Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rightttttttttt...Eddie Bernice Johnson blunders

"Another Congressional Perk: College scholarships for pals"


Ken Silverstein

August 30, 2010

Dallas Morning News

Longtime Dallas congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson has awarded thousands of dollars in college scholarships to four relatives and a top aide’s two children since 2005, using foundation funds set aside for black lawmakers’ causes.

The recipients were ineligible under anti-nepotism rules of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which provided the money. And all of the awards violated a foundation requirement that scholarship winners live or study in a caucus member’s district.

Johnson, a Democrat, denied any favoritism when asked about the scholarships last week. Two days later, she acknowledged in a statement released by her office that she had violated the rules but said she had done so “unknowingly” and would work with the foundation to “rectify the financial situation.”

The OED in print no more?

"The Oxford English Dictionary Definitions of ‘Print’ And ‘Digital’"


Tim Carmody

August 30th, 2010


The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary is the bibliophile’s equivalent to the movie geek’s high-end home theater setup. It’s a mighty, totem-like symbol of mystical multiple-shelf-spanning lexicographic power. But when the third edition is completed sometime in the next decade or so, there might not be anything physical on the bookshelves to show off.

That’s at least what Nigel Portwood, chief executive of the Oxford University Press, told the Sunday Times of London. “The print dictionary market is just disappearing; it is falling away by tens of percent a year.” The Times asked if Portwood thought the third edition of the OED would be printed. “I don’t think so,” he replied, adding that he thought print dictionaries in general might vanish completely within 30 years.

On Monday, an OUP spokesman walked Portwood’s statement back, issuing a statement to the Oxford Times:

No decision has yet been made on the format of the third edition. It’s likely to be more than a decade before the full edition is published and a decision on format will be taken at that point. Lexicographers are currently preparing the third edition of the OED, which is 28 percent complete. No final completion date is yet confirmed….

Demand for online resources is growing but large numbers of people continue to buy dictionaries in printed form and we have no plans to stop publishing print dictionaries.

Now, while this statement is designed to slow down alarmed chatter that the print OED will soon be no more, it’s also completely consistent with what Portwood told the Times. Oxford publishes many print dictionaries apart from the OED, such as the one-volume Oxford Dictionary of English, a two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and even a microprinted Compact OED that ships with a reading glass, plus many others. They could continue to print any or all of these well into the future, even if the 3rd edition of OED goes digital-only. Indeed, Oxford University Press already offers a basic free online dictionary and subscription version with extra features.

Nor is it possible to say precisely so many years out in which digital format(s) the full OED might appear, even if a print edition is published. The online version of the second edition has offered subscriptions for 10 years, and does a brisk business appealing to both institutions and individuals. They’re even relaunching the site this December, creating a new interface and incorporating material from the new Oxford Historical Thesaurus.

But just as few publishers 10 years ago could have predicted today’s mosaic of electronic publishing options, Oxford can’t know with any certainty what format, print or digital, will be best suited for tomorrow’s readers. You could be reading the OED on your 1TB Kindle or sitting inside a virtual 3-D holograph generated by your AwesomeBox MagicLantern, for all we know. So saying “no decision has yet been made on the format” means the opposite of “we will absolutely publish a print 3rd-edition OED.”

If the OED does go digital-only, we could imagine a scenario in which the 2nd edition print volume becomes a still-used legacy reference set for institutions who don’t want to upgrade, like Windows XP’s been for desktops. It might even take on additional cachet, like a vintage record collection and analog stereo system. These are all good things. A new printed edition would be wonderful, too.

I think, though, that when subscribers see the new web version, already augmented by data that can’t be found in the printed 2nd editions, they may not think that the OED’s digital future looks bad at all.

Vintage calculators

"Man Creates Huge Online Museum for Vintage Calculators"


Priya Ganapati

August 30th, 2010


Five hundred eighty-three calculators, 128 brands and one man who has painstakingly cataloged them all.

Emil Dudek, a technology enthusiast who lives in South Wales, U.K., has spent the last eight years acquiring calculators made in the 1970s, taking them apart, photographing them, analyzing the technology and posting it all to his website along with specs and comments on each machine.

It’s one man’s digital ode to electronic calculators. For Dudek, who got his first electronic calculator at the age of 15, in 1976, the devices represent a snapshot in time — a moment at the cusp of a digital computing revolution.

“Calculators were what we drooled after as kids with our nose stuck to the shop window,” says Dudek who runs the Vintage Technology site. “The calculators gave us the freedom and power to do complex calculations.”

Dudek’s online catalog of calculators is an impressive archive of calculators from one decade. Each of the 583 calculators on the site have size, power, case, display information, year manufactured and name of manufacturer listed. The models also include comments explaining the components used, construction and the logic used.

Ultimately, Dudek hopes to catalog the 3,000 to 5,000 calculators he estimates were made in the 1970s.

“What I thought really interesting is that it not just has calculator information but also chip numbers from some of the old ICs used in the device,” says Matt Stack, a calculator enthusiast who recently created a graphing calculator built on open source hardware. ” I like to consider myself an expert in calculators and I learned something.”

For a whole generation of users, calculators were the first introduction to the world of digital computing. The desktop and later pocket-sized machines freed users from log tables and charts. Today scientific calculators are almost a status symbol among alpha nerds.

Dudek’s site Vintage Technology started as a place to showcase his passion for devices that had long been forgotten.

“I am a collector in transit,” he says. “The important thing is the information. The whole purpose of my site is to take obscure things from the past and put information about it on the web so other people who may be searching for that information can find it.”

Dudek combed through eBay, garage sales and estate sales to find old devices that he wanted. Every product on his website is a device that’s he owned, taken apart and played with. Just surfing the web and listing specs doesn’t interest him. He’s as much a critic as an archivist.

Take these comments on the American M-26 calculator from 1975 or 1976, manufacturer unknown.

“The logic is pretty poor with no recovery, disappearing negative sign, negative zero and divide to negative zero bugs, basic percentage function and quirky constant function. My example does not have reset on power-up either. A must for anyone’s collection — just to see how bad a calculator can be,” reads the listing for the calculator on his website.

“I have comments for every calculator on my site and those are the important part,” says Dudek. “I have to explain how the the device works.”

And that effort seems to have paid off.

“I didn’t realize how few companies made the guts of the calculator,” says Stack. “It’s very interesting to see the chips that ran these devices and where they came from.”

Calculators are Dudek’s specialty, but his passion for vintage technology goes beyond that. He has collected and archived ads for TV consoles from the 1950s, an Ediswan voltage stick from 1951, and vintage radios.

But unlike vintage radios that has thousands of collectors and clubs around it, vintage calculator enthusiasts are a small club. Dudek estimates there are only about 50-60 collectors for vintage calculators worldwide.

Yet the competition for old electronic devices can be stiff, which is why Dudek has set some ground rules.

He won’t focus on brands such as Texas Instruments and HP that have fans devoted to their vintage calculators. He will focus just on calculators that came out in the 1970s. He won’t spend money on old calculators that can cost hundreds of dollars and are prized by collectors. And yes, he has to have hands-on time with all the devices he lists.

“You do get people who only collect only TI, HP or Sinclair calculators and will pay hundreds of dollars for one calculator,” he says.”But I am not going to spend $200 on an old HP when I can buy as many calculators for just a $1.”

Dudek has about 200 calculators with him, and he says he’s not an obsessive collector. Calculators that have been listed on his website are often sold to make room for new ones.

“I am not a billionaire,” he says, “and I am not a collector who collects for the sake of collecting. The information is the key, the fact that I own these devices is irrelevant to me.”

Dudek, who spends about 2-3 hours a week on his site, says it’s the e-mails from users that keep him going. Some share their memories of a particular calculator or describe how they used to work at the company that made it.

“I may never finish it, I probably won’t,” he says. “But I believe this information would be lost if I didn’t do it.”

Take a look...maybe you will find one that you owned.

Vintage Technology

Invocation of Plato to some modern issues

"Plato’s Pop Culture Problem, and Ours"


Alexander Nehamas

August 29th, 2010

The New York Times

This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a case that may have the unusual result of establishing a philosophical link between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Plato.

The case in question is the 2008 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down a California law signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2005, that imposed fines on stores that sell video games featuring “sexual and heinous violence” to minors. The issue is an old one: one side argues that video games shouldn’t receive First Amendment protection since exposure to violence in the media is likely to cause increased aggression or violence in real life. The other side counters that the evidence shows nothing more than a correlation between the games and actual violence. In their book “Grand Theft Childhood,” the authors Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson of Harvard Medical School argue that this causal claim is only the result of “bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports,.”

The issue, which at first glance seems so contemporary, actually predates the pixel by more than two millennia. In fact, an earlier version of the dispute may be found in “The Republic,” in which Plato shockingly excludes Homer and the great tragic dramatists from the ideal society he describes in that work.

Could Plato, who wrote in the 4th century B.C., possibly have anything to say about today’s electronic media? As it turns out, yes, It is characteristic of philosophy that even its most abstruse and apparently irrelevant ideas, suitably interpreted, can sometimes acquire an unexpected immediacy. And while philosophy doesn’t always provide clear answers to our questions, it often reveals what exactly it is that we are asking.

Children in ancient Athens learned both grammar and citizenship from Homer and the tragic poets. Plato follows suit but submits their works to the sort of ruthless censorship that would surely raise the hackles of modern supporters of free speech. But would we have reason to complain? We, too, censor our children’s educational materials as surely, and on the same grounds, as Plato did. Like him, many of us believe that emulation becomes “habit and second nature,” that bad heroes (we call them “role models” today) produce bad people. We even fill our children’s books with our own clean versions of the same Greek stories that upset him, along with our bowdlerized versions of Shakespeare and the Bible.

What is really disturbing is that Plato’s adult citizens are exposed to poetry even less than their children. Plato knows how captivating and so how influential poetry can be but, unlike us today, he considers its influence catastrophic. To begin with, he accuses it of conflating the authentic and the fake. Its heroes appear genuinely admirable, and so worth emulating, although they are at best flawed and at worst vicious. In addition, characters of that sort are necessary because drama requires conflict - good characters are hardly as engaging as bad ones. Poetry’s subjects are therefore inevitably vulgar and repulsive - sex and violence. Finally, worst of all, by allowing us to enjoy depravity in our imagination, poetry condemns us to a depraved life.

This very same reasoning is at the heart of today’s denunciations of mass media. Scratch the surface of any attack on the popular arts - the early Christians against the Roman circus, the Puritans against Shakespeare, Coleridge against the novel, the various assaults on photography, film, jazz, television, pop music, the Internet, or video games - and you will find Plato’s criticisms of poetry. For the fact is that the works of both Homer and Aeschylus, whatever else they were in classical Athens, were, first and foremost, popular entertainment.

Tens of thousands of people of all classes attended the free dramatic festivals and Homeric recitations of ancient Athens. Noisy and rambunctious, they cheered the actors they liked and chased those they didn’t off the stage, often pelting them with the food it was customary to bring into the theater. Drama, moreover, seemed to them inherently realistic: it is said that women miscarried when the avenging Furies rushed onstage in Aeschylus’s “Eumenides.”

To be realistic is to seem to present the world without artifice or convention, without mediation - reality pure and simple. And popular entertainment, as long as it remains popular, always seems realistic: television cops always wear seat belts. Only with the passage of time does artifice become visible - George Raft’s 1930’s gangsters appear dated to audiences that grew up with Robert De Niro. But by then, what used to be entertainment is on its way to becoming art.

In 1935, Rudolf Arnheim called television “a mere instrument of transmission, which does not offer any new means for the artistic representation of reality.” He was repeating, unawares, Plato’s ancient charge that, without a “craft” or an art of his own, Homer merely reproduces “imitations,” “images,” or “appearances” of virtue and, worse, images of vice masquerading as virtue. Both Plato and Arnheim ignored the medium of representation, which interposes itself between the viewer and what is represented. And so, in Achilles’ lament for Patroclus’ death, Plato sees not a fictional character acting according to epic convention but a real man behaving shamefully. And since Homer presents Achilles as a hero whose actions are commendable, he seduces his audience into enjoying a distorted and dismal representation that both reflects and contributes to a distorted and dismal life.

We will never know how the ancient Athenians reacted to poetry. But what about us? Do we, as Plato thought, move immediately from representation to reality? If we do, we should be really worried about the effects of television or video games. Or are we aware that many features of each medium belong to its conventions and do not represent real life?

To answer these questions, we can no longer investigate only the length of our exposure to the mass media; we must focus on its quality: are we passive consumers or active participants? Do we realize that our reaction to representations need not determine our behavior in life? If so, the influence of the mass media will turn out to be considerably less harmful than many suppose. If not, instead of limiting access to or reforming the content of the mass media, we should ensure that we, and especially our children, learn to interact intelligently and sensibly with them. Here, again, philosophy, which questions the relation between representation and life, will have something to say.

Even if that is true, however, though, to compare the “Iliad” or “Oedipus Rex” to “Grand Theft Auto,”, “CSI: NY,” or even “The Wire” may seem silly, if not absurd. Plato, someone could argue, missed something serious about great art, but there is nothing to miss in today’s mass media. Yet the fact is that Homer’s epics and, in particular, the 31 tragedies that have survived intact (a tiny proportion of the tens of thousands of works produced by thousands of ancient dramatists) did so because they were copied much more often than others - and that, as anyone familiar with best-selling books knows, may have little to do with perceived literary quality. For better or worse, the popular entertainment of one era often becomes the fine art of another. And to the extent that we still admire Odysseus, Oedipus, or Medea, Plato, for one, would have found our world completely degenerate - as degenerate, in fact, as we would find a world that, perhaps two thousand years from now, had replaced them with Tony Soprano, Nurse Jackie, or the Terminator.

And so, as often in philosophy, we end with a dilemma: If Plato was wrong about epic and tragedy, might we be wrong about television and video games? If, on the other hand, we are right, might Plato have been right about Homer and Euripides?

[Alexander Nehamas is professor of philosophy and comparative literature and Edmund N. Carpenter, II, Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University. He is the author of several works on Plato, Nietzsche, literary theory and aesthetics, including, most recently, “Only A Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art.”]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Circuit boards...art is interpretation

"Vintage Circuit Boards Create Stunning Sculptures"


Priya Ganapati

August 27th, 2010


At first glance, electronic circuit boards may seem as far from art as you can get. But look closer, and the boards have patterns & mdash; horizontal and vertical grids that have a strange, precise beauty to them.

It's the kind of beauty that we perceive in the whorls of a seashell or a grain of wood, says Theo Kamecke, an artist who is taking vintage circuit boards and transforming them into pieces that can adorn homes and galleries.

Kamecke has harvested the etching from the boards, then affixed them to hardwood to create the effect of polished metal on stone.

The results are exquisitely decorated chests, sculptures and boxes.

"Either you get it or you don't, either you like it or you don't," says Kamecke. "I don't mass-produce these, and no one else makes them."

Kamecke uses a technique called marquetry that's popular among furniture makers. But he has added a high-tech twist to it that hasn't been done by anyone else.

"There is a neat aesthetic to it," says Phil Torrone, senior editor at Make magazine and creative director at Adafruit, an online store catering to the DIY crowd. "It has a futuristic, yet Egyptian and retro, feel to it." Adafruit has featured Kamecke as its summer artist on the company's website.

Kamecke's work has found a place in art galleries and has been acquired by Hollywood director James Cameron and Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger.

The pieces cost anywhere from "a few thousand dollars to many thousand," says Kamecke. But each is painstakingly crafted by hand.

"It's unique and going to go away after Theo," says Torrone. "The kind of circuit boards that he uses are not being manufactured anymore."

Now, what can be done with these electronic components? Above, thousands accumulated over a three month period.

Profiteering criminals during English blitz

A salesman in Cutler Street - or 'Loot Alley' - in 1945.

"London in the blitz: How crime flourished under cover of the blackout"

As the 70th anniversary of the start of the blitz approaches, Duncan Campbell reveals how black marketeers, thieves and looters took advantage of the misfortunes of war.


Duncan Campbell

August 29th, 2010

The Observer

The first people to be liberated by Britain in the second world war were our own criminals. As the declaration of hostilities was announced in 1939, the gates of the country's prisons swung open for any inmate with less than three months left to serve and all the Borstal boys who had completed six months.

Next month sees the 70th anniversary of the start of the blitz and there will be, quite rightly, many celebrations of the courage and stoicism displayed during it. What may receive less publicity are the activities of those who took advantage of the confusion to make their criminal fortunes because, as most of the nation pulled together to help each other, others were very busily helping themselves.

One of the first lucky ones to pick up a get-out-of-jail-free card was Billy Hill, the dapper gangster from Seven Dials central London, who would emerge from the war as the leading figure in the capital's underworld. He immediately appreciated what a fabulous opportunity the war presented. "I don't pretend to be a King and country man, but I must say I did put my name down to serve and until they came to get me I was making the most out of a situation," said Hill in his ghosted autobiography, Boss of Britain's Underworld, published in 1955. "So that big, wide, handsome and, oh, so profitable black market walked into our ever open arms. Some day someone should write a treatise on Britain's wartime black market. It was the most fantastic side of civilian life in wartime. Make no mistake. It cost Britain millions of pounds. I didn't merely make use of the black market. I fed it."

Hill also realised that the departure of so many young men to war would soon lead to a weakened police force, as indeed it did. Early in the war his gang staged a series of jewellery robberies in the West End, including one in which they smashed their way with a car-jack into Carringtons in Regent Street and made off with £6,000 worth of goods. Within weeks of wartime rationing being introduced, Hill was selling everything from whisky to sausage skins at £500 a barrel. Despite spells back inside, he emerged from the war a wealthy man.

During the blitz, one standard ruse for thieves was to kit themselves out with an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden's helmet and armband and smash their way into shops when no one was looking. Such was the power of the armband that the public would dutifully help load up a car, believing that the goods were being removed for safe keeping. Some unscrupulous villains used vehicles disguised as ambulances for their getaways.

But while it was predictable that professional criminals should seek to profit from blitz and blackout, what was more surprising was how many others joined them. Rationing, introduced for food and luxury goods, led to widespread abuse by people who would never have considered themselves lawbreakers. In 1943, in one operation, five million clothing coupons were stolen and the government had to cancel the entire issue. By 1945 more than 114,000 prosecutions for black market activities had taken place, sometimes for remarkably minor and understandable breaches of the law.

Prosecutions for breaching regulations were no respecter of rank. Ivor Novello, composer of the famous first world war song, Keep the Home Fires Burning, was sentenced to eight weeks – reduced to four – in 1944 for the fairly minor misuse of petrol coupons offered to him by a female fan. But perhaps more remarkable was the number of people who took part in another growth industry of the blitz: looting.

Juliet Gardiner, the social historian and author of Wartime: Britain 1939-1945, says that, while most people found looting despicable, examples differentiated between stealing someone's property and spotting a wireless or jewellery lying on the pavement after an air raid and reckoning that, if you didn't take it, someone else would. "Looting can be a rather elastic term," says Gardiner. "There are stories about rescue parties going to a pub and having to dig for bodies, which is a very grisly task; one of the leaders of such a rescue party found a bottle of brandy and passed it round his men to have a swig to stiffen their sinews and he was actually sentenced to six months in prison. It was mitigated on appeal, but it gives you an idea of what a broad spectrum the notion of looting could cover."

In the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London, there are detailed records of people's experiences during the blitz. The Rev John Markham, vicar of a church near the Elephant and Castle and a chief fire warden, was one who kept a detailed log. He described how one "volunteer" warden had offered to join the team. "I made a few discreet inquiries and found out that he was a burglar and that his van was full of tools," wrote Markham, "and that he'd made a point of driving all over the borough, particularly to business premises when they were hit, and diving straight into the ruins to find the safe. His only concern with us was that he wanted the cover of a warden's badge as an identity card." Markham's team would take bodies to the crypt of his church and have them guarded by a warden because otherwise people might steal their wallets or wedding rings.

One trader in east London at the beginning of 1941 reckoned that shopkeepers lost more from crime than they ever did from German bombs. When the Café de Paris, which had a supposedly secure underground ballroom, suffered a direct hit in 1941, rescuers were shocked to find that looters were among them, yanking brooches and rings from the bodies of the revellers.

The courts were kept busy. In December 1940, Sheffield Assizes set aside two days to deal only with looters. And the press were in no doubt as to the heinous nature of the offence. "Hang A Looter And Stop This Filthy Crime!" exhorted the Daily Mirror in November 1940.

There was little the police could do to protect wrecked shops whose smashed windows were often just replaced with cardboard or plywood. Police cars were subject to the same petrol shortages as everyone else and pursuits during the blackout were almost impossible. Bill Biggs, now 100, was a police officer in London during the war and remembers spotting three men breaking into a clothes shop to steal suits and dressing gowns. "Clothing was rationed and to buy a suit you needed any amount of coupons," he explains. "If you could acquire some coupons, you did very well."

Some crimes were related purely to the war: for instance, some doctors took bribes to sign people off as unfit to serve. Canny souls with gammy legs or some other disability, would, for up to £150 a time, assume the identity of someone who had received call-up papers and attend the medical on their behalf, ensuring that they were excused service.

Another scam came into play after every Luftwaffe raid. The government paid £500 to those who had lost their homes through the bombing, plus additional compensation for damaged furniture and clothing. One enterprising chap, Walter Handy, claimed to have been "bombed out" 19 times in a five-month period. His luck eventually ran out and he was jailed for three years. The blackout was also the pickpocket's best friend.

Prostitution flourished. The "Piccadilly commandoes", as they were nicknamed, plied their trade in Soho, catering to the thousands of soldiers about to depart for the front. The relaxed mores of the time were reflected in the ditty I've Got the Deepest Shelter in Town, sung by the cabaret singer, actress and impersonator Florence Desmond: "Please don't be mean/ Better men than you have been/ In the deepest shelter in town." It was a golden era for double-entendre lyrics: rationing prompted the cheery ballad, "Everyone's pinching my butter/They won't leave my butter alone."

The people who attracted less opprobrium but also found wartime a bonanza for crime were the "legitimate" businessmen who realised that they could charge the government pretty much what they wanted for vital services. "The war was regarded by many businesses as a fantastic entrepreneurial opportunity," said Professor Dick Hobbs of the London School of Economics, who specialises in the study of organised crime. "The government was seen by many businesses as fair game for fraud, so all kinds of ghost workers would be put on payrolls."

Hobbs reckons that one side-effect of the war was the change in the public's attitude to crime. "It introduced people to crime and the possibilities of crime that they hadn't necessarily been aware of before, whether it was actually doing the crime itself – going out and stealing or poaching rabbits and selling them to the butcher or the neighbours – or whether it was just buying and selling stolen goods."

However, while the "spivs and drones", as the BBC described them at the time, may have had their "finest hour" and the crime rate increased by 57% from 1939 to 1945, there was never the descent into the kind of civilian lawlessness that has characterised so many other wars over the past half century.

Juliet Gardiner says: "Even though looting and incidents of crime shot up during the war, I still think the British people did pull together."

"Inglourious Basterds"...Glen Cinema Disaster [12/31/29]...nitrocellulose film stock

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds [2009], Glen Cinema Disaster on December 31st, 1929 [Paisley, Scotland], nitrocellulose film stock...what's the connection?

What is the connection?--Christian Friedrich Schönbein and the discovery of nitrocellulose.

Christian Friedrich Schönbein
October 18th, 1799 to August 29th, 1868

His discovery of the powerful explosive called cellulose nitrate, or gun cotton, was the result of a laboratory accident. One day in 1845 he spilled sulfuric and nitric acids and soaked it with a cotton apron. After the apron dried, it burst into flame - he had created nitrated cellulose. He found that cellulose nitrate could be molded and had some elastic properties. It eventually was used for smokeless gun powder and motion picture and still film base.

A tragedy in a theater in Paisley, Scotland on December 31st, 1929 that killed 69 children was blamed on nitrate film and in the fictional Tarantino film the destructive powers of nitrate film employed was exploited.

Christian Friedrich Schönbein [Wikipedia]

Nitrocellulose film stock was also used in still film photography as by Anne Brigman.

The Bubble
From series "Book 2, Anne Brigman"
Gelatin on nitrocellulose 4 X 5 sheet film
George Eastman House

Anne Brigman [Wikipedia]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Was Griffin [Wells' invisible man] like other evil creatures?

The "Invisible Man" isn't a created monster or alien invader but a result of his own experimentation. [Somewhat akin to Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.] When I read H. G. Wells' book, I was never really sure what the motivation was other than the experiment ran amok and as usual things disintegrated and the public suffered. It is a film that is not seen very much anymore...doesn't carry the potential menace of a Frankenstein, nocturnal mayhem of a Dracula, or ripping terror of space aliens. The "invisibility" notion, like computer users, can hide the corporeal essence of a being. The potential for deviant and socially unacceptable activity is evident. Is there any real science to being invisible. From a perspective of making matter really invisible is hard to comprehend, but the illusion of invisibility [fooling the perceiver] may be a better avenue. It sometimes depends on definition. Closely related to this are numerous examples of near invisibility in nature--natural camouflage. Animals do have a way of blending in with their environment for protection or a methodology to hide their presence to gather food. And the Wellsian protagonist may do the same.

Here is a brief description of his answer:

Griffin [the invisible man] is having a conversation with his friend Kemp.

"Optical density! The whole subject is a network of riddles - a network with solutions glimmering elusively through. And being only twenty-two and full of enthusiasm, I said, 'I will devote my life to this. This is worth while.' You know what fools we are at twenty-two?"

"Fools then or fools now," said Kemp.

"As though Knowing could be any satisfaction to a man!

"But I went to work - like a slave. And I had hardly worked and thought about the matter six months before light came through suddenly - blindingly! I found a general principle of pigments and refraction, - a formula, a geometrical expression involving four dimensions. Fools, common men, even common mathematicians, do not know anything of what some general expression may mean to the student of molecular physics. In the books - the books that Tramp has hidden - there are marvels, miracles! But this was not a method, it was an idea that might lead to a method by which it would be possible, without changing any other property of matter, - except, in some instances, colours, - to lower the refractive index of a substance, solid or liquid, to that of air - so far as all practical purposes are concerned."

"Phew!" said Kemp. "That's odd! But still I don't see quite - I can understand that thereby you could spoil a valuable stone, but personal invisibility is another thing."

"Precisely," said Griffin. "But consider: Visibility depends on the action of the visible bodies on light. Either a body absorbs light, or it reflects or refracts it, or does all these things. If it neither reflects nor refracts nor absorbs light, it cannot of itself be visible. You see an opaque red box, for instance, because the colour absorbs some of the light and reflects the rest, all the red part of the light, to you. If it did not absorb any particular part of the light, but reflected it all, then it would be a shining white box. Silver! A diamond box would neither absorb much of the light nor reflect much from the general surface, but just here and there where the surfaces were favourable the light would be reflected and refracted, so that you would get a brilliant appearance of flashing reflections and translucencies, - a sort of skeleton of light. A glass box would not be so brilliant, not so clearly visible, as a diamond box, because there would be less refraction and reflection. See that? From certain points of view you would see quite clearly through it. Some kinds of glass would be more visible than others, a box of flint glass would be brighter than a box of ordinary window glass. A box of very thin common glass would be hard to see in a bad light, because it would absorb hardly any light and refract and reflect very little. And if you put a sheet of common white glass in water, still more if you put it in some denser liquid than water, it would vanish almost altogether, because light passing from water to glass is only slightly refracted or reflected or indeed affected in any way. It is almost as invisible as a jet of coal gas or hydrogen is in air. And for precisely the same reason!"

"Yes," said Kemp, "that is pretty clear."

"And here is another fact you will know to be true. If a sheet of glass is smashed, Kemp, and crushed into a powder, it becomes much more visible while it is in the air; it becomes at last an opaque white powder. This is because the powdering multiplies the surfaces of the glass at which refraction and reflection occur. In the sheet of glass there are only two surfaces; in the powder the light is reflected or refracted by each grain it passes through, and very little gets right through the powder. But if the white powdered glass is put into water, it immediately vanishes. The powdered glass and water have much the same refractive index; that is, the light undergoes very little refraction or reflection in passing from one to the other.

"You make the glass invisible by putting it into a liquid of nearly the same refractive index; a transparent thing becomes invisible if it is put in any medium of almost the same refractive index. And if you will consider only a second, you will see also that the powder of glass might be made to vanish in air, if its refractive index could be made the same as that of air; for then there would be no refraction or reflection as the light passed from glass to air."

"Yes, yes," said Kemp. "But a man's not powdered glass!"

"No," said Griffin. "He's more transparent!"


"That from a doctor! How one forgets! Have you already forgotten your physics, in ten years? Just think of all the things that are transparent and seem not to be so. Paper, for instance, is made up of transparent fibres, and it is white and opaque only for the same reason that a powder of glass is white and opaque. Oil white paper, fill up the interstices between the particles with oil so that there is no longer refraction or reflection except at the surfaces, and it becomes as transparent as glass. And not only paper, but cotton fibre, linen fibre, wool fibre, woody fibre, and bone, Kemp, flesh, hair, nails and nerves, Kemp, in fact the whole fabric of a man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all made up of transparent, colourless tissue. So little suffices to make us visible one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living creature are no more opaque than water."

"Great Heavens!" cried Kemp. "Of course, of course! I was thinking only last night of the sea larvae and all jelly-fish!"

"Now you understand me! And all that I knew and had in mind a year after I left London - six years ago. But I kept it to myself. I had to do my work under incredible disadvantages. Oliver, my professor, was a scientific bounder, a journalist by instinct, a thief of ideas, - he was always prying! And you know the knavish system of the scientific world. I simply would not publish, and let him share my credit. I went on working. I got nearer and nearer making my formula into an experiment, a reality. I told no living soul, because I meant to flash my work upon the world with crushing effect, - to become famous at a blow. I took up the question of pigments to fill up certain gaps. And suddenly, not by design but by accident, I made a discovery in physiology."


"You know the red colouring matter of blood; it can be made white - colourless - and remain with all the functions it has now!"

Kemp gave a cry of incredulous amazement.

The Invisible Man rose and began pacing the little study. "You may well exclaim. I remember that night. It was late at night, - in the daytime one was bothered with the gaping, silly students, - and I worked then sometimes till dawn. It came suddenly, splendid and complete into my mind. I was alone; the laboratory was quiet, with the tall lights burning brightly and silently. In all my great moments I have been alone. 'One could make an animal - a tissue - transparent! One could make it invisible! All except the pigments. I could be invisible!' I said, suddenly realising what it meant to be an albino with such knowledge. It was overwhelming. I left the filtering I was doing, and went and stared out of the great window at the stars. 'I could be invisible!' I repeated."

The Invisible Man [Text]

The Invisible Man [Audio]

Dump those naive notions of "motion" science...Pierre Gassendi and Galileo

Pierre Gassendi
January 22nd, 1592 to October 24th, 1655

"Modern students who study movement were found to harbour many of the same naive beliefs as our scientific forefathers. The history behind the elimination of these naive beliefs is presented here in order to help encourage elimination of these naive beliefs. Several studies found these naive beliefs to be held by novice students today. These naive beliefs held in the Science of movement have posed major problems for teaching novice students. Conflicting methods of modelling these movements have been the source of much controversy over time as concepts changed. Considering a conceptual change in history can be helpful in education."

History of Scientists´ Elimination of Naive Beliefs about Movement by Matthias R. Risch

Pierre Gassendi [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Pierre Gassendi [Wikipedia]

The philosophy of Gassendi by George Sidney Brett

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vocabulary list--#2




1. Sloth.
2. Laziness or indifference in religious matters.




The prediction of future events from observations of weather conditions.




A feeling of agitation or anxiety.




1. Mammoth.
2. Having superhuman strength.




Genetically programmed cell death, sometimes called 'cell suicide', which plays an important role in shaping the distinct forms of tissues in living organisms.




Of or pertaining to baths or bathing.




Providing only the illusion of abundance.




1. Specious, deceptive, or oversubtle reasoning, esp. in questions of morality.
2. The application of general ethical principles to particular cases of conscience or conduct.




A. Discreetly cautious.
1. Hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risks.
2. Slow to grant, accept, or expend.




A practice in certain cultures in which the husband of a woman in labor takes to his bed as though he were bearing the child.




No, we aren't talking about drink made from some tropical fruit called a degringol today, nor does this word come from a Spanish slur pertaining to Americans. A degringolade is simply a rapid deterioration, a sudden decline in condition, or a sudden downfall.




A usually Welsh competitive festival of the arts especially in poetry and singing.




1. A gradual disappearance.
2. To dissipate or disappear like vapor.




1. A state of extreme nervousness or restlessness (usually expressed in the plural.)
2. A sudden outpouring of anger, outrage, or a similar intense emotion.




Considering something to be worthless.




Of or pertaining to nature of flowers, having the savour of flowers.




1. Overwhelming and sudden in effect.
2. Pathology. (Of disease) beginning in a sudden and severe form.
3. Striking as with lightning.




1. To flash or dart like lightning.
2. Medicine. To destroy (esp. an abnormal growth) by electricity.




A domestic cat; especially : an old female cat.




Being only partly in existence or operation; especially : imperfectly formed or formulated.




1. The earliest stages or first traces of anything.

2. Extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type.




A prolonged lamentation or complaint; also : a cautionary or angry harangue.




A nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student for which an answer is demanded, the stress of meditation on the question often being illuminating.




1. Of or relating to a sensory threshold.
2. Barely perceptible.
3. Of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional.




Of, relating to, or characterized by faithlessness or disloyalty; treacherous.




Bravado or exaggerated boasting.

Hobson's choice



1. An apparently free choice when there is no real alternative.
2. The necessity of accepting one of two or more equally objectionable




1. A journey to a more desirable or congenial place.
2. The flight of
Muhammad from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution a.d. 622: regarded as the beginning of the Muslim Era.




Relating to the sense of touch; tactile.


The science that deals with the sense of touch.




Worship of the sun.




Being beneath one's dignity: undignified.




Lack of knowledge or awareness; ignorance.




Bright; lustrous.




Of or pertaining to a form of marriage in which a person of high rank, as a member of the nobility, marries someone of lower station with the stipulation that neither the low-ranking spouse nor their children, if any, will have any claim to the titles or entailed property of the high-ranking partner.




1. Yawning, as with drowsiness; gaping.
2. Drowsy or inattentive.
3. Dull, lazy, or negligent.




1. The Holy Spirit as a consoler, a comforter.
2. Any person who consoles, comforts, or intercedes for another.




Love of or liking for women (opposite of misogyny.)




1. Agreeably stimulating, interesting, or attractive.
2. Agreeably pungent or sharp in taste or flavor.

3. Of an interestingly provocative or lively character.




Prefatory remarks; specifically: a formal essay or critical discussion serving to introduce and interpret an extended work.




1. Ornate or florid in speech, writing, or general style.
2. Pertaining to a style of painting developed simultaneously with the
rococo in architecture and decoration, characterized chiefly by smallness of scale, delicacy of color, freedom of brushwork, and the selection of playful subjects as thematic material.




To produce the sound as of the beating of a drum.


1. A sound of or as of the beating of a drum.
2. A tattoo, as of a drum, the hooves of a galloping horse, or machine-gun




Growing on rocks (plants), living among rocks (animals), appearing on rocks (everything else).




1. Ragamuffin, a person in dirty, raggedy clothes, usually a child.
2. Guttersnipe.




1. The first cry of a new-born baby.
2. The cry or wailing of any small child.




1. To touch (a body part) lightly so as to excite the surface nerves and cause uneasiness, laughter, or spasmodic movements.
2. To irritate as if by a nip, pinch, or tear.
3. To move with spasmodic convulsions.




1. Of, pertaining to, or occurring in the evening.
2. Botany. Opening or expanding in the evening, as certain flowers.
3. Zoology. Becoming active in the evening, as bats and owls.




1. Relating to a body part that has become small and lost its use because of
evolutionary change.
2. Pertaining to, or of the nature of anything that is no longer present or
in existence.




An expression of comparison comprising a usually well-known quotation
followed by a facetious sequel.




1. To move unsteadily; weave.
2. To deviate temporarily from a straight course, as a ship.
3. (Of a vehicle) to have a motion about the vertical axis.




Full-bodied; well-proportioned.




1. A gentle, mild breeze.
2. Literary. The west wind.
3. Any of various things of fine, light quality.

New feature at POSP...periodic vocabulary list--#1