2,000-year-old 100-layer sword, reputed to have been owed by Lui Bang (fl. circa 200 B.C.) first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, found originally covered with blood rust. The pattern shown in the bottom photo is known as leopard spots.
Collectors Weekly visits swordmaker Francis Boyd, learns the difference between Damascus layered and wootz steel, and gets to see a sword gifted in China by Marco Polo (or a close relative).
When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust.” Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.
“You can tell it’s blood,” he says matter-of-factly, “because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.”
Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell.
Do you still pine for your college days, when the personal computer was a decade or more in the future, and the typewriter still reigned?
USBtypewriter offers not-terribly-expensive conversion kits to allow you to use old-timey manual typewriters instead of that nasty new-fangled keyboard. Sorry, those slightly less geriatric who prefer electric typewriters (like the Royal I used to use, or the IBM Selectric) are out of luck.
Richard Fernandez (who went to Harvard and is consequently shaky on his Greek Mythology.*) thinks that Information Technology, the Internet, and the Blogosphere have revived the Muses.
Today most people don’t believe in the Muses any more. Not in the sense that the ancients did. The three — the goddesses of literarture, science and the arts — were at one time supposed to command men to speak. They have largely been replaced by the single all purpose modern deity: the Job. In modern political orthodoxy we do things for one rational reason only, which is to get paid.
We write when the Boss tells us to. We craft a speech of talking points that the committee has approved. But of the muses we heard no more. Until recently.
If any spiritual debt is owed to the informational technology revolution it has been in the resurrection of the Muses. For no one familiar with the programming world will believe for a minute that its best developers write code to be paid. They code because it is cool. They code and you would have to pay them not to code.
They are laboring, not for the chump change offered on Rent-A-Coder, but under the lash of the muse. And because they have been so successful at remolding our world modern, cynical, materialistic culture has once again been forced, at iPod-point to re-acknowledge the impulse of creativity.
We are no more surprised to read of some eminent programmer found dead in a motel room, surrounded by empty boxes of pizza and hundreds of cans of Jolt Cola, expired of heart attack, one bony finger poised to type the final curly bracket of his life than the ancients would have been to find some pilgrim deceased on the path to a seer’s cave, or overcome by the smoke of the Oracle. A victim to the muse and wanderer along the way.
David Petraeus wore regularly a lot more awards than Dwight Eisenhower did many years ago.
Marines have long remarked humorously on the proliferation of awards, badges, and decorations worn by members of the US Army. General Petraeus’s resignation as CIA Director recently even provoked comment from left-wing commentators, like Andrew Sullivan, on the questionable taste of contemporary doggie custom.
The Marines, of course, are a lot better qualified to criticize in areas of this kind than are foreign poofter journalists who make professional careers of Dolchstoß-ing those who protect them from big bad sand monkeys who would do them harm.
I was reminded of the criticism of General Petraeus’s uniform’s collection of shiny hardware by a photo of even more heavily be-medalled Chinese officers that has been floating around on Facebook. The original was sufficiently profuse with badges that it provoked some wag to use Photoshop to multiply them, and even to extend the medals to some Chinamen’s trousers. (see below)
The legitimate, original photo of Chinese officers.
Photoshopped parody. There are medals even on the sleeves and trousers.
Dvice.com has a story of an educational experiment confirming the optimistic point of view with respect to human curiosity and ingenuity.
What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they’ll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa. ...
Rather than give out laptops (they’re actually Motorola Zoom tablets plus solar chargers running custom software) to kids in schools with teachers, the OLPC Project decided to try something completely different: it delivered some boxes of tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, taped shut, with no instructions whatsoever. Just like, “hey kids, here’s this box, you can open it if you want, see ya!”
Just to give you a sense of what these villages in Ethiopia are like, the kids (and most of the adults) there have never seen a word. No books, no newspapers, no street signs, no labels on packaged foods or goods. Nothing. And these villages aren’t unique in that respect; there are many of them in Africa where the literacy rate is close to zero. So you might think that if you’re going to give out fancy tablet computers, it would be helpful to have someone along to show these people how to use them, right?
But that’s not what OLPC did. They just left the boxes there, sealed up, containing one tablet for every kid in each of the villages (nearly a thousand tablets in total), pre-loaded with a custom English-language operating system and SD cards with tracking software on them to record how the tablets were used. Here’s how it went down, as related by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference last week:
“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”
The Pew poll is devastating, just devastating. Before the debate, Obama had a 51 – 43 lead; now, Romney has a 49 – 45 lead. That’s a simply unprecedented reversal for a candidate in October. Before Obama had leads on every policy issue and personal characteristic; now Romney leads in almost all of them. Obama’s performance gave Romney a 12 point swing! I repeat: a 12 point swing.
Romney’s favorables are above Obama’s now. Yes, you read that right. Romney’s favorables are higher than Obama’s right now. That gender gap that was Obama’s firewall? Over in one night:
Currently, women are evenly divided (47% Obama, 47% Romney). Last month, Obama led Romney by 18 points (56% to 38%) among women likely voters.
Seriously: has that kind of swing ever happened this late in a campaign? Has any candidate lost 18 points among women voters in one night ever? And we are told that when Obama left the stage that night, he was feeling good. That’s terrifying. On every single issue, Obama has instantly plummeted into near-oblivion. He still has some personal advantages over Romney – even though they are all much diminished. Obama still has an edge on Medicare, scores much higher on relating to ordinary people, is ahead on foreign policy, and on being moderate, consistent and honest (only 14 percent of swing voters believe Romney is honest). But on the core issues of the economy and the deficit, Romney is now kicking the president’s ass.
This young tech blogger dude sits down in a coffee shop in Portland to catch up on his email and do a little blogging on his Macbook Air, when an incredibly ancient geezer comes along and starts up a conversation about Apple computers.
The old guy doesn’t approve of Apple’s iPad approach: all consuming, no programming, no creating, no doing anything which hasn’t ever been done before. The young guy asks the old geezer what he ever did that hadn’t been done before, and the old guy replies: “I invented the first computer.”
Whenever a murderous shooting spree like the recent movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado hits the news, liberals don their tall, pointed thinking caps and start prescribing more gun control.
It escapes the liberal thought processes that disarming peaceful law-abiding citizens is pointless, and anyone prepared to violate laws against homicide is going to be willing to ignore laws prohibiting firearms possession as well. Liberals theorize in an imaginary setting, completely different from the real world, in which it is only necessary to adopt a regulation or pass another law, and “So let it be written, so let it be done!” Pharoah’s will is totally effective and accomplished. No one simply ignores it.
In the real world, of course, banning things that people want, liquor, drugs, gambling, prostitution, cheap immigrant labor, or guns, never works at all because people then go and buy the illegal good or services on the black market. Large American cities with the strictest gun control laws typically also have the highest crime rates.
People like NYC Mayor Bloomberg believe that the problem is that their authority just isn’t wide enough. If their gun bans could only be spread across the country, then there wouldn’t be any guns. It escapes Mayor Bloomberg’s attention that drugs are banned across the country, and you can still find plenty of illegal drugs in NYC.
A universal gun ban would be widely resisted and evaded. People would hide guns in their houses and bury them in their backyards. You’d have to invade and search every house, office, factory, and garage in the country to search for and confiscate guns, and you’d still never successfully get them all.
Liberals do not seem to realize that you can make a primitive gun which will actually fire from an old automobile antenna, a board, a rubber band and a couple of nails. In Afghanistan, in primitive village operations, people successfully fabricate working copies of bolt action Mausers and Enfields, full-auto-capable M-16s and AK-47s, grenade launchers and full-sized machine guns using simple hand tools, producing most parts by hand filing. An American with a garage workshop and Dremel tool set could do even better.
Mark Gibbs, in Forbes, however, reports that notions of restricting access to guns by fiat have just lately become even more preposterous and out-dated than ever. We have reached the tipping-point of technology in which the ability to produce physical objects like the receiver of the AR assault rifle will soon become effectively within everybody’s reach.
A fellow writing as Have Blue used a readily-available and not-terribly-expensive 3D printer to produce the lower receiver (the part that counts as the machine gun, the part that you have to register and pay tax on to the BATFE) of an AR in plastic resin. His example was scaled down in size to .22 caliber, and he may only have printed the semi-auto version receiver not requiring the full-auto federal registration and tax, but the principle has been demonstrated.
We are momentarily going to be living in a world in which it will be perfectly possible for the private individual at home to produce the same fully automatic weapons which once required factories to manufacture using a personal computer, a 3D printer, and a few dollars worth of materials.
Hat tip to Glen Reynolds (who is still the best in the business).
One winces when one reads: “Recently the Yale University library unceremoniously junked its old card catalogue drawers, filling a large dumpster with them.”
David A. Bell, in the New Republic, describes how cataclysmic change is coming to libraries everywhere and discusses what all this is likely to mean.
For how long will providing access to physical books remain a central mission for libraries? Even as reading on screens becomes more and more common, the number of books easily available in electronic form seems likely to increase, and a consensus for allowing some form of free access to “library copies” of digital files seems likely to emerge. True, the legal wrangling over Google Books has shown worrisome signs of stretching out, Bleak House– fashion, toward the next century. But with the digital files of copyrighted books already in existence, and with money to be made from their distribution, it still seems probable that within twenty years or so, it will be possible to download virtually any book ever printed, anywhere, to any device. The chances will be better for readers with access to some sort of subscription service—most often through universities where they study, or have faculty positions. But even for those without this sort of privileged access, some form of free access may very well emerge. And then, what future for libraries?
One nightmare scenario is all too easy to imagine. The year is 2033, and the Third Great Recession has just struck. Although voters have finally turned the Tea Party out of office in Washington, the financial situation remains dire across the country. New York City in particular faces skyrocketing deficits as a result of the most recent Wall Street wipeout, and the bankruptcy of Goldman Chase. In City Hall, a newly elected mayor casts a covetous glance at the grand main branch of the New York Public Library. Think how much money the city could save by selling it, along with the thirty remaining branch libraries scattered throughout the five boroughs. After strenuous negotiations, the mayor announces a deal with Googlezon, under which the company will make fifty electronic copies of any book in its database available at any one time to city residents, for two-week free rentals on the reading device of their choice. Two years later, where the main branch library once stood, the mayor proudly cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Bryant Park Mall. As for the services once performed by actual librarians, these have now been replaced by a cloud software package, with customer service representatives standing by online in case of technical difficulties (most of them physically located in suburban Manila).
In truth, such a turn of events would hardly rank with the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria in the annals of cultural vandalism. If it came to pass, readers would still enjoy, between the new electronic “lending library” and the public domain titles accessible through the Digital Public Library of America, a larger and more complete library at their fingertips (literally!) than exists today in any single locality. It would not be the barbaric destruction of knowledge. It would be the democratization of knowledge on a scale unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. The benefits are not to be discounted.
Yet the sacrifices entailed—the loss of physical libraries, and of librarians—would still be massive and culturally tragic.
I don’t personally give a rat’s ass about those “library communities” of his, but I certainly agree that the transition is going to be revolutionary and not without losses and pain.
From my own viewpoint as a researcher and regular user of major libraries, I wonder if the experts and planners managing the Great Revolution transitioning us from printed paper to electronic files sufficiently appreciate the crucial importance of preserving and maintaining access to serial publications.
It is very common for enormously larger quantities and much more detailed information on many subjects to have been preserved in ephemeral articles and letters in newspapers and magazines than ever actually made it onward to be preserved between the covers of actual books.
Serial publications are additionally characteristically cheaply printed on rapidly deteriorating acid-filled paper and weekly publications are typically folio sized. Not only are serials prone to be overlooked as a relatively insignificant afterthought by professional librarians. Their preservation is more costly and more difficult than that of most books.
The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law“—which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants—becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
Jason Stewart (a self-described Apple addict) does not have much good to say about the current (incredibly expensive) MacBook Pro.
As Dan Ackerman at CNet noted, the Retina Mac “feels like a rest stop on the road to somewhere else,” a place where we truly get thin, light and beautiful. Already, the Samsung Series 9 is smaller and lighter. And many of the rest of the radical changes are more marketing hype than features. The asymmetrical fan blades that were going to revolutionize quiet laptop cooling? If you try real hard, you might hear a trivial difference. What about the “All Flash Architecture”? In other words, whereas before you had a choice between a fast, but ridiculously expensive SSD drive, or a cheaper, larger capacity conventional hard drive, now you can only have the SSD drive. Only Apple could successfully market that limitation as a revolutionary feature.
Of course, if you need to connect an Ethernet cable you better shell out extra for a dongle and hope you can find it when you need it. Need to watch a movie on disc or load a program or content the old fashioned way? Apple has just the extra accessory to sell you for that, too, since it is no longer included.
The new MacBook Pro with Retina display is a nice computer. The screen is innovative at a cost of both dollars and features. Whether it’s worth the substantial premium (more than $4,000, fully loaded) is a personal decision. Apple has never been accused of catering to the wish lists of the masses, and this is no exception. It has staked its claim on a new display standard and if that means trade-offs, take it or leave it.
Meanwhile, Harry McCracken contends that the Mac world and the PC world are already very different and may soon becoming even more so.
When I sat down to review Apple’s new Retina-display MacBook Pro, I instinctively wanted to compare it with similar Windows laptops. I wanted to discuss how the specs stacked up and whether the price seemed fair. I hoped to contrast its industrial design with those of its closest counterparts.
Then it dawned on me: there are no similar Windows laptops. ...
while Apple remains the most influential computer maker in the business, the rest of the industry has chosen to ignore some of its design innovations. When it started sealing up its portables a few years ago — eliminating the ability to easily swap in batteries, RAM and hard drives — I thought that other hardware makers might follow along. For the most part, they haven’t. ...
[I]f Microsoft has its way, PCs and Macs are about to get more different than they’ve been in decades. For all of the interesting things about the new MacBook Pro, it’s a straightforward notebook computer based on a form factor that’s been around for 30 years. Apple seems to be content to let Macs be Macs, while the iPad goes places that computing devices never have before.
With Windows 8, however, Microsoft is trying to reinvent the PC from scratch. The Metro interface has little to do with the basic concepts that Windows 7 and OS X share, and it’s conceivable that a bunch of long-standing form factors that have never quite worked, such as touchscreen PCs and laptops that convert into tablets, will finally take off. If they do, and Apple doesn’t push the Mac in the same direction, the average Windows PC could end up having very little in common with any Mac.