From the monthly archives:

May 2009

From J.D. McClatchy’s A View of the Sea:

At the far end of the room, the two cups of water
On the floor, the master explained, were for them
To purify their mouths with before the tea was served.
They were next told to lie on their bellies and inch
Towards the cups, ensuring a proper humiliation.
The monks protested—they had come to see their friend
Through to the end, to see his soul released,
Poured like water into water—and where, after all,
Was the unmatched view he had promised them?

(Quoting my favorite lines would have given it all away, so I encourage you to read the whole thing.)


“For it is one thing for people to tell their stories in their own spaces, and quite another for those stories to be welcomed in this space.”

– Michelle Obama, at poetry night in the East Room of the White House


In the “How to Read This Book” section of The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry states three rules as ‘terms and conditions’ that readers must pledge to follow before proceeding:

  1. Take your time
  2. Don’t be afraid
  3. Always have a notebook with you

Not a bad way to go about your day in general…

Bonus treat: Stephen Fry, in character with his comedic partner Hugh Laurie, expounds on language, beauty and ideas:

“…wheel within a wheel, like the circles that we find in the windmills of our mind…”

{ 1 comment }

Ge Wang has assembled MoPho — a mobile phone orchestra — at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (aka CCRMA).

As a fan of drones, I’m keen on the possibilities demonstrated in the ensemble piece Drone In/Drone Out. (It’s a Quicktime video, so you’ll have to click through to see it. Thanks for the link, Ge!)

More information:


What a find!

Harper’s highlighted two versions of Monteverdi’s setting of “Voglio di vita uscir” available on YouTube.

I go for the countertenor every time:

You can hear the other version, and read the words, here.

(via @pausetowonder on Twitter)


Wait for it: the galaxy doesn’t show up until about twenty-three seconds into the clip.

Galactic Center of Milky Way Rises over Texas Star Party from William Castleman on Vimeo.

(For best viewing, watch the HD version on Vimeo, or download even higher-quality versions directly from William’s video page.)


An amazing 41-minute concert available at NPR Music via WGBH:

Classical music has never lived in a bubble, and there’s always been a free flow of ideas intersecting so-called art music and folk music. In this concert from Boston, they all come together: The acclaimed Takacs String Quartet joins the Hungarian folk ensemble Muzsikas (with singer Marta Sebestyen) to celebrate one of Hungary’s finest, composer Bela Bartok, who was brilliant at mixing the highbrow and lowbrow in his own music.


I’ve always been attracted to images of infrastructure at night…

via Flickr


I’ve been following Tom Steinberg’s great work at establishing better communications channels and feedback loops between citizens and the UK government for a while now.  You can find out more about these projects at the mySociety website.

In his latest newsletter, he featured a project that applies the HotOrNot meme (which is often judgmental, demeaning, humiliating and masochistic when rating people) to places in the UK:

“ScenicOrNot helps you to explore every corner of England, Scotland and Wales, all the while comparing your aesthetic judgements with fellow players.”

The site presents a photo, and prompts viewers to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, from not scenic to scenic.

One-dimensional assessments of anything are always dicey, but I can see many merits in this particular project:

  • It’s interesting to learn how others perceive a place. Is there anything close to general agreement about what it means to be scenic?  I rated a field of ripening barely a 7, 2.5 points above the average.
  • Many of the photos used are not of touristy locations, so it may be the first time that a particular cattle-gate has been rated or thought about in these terms.
  • Aggregating such opinions could have all sorts of uses, from finding attractive places you didn’t know about, to directing beautification efforts at blighted areas.

According to the same newsletter, mySociety is working on:

“A Really Great Secret Project that uses that scenicness data we’ve been gathering and which we think you’re going to Quite Like”

I can’t wait to see it.


Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko:

“When I was
a younger man,
art was
a lonely thing.

No galleries,
no collectors,
no critics.

No money.

Yet it was a golden age,
for we all had
nothing to lose,
and a vision to gain.

it is not quite the same.

It is a time
of tons
of verbiage,

Which condition is better
for the world at large,
I will not venture
to discuss.

But I do know
that many of those
who are driven
to this life

are desperately searching
for those pockets of silence
where we can root and grow.

We must all hope we find them.”

Transcribed from Simon Schama’s The Power of Art. The line breaks are my own.


Ken Robinson, in his TED Talk Do schools kill creativity?:

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.”

via Zoë Westhof