Dallas Taylor: RIP

 

 

 

Dallas Woodrow Taylor Jr passed away last month. Many of you may not know of him or remember him, but he was the session drummer on some of the finest albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s:

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I remember the first time I heard Deja Vu, and couldn’t help noticing then that Taylor and Reeves were given credits on the front cover. That wasn’t normal, and it signalled to me that these two weren’t normal musicians. [In fact, other than the Manassas album above, the only time I’d seen front-cover credits for sessions guys was on Traffic’s Welcome To The Canteen, another fabulous album from that era.

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It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I’m a big fan of CSNY, individually as well as collectively. Over the years I’ve now managed to watch them many times in different combinations, and every time I’ve done so I’ve been grateful not just for the opportunity but for the memories. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I heard those albums for the first time.

Serendipitously, I’ve been able to renew my acquaintance with some of those feelings, listening to this:

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Yes, it’s a Pono. And yes I know the jury’s still out on whether 24/192 is snake oil or not. Time will tell. I paid the Kickstarter price for a numbered “signed” edition by one of my favourite bands, pre-loaded with some of their music, and I’m happy with how it sounds and feels, especially if I crank up the volume.

I’m listening to it right now, and Dallas Taylor is on drums. And I’m taken back 40 years, to a time of delight. Delight that Dallas Taylor was part of.

Delight that Dallas Taylor will always be part of.

By the time I connected with Dallas, briefly, five or six years ago, he’d been doing something completely different for thirty years: helping people solve problems of substance abuse and addiction. He still had time to read my tweet and to respond. He still had time to put a smile on my face, just like he did forty years earlier.

Thank you Dallas Taylor. RIP.

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Isn’t Life Strange?

Isn’t life strange?

A turn of the page

Can read like before

Could we ask for more?

Isn’t Life Strange? [J.Lodge] The Moody Blues Seventh Sojourn 1972

The Moody Blues. Good group. Gave me many hours of peaceful enchantment in my youth, even managed to see them “live” a few times in the 80s. Some people today will not know them, some will only remember them for Go Now or  Nights in White Satin. But they had many great songs; my personal favourites include Voices In The Sky, Question, Dr Livingstone, I Presume, Dear Diary, Eyes Of a Child, it’s a long list. In fact the whole of Seventh Sojourn is magical, made at a time when people made albums, not singles. For My Lady, Lost In A Lost World and New Horizons are each worth listening to, making up (along with Isn’t Life Strange) the rest of just one side of the album.

As I proceed towards grandfatherhood, and as I watch my children become parents in their own right, I’m presented with new opportunities for reflection. Last night and this morning, I was thinking about the world my grandchildren are coming into, and how that’s different from the world I came into.

I love being nostalgic, while living life in the present, and always, always looking forward to the future. A part of me, the incessant learner, the passionately curious one, looks at everything I’ve experienced as having one very important purpose: to prepare me for what is to come. That perspective allows me to look at the past with fondness not just for the “good times” but for everything else in between.

And so I was thinking. Wow. My grandchildren will come into a world where things happen with a click. Hmmm. I was born into a world where things happened with a click. My father, and his father before him, clicked his fingers, and things happened.

My grandchildren will have their groceries delivered to their door. Hmmm. I remember how fresh milk was delivered when I was young. It was pretty fresh. It came wrapped in some unusual packaging. A cow.

My grandchildren will be able to be in touch with people all over the world, with the sequels to Facebook and Twitter; some of them will be from strange lands and cultures with unpronounceable names and unspeakable diets. Hmmm. We used to be able to send letters to people and they actually got there and were opened and read and answered. We called that the postal system. And some of us had penpals, in strange places and with strange customs.

My grandchildren will be able to buy custom products and services delivered specifically in keeping with their preferences and context. Hmmm. When I was young everything I wore was tailored for me. As it was for everyone else, whatever their upbringing or socio-economic class. India hadn’t quite acquired the off-the-shelf habit yet.

My grandchildren will be able to eat fresh, organic, preservative-free food, exercise at will, live healthy, satisfying lives. Hmmm. When I was growing up, some people had refrigerators, a few had air conditioners. They looked very nice. But they weren’t much use. We had very little electricity, and that which we had was needed for industrial things. Or so we were told. So we had a lot of fresh preservative-free organic food.

My grandchildren will be able to enjoy entertainment wherever they are, at their fingertips, music, books, magazines, shows. Hmmm. In between the cows and the grocery bringers, we had snake charmers and monkey tamers and even the odd bear or three. And something called a radio, a device that knew how to whistle and snap, crackle and pop, a device that knew how to suffuse the environment with an aroma that entranced and lingered and made you feel warm. And travelling libraries.

My grandchildren will be able to experience and relive events of the past, in magical and wondrous ways. Hmmm. We used to have Pathe newsreels before every film. And places like the British Council and the USIS and Max Mueller Bhavan and the Alliance Francaise, who’d replay events pertaining to their culture and context.

You get my drift.

Every generation will have their wonders and their enchantments.

Of course paradigms shift. Of course there are technological discontinuities. Some more important than others.

People who lived in the time of the discovery of penicillin had their reasons to sing hallelujah. People who will live in the time of smart-machines-meet-biotech-and-nano will have their reasons to sing hallelujah.

The internet, the web, affordable ubiquitous connectivity, these are different. They represent something precious.

When I look at the hatred and intolerance humans have for other humans, I feel sad. When I look at how much of this is fuelled in the name of faith or science, I feel sadder still. When I look at how we can’t solve problems to do with climate change or nutrition or disease or obesity, I feel sad. Science and faith.

We’ve had robber barons before, we have them now and we will have them in time to come. They go by different names and styles and professions. But you know something? I’ve never seen or heard of or met or read about a happy robber baron.

So why do I feel optimistic for the world my grandchildren will inhabit.

Education. Access to education. Access to information. The ability to be informed, and to act on that information. Freedom of speech and expression. The power to connect and form groups and to act in community.

The internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity. Those cats are well out of the bag.

The internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity. They’re alive in the freedoms of opportunity and choice and expression that they represent, in the ability to share and support and grow and act as community,

The infrastructure used to make all this happen is not them, whoever owns them. The arguments about ownership and funding and taxation do not represent them.

The laws sought to control that infrastructure is not them.

The robber barons that seek to exploit the infrastructure is not them.

You are them.

We are them.

Our children and grandchildren, their children and grandchildren, they are them.

They are the internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity.

They are the makers.

Many of the things they will experience will have been experienced by prior generations.

But one thing is new for them. They are the internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity.

And it can’t get taken away from them. Because “it” is not in the infrastructure. “It” is in them. It is them.

The age my grandchildren are being born into has its new challenges, often variants of old ones, but some no one has explored or conquered before.

Problems of identity and relationship and trust. Problems of relating to oneself and to others. Problems of understanding what the group you belong to will tolerate and what they won’t. Problems of dealing with all that even if the group you belong to appears to have no other members.

How to trust people. Whom to trust. What to share. What not to share. How to know what is true, and what is not. How to know what matters, and what doesn’t.

New things. Perhaps. The scale has changed. Perhaps. The reach has changed. Perhaps.

What has changed for sure is the propensity to be educated, to be informed, to have choice, to be able to exercise that choice.

All this may sound very first-world and Utopian and rose-coloured-spectacles while sitting in comfort somewhere in the Home Counties. And maybe it is all that.

But it’s more than that. The internet, the web and ubiquitous affordable connectivity, the powers and freedoms they represent, mean as much to those oppressed in the East as in the West, in the North as in the South. You may argue about Je Suis Charlie vs the victims of Boko Haram, about people dying of malnutrition in Africa or dying of obesity, about the dangers of failed states or the dangers of failed two-party systems of governments.

But when you argue, it is possible that you may be arguing from a better position than you would have been in generations prior. It’s become harder to control information, to hide the truth. Of course we have to learn more about developing our own abilities of filtering and curation and bullshit detection; education education education.

I want to keep reminding myself that I must do everything in my power to ensure that my children, and my children’s children, and their children, will share in that propensity, in the freedoms bestowed there.

The ability to learn is a precious gift. More than anything else, that’s what we have to fight for, to preserve. Some of the new tools of our age have the propensity to raise that ability in incredible ways. It’s happening already, in incredible ways. In every walk of life, from healthcare to politics and welfare, from manufacturing to agriculture, from the very large to the very small.

It all begins with education. In a world where knowledge is power, in a world where privilege is about information and learning, the freedoms represented by the internet, the web and ubiquitous affordable connectivity are precious.

Education is first and foremost about learning; teaching is the word used to describe the enabling of learning. Where no learning is taking place there is no teaching taking place.

Education doesn’t just take place in educational establishments or even just in homes. It takes places in hearts and minds, in the imagination, in dreams.

I read every day that the internet is about to fail, that web is dead, that governments and spies and bad actors have messed everything up.

I read every day that the infrastructure that our world of connected knowledge “relies on” is underpowered and about to collapse, that there have to be concessions and sweeteners and tax deals to compensate.

I read every day that the powers-that-be have only their own personal interests at heart, and that they will enact laws that will take everything away from everyone.

I read every day that the age of meritocracy is dead in a world where information and education is the new privilege.

And there’s a bit of truth in all this.

But  as I said some years ago, it’s over.

It’s still over.

And I look forward to seeing my grandchildren and spending time with them.

 

I read the news today oh boy

 

 

 

 

I read the news today oh boy.

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Last week I took my family to the Royal Albert Hall to see the latest Cirque de Soleil, Kooza. A great evening’s entertainment in one of my favourite venues. I would go back and see the show again just for the “Wheel of Death”. Stunning.

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Over the years I’ve seen many wonderful acts there, each visit was special in its own right. And yet every time I went there, as I entered the place, a part of me went somewhere else in time. Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. And all the verses in between.

It’s a fabulous song. Perhaps I should say it’s a fabulous two-songs-song, since it represents the merger of two completely independent sections. For people like me, part of the attraction of the song is the story behind it. The stories behind it. Here are two of them:

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The tragedy of Tara Browne’s fatal car crash, as reported in the Daily Mail in December 1966, was apparently the trigger to Lennon’s writing the first half; the report on “The holes in our roads” a few weeks later, also in the Mail, gave rise to the memorable line. Over the years, we’ve learnt bits and bobs about the details behind the song: the triggers and catalysts, the “muses”, the independent parts, the way they were brought together, the engineering behind it, how the alarm clock wandered in and stayed. if you want to know more about the song, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.

Some of you know I collect books. I’m a very oddball collector, with some very narrow collecting habits. For example, I have hundreds of Don Quixote items, ranging from many many different editions of the book, figures and figurines, buttons, medals, pens and writing materials, illustrations, buttons, plates, bookends, tables and t-shirts. I’m fascinated by how illustrators over the past 400 years chose to interpret the character, and that’s what led me to start the collection: one of my wife’s ancestors illustrated a 19th century Scandinavian edition of the book.

As with songs, part of my fascination with books are the stories behind the books. What made someone write the book; the context of the book; contemporary reactions; changes in reactions through the ages.

That fascination shows up in many different ways: I collect “association” copies of books, usually unusually autographed or annotated, often forming part of unusual collections in their own right. So for example here are two different copies of the same book:

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We live in an age where not everyone knows who the Beatles were. So names like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dwarkanath Chatterjee, Julian Huxley may not mean much to everyone. But they mean a lot to me. And they will mean a lot to some people in time to come, people who care not just about the book but about the stories behind the book. When the book is physical, these stories take dimensions other than just the narrative in them or the impetus before them.

So I have Kerouac’s copy of Gulliver. And Pirsig’s copy of Kerouac. And a book signed by Burroughs sitting alongside a machine made by the company his father founded, a company I once worked for. Books signed by people to people everyone knows. And books signed by people to people nobody knows.

Stories. Stories about stories. Stories about people and stories. Kindle, eat your heart out.

I read the news today oh boy. Talking about reading the news, I’m still getting used to how the news comes to me now. News, like peace, comes like a river to me.

A newspaper of the fish-wrapping kind proved to be a song-catalyst for Lennon. One of that ilk floated this story past me recently:

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I’m hoping that the headline turns out to be wrong in a strange way. The underlying data, taken from 2014 UCAS acceptances as reported in the Times, suggested that men outnumbered women substantially in engineering and computer sciences; and women redressed the balance when it came to social studies, creative arts and education. Web Science is all about bringing those disciplines together into a functional and meaningful whole, thereby rendering the headline irrelevant. Perhaps I will ask Dame Wendy Hall and the rest of the Trustees of the Web Science Trust to opine on this. [I’m one of them, so I’m biased. This world needs Web Science, and in a way that diversity of many forms is protected and cherished, beginning with gender].

In other news, coming to me via a friend on twitter:

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Fascinating. Perhaps there’s something in it for all those who fear AI growing unchecked and untrammelled. “Conquer” the machines by creating an addiction, a dependency, one that only their masters can supply them.

The first time the phrase “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you” was uttered, it was a momentous occasion. Perhaps in time to come we will be commanding other Mr Watsons in more imperious ways. [I remember coming across a story that the reason why Bell called Watson was because he’d done himself an injury, as if the first words ever spoken on a telephone were accidental. But I can’t remember where I saw it or whether it was true. So I’ll leave it for now and hope that someone reading this will illuminate me].

From twitter to Facebook, which is where I came across this, shared by a friend:

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

of smell tests and sanity checks: a weekend wander

The last time I had a cup of coffee was sometime in 2007 or 2008. I was with Om Malik, in a coffee shop in Mission (somewhere near 16th and Guerrero) in San Francisco. The place didn’t serve anything except coffee and water. And I’d already drunk enough water that day, so I tried a decaf. It was wonderful.

But it made my head spin; I hadn’t had any coffee since sometime in 2006, and erred in thinking that I could get away with decaf.  I haven’t had a cup of coffee since. Despite years of having double-digit cups daily.

I still drink a lot of tea though, tempering my wish for black with green as well as white. I’m of South Indian origin and brought up in Calcutta: both tea as well as coffee are mother’s milk to people like me. Since I was 7, all of fifty years ago.

And so it came as a surprise to me just how finicky I had become about my tea and coffee. A cup had to be just so. White on the inside if it’s china. Shiny if it’s a stainless steel tumbler. Or matt earth brown if it was a matka.

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The colour of the inside mattered to me for a reason: it helped me figure out how much milk to add. I was always an add-milk-to-tea person, unable to understand the add-tea-to-milk brigade. Even though I stopped adding milk in 2006, my finickiness to do with the cup or mug remained.

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The smell of tea mattered as well. If I wanted a dhaba chai, I would only go to the places where the tea (and milk) smelt right. My favourite used to be the taxi-driver dhaba near PG Hospital in Calcutta.

For much of what I enjoyed eating or drinking, texture mattered a lot. There were many foods I couldn’t countenance unless they were al-dente or cooked to a crisp. Especially anything to do with brinjal. Yet, thirty years later, I found myself adoring babaghanoush, which was anything but crisp or al-dente. I had similar reservations about black pudding: adorable when crisp, inedible when soft and crumbly.

The influence of presentation and colour and smell and texture in flavour and taste is not a new thing, mankind has known about it for centuries. Sensory-alteration experiments like eating in the dark have become commonplace since 1999; I suspect they’ve been going on for hundreds of years.

Nowadays, especially since the advent of the molecular gastronomist, we’re getting more and more used to the roles played by our senses in perceiving flavour.

Since about 2008, I’ve been coming across some studies on the role of sound in our perceptions of taste and flavour. In fact institutions like the Crossmodal Research Laboratory actually

“study the integration of information across the various sensory modalities (hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell)”

Now that fascinated me. Ever since I saw Short Circuit in 1986, and watched Number 5 in action, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of information-as-food. By the time I had absorbed the basics of Kleiber’s Law (on metabolic rate and its relation to mass), understood something of what people like Leslie Aiello meant by the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis and begun to appreciate what people like Richard Wrangham were saying, I was very taken with the information-as-food hypothesis.

Which is why I found myself giving this TED talk some years ago.

The idea that we experience information through all our senses, in an integrated way, is something that should not surprise any of us. Yet, given my peculiar biases, anchors and frames, I was spellbound. And have been spellbound since.

The first touch tablet I played with was not an iPad. It was something called a Tantus, if I remember right, and was used by bookmakers in the mid-80s. The firm I was working for wanted to know if we could convert them for the dealing room. But the touch technology wasn’t quite up to it.

As central marketplaces, many of them open outcry “pits”, disaggregated and morphed into trading/dealing rooms distributed across the participant base, it was not unusual for traders to lament the loss of the “buzz”, the sounds and smells and sense of crowdedness that permeated the pits. [When the markets went quiet after the crashes of 2001 and 2002, I remember discussing, mainly with Sean Park and Andrew Pisker, whether we should look at “piping in” the sound of busy markets on to the dealing floor].

With the slow demise of the keyboard, something magical is happening. We’re beginning to use all our senses to deal with information again, a significant renaissance. Touch and sound and gesture are all being brought more into play. Despite the withdrawal of Google Glass, the idea of wearables (and even embeddeds) isn’t a fad. We will engage with information in multifarious ways, in ways we cannot necessarily even imagine today. We’re so used to living in a world of text, that the mere possibility of its moving off centre stage as the primary way we engage with information, is not something we’re comfortable with.

Our very understanding of synaesthesia will change and grow, on the coattails of research in places like the Crossmodal Research Laboratory. The way we think of information will change as a result, how we engage with information, how we view information, how we respond to information, even how we create and store information.

Which is why I spend time looking a whole slew of things:  how plants talk and interact, how the information in DNA is decoded by transcription, how blockchains can help reduce transaction costs, particularly contracting costs.

Which is why I came across cymatics some years ago, and why, just a day or two ago, I spent time watching this New Zealand New Age musician:

A Change is Gonna Come. Which gives me a reason to end this post with Sam Cooke. 

A Saturday slalom through several strands

A few days ago, someone whose judgment I trust sent me a link to an Atlantic article. Since then many more have pointed me towards Ian Bogost’s piece, and I would strongly recommend you read it.

There are a number of points made by Ian, and it’s best you read them yourself. It deserves not to be summarised.

Any good article, book, work of art,  film, piece of music, makes one think. So it was with this article. The human tendency to conflate items linked by “metaphor” — our ability to imbue the “tenor” with all the attributes of the “vehicle” —  is something that has always puzzled me. When one considers the transient, temporal nature of what we use as metaphor, it puzzles me further, particularly in the algorithm-strewn world that he describes, partly related to what Eli Pariser covers in The Filter Bubble, and also partly to what Kevin Slavin covers in How Algorithms Shape Our World.

I must have been in my early teens when I first heard the phrase “seeing a reflection of the moon in the water and believing it to be the sun.” The person who said that to me said it in a zen-koan sort of way; later that day I mentioned it in passing in conversation with my father, and it set him off on one of his favourite topics. The only truth in a financial statement is the cash position. Everything else is some form of conventional representation.

It’s something that’s guided me ever since. As a young man, every time I looked at a car dashboard, I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t necessarily seeing the speed of the car or the amount of fuel remaining, just some representation of it: a representation that had capacity for error.

When it became fashionable for everything to have a dashboard, that safety-net of scepticism remained with me. As we entered an era where large organisations “spoke” in the language of “decks”, when Powerpoint and Excel began to rule, that scepticism grew more intensely.

The only truth in a financial statement is the cash position.

Let me give you an example of conflation truth and “conventional representation” in an unlikely context. DRS. The Umpire Decision Review System in cricket. The Indian team are notorious for refusing to support the system; I have much sympathy with their view. This, despite seeing the team disadvantaged by their stance on the subject, and despite a sense that they’ve not articulated their reasons well.

My disquiet began with a different sport. Tennis. And the use of tools like Hawk-Eye. A system that could “display a record of [the ball’s] statistically most likely path as a moving image.”

A-ha. A “statistically most likely path“. Not the path the ball actually took.

On the rare occasion I watch sport at home (usually at home and at unearthly hours), I tend to use the technique of rewind-then-replay-slowly whenever I wanted to review an incident. And when I do this, what I watch is a replay of the actual incident. Not a conventional representation, although the pedant will point out that even the images delivered to me were technically nothing more than conventional representations themselves.

The point is this: when we watch action-replays of activities like tennis where tools like Hawk-Eye are used, the “images” we see are driven by statistical models. That’s why we only see what appears to be the shadow of a ball against an artificial backdrop, rather than the actual movement of the ball itself.

I think that’s what perturbs the Indian cricketers. They don’t feel that the data underlying the projection models for ball flight and pitch behaviour reflect Indian spinners and conditions satisfactorily. In essence they think that the umpire is less likely to get it wrong. Time will tell whether they chose the “system” less prone to error, umpire or Hawk-Eye. Tendulkar suffered repeatedly in one of his last tours, where umpire was weaker than system. Rahane seemed to have a similar experience in the recently-concluded Test series in Australia. But I still think they’re right to question DRS in its current Hawk-Eye-only implementation.

I’m probably being heavily influenced by what I’m reading right now. Serendipitously, my current set includes:

  • The Order of Things: Michel Foucault
  • The Future Of The Past: Alexander Stille
  • Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America: Kenneth C Davis
  • Program or Be Programmed: Douglas Rushkoff

We live in an age where we use drones to kill people far far away; not that far removed from people being rightsized-by-spreadsheet, once you consider what’s truth and what could be sometimes erroneous, representation.

We live in an age where the Big-Endians of the CD world (16 bit, 44.1 kHz) now have to argue with the Little-Endians of the PonoMusic world (24 bit, 192 kHz) about their various Blefuscudian issues.

We live in an age of increasing automation, with concerns about how long it would be before the robots make us extinct. [An aside: I will know the robots are winning when, perversely, I see one lose. In a court of law. And be made to pay over money or transfer assets. That belong to no one but the robot.]

I’m still of the old-fashioned view that all technology is at the service of mankind; I guess, if pushed to answer, that I still believe in Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. For me, even when algorithms go wrong, there’s a human for someone to sue somewhere.

And so to my coda. Jerry’s Brain. Yes, of course it’s an artificial, conventional representation of something very human. I know Jerry, and he is a wonderful man. I’ve been intrigued by his brain for many years, and had the privilege to attend some of his fabulous Retreats. For some time now I’ve been exposed to his Brain, an extreme example of “conventional representation”. Fascinating, intriguing, a complex collection of links and connections and information. His Brain. Not his brain.

I’ve enjoyed visiting Jerry’s Brain. Now you can, too. It’s available in iTunes. It may also be available for Android, I confess I haven’t checked. When was the last time you entered someone else’s head?