Monday, October 29, 2007

cult of authorship

here are some things:

1) i went to graduate school during most of the second half of the 90s. so i know the author is dead. my students say things like, "we can't read it that way because that's not what shakespeare intended." i usually say: how do you know what shakespeare intended? but in my more honest moments, i say: who cares? and i mean that lovingly. i mean to say what shakespeare intended matter less than what you learn and think yourself.

2) i hate the red sox.

3) nonetheless (re: #1 not #2), i am having this week a little love affair with richard russo (who lives in maine so, for all i know, might be a red sox fan and who, for that matter, grew up in new york -- albeit state, not city -- and so could even be a yankee fan which would be worse though perhaps not tonight). we went to see him read on tuesday night, and i felt about being in the same room with him the same way i feel about seeing neil finn in concert. richard russo, i am here to tell you, is very much alive. and i wanted to touch him and/or cook him dinner as i do all people i am having worship of (okay, really neil finn and richard russo are it, but only because i have very high standards).

i am doing a bad job of making a point here, so i will start a new paragraph and maybe that will help. my points are these:

a) i asked richard russo a question when he took questions. i never do this for a number of reasons, but one, surely, is the author is dead, so who cares what he thinks. but people were mostly not asking questions or not asking good ones, so then i raised my hand and asked a good question -- the best question of the night (though, let us admit that, as much as anything else, i ask questions about books for a living) -- and he blushed and i blushed and he laughed and i laughed and everyone laughed, and i was so nervous and adrenalin-rushy i could barely talk. then i stood in line so he could sign my book.

b) however, richard russo is my colleague. the man reminds me of a college english teacher because (until he won a pulitzer prize) he was one. he reminds me of my exdepartment chair. he reminds me of the people i work with and the people i read and write with. he is not to be worshipped, not because he is dead, but because we just work together, so whatever.

c) holy crap is richard russo a good novelist. and a nice guy.

d) so, to sum up, not someone to idolize because he's just a colleague AND he's an author who should be dead, but still i want to make him soup. there is something to this, but it will have to wait until another day because am i grading papers? no, i am blogging. and is richard russo grading my papers for me while i blog about him? no (though probaby not because he's dead but more likely because at least the third best thing about winning a pulitzer prize must be not having to grade papers anymore).


Monday, October 15, 2007

Death of the Rock Star

From Stylus Magazine:
The lower tier support structures have splintered as the kids who used to save their cash for college rock become ragingly omnivorous: your average hard-working indie band now competes with Justin Timberlake, Thai pop, and some Nonesuch Explorer disc that David Byrne namechecked on his blog. They also have to compete with 100 years’ worth of records that are better than anything they’ll ever make. We have endless choices, and almost none of them see the spotlight. But the real problem is that artists chase the spotlight in the first place. And anything short of superstardom looks like a consolation prize. Consider a different model: cooking. Cooks aren’t rock stars. A few turn into international celebrities, but they’re the exception. Most chefs run a kitchen and feed people ten feet away. In big cities or backwater towns, nobody looks down on you if you’re feeding them well. And there’s plenty of room for amateurs. Have someone over for dinner, and you’re a civilized host; break out a guitar, and you’re an asshole.
I wonder, as the author of this piece does, if what will happen with the endless and infinite distribution of endless and infinite music by endless and infinite artists will result in music returning to what it was before music could be recorded: the main purview of the musician being the living room.

Four or five months ago when I was thinking about this problem, I decided that the reason people didn't go out wading into the muck of the basement musician to find things worth a listen was that it was just too frickin' hard to filter. I tried with the little music capsule at left to add my own filter to the noise and it lasted about a month before I gave up, and the capsule has been stuck on Grizzly Bear since July (still a great band you should check out, by the way). I'll take it down the next time I'm thinking about it. In any case: individuals' blogs becoming little mini-Pitchforks: Not The Answer.

I don't what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure the Rock Star isn't going away: we need Him or Her for the same reason that we need religion. On the other hand, I am now equally sure that the The Recording is going to kill The Recording Artist. Hey—I should write a song about that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cat In A Box Redux, Redux

So as you might have guessed, I was not the first person to note that an inanimate object can collapse the Wave Function
Analogous effects (to those seen in the Schrödinger's Cat experiment)...have some practical use in quantum computing and quantum cryptography. It is possible to send light that is in a superposition of states down a fiber optic cable. Placing a wiretap in the middle of the cable which intercepts and retransmits the transmission will collapse the wavefunction (in the Copenhagen interpretation, "perform an observation") and cause the light to fall into one state or another.
(Wikipedia). I seem to have not understood the nature of the Wave Function in this particular case--basically the answer seems to be that Geiger Counter has a wave function representing the decay or lack thereof of a particle (and the life of the cat) that's different than the person outside the box who doesn't know jack about the outcome of the experiment until he opens the box. Such is, apparently, a feature of the Copenhagen Interpretation of reality.

In this interpretation of the universe, the experiment just seems a lot less compelling to me, because the Geiger Counter and the human outside the box will never disagree (that is, the Geiger Counter will never report that the particle decayed while the human later opens box and finds the cat alive). Maybe I'm not seeing the point here, but this seems to reduce quantum weirdness at the macro level to "Stuff that's true that you don't know yet."

I don't know why I'm writing this as a blog entry since, I dunno....something.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cat In A Box, Redux

See here, here, or here.

It occurs to me just now that the Geiger counter makes the observation. The Geiger counter collapses the wave function. In all interpretations of Schrödinger's cat that I've ever read, the implicit interpretation is that human consciousness is required to make an observation and collapse the wave function. But there's no reason that this should be so--the Geiger counter, just like a human, is a device that responds to stimulus. Its failure to be as complicated as the human observer doesn't disqualify it from being able to make the observation. The wave function collapses before the gas canister is smashed or not smashed. The cat is dead. Or it is alive.

Probably like 200,000 people have had this insight before me, but whatever--I write a frickin' blog. Anyway, that was it. As you were.

Still More Hilarity For Nerds™

Today's XKCD:
Did you really name your son, "Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;"?
No, really. There's nothing to see here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Inquisitivists, Episode 0

This is a test of SketchCast (tip of the virtual white board pen to Jack's dad), which is a pretty freaking cool piece of technology. Speaking of people who are freaks: me. I am a huge one.

Still working out the kinks in the audio, sorry about that. Also, towards the end I say "fuck," so don't blast this audio in your workplace or nothing.