Wednesday, December 04, 2013

trip to midwest US

In the Spring, 2014, I will go to visit my mom and step-dad in Iowa. They live in Fairfield at the Maharishi University of Management. I've gotten used to the idea that they will live there the rest of their lives, so yearly visits will be a part of my life.  Its a distance of 6,500 miles from Grenoble to Iowa and is a 7 hours time difference.

What do I do around there? Fairfield has around 10,000 people, many, but not all are part of the Transcendental meditation organization. Some nearby towns include Mt. Pleasant and Ottumwa. Lake Darling State park is nearby. Its not far from the Mississippi river. I can visit Hannibal Missouri, and the house of Mark Twain, or Bentonsport. Near Hannibal is the Meredosia Wildlife refuge.  I could visit the Meskwaki Settlement of native Americans not so far away. They lived along the Saint Lawrence river. They were allowed to purchase land in 1851. They are similar to the Sac and Fox nation centered in Shawnee Oklahoma.

Some larger cities in Iowa are Iowa City and Dubuque.  Dubuque is along the Mississippi.  The University of Iowa is in Iowa City.

I can fly to Chicago OHare airport, and spend some time in Chicago. I can visit the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright. There's good deep dish pizza in Chicago.   Fairfield is 231 miles from Chicago.

Regarding TM itself, I try to appreciate it as a religion. I've been reading the book by Lola Williamson about TM as a Hindu inspired Meditation Movement. I appreciate seeing it as a part of a larger whole, within religious development. She emphasizes how Hindu elements have been combined with American elements, such as the American idea of freedom of religion, and combining some of Emerson's transcendentalism. She also suggests that Maharishi may have engaged secretly in Tantric practices which he may have partially learned from Shankaracharya Saraswati.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What is data? A few reflections

I recently finished reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.  It tells the stories of the woman behind the HeLa cell line.  The cells coming from Lacks’ cervical cancer take on a life of their own after her death.  Henrietta, the woman, dies, and HeLa, the cell-line is born.

As Skloot tracks down Henrietta’s family and tries to uncover the personal stories of the past and present, one feels that the human side of Henrietta is given some life again.  A poignant scene occurs when Skloot accompanies Henrietta’s daughter Deborah and son Zakariyya to a cell biology laboratory at Johns Hopkins, and is given a glimpse of her mother’s still living cells:  (p. 265-266)

Deborah and Zakariyya stared at the screen like they’d gone into a trance, mouths open, cheeks sagging.  It was the closest they’d come to seeing their mother alive since they were babies.

After a long silence, Zakariyya spoke.

"If those our mother’s cells," he said, "how come they ain’t black even though she was black?" "Under a microscope, cells don’t have a color," Christoph told him. "They all look the same—they’re just clear until we put color on them with a dye.  You can’t tell what color a person is from their cells."  He motioned for Zakariyya to come closer.  "Would you like to look at them through the microscope?  They look better there."

Christoph taught Deborah and Zakariyya how to use the microscope, saying, “Look through like this…take your glasses off…now turn this knob to focus.”  Finally the cells popped into view for Deborah.  And through that microscope, for that moment, all she could see was an ocean of her mother’s cells, stained an ethereal fluorescent green.

"They’re beautiful,” she whispered, then went back to staring at the slide in silence.  Eventually, without looking away from the cells, she said, “God, I never though I’d see my mother under a microscope— I never dreamed this day would ever come.”
This book got me thinking about the question of the relationship between science and people.   What does it mean to look at something in a scientific way?  Is it necessarily dehumanizing?  I think an important element in looking at this question surrounds the topic of “data”.  What is data?

I’m used to thinking of data in the context of my life as a scientist.  Data is the result of a measurement.  Data are attached to well defined scientific constructs such as temperature, pressure, lengths, times, densities, etc.  In the narrow context of my own field of electron beam dynamics, a measurement typically involves the beam current, its time dependence, the size and shape of this electron bunch distribution, the spectrum of x-rays emitted, etc.  Using measuring devices, we determine the values of these different quantities.  The results are considered data, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

I find the question of what is data to be relatively straight forward and uncontroversial in this context.  But when I consider data in a broader context it seems as though its meaning is both less clear, and more important to clarify.  Consider experiments done on the HeLa cells, on Henrietta’s cells.  One may think in a concrete scientific context about these cells.  How big are they? What is the genomic structure?  How frequently do they replicate? etc.  These questions may be thought to produce data.  But what sets the facts about the answers to these questions apart from the many other facts about the living or dead body of this woman, Henrietta Lacks?  Is it being couched in scientific terms that turns a fact into data?

I had a realization about this question yesterday as I was reading through some letters I have which date from 1929 and are written between my grandparents on my father’s side.  My grandfather, Acatius, or Akos, was born in Poklostelek, Hungary in 1908, and in 1929 was attending medical school in Tours, France.  My grandmother, Dorothy was born in New York in 1907, and in 1929 was also in Tours, France with her sister Violet studying French.  These letters give a window into the beginning of their relationship at this time.

I realized that because I know so little about the facts of my grandparents lives, that I was thinking about these letters in terms of data.  Each letter could provide some clue that would allow me to test hypotheses about who my grandparents were.  I was building an inner model, and I could check it for consistency as I read more letters.  Was my grandfather a thoughtful person?  Was he kind?  How did he see the world?  I realized that it is in the framework of asking these questions that I can view the letters my grandparents wrote to each other as data.   Without the associated imaginative task, the letters are not data.  I turned them into data by my asking specific questions about them.

This reminds me of this fascinating post on The Frailest Thing entitled “From Memory Scarcity to Memory Abundance” in which Sacasas reflects on the meaning of increased use of recording technologies and on Barthes’ veneration of a single photograph of his mother.  From a perspective of data, we can mainly look on the lack of more photographs as a tragedy.  There’s just not enough data for Barthes to build a proper model of his mother.  But once stated, we realize the potential absurdity of this.  Barthes knew his mother.  He was not trying to uncover something unknown in the process of viewing this photograph.  The relationship was not one of a scientist to data, but one of a son towards his mother.  

Reading Skloot’s narrative of Henrietta Lacks, and about how so much was learned about cell biology, we see that Lacks herself, and her surviving family gained very little directly from this work.  We might say that Lacks’ cells became data.  And they became data precisely because someone was asking certain kinds of questions about them.  In particular, people were trying to understand cell biology, and the HeLa cells provided much data for associated questions and modeling.  We might compare this to today’s so-called “big-data explosion”.   There is a sense in which there is newly created data due to people’s increased use of digital communications which may be perhaps quantified more easily than analog communications.  But I don’t think its the quantification that makes it data.  Yes, we talk in general about data on a hard drive.  But we might also talk about files on a hard drive, or images on a hard drive, or to go in the other direction, we could talk about magnetic domains and regions of varying polarity.  It is only if someone asks questions and tries to build a model that we might consider the scattered computer files, and records of typed comments on social media, and voice recordings through skype and cell phones to be data.

This perspective then allows some push-back in the privacy debate when we are told that we create “data traces” whatever we do.  We can respond by asking about the sense in which the traces are really data.  What are questions being asked?  What are the interpretive models being built?  And from the history of scientific experimentation, we can understand that there ought to be some limitations and framework in place regarding the transformation of elements of our lives into data.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


I'm looking through my photos, and trying to figure out what to do with them; how I might organize them, and how I might create and find meaning in them.

One set of pictures I'm interested in are the pictures related to my Jewish heritage which was mainly transmitted via my grandparents on my mom's side, and the traditions we celebrated at my dad's house, such as Christmas.  Here is a photo of two photos- the lower one of myself and my older brother during Christmas time at my Dad's house, the upper one of the celebration of my older brother's Bar Mitzvah, with my Grandfather placing the tallis around his shoulders.
In neither case did the tradition itself seem particularly important.  Although we had other Jewish friends, and went to Hebrew school, I don't think any of my brothers ever identified all that strongly with the religion of Judaism.  We were cultural Jews.  The traditions were important to my Mom's parents, and we loved our grandparents.  Being a Jew was mainly associated with our visits to Los Angeles to see our Grandparents on Passover and Hanukkah, and our Bar Mitzvahs in which our Grandparents came to Santa Cruz to visit us.  There were many family members related to my Grandparents, and also my aunt and uncle and cousins on my Mom's side.

For holidays at my Dad's house, we were with our step-brother and sister, and sometimes my step-mother's family as well.  We didn't often see many of my dad's family members such as his brother or cousins.  But Christmas was a fun time with a tree, presents, and good food.

As I start to think about what kinds of traditions I want to develop and continue in my life, I look back to my experience and try to draw together the elements that I appreciated regarding family, culture and religion.  I suppose this will be a long path, and indeed, I've been on it for awhile.  But I continue to walk along it, and putting these pictures together and forming a kind of larger picture that feels healthy and whole is part of this process.

In addition to a tradition being something fun and somewhat consistent from year to year, I think traditions ought to have some kind of meaning.  They should be thought of in a larger context than just the present.  In considering carrying on Jewish traditions, I can draw from my history on my mom's and my dad's side.  Regarding my Dad's side, this is a description of the history and background of my great-great grandfather David Bernstein, written by Hillel Bernstein, my great-grandfather's brother.
My father David was an Eshkenazi, a descendant of the mass of Jews emigrating eastward from Germany, in the 13th century after persecutions there.  These settled in places like Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania (that is, what later became Rumania), Russia.  The majority went to Poland and Russia.  Eshkenazi, as I remember, was the Hebrew word for Germany.  The other great migration was from Spain two centuries later, and these were the Sephardic Jews, most of whom headed south towards the Mediterranean countries, the Levant, etc., and the first Jewish settlers in New York, in 1654, were Sephardic Jews who came from one of their great stopping places after Spain -- Holland.  In the 17th Century my father's forebearers were in East Prussia, in the capital city of Koenigsbert.  That was, of course, before the Prussians took it over in the Partitions of Poland, and it previously had a Polish name which I don't remember.  Anyway, his people had moved from there and my father was born in a town which was on the German-Russian border, both sides of which had originally been Polish, but had been annexed, one side by Germany or Prussia, the other side by Russia.
Within this complex history together with the stories of immigration from my Mom's family, also Jews from Eastern Europe, I can seek some commonality.  We weave a thread ourselves, certainly.  It is not always obviously sitting there to be found.  But one must at least have the material and the context before a solid thread can indeed be woven.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Where we live, our roots, our commitments

I live in Grenoble, France.  I am doing my best to build a life here.
At the same time, I keep up my connections to my friends and family in the US.

I realized that if I stay in France and keep up visits to the US, these visits must involve the west coast, the east coast, and in between as well.  I come from California, and will probably always maintain the strongest sense of belonging there.  At the same time I spent three years in New York, and have relatives and a few friends there, so I will probably maintain a connection and visits to that area as well.  My US driver's license for now is in New York, so I ought to think of myself as at least somewhat connected to the place.  Finally, my mother lives in Fairfield, Iowa, and asks me regularly to visit her more often.  Its not so easy to get to where she lives, multiple flights involved and then some driving at the end.  The biggest city nearby is Chicago, and so I think of Chicago as the place to base visits to my mother out of.

This summer is a trip to California.  Just saying that is not adequate, though because California is such a big state.  My visit will involve three distinct regions: south, central and north.  I'll visit my uncle and other relatives in San Diego and Los Angeles (south).  I visit friends and a few relatives around San Francisco and Santa Cruz area (central), and finally family in Petrolia in Humboldt county (north).

I'd like to have been able to build my life out of a smaller geographical base, but this is where life has taken me.  I didn't ask for family and friends to move, although I'm the worst offender of all, having relocated first across the country, and then across an ocean.

There are lots of considerations as for how to build a life out of these places which span three US states and two countries.  There is one's relation to formalized nations and systems of rules of law.  Taxes, for example.  Bank accounts and credit cards.  Driver's license.  Passport.  Residency card.  Belonging to health care systems. 

Then there are ethical and social considerations.  To which nation do I owe my time and allegiance?  If I am this spread out, can I possibly be a responsible citizen, supporting a sustainable lifestyle that doesn't use more resources than the earth can support?

In any case, there are times for expansion in life, and times for consolidation.  I am trying to consolidate and build something with what I have now, rather than doing further expansion.

What helps me in this process is to try to see my life and places I live and visit as a part of a larger whole.  I think back to the movings of my recent ancestors from the Pale of Settlement between Europe and Russia to Europe and Canada, and ultimately the US, mostly during the early 20th century.  Seeing the history of my own relatives in a larger context allows me to feel a part of the big story of human life, change, and development.

From a different perspective, the natural world is a unifying factor for me.  Finding some of the same species of plants in Grenoble and California is satisfying and grounding to me.  The health of an ecosystem and the dynamics of chemistry, biology and ecology working together in different areas around the world is a resting point to come back to and relate oneself to. I feel at home in a forest, wherever it is on the earth.

Monday, July 08, 2013

My Grenoble apartments thus far

I've lived in three different apartments so far in Grenoble.  The first was found by an agency that my work helped me with.  It was in the San Bruno district, on the top floor of the building(4th, I believe, which would be 5th in US).  It was furnished, and not so bad, but it got extremely hot in the summer, and the pipes froze in the winter, leaving me without water for a few days here and there.  Also, the neighborhood was not so great, being regularly checked out to see what drugs I might be interested in.  And notes were placed in the entry corridor requesting people to not dispose of their hypodermic needles in the main garbage area.  I felt isolated there and was not able to meet many people in my apartment building.  So after a year of this place, I decided to try to find a shared apartment (colocation in French).

I responded to an ad for a shared apartment with four renters total, and set up a meeting with the landlord ('propriataire').  The apartment was just north of Villeneuve, on Rue Le Notre. He told me that three women lived there (two French and one Spanish), and after hearing I had a decent salary, accepted me immediately.  I was glad to live with women, and thought that I'd be a decent, respectful flatmate.  At the same time, it seemed strange that the landlord put so little effort into checking with the people living there whether they agreed to have me living with them.  It turned out that at a later time, I would be on the other end of this uncomfortable situation, but I'll have to tell that story another day.  In any case, I lived at this place for another year before getting completely fed up with it, and looking for another place to live.

My second colocation was in a better location, right near the downtown, on the other side of the Isére river, on Rue Saint Laurent.  It is the oldest part of town, and is next the longest line of Italian restaurants I've ever seen anywhere.  This place was convenient because everything was included in the rent, along with someone who would clean the common areas once a week.  It was a little small, though.  70 square meters with four people, even though one was only there a few days a week.

In any case, the time has come to try to find something a little better, and I'm in the process of searching for a new apartment for myself.

One challenge is that rental agencies sometimes require a guarantie of some kind.  If you have family in France, you can have a family member sign for you.  The main rule is just that your monthly salary should be three times the cost of the rental each month.  This is fine for me, but the additional guarantee is not so easy.  (I can get something called LocaPass, though it appears I have to pay a substantial amount for this coverage.  I'm trying to understand this point, and have heard mixed things so far.) This creates an additional uncertainty because I may think I can rent an apartment, give notice to my current apartment, and then be told that I don't have this document, and so they give the apartment to someone else.

So far I've looked at three or so apartments, and I liked one of them a lot.  I have two more to look at before deciding to go with this one.  But this added uncertainty of not knowing if I will get the apartment due to my poor French, or some issue with paperwork makes it more challenging.

learning French, reading material

Since I mostly speak English at work, and I find it rather hard to escape from the French people who want to improve their English, and the English speakers who have little interest in speaking (and reading/writing) French, I have to find my own ways to motivate myself to continue ahead in deepening my French.

One approach is reading.  I picked out some topics of interest, found books that I hoped to not be too difficult, and try to learn all the words in the books.  I have a book of Jewish stories: "Contes Juifs" by Leo Pavlat.  I have "Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery.  I have a book on avalanches: "Avalanches, Connaître et comprendre pour limiter le risque" by François Sivariére (the former director the the synchrotron Pascal Elleaume was killed in an avalanche 2 years ago, and it is in general a relevant topic for this region of the world).  I have "3 Contes D'Afrique" in the series of Père Castor, a book on Californie, "Le Petit Nicolas" by Sempé and Goscinny, "L'homme qui plantait des arbres" by Jean Ciomo, a book on Biodiversite (I. Aublin and M. Boulavant), some comics (BD, or bande designe) such as Tin Tin and Asterix et Obelix, and others.  Also, recently my mom sent me two short stories, "La Derniere Classe" by Alphonse Daudet and "Le grand Michu" by Émile Zola.

I also have a lot of books on grammar, (the series is Grammaire Progressive du Français by CLE International.  I have Niveau intermédiare, with the Corrigés.  Together with this is Communication Progressive du Français and Phonétique Progressive du Français) I have "501 French Verbs" by Barron's, I have a French-French dictionary, (mini Larousse, and a larger one) and a French-English dictionary (also Larousse, "Anglais").  I have a visual dictionary, "Dictionnaire visuel" by Nathan publishers (actually its French, English, German, Spanish and Italien).

Saturday, July 06, 2013

French Driver's license

I want to be able to drive in France, and unfortunately, this means that after one year, I am supposed to pass through the entire driver's license process as if I were French, starting from scratch.
Those with licenses from certain US states can indeed transfer their license:
From here

États-Unis d'Amérique (échange limité à certains États : Arkansas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Caroline du Sud, Colorado (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Connecticut (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Delaware (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Floride (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Illinois, Iowa (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Pennsylvanie (échange limité aux permis de catégories A et B), Texas (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Virginie (échange limité aux permis de catégorie B), Wisconsin 

I have a New York driver's license, so I am not eligible.  Ok, so I have to first pass the code de la route (see here).  To do this, I have to join an ecole de conduit.  I joined this one called CERI in Grenoble.  I paid them around 1300€, and now I have to learn the material.  I spent around 40 hours in their website so far, and I went through all the material.  Now I have to pass the timed test.  There are 40 questions, and after the question is read, one has 15 seconds to answer each question.  Each question has 4 possible answers, and anywhere from 1 to 4 of them can be correct.  So, it is multiple choice, but more difficult than the standard meaning of this term in the US.

Ok, for the material, there are 11 different categories of topics to learn:

Signalisation  (signs and indications)
Arrèts et stationnements  (stopping and parking)
Priorités et intersections  (Priorities and intersections)
Croisements et dépassements  (Crossings and passing)
Règles de circulation  (rules of circulation)
Tunnels et passages à niveau  (tunnels and rail road crossing)
Visibilité, éclairage et avertissements  (visibility, lighting and signalling)
Divers: Véhicule et réglementation   (taking care of your vehicle)
Écomobilité et éco-conduite   (driving in an ecologically friendly way)
Usagers vulnérables et partage de la route   (vulnerable people and sharing the road)
Prise de conscience des risques   (considering risks)

In addition to the language difficulty of the test and material itself, there is also the difficulty of understanding the procedures.  When do I go to the school?  What are its hours?
I understand my next step after completing the web material is to take a practice test at the school and do well enough.  After this, I can schedule a test.  Where is this?  How do I get there?  I think it is in Meylan, which is not so close.  Also, I find the school to be sometimes "exceptionally closed".  I take an afternoon off work.  I walk all the way over there, and then they are closed.  I expect to encounter several more unknown issues like this in the whole process.   I could get angry about this, but by this point, I try to just factor that into the time required to do all of this.  I expect it to take maybe two times as long as I would have thought due to my misunderstandings of procedures, opening hours and other such things.

The last time I tried the practice test, I missed 10.  I need to miss less than 5.
So, I'm getting there.... 5 more study hours before I can do well enough? 
Then comes the understanding of how to do the driver's training.  (I've already driven in France for almost 3 years, with no accidents)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

response to wedding invitation

Tirana le 12 Juin 1932

     Je remercie Votre Excellence et son Excellence Madame Bernstein pour leru aimable invitation a' laquelle je vie ferai un plaisir et un honneur de vi'y rendre.
     Veuiller agreer Excellence les assurances de va très haute consideration.
          Maître de ceremonies de la maison de sa majesté la Reine Mère


Son Excellence
    Monsieur Bernstein
minstre des Etats-Unis
á Tirana

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Letters from my Grandmother

I'm at the YIVO center, reading through the documents of Herman Bernstein.

Here is one letter from my grandmother

27 rue des Pitons
Geneva, December 26 [1933?]

Dearest Mother and Father,
First of all I must tell you that the trip in the plane was the most wonderful and the calmest method of traveling that I've ever experienced!  You know how bright and sunny it was when I left Tirana -- well, it stayed that way until we had crossed about half of the Adriatic.  Then we saw grat masses of thick white clouds ahead.  Nothing daunted, we rose above them, and flew on in the brilliant sunlight, while far below sailed the Durazzo-Bari boat under a cloudy grey sky...  The tremendous vibration of the three motors - which I had been warned about as something very unpleasant -- was no greater than if I had been riding in a truck, and the road was certainly much smoother than it would have seemed on the best road in a truck!  We arrived in Bari a little ahead of time -- not quite 12:30!

Mr. Krasnigi's man was not there to meet me, although I had to wait about an hour for the officials to get through the passports and baggage of all the passengers.  Finally the airline bus started and we got to Bari at almost 2 o'clock.  I wasn't getting along too well with my Italian when an agent of the white Star Line offered his services.  We got along beautifully then.  I checked my baggage, dashed over to the main post office to get my two telegrams off quickly, and then trotted over to a very nice restaurant.  I the midst of lunch I was surprised to see a charming your man come over to me, stretch out his hand and ask, "Are you Miss Bernstein?"  I'm not any longer, but I said yes, anyway.  He sat down, ordered lunch for himself and offered the most profuse apologies in the world for not having me me at the aerodrome.  It seems his car was under repair at the time and, besides, he had been tremendously busy with shiploads of olives from Albania, I think.

So I sat there between the two men and was hugely entertained.  They both told me they knew you-- which is quite possible-- although I'm not so sure that *you* knew *them*.  (The *you* refers to Father, not Mother.)  Finally the US man - who is one of the most important business men in Bari, by the way-- insisted on paying my bill.  He absolutely refused to pay any attention to my protests.

Then we marched on to the train - 4:15 was drawing near by that time.  I got my bags, the US man insisted on buying me a couple of sandwiches and some fruit, because he said there was no restaurant on my particular train.  (He proved to be wrong...)

A couple of hours out of Bari the weather began to change.  By the time we got to Milan next morning the fog was so thick that you couldn't distinguis objects outside 5 yards away!  There was a certain amount of snow on the fields here and there, but, surprisingly enough, it disappeared as we got near Geneva.  The conductor compained bitterly about the lack of snow in Switzerland -- it was ruining the winter sports and, consequently, the tourist trade.  By the time I got to Geneva, the weather settled down to waht it has been for the past month -- a cloudy, slightly misty affair, with occasional cold, damp winds.  There's been no sun here for at least four weeks and it may last for four weeks more.  (To think I had to leave Tirana for this!)

When I arrived at the station, all excited, no one was there to meet me!  You can well imagine my disappointment... However, I got into a taxi and drove up to the rue des Pitons.  Jozsi was there-- but not Nicky!  So Jozsi and I went out to dinner and he explained the whole thing to me.  I had telegraphed that I would arrive at 5:18 on Friday evening.  The telegram was garbled worse than it is in Tirana -- I saw it read EINE insted of FIVE.  So Nicky had taken it to mean NINE!  You probably think he should have verified it at the station... well he tried to, but there were no trains coming in from Milan at either of those times, so he thought I had taken some other train.  You see, Krasnigi made a mistake:  he told me the train arrived in Geneva at 5:18.  But it arrived in Lausanne at that time!  It didn't get to Geneva until 6:40 (according to the time table, that is- we were a little late).

Anyway, when Jozsi and I came back from dinner, Nicky was at the house, getting dressed to go to the station to meet me.  I never saw anyone so surprised and bewildered as when I burst into the room!

My cold is much better -- I've been staying quietly at home most of the time.  Nicky is feeling and looking very well -- a little thinner than wehn he was in Tirana, but we don't object, since it's more becoming.

David wrote a nice letter to Nicky from Havre.  He had a good time here, I think.  At the pension where Nicky and he ate there was a group of four or five American boys -- nice fellows.  They all enjoyed being together.
Nicky has done a great deal of work, he and everyone else tell me.  I can see it myself, since his thesis is almost 3/4 done.  Some of it has already been looked over by the assistant and declared very satisfactory.  Nicky is planning to mention Mr. Osman in his list of acknowledgements.  He'll send him a copy, of course.  But the thing can't be printed until after he passes his exams, I believe, although it has to be all ready and approved by the Professor long before (in Nicky's case, that is).  Nicky's very confident about passing the exams -- he's been studying regularly and will do so even more when he finishes his thesis.

Just at present, though, he's declared a moratorium for a week.  It's the Christmas vacation and I've just come so we've  decided he's entitled to a vacation!

We celebrated on Saturday night by going to the movies to see *City of Lights*.  It was very good indeed.  We both enjoyed it thoroughly.

On Saturday afternoon, Dr. Friedheim came to tea.  It seems he had been out of town and so had not received Nicky's note for about ten days.  He's awfully nice.  He got his degree in 1924 and has been studying and working ever since, although he has no practice.  He was with the Rockefeller Institute in New York for two years, and is now working with Ashkenazy whom he almost worships.  He speaks a good English, a better French, and, I am sure, a best German.  I think he is German Swiss.  He said he'd drop in again in a few days.

You haven't heard yet from Violet about a job for me, have you?  I suppose I can't expect word until after the holidays.

We're sending you a little package of a few things you can't get in Tirana -- barley for instance.  I mention this, not because it's so important, but because I don't want you to be too mystified when Suleyman comes in with the slip.

Oh, before I forget:  it seems there was some sort of mixup about the telegram you sent to Geneva about David.  Nicky tells me he wrote you about it, but I'm not so sure you understood what he was driving at.  The telegram was addressed to David and Nicky.  When it got here it was addressed to David alone and they had a terrible time locating him.  Finally he received it and was surprised to read in a telegram addressed to himself: "No word from David" -etc. etc.  The next day, after David left, Nicky got a telegram addressed to himself alone, with exactly the same text!  That's why *he* answered too.

Nicky is very jealous; he just remarked that I've never written *him* a letter as long as this one!

In a day or two I'll send the manuscript of the Odessa letter -- I was so busy talking Italking on the train to a little family that was in my compartment, that I didn't have the opportunity to complete the revision.

With best, best love and kisses to you both,

Monday, January 07, 2013

Books, literature, platforms, the Borg

Two blog posts struck my interest recently.  The first is on Nick Carr's blog "Rough Type" here and the second is Michael Sacasas' blog The Frailest Thing here.
In Carr's post he engages with Author Clay Shirky about the development of books, discussing how literature fits into this discussion and whether it is fair to think of a printed book as merely a "platform", titling the post "Containers and their contents".  In Sacasas' post, he elaborates the symptoms of what he terms "The Borg Complex" in which technological determinism is used to argue that "resistance is futile".

I think its good to keep an eye on our own patterns of reading and engagement with different art forms.  If technology changes these patterns, we should at least have an awareness of whether it is changing in a reasonably beneficial way.  I realize, for example, that since spending a lot more time reading text in a web browser than printed out, that I read a lot more, and more shallowly.  For some purposes, this is beneficial.  The other difficulty with reading many small tidbits based on hyperlinks is the sense of losing the trail in the forest.  Its a whole new set of skills that are required to keep track and consolidate and reference material one finds online.  Search engines (mainly Google) give the feeling that nothing is ever lost.  But in order to build understanding oneself, one does need to be able to create one's own archive and referencable material.  Saying "Google it" is not an adequate response to referencing.