Alchemy has not had a very good rep. The world ‘achemist’ conjures up notions of a shrewd charlatan fooling the unwise with promises of untold wealth if only they contribute a few measly silver or gold coins to ‘just help him get started’. Or, the word suggests some deluded fool, coughing his life away as he labors on the impossible in some workshop so toxic and unsafe it would give EPA and OSHA inspectors fits. And yet. Newton was an alchemist, and so was Boyle. When the economist Maynard Keynes bought Newron’s papers at auction and arranged for their publication, there was an outcry about the amount of material that was devoted to alchemical speculations (and to Biblical numerology, as a double punch). This “say it ain’t so, Isaac!” reaction was pretty typical of the period. Science was riding a crest of ‘triumphalist’ historiography, in which a small band of heros fought back the forces of darkness, and went form strenghth to strength in a straight and steady progress out of the darkness and into the light. Alchemy which was dismissed as straight out fraud or pitiable obsession. Some historians grudgingly admitted that alchemists came up with some interesting lab ware, and some useful techniques, but beyond that, not much. All this is getting a re-think. Some scholars are looking at the abundant alchemical literature that has survived and finding that the practitioners weren’t as completely in the dark as previously thought. They had some good notions…”Ahnungen” in German, maybe intuitions, but there was no way for them to prove them. And the veiled language used by alchemists which was previously dismissed as mere flummery is now seen to be, in many cases, an attempt to prevent competitors from getting too nosey.
Earlier I ran a story about a possible Amazon tablet device, to be kicked off in time for “Gay Gift Season” aka Christmas. I found a short follow-up report on Wired’s Gadget Watch, and I thought I would link to it here, in case anybody’s interested. It seems to be that Amazon is following the Apple play book. Hints and tease and leaks by various ‘insiders’ and ‘observers’, orchestrated to create ‘buzz’ about the forthcoming product. Apple has done it very nicely a couple of times, but the tactic is getting ato be kind of a grey beard now, so the marketing arm should come up with something else. This story has some factual detail. It quotes Jeff Bezos in kind a a Delphic utterance that seems to say the company will always want a dedicated reader, ie, a product that just lets people read books: no computing or email or anything. But he’s so cagey about it that it seems to fall somewhat short of a committment.
Sorry folks, but we were off-line for a while because of some difficulties with the institution’s new firewall and other security procedures. So, down but definitely not out. Thanks for your patience and persistence in polling our site. Everyone working on LibraryLink regrets the outage and we all will try to catch up with what has been happening in the larger world.
The dramatic events taking place in Egypt recently contained elements of both tragedy and comic opera. One can only wish the people well, and hope they achieve the feedom they obviously want so very badly. But one very interesting and important part of the story is the way the government managed to “shut down” the Internet, blocking traffic to and from the country to the outside world. That action also made it harder for groups inside the country to communicate about places to meet, times, exit routes and other logistical elements. People in the network business were surprised at how easily this was done, but an item in today’s Times shows how the government did it.
Drumfire. That’s what the soldiers in the trenches of WWI battlefields called the preliminary bombardment that indicated an offensive was about to kick off. It would start slowly, as a rule, then increase until actual time of the attack. In some cases, it lasted for days or even weeks. And the geek world of computers and screens and such has its own much scaled down and cheapened version, in the regular barrage of leaks, counter leaks, coy suggestions, equally coy denials and so on and so forth that presage the release of another Apple product. Or maybe, it’s the non-release of another Apple product. We went through all this with the Ipad, and now we will go through it again, with the run-up to the release or non-release of of the Ipad2, or even-Da DAH!!!!, the Ipad3. Will Apple launch the very successful Ipad’s successor soon? Will Apple launch the 2 and then, just a little while later, the 3? Yes, they will. No, they won’t. Reasons. Counterreasons. And of course, whatever happens it will CHANGE EVERYTHING! OK, OK, I’m just a grouchy old man. But I’ll bet a month’s pay that you will see plenty of this as the Apple PR machine revs up to full speed.
Jack Lalanne, the pioneer fitness expert who was always urging us to get up off our duffs and work out, for crying out loud, has died at the respectable age of 96. He was the original 96 pound weakling, scrawny and sickly with a yen for junk foor. His mother took him to a lecture on nutrition, and that was the Damascus experience for JL. He worked out, hard, and he watched what he ate very carefully. Lalanne opened his first gym with juice joint in Oakland and went on from there. He was a natural for TV and he saw the potential when others were sneering. Lalanne was a relentless self-promoter, but he had to be because he was swimming upstream. Nobody then wanted to hear about fitness. Adults didn’t exercise, most doctors were heavy smokers, coffee was unbelievably lousy and consumed in large quantities, and the less said the better about diet. His TV show lasted for more than 30 years. He was a showman, but what he got people to buy was really good for them, and how often does that happen?
Wilfed Sheed died recently at the age of 80. He was a novelist, a literary critic and a kind of cultural historian. His parents were Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, the founders of Sheed and Ward publishers, a firm that specialized in producing the works of Catholic authors and in promoting Catholicism generally. The company made a specialty out of G.K. Chesterton, who is undergoing something of a revival nowadays. Both of them were street-corner evangelists in Britain, where they married and then moved to the USA. Wilfred had a kind of dual citizenship; he was fully American (a baseball and jazz enthusiast) with a solid UK literary education. His own style was low-key, gentle wit, no brilliance, no effects. Himself a polio survivor, he described in fictionalized form, his own illness in the novel People Will Always Be Kind. The section in which the young man feels himself getting sick and the terror that grips his was quite terrifying for me. We are all on the safe side of the major epidemics(so far). But it wasn’t always so.
A number of large organizations have been moving their data to a realm of mystery (cue Oriental music with gentle gongs),realm beyond the limits of materiality, a space that evokes the elegance of classic Chinese landscape painting…the “Cloud”. Also known as remote data storage on somebody else’s machines, the “Cloud” is baloney now available to the ordinary Joe/Jane. A number of companies are offering accept files from clients who have created them on different platforms…a PC at work, a Mac at home, a phone, a this , a that. And of course, managing all that data is just too darn complicated. I mean, suppose you want to show the photo of little Osgood and Emily that you took with your Iphone, but you don’t have it handy. Well, that existential crisis can be solved for you if you let, that is pay, a company to keep all the stuff you come up with in ‘cloud’ situation which is platform independent. I suppose it’s clear that I’m not taking this too seriously, but I imagine there are lots of people for whom having a large number of files created on different devices is more than a trivial annoyance, and today’s New York Times profiles several companies which have prepared ‘cloud’ options for exactly those persons. One major caveat is security. Those supposed to know say don’t put anything confidential on these things; nothing with a Social Security number for instance. It seems to me that this caveat would require a lot of data managing on its own; store this, but not that. Still for them as wants to know: