Ramblings & ephemera

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 […]

Reading the impenetrable too fast

From Lee Siegel, quoted in Juliet Lapidos’s “Overrated: Authors, critics, and editors on ‘great books’ that aren’t all that great” (Slate: 11 August 2011): It was like Herbert Marcuse’s advice to a despairing graduate student who said he had spent days on a sentence in Hegel and still couldn’t understand it: “You’re reading too fast,” […]

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 […]

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 […]

William Burroughs on the term “heavy metal” & addiction

From Conrad Knickerbocker’s interview of William S. Burroughs in “The Art of Fiction No. 36” (The Paris Review: Fall 1965, No. 35): I felt that heavy metal was sort of the ultimate expression of addiction, that there’s something actually metallic in addiction, that the final stage reached is not so much vegetable as mineral. It’s […]

Errol Morris on “investigative journalism”

From Errol Morris’s “Film Legend Errol Morris Salutes New Graduates At 2010 Commencement” (Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism: 10 May 2010): I have often wondered why we need the phrase investigative journalism. Isn’t all journalism supposed to be investigative? Isn’t journalism without an investigative element little more than gossip? And isn’t there enough gossip around […]

A great example of poor comments in your code

From Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Penguin Books: 2001): 43: [Peter Samson, one of the first MIT hackers], though, was particularly obscure in refusing to add comments to his source code explaining what he was doing at a given time. One well-distributed program Samson wrote went on for hundreds of assembly language […]

The origin of the word “munge”, “hack”, & others

From Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Penguin Books: 2001): 23: The core members hung out at [MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club in the late 1950s] for hours; constantly improving The System, arguing about what could be done next, developing a jargon of their own that seemed incomprehensible to outsiders who might chance […]

The Irish Church lies in creative – and evil – ways

From Patsy McGarry’s “Church ‘lied without lying’” (Irish Times: 26 November 2009): One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying. According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and […]

COBOL is much more widely used than you might think

From Darryl Taft’s “Enterprise Applications: 20 Things You Might Not Know About COBOL (as the Language Turns 50)” (eWeek: September 2009). http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Enterprise-Applications/20-Things-You-Might-Not-Know-About-COBOL-As-the-Language-Turns-50-103943/?kc=EWKNLBOE09252009FEA1. Accessed 25 September 2009. Five billion lines of new COBOL are developed every year. More than 80 percent of all daily business transactions are processed in COBOL. More than 70 percent of all […]

Warnings about invalid security certs are ignored by users

Image by rustybrick via Flickr From Robert McMillan’s “Security certificate warnings don’t work, researchers say” (IDG News Service: 27 July 2009): In a laboratory experiment, researchers found that between 55 percent and 100 percent of participants ignored certificate security warnings, depending on which browser they were using (different browsers use different language to warn their […]

David Foster Wallace on the problems with postmodern irony

From Larry McCaffery’s “Conversation with David Foster Wallace” (Dalkey Archive Press at the University of Illinois: Summer 1993): Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up […]

7 tools of propaganda

From Roger Ebert’s “The O’Reilly Procedure” (Roger Ebert’s Journal: 14 June 2009): The seven propaganda devices include: Name calling — giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence; Glittering generalities — the opposite of name calling; Card stacking — the selective use of facts and half-truths; Bandwagon — […]

Taxi driver party lines

photo credit: 708718 From Annie Karni’s “Gabbing Taxi Drivers Talking on ‘Party Lines’” (The New York Sun: 11 January 2007): It’s not just wives at home or relatives overseas that keep taxi drivers tied up on their cellular phones during work shifts. Many cabbies say that when they are chatting on duty, it’s often with […]

Now THAT is fantabulous!

photo credit: newneonunion From Roy Kesey’s piece in “Remembering David Foster Wallace” (Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits: 15 September 2008): The first story of David’s I ever read was that one Brief Interview that he had in the Paris Review maybe ten or eleven years ago. For me it was paradigm-altering, quietly fantabulous, in exactly the […]

David Foster Wallace on moving mountains

From Bill Katovsky’s “David Foster Wallace: A Profile” (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: November 2008): “I spent a lot of time as a volunteer in a nursing home in Amherst last summer. I was reading Dante’s Divine Comedy to an old man, Mr. Shulman. One day, I asked him where he was from. He said, ‘Just east […]

Mistakes to avoid in writing

From Pat Holt’s “The Ten Mistakes: Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)” (Holt Uncensored: 17 November 2008): EMPTY ADVERBS Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally – these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. […]

David Foster Wallace on leadership

From David Foster Wallace’s “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain” (Rolling Stone: 13 April 2000): The weird thing is that the word “leader” itself is cliché and boring, but when you come across somebody who actually is a real leader, that person isn’t […]