Print Is Dead

New York Public Library Lion

The NYC library, the Beaux Arts-style one on Manhattan’s 42nd Street, the one with the giant lions out front, the one featured in the opening sequences of the movie, “Ghost Busters”. This one is slated for demolishment or renovation, depending upon which side of the debate you come down on. I sorta heard this on NPR. This library’s seven stuffy stacks of books that once dripped with ectoplasm are slated to be closed and their as yet un-slimed volumes are to be shipped as far away as Princeton, NJ. Opponents of this move complain that this flagship Carnage library is being denigrated to an internet café. Proponents claim that these changes will actually save the books from their untimely demise. The crux of the question is what is more important, the collection or the vessel. Where the truth lies, maybe only our ghosts will know for sure.

Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbows End” is a Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel. Set in the year 2025 it postulates many near term scientific advances. One of which is the physical demise of the San Diego State University library. Some Google-like firm has been contracted to digitize the catalog. It proceeds to do this by grinding all of the books to chaff and then parsing the texts using some giant super computer. This is certainly a most dystopian view of the conjunction of the printed word with the digital age.

Not every book is a tome, no matter how old it might be. I am not arguing for the burning of books, but rather their dissemination through digital means. Slate has been disseminating their “lex•i•con VALLEY” podcast. Other than a few past gender related hits that turned out not to be about sex, most of their post have revolved around nit-noids of English grammar. Not so for lucky episode number 13.

In this episode the detective work of history grad student Ben Schmidt is used to determine the historical authenticity of the dialogue in the TV shows, “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men”. In short, Schmidt is able to correlate the complete scripts of these TV shows with his historically contemporary databases of written words and ascertain any anachronisms within the scripts. Schmidt is not the first one to enjoy this sport. Almost from its first episode critics were picking out anachronistic slang from Lord Grantham’s speech. Through technology, Schmidt has raised what once was just a pursuit to that of an avocation.

Some of Schmidt’s discoveries speak to a fundamental shift in society’s mindset. For example the erroneous substitution of the more modern phrase, “I need to” for the more contemporarily accurate phrase, “I ought to”. One area where these TV shows do accurately capture contemporary speech is on the subject of technology. Schmidt postulates that the introduction of new technology is an easily remembered historical event and flows seamlessly into the collective consciousness. The one exception to this rule is the telephone. When Don Draper says, “You can’t put the Jaguar representative on hold”, it would have been more accurate to have had his secretary ask the Jaguar representative to “hold the wire”. Even though the phones then had hold buttons, no one spoke of being put on hold. That came later.

Janine Melnitz: You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Print is dead.
Janine Melnitz: Oh, that’s very fascinating to me. I read a lot myself. Some people think I’m too intellectual but I think it’s a fabulous way to spend your spare time. I also play racquetball. Do you have any hobbies?
Dr. Egon Spengler: I collect spores, molds, and fungus.

World Bird Sanctuary

Here is a guest paragraph from the so-called muse. Today Joanie and I drove out to the World Bird Sanctuary (WBS), while Mark rode in the park (18 miles). There just aren’t enough hours in the weekend to do everything, now that we are in the season of fall festivals and autumn adventures. The WBS was hosting their annual open house and had many animals on display. WBS tries to rehabilitate and release as many of the birds as possible, such as the red tailed hawk released at Shaw Nature Reserve’s Flying Wild program last weekend. Today, animals that could not live in the wild due to their injuries or other conditions were fulfilling an educational niche. Most of the animals were birds, naturally, but they also had snakes and mammals.

There was a white necked raven, native to Africa that had been trained to grab a soda can from an audience volunteer and deposit it in a recycling bin, as well as take dollar bills and put them in a donation box, in exchange for a treat. There was a pelican which had been clicker-trained to follow its trainer for crappy bits. (Crappy as in fish, not as an adjective) There was an albino python, who would not have survived in the wild because of it yellow and white coloring. It is now 14 feet long and weighs 67 pounds, but was clearly all muscle as it frequently required a third volunteer to step in and help. There was also Kubie, the announcer’s cat, who had a cameo role.

While it was interesting to see the birds up close, especially the raptors, after a while it made me sad to see so many birds in cages. I did see some wild life outside of the cages, including a black snake that was 5 or 6 feet long, climbing a ladder. I also saw a pair of downy woodpeckers playing around in a tree, and nuthatches and a chickadee at the bird feeders.

It looks like we will have a full house for Thanksgiving. Rey will drive over from Tennessee, Dave will drive from Purdue and Dan will fly in from LA. Both Rey and Dave have expressed interest in seeing a Blues hockey game, so I guess; we’ll have to see what’s up with that. Dan was curator for the CalArts 2011 Mid-Residency show. It was a lot of works, something like herding 34 very opinionated cats, but then aren’t all cats very opinionated?

“Mad Men”, the TV series that has been raking in the Emmys for several years has come to Netflix online. I tried watching the first episode, but didn’t make it very far. All TV series first episodes are full of exposition, as they layout the series and introduce the characters. This can be a somewhat tiresome chore to have to wade through. I did watch enough of the show to get a feel for the flavor of this series. It is set in a time period that is not so distant that nostalgia, like smoke from a burning cigarette, can’t wrap itself around us all again. Set in 1960s New York City, it revolves about an advertising executive and the people in his life. It doesn’t flinch while it portrays the social mores of that time. At first glance, we used to smoke a lot then, and also treat women and minorities like crap. After writing this paragraph, I think that I’ll give “Mad Men” another chance.