Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the LIght

Eric Heller, in The Disinherited Mind, tells of the Munich clown whom he characterizes as "one of the greatest of the rare race of metaphysical clowns...." He recounts how he once enacted the following scene: the curtain goes up and reveals darkness; and in this darkness is a solitary circle of light thrown by a street-lamp. Vallentin, with his long-drawn and deeply worried face, walks round and round this circle of light, desperately looking for something. "What have you lost?" a policeman asks who has entered the scene. "The key to my house." Upon which the policeman joins him in his search; they find nothing; and after a while he inquires: "Are you sure you lost it here?" "No," says Vallentin, and pointing to a dark corner of the stage: "Over there." "Then why on earth are you looking for it here?" "There is no light over there," says Vallentin. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Electric Fences and Cows

E.B. White was amused to learn from a farmer friend that many electrified fences don't have any current running through them. The cows apparently learn to stay away from them, after that you don't need the current. "Rise up, cows!" He wrote. "take your liberty while despots snore.

Hackers & Painters, Paul Graham

Monday, March 9, 2009

Barreling Down the Hill

When the poet Ruth Stone was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would feel and hear a poem coming at her over the landscape. She said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her. When she felt it coming – ‘cause it would shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do: run like hell to the house as she was chased by this poem. The whole idea was to get to a paper and pencil fast enough so that when this poem came through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. There would be other times she wouldn’t be fast enough. She’d be running and running back to the house, the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it. She said it would continue on through the landscape looking for another poet. And then there were times when she would almost miss it. She would reach out with her hand and catch it by the tail and pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on a page. In these instances, the poem would come up on the page complete and intact – but backwards. The last word to the first.

Source: Elizabeth Gilbert, TED 09

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No Time to Loose Gardening

The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'

Monday, February 2, 2009

Clarke and Asimov

According to Arthur C. Clarke, one day in the late 1960s he and Isaac
Asimov shared a New York taxicab. During the ride they agreed that
Clark was the world's leading science fiction writer and
second-ranking nonfiction science writer, while Asimov was the leading
science writer and second-ranking science fiction writer.

Robert Heinlein, the third member of the "trinity" of science fiction
writers who dominate the postwar growth of the genre, was not in the
cab, so Clarke and Asimov did not have to deal him in.

Source: Emmet Labs
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Oak Beams at New College

New College, Oxford, is of rather late foundation, hence the name. It was founded around the late 14th century. It has like other colleges, a great dining hall with big oaks beams across the top, yes? These might be two fee square, forty five feet long.

A century ago, so I am told, some busy entomologist went up into the roof of the dining hall with a penknife and poked at the beams and found that they were full of beetles. This was reported to the College Council, who met in some dismay, because where would they get beams of that caliber nowadays.?

One of the Junior Fellows stuck his neck out and suggested that there might be on college lands some oak. These colleges are endowed with pieces of land scattered across the country. So they called in the College Forester, who of course had not been near the college itself for some years, and asked him about oaks.

And he pulled his forelock and said, “Well sires, we was wonderin’ when you’d be askin’.”

Upon further inquiry it was discovered that when the college was founded, a grove of oaks ha been planted to replace the beams in the dining hall when they became beetly, because oak beams always become beetly in the end. This plan had been passed down for one Forester to the next for five hundred years. “You don’t cut them oaks. Them’s for the College Hall.”

A nice story. That’s the way to run a culture.

Author: Gregory Bateson, anthropologist/philosopher
Source: How Buildings Learn

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Chinese Farmer

There is an ancient Chinese story, still known to most East Asians today, about an old farmer whose only horse ran away. Knowing that the horse was the mainstay of his livelihood, his neighbors cam to commiserate with him. "Who knows what's good or bad?" said the old man, refusing their sympathy. And indeed, a few days later his horse returned, bringing with it a wild horse. The old man's friends came to congratulate him. Rejecting their congratulations the old man said, "Who knows what's good or bad?" And, as it happened, a few days later when the old man's son was attempting to ride the wild horse, he was thrown from it and his leg was broken. The friends came to express their sadness about the son's misfortune. "Who knows what's good or bad?" said the old man. A few weeks passed, and the army came to the village to conscript all the able-bodied men to fight a war against the neighboring province, but the old man's son was not fit to serve and was spared.
Author: Richard Nisbett
Source: Geography of Thought