Ramblings & ephemera

A woman’s wallet returned after 60 years

From AP’s “Woman gets wallet back after 60 years” (7 February 2007): CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Joan Martinek Barnes never imagined she would see her wallet again after she lost it at McKinley High School 60 years ago. But the red alligator grain wallet turned up Monday when a building engineer tracked down a broken […]

The technical details of executions by hanging

From Daniel Engber’s “How Do Hangings Work?” (Slate: 7 November 2006): The last major innovation in hanging occurred toward the end of the 19th century, when executioners first developed a systematic way to calculate the drop. Once these “drop tables” were published, a hangman knew that he’d need 7 feet for a slight, 120-pound criminal, […]

Umberto Eco on books

From Umberto Eco’s “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” (Al-Ahram Weekly: 20—26 November 2003): Libraries, over the centuries, have been the most important way of keeping our collective wisdom. They were and still are a sort of universal brain where we can retrieve what we have forgotten and what we still do not […]

Problems with ID cards

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 April 2004: My argument may not be obvious, but it’s not hard to follow, either. It centers around the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails. It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by […]

How changes in glass changed working conditions

From Nicholas Carr’s “(re)framed” (Rough Type: 3 June 2011): I’m reminded of an interesting passage in the book Glass: A World History: As we have seen, one of the rapid developments in glass technology was the making of panes of window glass, plain and coloured, which was particularly noticeable in the northern half of Europe […]

Saul Bass changed how audiences view movie credits

From Christian Annyas’s “Saul Bass Title Sequences“: “PROJECTIONISTS – PULL CURTAIN BEFORE TITLES”. This is the text of a note that was stuck on the cans when the reels of film for “The Man With the Golden Arm” arrived at US movie theatres in 1955. Until then the credits were referred to as ‘popcorn time.’ […]

David Pogue’s insights about tech over time

From David Pogue’s “The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech” (The New York Times: 25 November 2010): As tech decades go, this one has been a jaw-dropper. Since my first column in 2000, the tech world has not so much blossomed as exploded. Think of all the commonplace tech that didn’t even exist 10 […]

Unix: An Oral History

From ‘s “Unix: An Oral History” (: ): Multics Gordon M. Brown … [Multics] was designed to include fault-free continuous operation capabilities, convenient remote terminal access and selective information sharing. One of the most important features of Multics was to follow the trend towards integrated multi-tasking and permit multiple programming environments and different human interfaces […]

The widespread corruption at the heart of Greek culture

From Michael Lewis’s “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds” (Vanity Fair: 1 October 2010): In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. […]

Matthew Arnold’s 4 words that describe Homer

From Edwin Frank & Andrew McCord’s interview of Robert Fagles in “The Art of Translation No. 2” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151): I think it’s through that effort, trying to turn Homer into poetry, that we just may come a little closer to Matthew Arnold’s unforgettable touchstones—Homer is simple, direct, swift, and above […]

Robert Fagles on the dramatic sense of Homer

From Edwin Frank & Andrew McCord’s interview of Robert Fagles in “The Art of Translation No. 2” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151): As I read Homer, he’s a remarkable combination of the timeless, immortal phrase, and of the timely, too, and he’s meant to be heard, not read. “Homer makes us Hearers”—in Pope’s […]

Shelby Foote on the poor writing by academic historians

From Carter Coleman, Donald Faulkner, & William Kennedy’s interview of Shelby Foote in “The Art of Fiction No. 158” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151): Now it sounds as if I’m making an all-out attack against academic historians. I am making some attack on them for their lack of concern about learning how to […]

Shelby Foote on how Faulkner one-upped Clark Gable

From Carter Coleman, Donald Faulkner, & William Kennedy’s interview of Shelby Foote in “The Art of Fiction No. 158” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151): You’ve heard that thing about Faulkner and Clark Gable haven’t you? Howard Hawks was taking Faulkner out on a quail shoot and came by to pick him up a […]

Philip Larkin on modernism

From Robert Phillips’s interview of Philip Larkin in “The Art of Poetry No. 30” (The Paris Review: Summer 1982, No. 84): It seems to me undeniable that up to this century literature used language in the way we all use it, painting represented what anyone with normal vision sees, and music was an affair of […]

Ray Bradbury on an encounter that changed his life

From Sam Weller’s interview of Ray Bradbury in “The Art of Fiction No. 203” (The Paris Review: Spring 2010, No. 192): Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined […]

Ray Bradbury on Edgar Rice Burroughs

From Sam Weller’s interview of Ray Bradbury in “The Art of Fiction No. 203” (The Paris Review: Spring 2010, No. 192): But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—[Edgar Rice] Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world. INTERVIEWER Why do you […]

John Steinbeck on Ernest Hemingway

From Nathaniel Benchley’s interview of John Steinbeck in “The Art of Fiction No. 45” (The Paris Review: Fall 1969, No. 48): The first thing we heard of Ernest Hemingway’s death was a call from the London Daily Mail, asking me to comment on it. And quite privately, although something of this sort might be expected, […]

Anthony Burgess on satire

From John Cullinan’s interview of Anthony Burgess in “The Art of Fiction No. 48” (The Paris Review: Spring 1973, No. 56): Satire is a difficult medium, ephemeral unless there’s tremendous vitality in the form itself—like Absalom and Achitophel, Tale of a Tub, Animal Farm: I mean, the work has to subsist as story or poetry […]

The Hacker Ethic

From Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Penguin Books: 2001): 40-46: Still, even in the days of the TX-0 [the late 1950s], the planks of the platform were in place. The Hacker Ethic: Access To Computers — And Anything Which Might Teach You Something About The Way The World Works — Should Be […]

Luther & Poe both complained about too many books

From Clay Shirky’s “Does The Internet Make You Smarter?” (The Wall Street Journal: 5 June 2010): In the history of print … complaints about distraction have been rampant; no less a beneficiary of the printing press than Martin Luther complained, “The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure of limit to […]