Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Google is smarter than Harvard.

Just in case you were wondering, Google is actually smarter than Harvard and here's the proof ...

In searching for this book, "Weisber, Stewart E. (2009). Barney Frank: The Story of America's only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman," my first stop was Harvard's online library catalog, Hollis, where I entered the information exactly as I had retrieved it from a Wikipedia entry about Boston's Combat Zone. Hollis responded in this manner, "No results found. Your query did not produce any results."

It seemed odd to me that the world's largest university library system would have no record of a book. So I entered the same information into a Google search, which immediately returned this, "Showing results for: Weisberg, Stuart E. (2009). Barney Frank: The Story of America's only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman," with a link to Amazon, followed by another 5,919 after that.

I am certain there is a raging academic debate as to whether an online university catalog should require an exact citation or not   this is after all the kind of thing that academics debate   but in a world where the people's encyclopedia Wikipedia offers up an erroneous reference and Harvard draws a blank on it, it is nice to know that some geeks in Mountain View, California are smart enough to figure it out. The score is now Google 1, Harvard 0.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Two Houses.

These are two houses, and two very short stories.  

This small house is in Somerville, on Beacon Street.  

It’s brick and put together with a lot of care.  So much so that even the untrained eye can see the quality. It harkens back to very good examples of local brick work of prior centuries. 

It’s also not completed and has been under construction for a very long time.  So long in fact that one can't help but ask why.  A neighbor ventured this theory:

The house is the builder's last effort.  When he finishes it, he will retire. He can't bear this fact, and it prevents him from ever being able to complete it.  Whatever awaits him on the other side of a completed house, he does not want to meet.

The Greeks had stories about people like him.  Sisyphus' task would never end.  This man has a task that he won’t ever let end.  Funny that.

In Southbridge, Massachusetts on land adjacent to a golf course sits a different house, a vacant house of quite some significance in New England architectural history.  It looks like this.

It is known as the Wells House, named for its first owner George Wells, the president of American Optical, at one time the largest manufacturer of steel eyeglasses in the United States.

It was completed in 1933, designed by Paul Wood, a young architect at Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch and Abbott.  It is one of the very first examples of modernism in New England, predating by five years Walter Gropius' much more famous house in Lincoln.

However, unlike the Gropius House, the Wells House is not protected by any Society of the Well-Meaning to care for its needs. It stands subject to the wear of time and the tear of the elements as its fate is bartered in the impersonal and uncaring hands of the market. This is part blessing. The house is no fossil to architecture nor has it been vacuum-sealed by the shrink-wrappers of history, the preservationists. Yet, it is also part threat. Before the roof falls in at Wells, it needs a new owner.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Grab Bag: Mama Cass stirs Christopher Hitchens.

It's summer time, so the posts take a little respite. But Friday is a Grab Bag Day, so here is a Grab Bag thought.

Earlier, I listened to the Mamas and the Papas sing "Go Where You Wanna Go", their 1965 hit. Since the song was recorded before I was born, it wouldn't strain credulity if I ran out a string of associations, nay memories, stretching my whole life long.  Interestingly though the song brings back only one thought, a tuneful thought of sorts.

Christopher Hitchens, public intellectual, pompous ass, pugilist. He is the thought.

This might sound odd, and perhaps it is, but in his memoir -- at least I believe it is in his memoir -- Hitchens describes coming to the United States for the first time. The year was 1969.  He was still a student at Oxford but took the summer to drive around this country. To him, America was something an Englishman could almost hardly imagine. From his cold, damp, hide-bound island, empire no more, here was a place that was alive with energy and enthusiasm. Hitchens noted with a wonderment and awe that America could fight a war and send a man to the moon at the same time.

Christopher Hitchens later became an American citizen and made some good money poking fun at our shibboleths, but during that summer the man once described as a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay" felt the cool wind in his hair and listened to Mama Cass over and over again.  He reveled in that moment, accompanied by an anthem to youth, its indulgences and freedoms and to independence.

Hitchens was a man I loved to hate, and I suspect I wasn't alone. Perhaps because he popped bubbles so desperately in need of popping, he reeked of a smugness that rankled. On reflection, however, nothing he said runs to counter to me. I miss his British acerbity on the public stage. He never shied from saying things that needed saying, nor avoided a scuffle or was cowed by a bully.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A thought for the Fourth of July.

What an amazing species we are, that we could fashion from this feather a quill pen,

 and from that quill pen, a nation.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Friday Grab Bag (on a Thursday): Weegee won't marry a Brooklyn girl; Is it all bunk?: Whither Janet Yellen?

It's Friday. Well no, it's Thursday, but tomorrow's Friday the 4th of July.  We will be celebrating our independence, Hurricane Arthur will be soaking Boston and Cambridge passing just off the coast of Nantucket, France will be playing Germany in the World Cup, and Friday's Grab Bag will have already happened, today.  Happy 4th!  "When in the course of human events ..."

*  *  * 

Behold a wonderful book, Sidewalks of America: Folklore, Legends, Sagas, Traditions, Customs, Songs, Stories and Sayings of Cityfolk, a 1954 collection by B.A. Botkin.  A friend loaned it to me.  On page 21, I come across this little gem:

... Weegee told us ... he wants to get married.  "So far I haven't been married as yet and I'm 47, but that wouldn't stop me.  Of course," he added, "I don't believe in marriage.  I'm a free soul.  But I'd be glad to humor the girl along and marry her." He paused, then added, "One thing -- I don't think I'll find her in Brooklyn." (quoted from "Why Weegee Won't Marry a Brooklyn Girl," by Jean Evans, PM Picture News, April 21, 1946).

*  *  * 

Yesterday, I found myself in the MIT Press Bookstore. I looked at the books, and they all were so damn serious.

Then I thought to myself, "What if it's all bunk? The whole lot of it, just bunk?"

*  *  *

If my memory serves me well, The New Republic used to run a box in its magazine filled with headlines from various publications that drew exactly opposite conclusions from the same news event.  It was hilarious to read, a good antidote to the pomposity of print media before the advent of the internet.  Well, I just had a time warp, courtesy of a Google search.  Look at the two headlines about Janet Yellen and interest rates:

The search originated in these interesting sentences from a story about wealth from the tech boom in the Bay Area:
"Quantitative easing, the policy that drove a great deal of wealth into Bay area tech, is expected to end this fall, and interesting rates will likely rise again before long.  If the market assessments of observers like Tom Perkins are correct, these changes will cause wealth to flow into lower-risk investments, and the start up economy will finally slow down." (Nathan Heller, "California Screaming", New Yorker, July 7 & 14, 2014.)