||This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison,
Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the
winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were
AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.
In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever,
and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything
that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool
of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the
site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc.
May 17, 2012The State of the Future
President Obama made a small verbal gaffe the other day. Politicians have to talk too much and they make mistakes. Needless to say the Wall Street Journal was quick to pick up on it, in an editorial yesterday. Obama was talking about DARPA (the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) that invented the Internet, and said that without government initiative, "there's no Facebook, there's no Microsoft, there's no Google if we hadn't made this common investment in our future." The problem here of course is that Microsoft was formed in 1975, when the Internet was still just a gleam in some general's eye, and it was another 20 years before Microsoft launched its first browser.
In scoring this cheap political point, the Journal missed the real story. Scientists need to be able to pursue as many avenues as they can; the one that pays off will change the world. The military invented the printed circuit board, and then made it practical for consumer use by inventing a way to mass-produce it; meanwhile, during the Eisenhower years, DARPA was created, and was able to do as it pleased, until legislation in the 1980s (that is, during the Reagan years) directed that DARPA should confine itself strictly to military innovation. Nowadays a larger portion of its budget goes toward improving existing technologies, rather than fundamental research, making massive breakthroughs much less likely. The Journal wrote yesterday that DARPA is engaged in funding research, but that's not as true as it once was.
The Pentagon's budget had become so huge and complex that nobody understands it, and meanwhile Congress emasculated the one part of it that was changing the world. In the private sector, it wasn't enterpreneurs who invented the transistor, but Bell Labs, another bunch of scientists working in an environment that no longer exists. Today's venture capital companies aren't interested in innovation but in a quick return, and they don't want scientific advice, because they're all lawyers and MBA grads, like the Congressmen.
Other countries are falling all over themselves to provide encouragement of innovation. There is less and less reason for the brightest Chinese and Indian students to come here to study engineering, because their own countries are making it possible.
What will be the next breakthrough? Cold fusion? Free energy? Going to Mars? I don't know, but it isn't likely to be Americans doing it.
May 17, 2012Time to start thinking, indeed
I'm still reading Edward Luce's wonderful book, Time To Start Thinking, a valuable summary of what's gone wrong with enterpreneurship, investment, education and innovation in the USA. It's a difficult book to use, though, because to my astonishment it doesn't have an index. The Atlantic Monthly Press should be ashamed of itself.
May 17, 2012In today's WSJ
I'm wallowing in print, as I do each morning, and I come across this:
May has been a bad month for President Obama's re-election campaign. Let's review some of the lowlights.
Without looking at the byline I know it's Karl Rove, whose time is up, wasting space with his ineffectual sniping. I should waste time on it? I think not. Rove on Thursday is the only thing in the paper I don't read.
May 17, 2012I'm catching up
White acts had covered black tunes from the beginning, of course. Glenn Miller's "In The Mood", one of the biggest hits of the last century, came from a black band, arrangement and all. In the early '50s Georgia Gibbs covered LaVerne Baker's hits on the R&B chart, and cleaned up Hank Ballard's "Work With Me Annie", and its answer song "Roll With Me Henry", and had a huge hit with "Dance With Me Henry", reaching the Billboard pop chart in March 1955. But the kids were listening to black radio, and searching under the covers to find the originals, and in July everything changed for good.
Pat Boone was a sweet balladeer who had a hit with Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame". Domino had already had 13 big hits on the R&B chart, and his "Ain't That A Shame" was no. 1 on that chart for eleven weeks, when to everyone's surprise and delight, his own record reached the top ten on the white chart as well. There was no one more likely than the genial Fats, with his warm baritone and his New Orleans accent, to tear down that wall; and the next month, from St Louis but recording in Chicago, came Chuck Berry and his "Maybelline", an exciting romp about a car and a girl.
In early 1956 Boone hit with Little Richard's raunchy "Tutti-Frutti", later admitting that he hadn't known what the words meant. We don't know what he thought a "booty" was. Anyway it was too late; Richard Penniman's own disc was a hit on the white chart in the same month, and a culutral battle began as kids divided themselves up between who bought Richard and who bought Pat, and Baboon (guess which camp I was in) soon went back to ballads. The lunatics had taken over the asylum.
A nice young person who works at Barnes & Noble and loves music had never heard of Fats Domino. I offered to make her a compilation disc, and that was a while ago, but now I have left Barnes & Noble, and I have time to work on my to-do list. Adele doesn't know it, but her CD is in post-production. I've packed up a pile of copies of the TLS to send to a friend. I sent my son's model club magazine to him (a month late). I've made some progress in finding out how to get a manuscript formatted for the Nook and the Kindle. I've ironed about 20 shirts, done several loads of wash and let the cleaning lady go (I actually enjoy housework). I'm not out of the woods yet; I have a huge manuscript to read and several books on the go, but today I have to put a necktie on and go to New York City (four hours there and back) to some sort of reception in a garden, and Saturday I have to go to the other side of Reading to look at some Landreth Seeds, whatever they are. But I'm ticking things off my list, one at a time. And I'm blogging almost every day.
Gee, it's nice being retired.
May 17, 2012Wish I had time for Jack Reacher
An article called "Writer's Cramp" by Julie Bosman in the New York Times about all the authors of thrillers, mysteries and romance novels, who used to publish one book a year, now cranking out novels and short stories, some for downloads only, as fast as they can. Lisa Scottoline writes two thrillers a year, writing all day, every day, she says. I hope she's making a lot of money.
This makes things difficult for people who work in bookstores. A customer wants to know what's somebody-or-other's latest book, and the computer has a bewildering list of paperback issues and reissues that aren't even out yet. Some of these people don't come out in hardback at all, but go straight to mass-market paperbacks, and there's hardly room on the shelves foir them all. People have so many of them that they buy ones they've already read and have to bring them back.
I am interested in Lee Child and his character Jack Reacher, though. His Internet story recently was a 40-page prequel about Reacher as a teenager. I hope someday I have time to look at this stuff.