A couple weeks ago, I put out a plea for a Carl Sagan quote for an Ignite NYC talk I was going to do. I had to paraphrase the line as “This is the kind of problem that is fun to think about while walking in the woods on a winter morning.”
My friend Parfait found the quote last week!
“They are books you ponder over as the water is running out of the bathtub or as you walk through the woods in an early winter snowfall.”
Not crazy about the bathtub water image (or image of me), but it still works. It’s still the romantic, “Papa Carl makes the world of science and cosmology so interesting” line I remembered. Except:
The actual line is in reference to three Robert Heinlein novels (Oi!)! Not only that, but Sagan refers to them as “remarkable efforts! (Oi! Oi!). Not only THAT, but one of them has the word Zombies in it! (Oi! Oi! Oi!).
While I’m wondering if maybe he doesn’t use a similar image somewhere else (hard to imagine since I got the book right), it’s now more interesting to me how my initial processing of the quote meshes with my current memory of it and how I matched that memory to science problems and lofty things. I was every bit the snob then as I am today when it comes to Heinlein (not much, but enough to cringe at calling any of them “remarkable efforts”), so I must have been so overwhelmed by the romance of the image of walking in the woods with Saint Carl contemplating something rich and deep on a crisp winter morning that I glossed over it.
Novelist (and fellow alum of my alma mater) Nicholson Baker, went through an interesting exercise in U and I, a memoir of his obsession with John Updike. One of his many exercises in intellectual self-flagellation was to mortify his literary sensibilities by trying to reconstruct, from memory, the passages from Updike that made him want to be a novelist. Then he compared them to real one. He generally was further off in his memories than I was . . . though he didn’t stumble into praising Heinlein’s literary genius.
While Apple’s ascendancy to #1 most valuable company in the world is still fresh in our minds (though no longer true, for the moment), a revisiting of the importance of design in that company’s comeback from bankruptcy. It’s often used, but worth remembering how broadly Jobs define design:
“The thing that all of our competitors are missing is that they think [design]’s about fashion, they think it’s about surface appearance,” Jobs complained to me once. “And they couldn’t be further from the truth. The iMac isn’t about candy-colored computers. The iMac is about making a computer that is really quiet, that doesn’t need a fan, that wakes up in fifteen seconds, that has the best sound system in a consumer computer, a superfine display. It’s about a complete computer that expresses it on the outside as well. And [competitors] just see the outside. They say, ‘We’ll slap some color on this piece of junk computer, and we’ll have one, too.’ And they miss the point.” At a later interview, talking about the first iBook, which had a rubbery satchellike clamshell case, he argued that the very inclusion of a built-in handle had been an exercise in style. “Is that design?” he said of the handle. “I think it is. It’s not just about looking good, it’s about the use of the product. Not having a latch, is that design? Yeah, we think it’s design. The rubber on the product, is that design? Yes. It affects how the product looks and how you feel about the product, but it’s also incredibly functional if you happen to set it down too hard.”
Levy, Steven (2006). The Perfect Thing (pp. 131-132). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
From an SFO exhibit on Television in the Antenna Age, some pages from TV Guide:
Click images for readability.
I was at a meeting recently where a legend of advertising scoffed at people who were proclaiming the diminishing importance of TV. In the hyper-leveraged rhetoric of the blogosphere, people will rush to say either that it’s DEAD (“dead, it’s dead Tom, nothing you can do to bring it back”) or ALIVE and bigger than ever. We seem incapable of saying the balance is shifting (an interesting irony that even people who don’t like digital seem to prefer strict binary to nuance). Anyway, this advertising person said “I’m so glad to hear someone say TV isn’t dead. Remember when people said radio was dead? Ha! What’s the first thing you do when you get in the car?” To which someone instantly replied, “plug in my iPhone.” Hilarity ensued.
SFO’s Continental Terminal often has interesting and quirky displays in the long walkway to baggage. This month, it’s about the beginning of the TV era. The opening of the exhibit was this nifty little tidbit:
I love the line from the NYT: “TV will never be a serious competitor to radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued to the screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.” This would be a premature death – TV will never live up to its World Fair or other hype, radio will live forever, long live radio.
And today, TV will never die because ____________. In fairness to NYT columnist, though, s/he stopped short of the binary life or death account and just talked about competition for attention and engagement.
Still, an amusing look at how people can cling to the present at the expense of the possibility of the future.