Sunday, September 22, 2013

Seeing Things in Seamus Heaney


The tattered artificer
had his way
would build a honey comb shrine
with words like bees becoming light
spectral casting
on the cave wall.


My brother sat versus Seamus Heaney
on a plane to Ireland
My son and I saw him
on the lecture stage at Harvard
We tracked and traced him
But never met him at
The Field.
Had pints anyway
you take what
you can
Along the way.


Seamus cadged
a stone
from my ear
and it in his palm displayed
He dropped the ink
in the water boys
and poked you with a poem
you know
the stuff
jumped off
the page.


There was "this woman who sat for years
in a wheelchair, looking straight ahead"
and it evinced a neighbor
walking to worship o'er.

Betty in rouge
She'd trudged gingerly
to Saturday 4oclock mass
old brown coat forwardly
she was leaning
toward praying.


There was 'Blessed be down to earth!
Blessed be highs!" that popped my pa again
into my poor boy's cranium.

My father diving for the fishnet
like a crane in his prime
for the rented net I'd dropped in
Fence Lake
Not going to lose that deposit yet
Not going to be
too harsh
on me, either.


Recollection embedded:
"when you swing a loaded basket"

A ga-zillion chestnuts I remember
Gathered in a red wagon
Under a gigantic tree
I cant pay you boys said
the Lutheran woman
We didn’t care
But what to do with them?


There's more. What's more?
There's a cavernous store!
Seamus leaving mellifluous words to glide
swan like exploding
in our buzzing pond

Hey, I was here
Adroitly exploding
Yet swanlike unto
old Ireland.
                          -Jack Vaughan, Sept 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Invocation harp

For Seamus Heaney

The old scarfed bohemian house wives
the 6 o'clock morning mass dark and 20 below
dad drove me - the altar to serve
The slightly sour smell of wine
pored carefully into chalices
"The patted lips" of the priest
much marble and gold
and I lived in mystery.

                -Jack Vaughan, Sept. 2013

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Influence Suite

I was at the Plaza Hotel in a suite waiting to interview Bob Miller who then headed MIPS Computers. Late 1980s, I guess.

It was a big press event, with follow up one-on-ones. It seems funny today but, at the time, the MIPS chip was a potential power house semiconductor world changer. This was its release. It was built on architecture of the great John "RISC" Hennessy, and a seeming challenge to Intel.  Microsoft was porting Windows/NT to it.

Big time stuff.  It's inapt for me to say Miller had class, but as I saw it, he had it. He could be jovial. He'd been at Data General, and was a figure in "the Soul of A New Machine" which was myth in that day.  He's at the Plaza, relaxes a bit after the formal public event..

There's a Wall Street Journal. The guys are passing it around. One was Chet Silvestri, the guy I wanted to talk with, a major microprocessor designer. The WSJ lead was a story on John Towers, a former senator who'd been as powerful as any ever, who'd been picked (but later rejected) to be Sec. of Defense. Towers was unpopular in the senate. He "womanized"  (meaning: chased women aggressively?) and he drank heavily. ( His rejection led to Little Richard Cheney's DoD ascension.)

The WSJ story as I recall had him in a capital restaurant, chattering loudly, drunkenly at lunch. The result of the trouble in the papers was that his career was soon pretty much over, at least his ascent. Rather than competitive senators placing carefully the story with the WSJ who researched it and set its timing as in that day, this would have been tweeted to all media in real time.People are dwelling it, cause it is the news of the moment.

"Towers needs a P.R. person," says Miller, and the guys laugh. Oh, I get it, I am thinking. In these corridors, public relations is the lugubrious lotion of ultimate unction! It was true, Towers had to curry influence. I had entered the chamber of ultimate insight, there in that Plaza suite. Obviously, I was in over my head: Mystic keystone alchemical insight – boing! At the time, publications like mine were the prominent influencers in the domain of microprocessor design, a domain then of unimaginable treasure.

So that Plaza – the same, unless my memory has failed me here totally – that was a setting for a major motion picture or two – was where I saw or thought I saw what influence was about.  So much has changed!

The Wall Street Journal today is still the influential journal it ever was. Much still transpires in august surroundings. But so much has receded around it.

For Bob Miller and MIPS, well, they had pr, that day, but influence was fleeting (lucre too). The Intel chip held sway, the Sun Sparc and (later) the IBM Power ICs took the high end, for what it was worth, and a sleeper called Acorn (now ARM) waited in wings.

This is a story about influence from first principles. There was one moment when the world of public relations opened up for me a bit, and I will tell you about it. P.R. is/was a way of greasing the skids of influence, which is still as much mystical elixir as it is social science today.

The story's morale is nothing anyone couldn’t figure out. But I learned it viscerally, so it is embedded in me thus. - Jack Vaughan Sept 2013


I just read a white paper on "influence". "The Influence Landscape" is not a bad digest of the trend that sees some big changes underway in the machinery of publicity, most due to the increasingly dominant channel of communication called 'The World Wide Web."Something's insightful here – something's banal. Something's here reasonable – some not. Some I agree with – some not.  Kind of par for the course. But the baseline is: Media is about influence. And the channels of influence are shifting. Digital media provide the mechanism for better measure, maybe, of what influence is. The new media certainly has allowed new experts to arise, many of whom the very people that the conventional press previously relied on, who have created new nexi (plural of nexus) for influential communities to arise around. How much does a hot shot rocket star developer care today about being quoted in a magazine? Some, but less than in the past.  Why? Because they have their own blog, or the count on an influencer to blog or tweet their words at public forums – even more so than they can count on a reporter to report the same.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Albert Collins

Albert Collins had a long recording career. There are a couple or three of albums that really stick out for me. (bet there is a bunch more). But for me it starts with Truckin…which Mike Brusha had back in 69. (he had more money than the rest of us at the time). Truckin  has a bunch of "Texas" hits (though some may be re recordings) including stuff JGeils redid…

Then there was Ice Pickin. When Hubert Sumlin stayed over, he played just one record, over and over, and it was this…Ice Pickin. What a great cover! This won an award!

One more….in my pantheon…. With Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray… (both really great too!) was Showdown! Both this and Avalanche were topnotch hits in the blues scene of the day. Then the Kools got him (or maybe Salems), and Albert slipped away.

I saw him once. In Eureka Calif on the night Elvis Presley died. Robert Cray Band opened and backed him.  This was before the wireless guitar connections to amps. Albert had an I-don’t-know-say-200-ft-chord. And he was known to do he started wandering through the audience .. went out the front door of the club… and .. actually .. completely across the street on the sidewalk where he kept on playing … the club is going wild looking  out the front .. playing all the time..That's Entertainment. I can tell you about his advice to Robert Cray (heard this second and third hand) on how to deal with managers) but I cant put this down on "paper" .. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Keith Richard's "Life", the Music, 1

Keith Richard's biography ("Life", 2010) was a surprising success both in terms of its commercial appeal  and its literary quality. Not quite up there with Dylan's "Chronicles," but not so far off (more honest cause less arty, some would say); i t shows a very intelligent person with a definite perspective on life.

What was particularly interesting to me was Keith Richards' commentary on music. Some people would fault him as a mercenary or popularizer of the blues. I think "Life" shows he was and is a true blues scholar, who took on a life-long thoughtful engineering study of blues as music and feeling.

Heartbreak Hotel on Radio Luxembourg is sort of the beginning. The first rock 'n roll he ever heard. It sounded totally different, "bare, right to the roots that you had a feeling were there but hadn't  yet heard." He heard it compared to highly orchestrated musics of the day. Haunting Heartbreak Hotel came up through silence. "Silence is your canvas," writes Richards. The consequent perception being to live with the Silence and make peace with it as you make music. P. 58

It was the band, not the singer, that really got to him – more specifically the guitarist Scotty Moore. (He edint listen to Ricky Nelson, he says, he listened to James Burton.)p.60  He is a collector of little figures, small riffs. The ones that make so much difference on the great works. He has been trying to figure out one of Scotty's (on "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone") for over 40 years.  And Scotty keeps the curtain closed. "Every time I see him, it's 'Learnt that lick yet?" Richards writes.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Who Owns the Future? - 1

Reading about the future I am. Specifically 'Who Owns the Future?' by Jaron Lanier. He in recent years arose lion like from virtual reality in the belly of the technology machine and stopped by god to wonder what this technology stuff means. As this 'Smarter Planet' hurdles onward, his manifestos are prescient.  

He discerningly depicts the modern Web taking its users and turning them into "small elements in a bigger information machine". This bigger information subsumed  great blocks of the former Madison Avenue, and in Google it reaches epitome. (Does Lanier know this terrain? Yes, he sold a company to Google ). 

Where Lanier is especially onto something is in his dogged insistence that humans give meaning to the technology, not the other way around. He doesn’t even like you to use the term technology unless you first place it in the specific human context, as I saw on a CSPAN book show he recently did.

Technology – and be sure the perfume merchants at the Apple store daily place this on display - seems like a dream, an evocation. Just as much it seems of late like a religion – one based on tsunamic Godzilla style myth. 

But it's meaning only derives from its use in society, as J.L emphasizes, and I've seen it time and time again. The web wasn’t to be a utopian townhall. It was to be Jeff Bezos riding west to shuffle electrons,to exploit inefficiencies  and best the mortar and bricks with all their mass beginning to gum up the uber machine works of shifting of commerce.

Lanier looks at music. And the mass media advance called MP3. He reverse engineers the historical  supply chain of the old record industry,  store clerks and warehouse shufflers and Teamsters carrying the rackjobs, and women placing records into sleeves made of cardboard – all making a living in the wake of song. All reduced to rubble by the download, for the benefit of the listener (who can now imagine and get any music practically), but more to the point, to the benefit of the iTunes store and the Apple shareholders that were there on the way up and out on the way up.

 "It used to be the printing presses were expensive, so paying newspaper reporters seemed like a natural expense to fill the pages," he writes. But when the news became free who would pay? (People look at me like I am a fool sometimes for buying the Times. Cause that stuff is free. Moore's law in Lanier's view starts to collapse when humans come into the equation.. We really don't get these things for free it's "in exchange for our acquiescence to being spied on," in other words, our potential for submersion as data points.

As we look for ethos, we note in Silicon Valley it is Moore's law acting as guiding principle. Chips will become more powerful and more cheap and take on more functions as they shrink. He calls it "10 Commandments wrapped into one." (p. 10) Yes, Moore's law is describing the magical nonlinear growth of said semiconductor prowess… I have seen it in volume cost projection for a Mostek Ethernet chip, I have seen it as the power in the imagination of the Silicon Valley technology evangelist who cheerfully sees the course of the future in ever disaggregating waves. As the author states: it's something of a religious emotion.

We (Warren Weaver, the Rockefeller Foundation, the young me) worried about too much leisure time in the 60s, with automation pressing at the boundaries. That seems funny today. The social system will instead re-arrange the divvy. The dominant social strata will work to dominate, even if as in the case of Google its scales to many pennies first (and thence to many dollars second). For me, splashing to stay alive in a sea of technology the criticism of Lanier is like a life preserver. Let me study upon adaptation of Lanier's emerging guidance, for I have an inner analytic engine that needs a rebuild. - Jack Vaughan, Sept 1, 2013

Bob Buhl, The American Flag, A Clock and a Trophy from 8th Grade

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