immortalized in a series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, had it rough. If a disaster struck the family during a long winter, they couldn’t just dial up 911 and get relief. If one of the Ingalls kids was going blind, they couldn’t consult WebMD or Skype the Mayo Clinic.

But they did have advantages over us.

If they were sitting at home one night, reading, they didn’t have to worry about a virus sweeping through the home and stealing everything that they – and their neighbors – own. But we have to worry about such things.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.

The team designed and simulated an attack by a virus, called Chameleon, and found that not only could it spread quickly between homes and businesses, but it was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.

And while the Ingalls family could be snowed in, or perhaps blown away by a tornado, they wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with a geomagnetic storm that could cripple millions of people:

Geomagnetic storms can occur with little warning. The worst geomagnetic storms are the result of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in which billions of tons of highly charged particles from the sun’s surface shoot into space toward the Earth and disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field. A geomagnetic storm would reach Earth between fourteen and ninety-six hours, leaving little time to safeguard critical infrastructure after a CME has been detected. NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, located a million miles from Earth, can give a 30-minutes first-warning on the severity of an incoming geomagnetic storm.

A geomagnetic storm disrupts the Earth’s magnetic field by producing geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) on the Earth’s surface, which can enter the power grid at transformer stations and move along power lines, disrupting normal operations. Wild fluctuations in voltage across power lines could cause power failure as relays try to isolate vulnerable equipment. High-voltage transformers could become overloaded and overheat, leading to permanent damage. Old high-voltage transformers nearing the end of their service lives are most vulnerable.

“Pa, the geomagnetic storm’s coming in! Secure the candles!”

“I can’t do that right now, Ma. I have to go down to the bank and find out why all our money is in China!”

Unintended consequences – how the Cold War unearthed an art forgery

The “Cold War” in the second half of the twentieth century gave us more than the fitting acronym MAD (which stood for mutually assured destruction). It also gave us something known as the “bomb peak.” Agence France Press explains:

The “bomb peak” is based on radiocarbon levels released during a series of nuclear tests conducted during the Cold War, after 1955.

One of the secondary effects of these was an enormous increase in the level of radiocarbon (C-14) in the earth’s atmosphere, the [Institute for Nuclear Physicists] said.

These levels peaked towards the mid-sixties and then fell again with the signing of various international treaties banning nuclear weapons tests.

“Scientists call this phenomenon the ‘bomb peak’. As the level of radiocarbon in the atmosphere increased, it also increased at a corresponding rate in all living organisms….”

While it’s nice to know that we don’t have to worry about huge amounts of radiocarbon in the atmosphwere any more, it also turns out that this has helped to settle a mystery in the art world. Fernand Leger was a French artist who, among other things, painted a series of paintings known as the “Contraste de Formes” series. These were painted in the 1913-1914 period. An art collection in Venice – specifically, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – acquired one of these paintings. Or did it? There was some question about whether the painting was an authentic Leger work.

But let’s go back to the “bomb peak.” Remember how it affected “all living organisms”? That also includes the plants that were used to make art canvases.

Enter the Italian nuclear physicists, who examined an unpainted portion of the canvas and determined that it was produced after 1959. Since artist Fernand Leger died in 1955, this made it extremely unlikely that he had painted the picture in question.

I don’t believe that Eisenhower or Khrushchev were thinking about art authenticity when they conducted nuclear tests, but their work helped to solve an art mystery.

An uncomfortable paragraph

Nathan Rabin has written an essay that begins with the following paragraph:

The blond, slight, hockey-obsessed Canadian teenager flirts outrageously with the camera, knowing full well that it is his greatest friend and professional asset. The young man is not just handsome, he’s downright pretty, with a delicate, androgynous beauty that drives the teenyboppers crazy but also, uncomfortably, makes him an object of erotic desire for adults as well. He’s still several years away from being able to drink legally in his adopted country of the United States but he looks much, much younger, less like a late teenager on the cusp of manhood than a boyishly handsome middle-aged lesbian.

Rabin’s essay was posted after Justin Bieber was arrested in Miami on multiple charges.

But the first paragraph (and the following one) are not about Bieber.

They are about Corey Haim, circa 1989.

Haim died 20 years after the completion of his film Me, Myself, and I – filmed after what turned out to be the first of many stints in rehab.

Why Frank Zappa’s alternative to the PMRC wouldn’t work today

Lost in all of the drama of Frank Zappa vs. the PMRC is the detail that Zappa actually proposed an alternative to the PMRC’s record rating system. Here’s how Zappa proposed to address the question of record content in his September 19, 1985 appearance:

I have got an idea for a way to stop all this stuff and a way to give parents what they really want, which is information, accurate information as to what is inside the album, without providing a stigma for the musicians who have played on the album or the people who sing it or the people who wrote it. And I think that if you listen carefully to this idea that it might just get by all of the constitutional problems and everything else.

As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to having all of the lyrics placed on the album routinely, all the time. But there is a little problem. Record companies do not own the right automatically to take these lyrics, because they are owned by a publishing company.

So, just as all the rest of the PMRC proposals would cost money, this would cost money too, because the record companies would need — they should not be forced to bear the cost, the extra expenditure to the publisher, to print those lyrics.

In subsequent questioning by then-Senator Al Gore, the idea was discussed more fully:

[Senator Gore] Your suggestion of printing the lyrics on the album is a very interesting one. The PMRC at one point said they would propose either a rating or warning, or printing all the lyrics on the album. The record companies came back and said they did not want to do that.

I think a lot of people agree with your suggestion that one easy way to solve this problem for parents would be to put the actual words there, so that parents could see them. In fact, the National Association of Broadcasters made exactly the same request of the record companies. I think your suggestion is an intriguing one and might really be a solution for the problem.

FZ: You have to understand that it does cost money, because you cannot expect publishers to automatically give up that right, which is a right for them. Somebody is going to have to reimburse the publishers, the record industry.

Without trying to mess up the album jacket art, it should be a sheet of paper that is slipped inside the shrink-wrap, so that when you take it out you can still have a complete album package. So there is going to be some extra cost for printing it.

But as long as people realize that for this kind of consumer safety you are going to spend some money and as long as you can find a way to pay for it, I think that would be the best way to let people know.

Senator Gore: I do not disagree with that at all. And the separate sheet would also solve the problem with cassettes as well, because you do not have the space for words on the cassette packs.

FZ: There would have to be a little accordion-fold.

Gore’s interjection of the issue of cassettes illustrates where we were back in 1985. At the time, both Gore and Zappa were thinking of vinyl record albums as the presentation medium for long-form music. Record albums, of course, are large, and have plenty of space to include lyrics – something that the Beatles demonstrated in 1967.

However, by 1985, cassette tapes – which were much smaller – were becoming very popular.

And within the next few years, compact discs – which include “compact” in their name – would emerge.

Today, for many people, all of these physical distribution forms are meaningless. Even a Luddite such as myself hasn’t bought music in a physical form in years.

So if your LP cover has become a smaller cassette or CD cover – or no cover at all in the case of downloads – then there’s no place to put the lyrics.

Yet the question still remains – before I buy a song, how do I know whether the contents are something that I would find to be objectionable?

“Go to the online lyric sites,” one may respond. However, the financial issues that Zappa addressed nearly 30 years ago still exist today. You see, many of those lyric sites engage in illegal activity by posting those lyrics.

Music publishers are staging a press conference in Washington on Monday to announce that they have targeted 50 websites with takedown notices for unlicensed song lyrics, arguing that they profit from the copyrighted works by collecting advertising revenue.

The National Music Publishers Assn. said that they will take legal action against sites that don’t remove the content.

For a list of the Undesirable 50, look at the PDF at the end of this press release. Rapgenius subsequently agreed to meet with the NMPA.

Oh, and while we’re talking about lists, I have one question about the PMRC’s Filthy Fifteen – how come there were no country songs on the list? Oh, I forgot – country music is filled with songs such as “I Will Only Consume a Small Amount of Alcohol” and “Cover Your Body, You Brazen Hussy!”

Coolidge-era real estate promotion goes sour

It was a peaceful area. People grew crops by their homes here. The neighborhood received a little fame when it staged a production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in a local canyon. The local residents, along with students from the nearby high school, acted in the production.

A few years later, the area attracted the attention of some investors, including some real estate developers and a newspaper publisher. To promote their real estate development, they erected huge signage, with letters 50 feet high and 30 feet wide, along with 4,000 light bulbs. The signage certainly attracted attention to the real estate community.

A few years later, however, the Great Depression hit, and plans to expand the real estate development were essentially dashed, along with many other business opportunities throughout the United States (and, for that matter, the world).

Meanwhile, the old advertising – the 50 foot by 30 foot letters – remained standing. However, the letters were falling apart, and the light bulbs had long since been stolen. The sign was only supposed to last 18 months, but it took 26 years for the city to finally decide to tear the sign down.

However, the city only tore down four of the letters – the letters L, A, N, and D. The remaining letters – HOLLYWOOD – still stand today, long after the real estate origins of the sign have been forgotten.

For more information, see this tweet, which inspired me to look up this story and this story.

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