27 June 2011

Enter the Roman Room (activate Bourgeois memory potential)

"Legend has it that the poet Simonides recited a soliloquy for a banquet held in one of the great halls in ancient Greece. Shortly after he left the building, the roof caved in, killing everyone inside. The bodies were so mangled they could not be recognized and authorities went to Simonides to see if he could remember at least who some of the people were. Surprisingly, he was able to recall everyone in the hall simply by remembering where the person sat around the tables in the room. He remembered them by their location.
The Roman orator Cicero, around the turn of the first century, expanded this concept by mentally placing ideas around the tables instead of people. He could recite volumes of information by seeing visions and symbols in the chairs. Like icons that we have on our computer desktop screens, his mental icons represented the critical points he needed to recall in his arguments or debates. Cicero became world renowned for his ability to make clear, lucid points in his debates without using notes. This technique became known as the Roman Room method. By projecting onto his mental screen a room equipped with tables and chairs, Cicero could simply walk around the area in his mind and elaborate his key points. He organized information in his mind so that he could mentally go around any table picking up the memories he had stored in various chairs and simply describing those memories to his audience. (...)
When I look carefully at our living room from the doorway, over to my left is the speaker stand in the corner. The TV console is located along the adjacent wall, and the rocking chair is in the next corner of the room. The fireplace is located on the wall opposite the doorway, and my favorite chair in the third corner of the room. The third wall is actually a larger doorway that leads to the dining room, and a lamp table occupies the fourth corner. Along the fourth and final wall is the sleeper sofa. The floor, carpeted, has a large walnut coffee table in front of the sofa, and a fan hangs from the ceiling. (...)
If I close my eyes, I can see this room completely in my mind. If I apply the third Reversible Rule of Engagement and give action to the picture in my mind, I can move the lens of my mind's eye—just like Ken Burns does in his excellent documentaries, beginning with the speaker and moving the camera lens all the way around the room, seeing each object in its very specific location. (...)
The mind doesn't distinguish between what is real and what is vividly imagined. In my mind there is no difference between looking at a room while standing in the doorway or looking at a room while seeing on the page. To make the room vivid, I mentally dust the room (my wife will tell you that I do a lot more imaginary dusting than I do real dusting). If it's appropriate, I mentally pick up each object, like a vase on a stand, and note its shape, texture, and feel while dusting it with a mental cloth. If it is something like a fireplace or a painting on the wall, I still take my cloth and feel the subtle grooves in the mantel or in the picture frame. Again, I am noting and picking out detail and applying deliberate intensity to each location in the room. Sometimes I even use aromatherapy or light a scented candle to help establish in my mind the overall environment of each room. Smell is a powerful memory stimulant, and it adds to the vividness of the environment. When you apply this technique, you understand how unlimited your mind and memory can be, because there are an infinite number of pictures of rooms in a seemingly infinite number of magazines on the bookshelves each month."
—Scott Hagwood Memory Power (2006)

19 June 2011

"Nobody's safe," said the trader. "If I felt safe, I wouldn't be talking to you next to a fridge in a dark space at the back of the stall."

"But, there were still bits of action. One guy was caught on the same stairway that I had been trapped on. He was caught there with his head under some girl's skirt. Then one of the girls who worked in the cafeteria complained that she hadn't been paid, as promised, for a bit of oral copulation she had supplied to a general foreman and 3 mailhandlers. They fired the girl and the 3 mailhandlers and busted the general foreman down to supervisor.
Then, I set the post office on fire.
I had been sent to fourth class papers and was smoking a cigar, working a stack of mail off a hand truck when some guy came by and said, "HEY, YOUR MAIL IS ON FIRE!"
I looked around,. There it was. A small flame was starting to stand up like a dancing snake. Evidently part of a burning ash had fallen in there earlier.
"Oh shit!"
The flame grew rapidly. I took a catalogue and, holding it flat, I beat the shit out of it. Sparks flew. It was hot. As soon as I put out one section, another caught up.
I heard a voice:
"Hey! I smell fire!"
"I think I'm going to get out of here!"
"God damn you, then," I screamed, "GET OUT!"
The flames were burning my hands. I had to save the United States mail, 4th class junkmail!
Finally, I got it under control. I took my foot and pushed the whole pile of papers onto the floor and stepped on the last bit of red ash.
The supervisor walked up to say something to me. I stood there with the burned catalogue in my hand and waited. He looked at me and walked off.
Then I resumed casing the 4th class junkmail. Anything burned, I put to one side.
My cigar had gone out, I didn't light it again.
My hands hurt and I walked over to the water fountain, put them under the water. It didn't help.
I found the supervisor and asked him for a travel slip to the nurse's office.
It was the same one who used to come to my door and ask me, "Now what's the matter, Mr. Chinaski?"
When I walked in she said the same thing again.
"You remember me, eh?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I know you've had some real sick nights."
"Yeh," I said.
"All right, Mr. Chinaski, now what's your problem?"
"I burned my hands."
"Come over here. How did you burn your hands?"
"Does it matter? They're burned."
She was dabbing my hands with something. One of her breasts brushed me.
"How did it happen, Henry?"
"Cigar. I was standing next to a truck of 4th class. Ash must have gotten in there. Flames came up."
The breast was up against me again.
"Hold your hands still, please!"
Then she laid her whole flank against me as she spread some ointment on my hands. I was sitting on a stool.
"What's the matter, Henry? You seem nervous."
"Well... you know how it is, Martha."
"My name is not Martha. It's Helen."
"Let's get married, Helen."
"I mean, on the work floor."
She wrapped on some gauze.
"You mustn't burn the mails."
"It was junk."
"All mail is important."
All right, Helen."
She walked over to her desk and I followed her. She filled out the travel form. She looked very cute in her little white hat. I'd have to find a way to get back there.
She saw me looking at her body.
"All right, Mr. Chinaski, I think you better leave now."
"Oh yes... Well, thanks for everything."
"It's just part of the job."
A week later there were NO SMOKING IN THIS AREA signs all around. The clerks were not allowed to smoke unless they used ashtrays. Somebody had been contracted to manufacture all these ashtrays. They were nice. And said PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT. The clerks stole most of them.
I had all by myself, Henry Chinaski, revolutionized the postal system."
—Charles Bukowski, Post Office

Democracy Algorithms

"For its competitions, ---- has developed a form of crowd sourced ---- that asks as many as 200 people to take part in the voting process. Our ---- system is designed to be as democratic as possible and the ---- identifies the two winning ---- without any input from ----. ---- read and evaluate ---- online. Each ---- reads a random cross section of all the ----, and our system ensures that each ---- is viewed and voted on the same number of times. All ---- are reviewed without the ---- names attached, and each ---- receives as many as 25 votes."

17 June 2011

Community of Experience

"There must be historic reasons for the rise of the compartmental conception of fine art. Our present museums and galleries to which works of fine art are removed and stored illustrate some of the causes that have operated to segregate art instead of finding it an attendant of temple, forum, and other forms of associated life. An instructive history of modern art could be written in terms of the formation of the distinctively modern institutions of museum and exhibition gallery. I may point to a few outstanding facts. Most European museums are, among other things, memorials of the rise of nationalism and imperialism. Every capital must have its own museum of painting sculpture, etc., devoted in part to exhibiting the greatness of its artistic past, and, in other part, to exhibiting the loot gathered by its monarchs in conquest of other nations; for instance, the accumulations of the spoils of Napoleon that are in the Louvre. They testify to the connection between the modern segregation of art and nationalism and militarism. Doubtless this connection has served at times a useful purpose, as in the case of Japan, who, when she was in the process of westernization, saved much of her art treasures by nationalizing the temples that contained them.
The growth of capitalism has been a powerful influence in the development of the museum as the proper home for works of art, and in the promotion of the idea that they are apart from common life. The nouveaux riches, who are an important by-product of the capitalist system, have felt especially bound to surround themselves with works of fine art which, being rare, are also costly. Generally speaking, the typical collector is the typical capitalist. For evidence of good standing in the realm of higher culture, he amasses paintings, statuary, and artistic bijoux, as his stocks and bonds certify to his standing in the economic world.
Not merely individuals, but communities and nations, put their cultural good taste in evidence by building opera houses, galleries and museums. These show that a community is not wholly absorbed in material wealth, because it is willing to spend its gains in patronage of art. It erects these buildings and collects their contents as it now builds a cathedral. These things reflect and establish superior cultural status, while their segregation from the common life reflects the fact that they are not part of a native and spontaneous culture. They are a kind of counterpart of a holier-than-thou attitude, exhibited not toward persons as such but toward the interests and occupations that absorb most of the community's time and energy."

–John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934.