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John Holbo

Bodies In Motion; Kittens At Tea

by John Holbo on January 17, 2017

I like to relax at night with a spot of sketching. I would like to improve my capacity to render human anatomy accurately. My gesture drawing could be more – gesture-y. The girls and I are resolved to branch out into animation. TVPaint, here we come! (Or is that more than we can manage? We shall see.) The internet is a glorious source of free reference material. Fine books exist, and a few sit on my shelf. But a new site launched today, which looked good enough to make me open my wallet and pay for a yearly subscription. They are having a 50%-off deal, launch day only. And you can look around for free. It’s nicely done. It’s fun to look at.

Or perhaps you prefer vintage 1914 kittens, courtesy of the Library of Congress Flickr feed, celebrating 9-years of Flickr Commons.

Happy 9th Birthday, Flickr Commons! (LOC)

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Algorithmic Price Fixing, Amazon Variations

by John Holbo on January 14, 2017

Henry’s post was interesting. It reminded me of an anecdote passed along by an acquaintance, who shall go nameless.

The individual in question is involved in publication of limited run, high quality art books. You can’t do that if you can’t make significant profit, per unit. (‘Volume volume volume!’ doesn’t hack it if you lack volume.) Medium-length story short: [click to continue…]

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Derek Parfit Has Died (Physically)

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

Parfit was a great philosopher, and derived a mildly unfair advantage from looking more than a bit like Peter O’Toole. If you just read Reasons and Persons, then looked at a lineup of Ph.D.’s in philosophy, I think you’d probably go: ‘that’s the guy! Gotta be!’ Also, Reasons and Persons is definitely the major work of philosophy most deserving of being rewritten in ‘plan your own adventure’ format. ‘If you think the resulting hivemind will still be you, turn to page 347. If not, turn to page 360.’ That sort of thing.

Let us extend his identity ensure that his psychological life rolls on, albeit in a branching way, by remembering him well. Psychological connectedness and all that.

Reason and Persuasion … And Academic E-Publishing

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

It’s been a year since Belle and I self-published the latest edition of Reason and Persuasion [amazon], after the original publisher reverted the rights to us. The self-publishing model for our book works ok. We give away the PDF. But you can buy the paper and get a free Kindle version to go with; or just get the Kindle for $1.99. Such a bargain! Or get it from iBooks. All major ebook formats available. We’ve sold a couple hundred copies this year; given away thousands more as free downloads. (I hope you remembered to buy a copy for the person on your list who had everything … except a copy of our book!) I keep hoping it will catch on as a standard textbook in virtue of its obvious economic advantages – and it’s good philosophically, too. But if we just keep bobbing between the 100,000 and 1,000,000 sales ranks on Amazon, I can live with that. But if YOU have a friend looking for a Plato text for some intro course, kindly give them our card.

reasonandpersuasioncoversmall [click to continue…]

Flyin’ Saucers Rock n’ Roll

by John Holbo on January 2, 2017

When I teach SF and Philosophy I include a short bit on SF in different media (before proceeding to devote the semester to short stories, for the most part.) So: SF and popular music. Seems like a thing. And a suitable challenge for the CT commentariat. I would be particular appreciative of intelligent periodization. But unclassifiable curiosities are also always welcome.

My post title come from Billy Lee Riley’s 1957 rockabilly hit. Ten years earlier, in 1947, you have a curious, country-gospel number, “When You See Those Flying Saucers”, from the Buchanan Brothers. Ten years later, in 1966, we’ve got the Byrds, “Mr. Spaceman”, the birth of a hippy-trippy sort of space rock – although folk-y “Spaceman” lacks the cosmic, synth-y atmospherics one associates with later progginess. Then, in 1969, we get “Space Oddity”, flipping the script from aliens to alienation, and corresponding to the work Kubrick does with 2001: A Space Odyssey, graduating out of the B-movie flying saucers era. (I just linked to the 1972 version. The song had sort of a slow roll-out, on its way to becoming a classic.) Glam and Ziggy Stardust. Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (1972) is the other early-70’s pop classic in this category. But let’s not forget Harry Nillson’s “Spaceman”, which was a Top-40 hit in 1972. “Bang Bang Shoot ‘em up destineee!” And Genesis, “Watcher of the Skies” (1972). I feel Journey’s 1977 “Spaceman” bookends what the Byrds started a decade earlier. (By the by, Journey finally made it into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame this year. Also, ELO.) After 1977 we are, for a time, in the Styx “Come Sail Away” era, at least when it comes to American SF-themed pop megahits. [click to continue…]

“Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth …” – H.P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West – Reanimator”

Years ago I made a parody Christmas book mash-up of Lovecraft/Haeckel/Clement Clark Moore. I called it Mama In Her Kerchief and I In My Madness: A Visitation of Sog-Nug-Hotep. I made print versions but then took them down (they weren’t quite it.) Yet it lived, lurking beneath the surface, in the form of a perennially popular pair of Flickr albums and this old Hilo post. Hidden, winter sun-dappled tide pools of hideous, unfathomable, happy depths for kiddies to dip their toes in! But 2016 is the year of fake news. You can’t spell ‘fake’ without the ‘Haeckel’. So my fraudulent yet innocent concoctions have wandered and, eventually, been mistook for genuine Victoriana. Oh, well. I can’t completely blame them. Real Victorian X-Mas cards are often dark and weird. Hence the joke.

Caliginous gloom is the best disinfectant. If, as some whisper, ‘even death may die’, then perhaps it is possible to quash a rumor that Haeckel actually designed X-Mas cards. Accordingly, I have seized the seasonal opportunity to republish and set the record straight. A new, improved version of the print edition is now on Amazon! It is also available on Kindle. Somehow Amazon not seen the connection yet, but I imagine that will resolve itself. (Also, I made slightly different covers for the two editions. Which do you prefer?)

For impoverished urchins, with nary a penny to spare, yet high-speed internet access, I have updated the Flickr galleries with some higher quality images. The old ones were skimpy. My most popular images, Blue Boy and Feeding Birdies, are available in larger sizes. Some others, including several of my favorites. (Maybe I’ll get around to doing all of them. But not today.)

Boy Blue and Blue Jelly (front)

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Caistor Grammar School Must Be Very Proud

by John Holbo on December 9, 2016

Google Euclid:

euclid

It would seem that this is the wire that has gotten crossed.

The Opposite of The Velvet Underground is Steely Dan

by John Holbo on December 8, 2016

Just like dog is the opposite of cat.

Years ago – don’t know why I remember – I posted about how some bands are loved, some bands are popular, even influential, without being heavily imitated. I put forth Steely Dan as a paradigm of a popular, influential band that isn’t imitated. I posited that it’s kind of hard to imitate them. (By contrast, The Velvet Underground is the band that sold a thousand records and started 10,000 bands.) That’s why I was interested when Apple Music offered, this afternoon, a playlist of “Inspired By Steely Dan” tracks. Further, the list promises to pass over “the yacht rock years” – so you can just put 10CC “I’m Not In Love” back where you found it!

Joe Jackson, Kanye West, Phoenix. When Ian Dury and the Blockheads came on I almost laughed out loud.

Here’s the list. How do you rank them? Slickeriness is not necessarily next to Danliness. Just putting an ooze of lounge jazz sleaze in there is not sufficient either, is it? (But it’s kind of hard to say. It’s kind of like trying to be influenced by British music hall tunes from the 40’s without being influenced by the Beatles. Logically, it should be possible, but, in practice, is it?) [click to continue…]

Hazards of Evolutionary Psychology, Royalty Edition

by John Holbo on November 26, 2016

I promised a follow-up post on Baboon Metaphysics, but I haven’t had time. I’ll stop-gap with stray passages that struck me as deserving juxtaposition. (They have nothing to do, really, with my questions about questions.)

A few years ago, a member of the British royal family visited us in the field and spent a morning following the baboons. On being told the details of the baboons’ inherited, rank-based society she became both excited and relieved, as if a longstanding dilemma had at last been resolved and an onerous weight lifted from her shoulders. “I always knew,” she declared, “that when people who aren’t like us claim that hereditary rank is not part of human nature, they must be wrong. Now you’ve given me evolutionary proof!” Shortly thereafter she returned to her entourage, spirits uplifted, leaving us to ponder the wider implications of our work.

Another passage:

The brains of queen ants are significantly smaller than those of virgin females during their nuptial flight. Queen ants are also much less socially active and much less reliant on vision.

Happy Thanksgiving – Moana edition

by John Holbo on November 25, 2016

Went to see Moana. Mild plotspoilers under the fold: [click to continue…]

Long post. Input welcome on any aspect of what I am discussing but I end the post with a very specific question, to which I would really like an answer: do our esteemed primate cousins ask questions? Yet more specifically: have language-trained non-human primates demonstrated the ability to ask questions? (Communicatively elicit desired information from their fellows or humans?)

But let me first back up and give you my situation and needs. [click to continue…]

The Claypool Lennon Delirium

by John Holbo on November 19, 2016

Speaking of Nick Mason on drums, that’s how Les Claypool describes Sean Lennon’s sticks on the new Claypool Lennon Delirium album, Monolith of Phobos [amazon]. Well, half his sticks.

I’ve been waiting for, like, 25 years for Les Claypool to do something I really like. He was put on this earth to amuse Les Claypool. I understand it was never a case of him setting out to please me, and failing. He’s a fabulous bass player, but somehow all that Primus nonsense never did it for me. (Those cowboy suits – and I do mean cowboy suits – are the apotheosis of mid 90’s MTV. But I only want to listen for, like, 30 seconds.)

And now he’s done it, by Jove! This collaboration with Sean Lennon is genius. The lemony lightness of Lennon’s vocals are just what was needed to cut through the straight Claypool mud. The Claypool Lennon Delirium is to Primus as The Dukes of Stratosphear was to XTC. Clear? And if you’ve ever said to yourself: I want to hear something like Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration”, but make it 7/4 time … well, now you’ve got “Boomerang Baby”. I think the best tracks are “The Cricket and the Genie” and “Mr Wright”, which is a slap-bass “Arnold Layne”. “Bubbles Burst” is about Lennon’s own experience hanging out with Michael Jackson as a kid. Weird.

R.I.P. SEK – You Will Be Missed

by John Holbo on November 19, 2016

UPDATE: Our friend, Scott Eric Kaufman, has passed. He was a good one, he was. He will be missed.

Scott Eric Kaufman needs no introduction. Well, not if you know him and admire him, like I do, and have been a friend to him for a long time, like me. He’s dying. [UPDATE: it looks like I confused some of Scott’s own notes for expert medical prognosis. He’s in very very bad shape. But his family is hoping for the best.] It’s bad. His family needs help with medical bills. If that’s the sort of thing you feel you might donate to help out with, I encourage you to do so. I did. But they have a ways to go to meet their goal.

If you don’t know who Scott K is, well he used to blog here – may he again! And at the Valve, back in the day; and at LGM. And he wrote for Salon, most recently.

Pink Floyd – The Early Years

by John Holbo on November 16, 2016

When I was in high school I had a friend who was ga-ga for early Floyd, who infected me with that bug. Piper At The Gates of Dawn and Saucer Full of Secrets. Syd Barrett solo – not a lot of that, but we got what we could get. I laughed in Doctor Strange when “Interstellar Overdrive” came on. Nice homage to the Strange homage on the album cover. So if money is no object, you would naturally buy the insane, ludicrous, absurd box set that just came out. But money is an object. So just re-listen to those old albums again any old way, and listen to the really interesting NPR interview/DJ session with Nick Mason (the drummer). Bob Boilen: where did your unique drum style come from? Nick Mason: I was trying to sound like everyone else. And the equally interesting interview with Joe Boyd, co-manager of the UFO club where the Floyd were a kind of house band for a brief time. (I only now learned it’s pronounced ‘eupho’ – oh, I get it. A pun.)

Then listen to some Leonard Cohen. Then return to our previously scheduled post-election despair. Under the fold, Bowie’s cover of “See Emily Play”: [click to continue…]

2 cents

by John Holbo on November 12, 2016

Here’s something I wrote on Facebook. It got a few likes.

It’s like I found out that, retroactively, there had been a lot fewer jokes in the world in 2016. They turned out not just to not be funny, but not to be jokes. When the history of Trump is written, there is going to be a generous chapter on all the jokes written about Trump before he became President, premised on the impossibility of him winning. It’s not that irony died. It’s that irony died a year ago, and no one sent flowers and now it seems too late.

So I must be one of the many in the Capital who was stuck in my bubble of epistemic closure, unaware of rumblings in the Districts? Well, yes and no. I totally believed Nate Silver when he said Trump had a 1/3 shot. I read Sean Trende, who I thought made sense; and reviews in praise of J.D. Vance’s book. But I was still making Trump jokes, laughing at Trump jokes, premised on the impossibility of him being President, right up to the day before. Then I slept very fitfully the night before. Irrational? I dunno. Cognitive dissonance. No point in denying it. I’ve never played Russian roulette – don’t intend to – but I think I know enough of tabletop games to know that sometimes a six-sided die comes up 6. Is it epistemic closure if you can’t wrap your head around exactly 1/6th of ‘you’re dead’? (If I ever play Russian roulette there’s a good chance I’ll crack a nervous joke before I pull the trigger, and then my last words will look dumb on my headstone. Failure of imagination. But it won’t be because I don’t know what 1/6th means, per se, or disbelieve in bullets.) [click to continue…]