AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

28 June 2014

Caravan.

Modigliani, Caryatid, 1911


Sed Non Satiata

Strange deity, brown as nights,
Whose perfume is mixed with musk and Havanah,
Magical creation, Faust of the savanna,
Sorceress with the ebony thighs, child of black midnights,

I prefer to African wines, to opium, to burgundy,
The elixir of your mouth where love parades itself;
When my desires leave in caravan for you,
Your eyes are the reservoir where my cares drink.

Charles Baudelaire, translated by Geoffrey Wagner

Visualization.

Mitchell, Best-Candidate IV Sampling of van Gogh's A Starry Night, undated


Algorithms are a fascinating use case for visualization. To visualize an algorithm, we don’t merely fit data to a chart; there is no primary dataset. Instead there are logical rules that describe behavior. This may be why algorithm visualizations are so unusual, as designers experiment with novel forms to better communicate. This is reason enough to study them.


But algorithms are also a reminder that visualization is more than a tool for finding patterns in data. Visualization leverages the human visual system to augment human intellect: we can use it to better understand these important abstract processes, and perhaps other things, too.

Marvel.


Having Brunelleschi's spirit whisper in your ear may be about the only way to know for sure how he worked. Secretive to the end, he carried many mysteries of his dome to the grave.

To this day, we don't know where he got the inspiration for the double-shell dome, the herringbone brickwork, and the other features that architects through ensuing centuries could only marvel at. 

Perhaps the most haunting mystery is the simplest of all: How did Brunelleschi and his masons position each brick, stone beam, and other structural element with such precision inside the vastly complex cathedral—a task that modern architects with their laser levels, GPS positioning devices, and CAD software would still find challenging today?

Biber, The Mystery Sonatas

Lutenist Luca Pianca accompanies Mr. Sensitive-with-a-Ponytail as he saws away at the Ciaccone in D minor, entitled "The Presentation."

Visionary.

Ross King gave a lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum as part of the Canadian Art Foundation International Speaker Series.
King's new book Leonardo and The Last Supper is both a record of Leonardo da Vinci's last five years in Milan and a biography of one of the most famous works of art ever painted.
Drawing on his gripping book during the course of the lecture, King revealed why The Last Supper ensured Leonardo's universal renown as a visionary master of the arts.

Pyramid.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) at Gīza, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, remains an awe-inspiring phenomenon and mystery to the modern world.

David Macaulay explores the history, archaeology, mythology, and religion of ancient Egypt when monarchs built pyramids with secret chambers to preserve their mummified bodies for eternity. King Khufu's tomb is the largest pyramid in the world, 40 stories tall covering 13 acres.

27 June 2014

Robert Earl Keen, "Jesse With The Long Hair Hanging Down"

… all that matters in the end.

Happy.


As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

Ernest Hemingway

Jimmy Buffett, "Son of a Son of a Sailor"

As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin' man, 
I have chalked up many a mile
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks, 
and I learned much from both of their styles …




Advice, here.

Left.

Shishkin, Fog in a Wood, 1885


Inversnaid

This darksome burn, horseback brown,

His rollrock highroad roaring down,

In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam

Flutes and low to the lake falls home.



A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth

Turns and twindles over the broth

Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,

It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.



Degged with dew, dappled with dew,

Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,

Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,

And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.



What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.



Gerard Manley Hopkins

Ready.


Being on deck is more a state of mind than an actual place, and that’s not just because nobody actually spends time in that quaint little painted circle any more. The mental space between spectating on the bench and participating in the game is complicated, if you believe the calisthenics and rituals you see performed there. And yet the goal is simple: relax and get ready to play.

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Laws.

Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple, mathematical laws govern the properties of cities -- that wealth, crime rate, walking speed and many other aspects of a city can be deduced from a single number: the city's population. In this talk he shows how it works and how similar laws hold for organisms and corporations.



West's site, here.

Scaling and fractals, here.

Power laws herehere, and here .

Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A, K 622

Michael Alexander Willens conducts the Kölner Akademie performing the Adagio, with Eric Hoeprich, basset clarinet

Across.

Every day, between two and three thousand aircraft fly across the North Atlantic between Canada, the United States and Europe. Airspace across the North Atlantic is divided into six Oceanic Control Areas (or OCAs).

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Thank you, Col. Hadfield

26 June 2014

Golden.

Chagall, Couple with Flowers, 1927


A thousand Dreams within me softly burn:
From time to time my heart is like some oak
Whose blood runs golden where a branch is torn.

Arthur Rimbaud

Lucinda Williams, "Something About What Happens When We Talk"

Worthy.

Lipchitz, Descent of The Spirit, 1994


Wisdom is often buried somewhere within the fibers of things that seem mundane or obvious, as well as in the puzzling space between two opposites, and in our ability to tolerate the discomfort of this cognitive dissonance. Knowledge is obscured within the subplots of our main narratives. Furthermore, compared to the age of our Universe, we humans are like mere infants on our journey to understand the nature of consciousness and existence; we are still in the cradle of the cosmos. Most likely we will never have a definitive formula for cultivating grit, sisu or willpower (even though every institution, teacher and trainer keeps searching for such a recipe and some even claim to have one). However, as long as we continue to love the questions and keep traveling with our heart full of hope (despite the occasional futility of our mission), we are bound to be on a worthy journey.

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Poetry.

Rengetsu, A Breath of Spring, 1873


What can be explained is not poetry.

W.B. Yeats

Zirka.

In 2003, Robert Plant was booked to perform in Mali at the Festival in the Desert, alongside Ali Farka Touré and Tinariwen. "It was a journey of revelation — one of the most illuminating and humbling experiences of my life," Plant tells Rolling Stone. While he was there, Plant and his crew filmed their experience.


Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



Part 4



Part 5



Part 6



Part 7



Part 8

Bach, The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

Jordi Savall performs and directs La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations …


25 June 2014

Happy birthday, Bourdain.

Anthony Bourdain was born on this date in 1956.

Precious.


All Human Knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use.

A.E. Housman

Pleasure.

What will it be tomorrow? Could it be that we don't need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes? Could it be -- a devastating question, a question that was framed for me by Nicholas Negroponte -- could it be that we are heading towards or maybe in a future where knowing is obsolete? But that's terrible. We are homo sapiens. Knowing, that's what distinguishes us from the apes. But look at it this way. It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete. What an achievement that is. But we have to integrate that into our own future.

Encouragement seems to be the key. If you look at Kuppam, if you look at all of the experiments that I did, it was simply saying, "Wow," saluting learning.

There is evidence from neuroscience. The reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it's threatened, it shuts down everything else, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the parts which learn, it shuts all of that down. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. We take our children, we make them shut their brains down, and then we say, "Perform." Why did they create a system like that? Because it was needed. There was an age in the Age of Empires when you needed those people who can survive under threat. When you're standing in a trench all alone, if you could have survived, you're okay, you've passed. If you didn't, you failed. But the Age of Empires is gone. What happens to creativity in our age? We need to shift that balance back from threat to pleasure.

Sugata Mitra's TED Talk, "Build a School in the Cloud" …

Vital.


Throughout his life, books were vital to Thomas Jefferson's education and well-being. When his family home Shadwell burned in 1770 Jefferson most lamented the loss of his books. In the midst of the American Revolution and while United States minister to France in the 1780s, Jefferson acquired thousands of books for his library at Monticello. Jefferson's library went through several stages, but it was always critically important to him. Books provided the little traveled Jefferson with a broader knowledge of the contemporary and ancient worlds than most contemporaries of broader personal experience.

Mozart, Mass in C Minor

Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists with Barbara Bonney performing "Et Incarnatus Est" ...

Fractals.


Look at the honeycomb pattern in a beehive, say, and the hexagonal structure is only visible if you're not too close or too far away. But look at some kinds of plants and you'll see their fronds are made up of ever-smaller versions of the overall leaf. This is known as scale invariance, and is a feature of fractals. Richardson noticed that coastlines have a similar property, their jagged outlines appearing just as jagged as one zooms in to ever-smaller scales.

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More here.

Asking.


If creativity originates with a question, then it is the art of asking dumb questions that leads to enhanced creativity.

Hear.




Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk'd among the ancient trees;
 
Calling the lapsèd soul,
And weeping in the evening dew;
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!
 
'O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.
 
'Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Is given thee till the break of day.

William Blake

Both.

Where would you rather be, walking in the woods or writing at your desk?
Both. I'd take a hundred walks a year and rarely see another human being but see an endless array of songbirds because of that vast arboreal thicket. This is all I want besides dinner. Of course I write, though I'm getting a little tired of it at my advanced age, so I begin the day by walking with my dog. Then I invariably write. I do a book a year because I don't know what else to do. It's my profession.
I would give my lungs to have the opportunity to explore that desk and bulletin board.

22 June 2014

Search.


On an August day 195 years ago, the British burned the U.S. Capitol in the War of 1812 and by doing so, destroyed the first Library of Congress. When the war ended, former President Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library, which at 6,487 books was the largest in America, to Congress for whatever price the legislators settled upon. After much partisan debate and rancor, it agreed to pay Jefferson $23,950.

Then another fire in the Capitol on Christmas Eve of 1851 incinerated some 35,000 volumes, including two-thirds of the books that had belonged to Jefferson. And although Congress appropriated funds to replace much of the Library of Congress collection, the restoration of the Jefferson library fell by the wayside.

Since 1998, Dimunation, the rare-books and special collections curator for the Library of Congress, has guided a slow-moving, yet successful search for the 4,324 Jefferson titles that were destroyed. The result of his labor thus far is on view at the library in the Jefferson Collection Exhibition.


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20 June 2014

Built.



Synchronicity reveals something fundamental about the nature of invention. In popular culture inventors are romanticized as lone geniuses working in home laboratories who come up with completely new ideas — things that establishment thinkers initially dismiss as nonsense. But in practice, it just doesn’t happen this way. Most inventors add to a body of work that is built up by many people over decades. They rise to fame when their invention, one among many in a long chain, is a crucial step that finally enables a practical telephone, airplane, or mathematical proof.

Welcome.


However unpleasant and jarring they can be, unchosen, unanticipated encounters play a crucial role; they are indispensable not only to education but also to citizenship itself. Far from wishing them away, we should welcome them.

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Discover.

[I]t excites me now to meet people who are hikers, chefs, code writers, taxi drivers, people I never would have guessed who loved the music and who are passing it on. You don't need to worry about knowing anything. If you're curious, if you have a capacity for wonder, if you're alive, you know all that you need to know. You can start anywhere. Ramble a bit. Follow traces. Get lost. Be surprised, amused inspired. All that 'what', all that 'how' is out there waiting for you to discover its 'why', to dive in and pass it on.

Michael Tilson Thomas, from his TED Talk, "Music and Emotion Through Time"

05 June 2014

Fleming.


Author Thomas Fleming featured on C-SPAN's In-Depth, here.

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Sings.

Adams, Mountain Stream, 1965




It may be that when we no longer know what to dowe have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to gowe have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

Outsets.

van Gogh, The Grove, 1890



I love the outsets, despite the fear and uncertainty that attach to all beginnings … I have already begun a thousand lives this way.

Rainer Maria Rilke

04 June 2014

Endless.


From far, from eve and morning 
And yon twelve-winded sky,
The stuff of life to knit me 
Blew hither; here am I.
Now - for a breath I tarry 
Nor yet disperse apart -
Take my hand quick and tell me, 
What have you in your heart.
Speak now, and I will answer; 
How shall I help you, say;
Ere to the wind's twelve quarters 
I take my endless way.

- A. E. Housman

Paul Weller, "My Ever Changing Moods"

Heaven.

Homer, North Woods Club, Adirondacks (The Interrupted Tete-a-Tete), 1892


Most Sweet it is


Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes
To pace the ground, if path be there or none,
While a fair region round the traveller lies
Which he forbears again to look upon;
Pleased rather with some soft ideal scene,
The work of Fancy, or some happy tone
Of meditation, slipping in between
The beauty coming and the beauty gone.
If Thought and Love desert us, from that day
Let us break off all commerce with the Muse:
With Thought and Love companions of our way,
Whate'er the senses take or may refuse,
The Mind's internal heaven shall shed her dews
Of inspiration on the humblest lay.

- William Wordsworth

03 June 2014

On.

van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees, 1889


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

James Wright

Vivaldi, Violin Concerto in D major, RV 208 "Grosso Mogul"

Giovanni Antonini directs Il Giardino Armonico. Enrico Onofri throwing high-octane gas on the fiddle …


Wonder.