The curmudgeon Socrates doesn’t like your readin’ and writin’

Socraties

Socrates on writing:

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

The logical question, after hundreds of years of writing being the dominant way people learned, what the search engines like Bing and Google will do. I remember reading somewhere that the internet has caused people to forget information, but better remember how to find resources that will tell them that information. Seems as if history repeats.

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The Library as a Co-Working Space

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If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, it seems like the cool thing to do is to join a co-working space. For a few hundred bucks a month, you too can sit in a room with other workers, connect to the internet and have access to coffee.

Contently recently published an article discussing The 6 Most Unique Co-Working Spaces in the World. For example, you could join a group of co-workers on a boat sailing around Thailand and Malaysia for a cool $1100 a week.

But why not the local library? There’s internet, power, desks, lights. And if your library is cool, the might sell coffee.

Best of all, it’s free.

Sure, there are downsides. The library’s general no-talking-above-a-whisper rule means you can’t make phone calls, for one.

I know libraries are currently trying to figure out their role in an age where the internet is eating into the its role as the keeper of the community’s information repository. Maybe it can help foster startups and workers of the gig economy.

Hope in the Small Publications

CBC_journalists_in_Montreal

Listen: You hear a lot of bad news about the journalism and publishing industry these days. There are serious challenges within the system. Let’s just say I took a peek at how stock in a newspaper company was performing recently, and it wasn’t pretty. What will be the future? Will we be all slaves to clickbait, or writing for cents per story thanks to that AI co-writer? I suspect there will always be a market, always be a demand. Even if it’s small.

A few months— nope, let’s be honest. A year or two ago I picked up a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” And while I haven’t waded into the tome yet (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a great evening read), I did crack it.

By chance, I stumbled upon Chapter 14 of Volume Two, “The Industry of Literature.”

Democracy not only infuses a taste for letters among the trading classes, but introduces a trading spirit into literature. In aristocracies, readers are fastidious and few in number; in democracies, they are far more numerous and far less difficult to please. The consequence is, that among aristocratic nations, no one can hope to succeed without immense exertions, and that these exertions may bestow a great deal of fame, but can never earn much money; whilst among democratic nations, a writer may flatter himself that he will obtain at a cheap rate a meagre reputation and a large fortune. For this purpose he need not be admired; it is enough that he is liked. The ever-increasing crowd of readers, and their continual craving for something new, insure the sale of books which nobody much esteems.

Yeah, that account was written 200 years ago. It was a different time. But it leaves a question: How small can an audience be for a writer to make a living? I.F. Stone’s muckraking newsletter started with 5,200 subscribers, and it turned a profit from its first mailing. Local news, often under reported, has an audience of about that many people, if you are looking at writing for a mid-size town.

Startup costs could be minimal. A few hundred bucks max if it was an online publication. Dreaded print, if you found the right printer, wouldn’t be that much more. Heck, to save costs, the editors and journalists could distribute the paper themselves, how Print, the startup newspaper that covers Pittsburg’s east side, does it.

Perhaps there’s a need to tell stories to smaller audiences.

Four reasons why Connecticut is creepy

Grow up long enough in a place, and you start to discover all sorts of history and lore wrapped up and buried together. It makes for some interesting stories. So in the 21 years I lived in the state, I’ve found four reasons why it’s a creepily-cool place to live. This is by no means a complete list, so if you have stories you know of, comment below.

4. King Phillips War was fought over Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Land of the Long Tidal River (The meaning of the Indian word “Connecticut”) was the battle ground of one of America’s most bloody war, when compared to the population at the time. Never heard of it? Yeah, this one is early on, back in the 1600s, when the state was still mostly wilderness.

3.Connecticut was testing ground for the Nazi’s eugenics program. I haven’t seen much talk about this one, just an article by Edwin Black, a meticulous researcher into the rise of the Nazis. He has a whole book on how America developed a eugenics program in the early 1930s that Germany later used called “The War Against The Weak.” The amount of sources he uses make him very credible, and his books that much heavier. I have no reason to doubt him.

2. We’ve got vampires, y’all. Forget the lore, the vampires of Jewett City once caused havoc in the area. Now, it’s an interesting study on disease and beliefs because an Englishman by the name of Bram Stoker apparently read the newspaper accounts of this scare while he was writing a little story he called “Dracula.”

1.Black Dogs haunt our hills. Well, just one, specifically. This story is pure fiction, but having hiked those hills many times, it a story that excites the imagination.

 

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Cafe on The Corner burnt down [Pictures]

The Lookout Mountain Fire Department shut down Scenic Highway to fight the fire at Cafe on The Corner.
When I drove up that morning of May 27, that’s all I could see — water, trucks and tape.
I was on my way to work, But I had a few minutes. When I parked and saw a fireman, I asked him what happened.
Gas fire, he said. During the night, the gas built up and built up in the building. A spark, and Boom!
It’s terrible, he added.
Cafe on The Corner was one of the cornerstones of Lookout Mountain. I interviewed twice for a job at the corner table inside — now probably damaged by water and the collapsed roof. I was looking forward to making it a restaurant I frequented whenever I ate out because of the three restaurants nearby, it seemed the best.
I had my camera and so stood behind the fire-line tape and burned some frames. Later, when the firefighters opened Scenic Highway, I took another round of photos.

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The Khukri: legendary and cheap to make

Khukri in North Africa, 1943

A soldier using a Khukri in North Africa, 1943.

Khukris have always fascinated me because its one of those knives with a deep history, practical application and a somewhat mysterious manufacturing process. Forged out of leaf springs, these knives are the every-day working knife of the people in Nepal. But the knives won world-wide recognition as it was carried by the Gurkha Army, a mercenary army employed by Great Britain, from the deserts of Africa, to the jungles of East Asia, to the mountains of Nepal.

In short, it’s a concentrated knife to carry when you need to depend on a large blade to get out of jams.

And yet, the manufacturing process is simple. So simple, in fact, many craftsman don’t use electricity.

In many cases, they hammer their blades over a sledgehammer head re-purposed as an anvil. In all, the equipment these knifemakers use probably costs $30.

A legendary knife, humble beginnings — I feel like starting a weekend project. Anyone want to donate an old sledgehammer head?

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Pictures of my first knife designed with CAD

Besides writing, I enjoy knifemaking. While I could only admire the knife world from a distance for months, I’ve made my way back into the knifemaking world thanks to CAD.

I always thought Computer Aided Design (CAD) was something expensive and out of reach to the average Joe. My first glimpse into the world of CAD was when I rode shotgun as my dad went to pick up building plans from his “CAD guy.”

Through my young eyes, I saw CAD as expensive, confusing and something you probably went to college to learn.

But thanks to 3D printing, CAD is almost ubiquitous. Want to create a 3D image? There is free software that you can use, like SketchUp and TinkerCad, in addition to the professional-grade software. With this software, you can design an image, hit print and a few hours later you can hold your design in your hand.

3D printing technology is in its infancy. Like the personal computer, techies say it will revolutionize the way we manufacture and consume goods. I figure it would be a good idea to dabble in the technology, before it does, or does not, take off.

So this weekend, I messed around with CAD. I first downloaded SketchUp, but it had a high learning curve. I slid right down the curve and switched to TinkerCad. The program is also free, and it was designed for the weekend craftsman.

It’s almost stupidly simple and in a few minutes last Friday and Saturday, I created this space-age looking knife:
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It’s a knife I would be proud to make in real life.

Just so you know, one of those large squares equal an inch, so the knife is about 10 inches long.

I’ve noticed with both SketchUp and TinkerCad that it’s difficult to create curves. This knife has many straight lines and angles — something I hope to fix in the future because I think knives shouldn’t have many straight lines.

Knife Design

This knife will probably stay in the design stage. With the limited free time I have, I want to make knives that will get used by me or other people. This knife looks like something an astronaut in a dystopian sifi would use. For what, I don’t know. We’ll let Hollywood figure that one out.  Sure is pretty, though…

Knife Design2

 

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U.S. Government solicits bids for 1,500 combat knives

Gerber’s Combat Fixed Blade is one of the knives the U.S. government is looking to purchase. | (Courtesy gerbergear.com)

The U.S. Government is soliciting bids for nearly 1,500 combat knives to be filled by small businesses.

According to solicitations on FedBizOpps.gov website, the federal government is looking to buy two types of knives: First, 982 full-tang, partially-serrated knives and second,  574 Aircrew Survival Egress Knives.

The response date for both solicitations are Feb. 13, 2014.

The Aircrew Survival Egress Knife, developed by the Ontario Knife Company, is the survival knife for Army aviation units. In a period between June 2004 to May 2005, the Army bought almost 12,000 of these knives, which suggests this solicitation of nearly 600 survival knives is something of a routine purchase.

The other solicitation for the full-tang, partially-serrated knives was interesting to me because the design of of the knives are elegant. Digging deeper into this solicitation on the Defense Logistics Agency’s Internet Bid Board System, it seems like the bid is between Gerber and Benchmade.

Both knives are made with 154-CM steel. Both sport a black finish. Both are partially-serrated.

However, Benchmade’s 140SBK Nimravus is slightly thinner and longer. It’s a drop-point blade with an aluminum handle.

Gerber’s CFB sports a tanto blade with a rubberized handle.

The differences between the two knives seems small. If you were in a combat situation, would you prefer one knife over the other? Why?

Feel free to comment below.

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Crumbs of The Internet No. 5: Pussy Riot, Demon Possession and Storytelling

'Pussy Riot Putin' photo (c) 2012, AK Rockefeller - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

As I wrote this post, I’m sitting in a crowded Starbucks shop. I’ve been spending a lot of time in coffee shops this week, mostly trying to work through writing.

I would interview sources and ask very dumb questions. I collected too much information. And now, as I work on getting the rough draft of this story into something I would be okay showing another human being, I find myself working against writers block.

I attribute all of this to this one article by Poynter: What you can learn about video storytelling from the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial [Video]. Al Tomkins goes shot by shot through Budwiser’s commercial, “Puppy Love,” and shows why it’s a good story. Although he talks towards people telling stories through video, us scribblers can learn a thing or two.

You’d think crafting a story with all of the elements described in the video would be simple, but no. Gotta work with the material that’s given you, and it’s hard to compete with puppies and horses.

Another piece of “inspiration” I found was this video of Malcolm Gladwell in which he describes the strategies underdogs can use to succeed. And that’s why I’m pulling longer hours in coffee shops these last few days.

It’s purely coincidental that I read two stories about demon possession this week. The first one comes from Esquire Magazine where it profiles an exorcist in the Catholic Church.  On its own, the story is mildly interesting, but don’t you ever wonder why demon possession is never documented? Most of those accounts boil down to hearsay.

But the story in the Indianapolis  Star titled “The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons has some weight to it: it cites medical documents, third party witnesses. After reading, it’s hard to form an opinion about it afterwards. The comments at the end of this GetReligion blog post helped.

Let’s end this post with a true longform piece by Buzzfeed about the band Pussy Riot. The piece doesn’t just explain the origins of the “band” and why it’s music is almost nonexistant. It continues deeper to explore the connection of the Orthodox Church and government in Russia, and to explain the culture of Russia.

Now, if I can only write a longform piece like that…

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Crumbs of the Internet is a weekly post where I link to some of the interesting stories I read online over the last week. 

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Crumbs of the Internet No. 4: Superbowl Sunday and Southern snow

'MetLife Stadium Prepares For Super Bowl 48 (XLVIII)' photo (c) 2014, Anthony Quintano - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

This post is book-ended by two notable events: Superbowl Sunday and the snow that froze the South. Not surprisingly, the more interesting articles that I found online spoke to both these events.

Rebecca Burns, editor for Atlanta Magazine, explains in Politico Magazine the fault for the paralysis in Atlanta last week lies not with southern drivers, but by political moves made years before.

In Chattanooga, the snow is melted off the road. Today was warm, with remnants of snow clinging onto the sidewalks that lie in the shade. While Tuesday’s storm is now a cautionary tale on preparedness and snow driving, it’s the weekend. Superbowl weekend.

Every year, the game takes a backseat for me so that I can focus on what sport fanatics may see as the peripherals to the game: food and commercials. I see commercials as a window to the values of the audience. How is Coke defining what happiness is this year? How are filmmakers telling stories in 60 or 30 seconds?

So in that same vein of cultural analysis, I bring to you this post by Slate in which they “cover” the Superbowl as if it was held in a foreign country. The writer’s knife of wit is less than razor sharp but don’t let that dissuade you. The post brings an interesting perspective to the game.

This year’s game is the 10-year anniversary of “nipplegate,” the infamous half-time show with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. This ESPN Magazine piece  says that performance was a watershed moment in American culture, that American media now is different than it was then. (A word of caution, the ESPN piece is intended for a mature audience.)

Rounding out this week, I was reading a bit of The Village Voice, the alt-weekly paper of New York City. While mainstream media zigs, the alternative publications zag, providing a fuller view of the world. The Voice’s profile of Dee Farmer, a transgender inmate whose Supreme Court case is a landmark case on how prisoners are treated, shows just how that is done.

Finally, I’ll finish with a piece about John McCandlish Phillips, a Christian journalist who was at one point the best reporter at the New York Times. I first learned about Phillips in the Introduction to Journalism at Bryan College, where he became one of the journalists I admired. I read more about him through his obituary when he died April 9, 2013. This feature written in the 90’s shows yet another side to the man.

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