Sunday, June 24, 2007

Goodbye, Mr Wizard; June 12, 2007

Mr Wizard [Don Herbert] died. He was 89. Richard Goldstein's obituary in the New York Times pointed out that success in conveying the excitement of science was based on his skill in communicating to kids. Herbert was born in Waconia, Minn., went to La Cross State Teachers College, and started out as Mr Wizard in 1951 on WMAQ-TV in Chicago. His show was on early Saturday mornings.

"What really did it for us was the inclusion of a child," Herbert said. The show when it started was just him doing science at the lab table. It was like a lecture. When they cast children talking with him, the show took off. Herbert said ideally they had to be around 11 or 12. "Once they got beyond 13, they became know-it-alls."

Mr Wizard helped us fight the Cold War. Respond to Sputnik.

During 60s and 70s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York cited Mr Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science.
Of course I remember the joy of watching Mr Wizard. Going into his lab, where he would welcome the kids. Somehow I recall him guest visiting Dave Garroway's Today show. A more vivid recollection is of a visit with Steve Allen. When my son was born, I begin taping his Nickelodeon [?] show to put him in front of it on demand. When I wonder why I am doing what I am doing now I think of shows like Mr Wizard, Bell Telephone Science Hour, and Connections.

About the time I was 12 or 13, somewhat grown, becoming a know-it-all I am sure, and he’d been off the air by my recollection [the obit differs on this take], Mr Wizard appeared on the Steve Allen ABC Late Show. My old friend! Totally warm feeling to see him again. And enter again his ‘laboratory.’ Here weird and dark set of Steve Allen. He did an experiment that showed, I don't know - the concept of lighter than air. A thin-plastic dry cleaners bag, Sterno. [Mmmm, beginning to think this would not past muster in the brave new world.] Up up and away into the studio rafters a home-made hot air balloon.

So next day I go out on the patio to try and create this. There was tall bag part that filled up with the lighter than air. An apparatus to form a base and hold the heat source. That was it. My sister was there. Finding a dry cleaners bag without a hole in it was about impossible. Maybe I plugged things with Scotch tape. Getting the Sterno was easy, we always had some at the base of a bronze chafing dish. The dry cleaners also provided the base structure by way of 2 metal coat hanger that formed a square to hold bag into four sides, and to hold at center a round of tin foil to hold the tin foil. Like most of my experiments there were no results. It wouldn’t inflate or fly. I suspect still that, if the bag, had inflated, my base was too heavy to allow flight. [The veracity of this recollection is in no way buttressed by the Bio-TimeLine on Mr Wizard's web site]

Which just let me know that I was no Mr Wizard. But if he'd used lab equipment, I just would have watched, right? Mr Wizard was known for using simple available elements - available to American youths.

Intrigued by smoke, sparks, flame! Wizard the alchemist mixing elements, esp dry ice. Set me off to the bathroom, mixing Gleem with Vitalis and more til goop.

Later Sterno became something else in my mythos. It was what Tommy Johnson drank. Learned this from following Canned Heat. [Kids: Don’t try this. It makes you blind and fries your brain cells.]

When I wonder why I am doing what I am doing now I think of shows like Telephone Science Hour, and Connections .. and Mr Wizard.

Mourning Mr Wizard - NYT The Lede
Mr Wizard Studios Original TV Series on DVD

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Home Server Project

Been working with a team: Nuno, Jake and me. To get a technology cartoon. Working like a year on this off and on. And finally got something I like. Running under name of "Zorb" [Zorb Bickowitz, nee Barf Bickowtiz]

Bill Gates at Harvard, 2007

Cecelia and I had a nice dinner one evening up at Harvard Sq not very long ago. The students were packing for summer. I remember looking at young people in a restaurant, many of them of the school, and thinking how privileged they were in health, training and connections. I don’t mean privileged in being snooty or anything like that because I didn’t see anything like that. In reading Bill Gates’s commencement speech I was heartened; not that I could articulate it earlier, but I thought a message of some kind somehow similar was needed. He noted that complexity was a problem at the time of the reformation of Europe after World War II, that George Marshall, he of the Marshall Plan, pointed out the difficulty individuals had in processing the mass of facts presented by press and radio at that time, pointed out in fact at a Harvard Commencement 60 years ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Old Poem

alt 5.4.2013

On a sunny Derby Day
the East Side
up by the pagoda-looking gas station
around 1971
got lost

got lost just
a few blocks from home.

Saw these placed
I had never seen before
the brown faces that
I knew from the buses.

let's see
how's this
going to go?

And kids came out
climbing over rubble
singing "hippies in town"
singing "hippies in town"

me and dave and jim did
a sort of 
cold tremble
seemed like sirens
everywhere in the air
we were over the milwaukee river
and when a car engine would start
it was like a slow explosion
as we found our way

back to the well-known
main drag
east ogden ave

on Mission Hill
with many in their graves
but not the 3 musketters

and there is an old hippie
fellow traveller playing

I'm a Little Mixed Up
Key to the Highway
Cool it Down
First I look at the Purse
Dead Flowers
Im Ready.



On a sunny Derby Day
on the East Side Milwaukee
up by the pagoda-looking gas station
got lost
a few blocks from home.

Saw these placed
I had never seen before
the brown faces that
I knew from the buses.

And kids came out
climbing over rubble
singing "hippies in town"
my buddies and I did a
cold tremble
seemed like sirens
everywhere in the air
as we found our way
back to the well-known
main drag.

on Mission Hill
there is an old hippie
Chess sampler
I'm a Little Mixed Up.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Orlando TV

Blinking lights on the wing tips … spewed clouds apsiring .. the cities like ocean liners in the ark.... JetBlue flight over American night in 21 st century..

Went to Orlando. Again didn’t get to Kerouac’s house. Orlando is just a place I go to, hit the hotel, do the conference [this was Microsoft TechEd 2007], find a restaurant and go home. Got idea for future: Take an extra day and go to Cape Caneveral. [The picture at right is light on our bedroom window.. what I was glad to come home to. ]

A lot of work. Did go out to dinner. Watched some television. Red Sox playing the Yankees on Sunday night. Stanley Cup Finals Monday night. Richard Serra on Charlie Rose show [Did see 30 sec of the penultimate Sopranos episode on HBO: Tony goes to bed in a cheap garret apt with a rifle on his breast. I guess the idea is: Tune in next week.]

Yankees don't suck
Yankee-Sox was a typical tight one. I turned it off when it got tied [for the second time, perhaps at 5-5]. Think Yankees won 6-5 on an Alex Rodriquez home run in top of 9th. Last week, Alex was seen going into a Canada hotel with a blonde. Seen by the New York Post photog and pasted on front page that is. Some Sox fans on Friday night wore plastic masks, the kind from Halloween or bank robberies, of a generic blonde white girl. I thought it was funny, maybe, but unsporting.

I think it was bad karma and cant be disabused of notion given the results on Sunday night. It is blasphemy around here but I dont think the Yankees suck. Even when they are on skid they are like dead bees that can still sting you. When we were in college days some yippies in Milwaukee as I recall did some political theatre by picketing an Art Linklater speech wearing masks with Xeroxed images of his late dotter [Dianne]. She was a drug suicide victim [LSD?] and he was on the anti-drug stump. I don’t recall if the merits of that political strategy were argued in our crowd, just accepted, or even huzzahed. Was Jim H. under one of those masks?

As with the Rodriquez razzing, it made for a surreal picture. I think we are up on the series for the year by a game now. Tense.

Ducks by 5
Stanley Cups is one of those things where I know nothing about the sport or the teams. I started to pull for the [Ottowas] Senators [over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks]. Just when I started cheering, the Ducks momentum began to skyrocket, and the Senators flagged. Don’t know much about it, but zest seems to be everything in the sport of hockey. Ottowa had its heads down and its mouths open, skating a second behind, not hittin too terribly hard. They lost the game by a goal [3-2, maybe] and wnet down a treacherous 3 games to 1 as the series headed back to Anaheim. ON THE OTHER HAND THE Ducks led by guy known as Neidermayer seem to be forceful. Old Bruins coach Don Cherry came on at the break, saying the sport needs more fights, coming off like a guest on SCTV’s old The Great White North segment. Saw final game on JetBlue flight home..stopped watching when Senator inadvertendly pushed puck into own goal. Guess who won?

Cherry was like a time warp. Funny.”Dah fans love a goode fight, yknow.”

Richard Serra on Charlie Rose is really hard to describe. Very intellectual in a way. That’s probably not the word. He is an articulate artist. An artist who has an intelligible world view … a view of form, and how we can view how we relate to it. He says the idea of the inarticulate artist is false. He has a comprehensive view. Under which other things are absorbed even if unstated.

His father was a shipyard worker, he grew up on a small tract on the dunes south of S.F.; his mother killed herself. He has a vision or is seeking one, fascination with form, and a psychoanalytic view, and a bit of the engineer about him when he talks.

He talks like some other one might write. Art is the power to think new thoughts, he said. New thoughts to provide different experiences, to see the world as we have not before.

He does it with steel these days. Big shapes. Years ago I made fun of one of his contempories. Andre Cold Duck. But maybe like a lot of people I have come around to better appreciateing this stuff .. as media and Web have driven the dominance of virtuality, and accelerated the human march to irrelevance.

Lest I forget let me boil down what I though was really apt: He says the artist should invent a form. And do the work.

It is not the quality he says it is the effort.

Teilard D.C.
On plane down read Teliard De Chardin. Off beat T. I wrote about him before on the Radio Weblog. He has a world view, and a historical perspective. And is largely unintelligible today. His work is especially weird because science interfolds with spiritualism in his space. It was not weird that way in the Renaissance but things have changed.

The work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist who died in 1955, is little discussed today. But in the '60s, especially with the backdrop of the ecology movement and recognition of 'spaceship earth' and 'earth as a biosphere,' his often mystic ruminations, at least in Catholic colleges in the U.S., were commonly considered.

His theory was that man is evolving, mentally and socially, toward a final spiritual unity. Blending science and Christianity, he declared that the human epic resembles "nothing so much as a way of the Cross." Following his cogitations involved various philosophical leaps, which his religious superiors were not entirely comfortable with. All his major works, including The Phenomenon of Man, were published posthumously [per].

De Chardin's apparent decline in general estimation (though it is too early in the vortex of time to tell his final estimation), can in part be laid to questions on his scientism, not the least of which was his purported role in the Piltdown Man fossil hoax. While he likely did not play a role as an instigator of the hoax according to good research, the indications that he was taken in by it, and questions of his scientific rigor, helped place his star in decline for now.

He played a fundamental role in proposing the theory of a noosphere, or global or historical mind, that is on the level of the intellect, as opposed to the geosphere, or nonliving world, and the biosphere, or living world. The Web seems to have some characteristics of the noosphere as proposed by de Chardin.

My reacquaintance with de Chardin led me to write a poem called The Phenomenon of Man which maybe should have been called The Phenomenal Man. The phenomenon of man song was inspired by the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and his thoughts on a certain impulsion of mankind, one that led the bloggist Jack to wonder if we are not actually the UFOs we have been waiting for. The effort here was, a P.T.D.C. put it, "in a few bold strokes, to map out the phases or successive waves of ''invasion.''

De Chardin wrote:

"Our picture is of mankind labouring under the impulsion of an obscure instinct, so as to break out through its narrow point of emergence and submerge the earth; of thought becoming number so as to conquer all habitable space, taking precedence over all other forms of life …”

Goodbye, goodbye, Orlando
Obviously most of what I have to say about Orlando happened on television with me watching. One thing I like about Orlando is the happy kids I will never be again, but there are some things I still remember. Of my young days. Uncovering things excitedly. In the usa. In summertime.

Orlando gives no aura of Kerouac. Few of us can believe that, yes, the first house he ever bought, was there. Just after the great pop of success for On The Road. But those were days before Disney incursion. Maybe it was a whistle stop for orange industry. Certainly it was a part of America, and thus known to Kerouac. For a flash waiting for van airport shuttle I saw people in the anxious moment as if in a Kerouac dream. Kerouac’s world like Saroyan’s; like my mothers. Sweet, hard, simple. People going somewhere carrying their emotional baggage. Couldn’t really be like that, now could it? Cant go back, but we, for now, seem to be on a parade to a new form of unreality.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Antler's Factory

There is a poet named Antler who wrote a book called Factory [City Lights #38, 1980]. He was originally from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and, like a lot of folks in that neck of the woods, he worked in factories, in his case a can factory, which I took to be a branch of Continental Can. It was a system of regimentation, oppression, life-sucking and automation.

This is not the Andy Warhol Factory.

Fact is I used to work in a factory filling Continental cans with wax. They were lidded, maybe with Antler created lids for all I know. Factory, the book, is a helleva screed that paints a true picture of the day of the factory worker in tremendous litany of felt experience.

Antler is not too well known, but Antler’s writing was acclaimed by Allen Ginsberg. Here’s a bit. He’s looking at himself in relation to another, probably long time worker, and comparing.

Don’t we both know the way
to the prong of our alarm in the dark?
How long could I work without looking up at the clock?
How long before I was watching its hands
more than watching my own package lids.

Two things:

Uno: This rings so true of my factory experience. I remember Jeff DeMark really tagged it with his song I Got To Get To My Machine [It’s Waiting in Racine] which I swear he’d introduce with a poem that discussed that existential factory moment, when you look at the clock, hoping that it is 4:55 and day is done. If you estimate that you’ve reached that moment, but discover subsequently that it is, say 2.35 or even 4:05, you feel a great great defeat.Antler gets to that point with a stiletto. [Jeff told me he met Antler once in Arcata or Eureka CA.]

Dos: Antler depicts a Metropolis style factory, not unlike Ginsberg’s Moloch in Howl. It is like “The System” we used to talk about.I think sometimes the notion of this system, that eats people, came out of WWI. In South East Wisconsin in my youth, factories were just part of the terra firma. In high school or college summer days, you’d get jobs in such places. I wonder if that is happening to day. First of all, factories have moved “away;” secondly kids w the wherewithal to go to college more than then are not expected to come up with money by getting jobs of that kind. Might poke an eye out. Don’t what goes on in the factories, but for sure I see the landscaping crews of today, and they don’t have the college kids as I used to know.

Oops, seems like the Saturday Night Review of Literature just gave way to the Ma and Pa Kettle Show.

Whatever. I did podcast reading of portion of Antler’s Factory. Sorry: I recorded this on back porch and it sounds like it. Also I interrupt poem at one point and disturb the historical thoroughness by talking about my mother [as I would if I were here and you were here]. Also: I comment on the MP3 that I first read Antler in 1970. But it was really 1979 or 1980 [in CoEvolutionary Quarterly].

Jack Vaughan reading from Antler’s Factory – MP3
[Right click to download, or Left click to spawn your chosen Audio Playback App. Whatever you do, click! Ask a youth for help.]

Antler on Amazon

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