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Nate:
from "The Kawere Boys," by Matthew LaVoie, Voice of America African Music Treasures Blog, 12 November 2008 :: first posted here 12 November 2008
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The Kawere Boys ‘Muma Ben’ (1974) mp3

Most of the songs in the Kawere repertoire seem to be praise songs for patrons who had invited the group to perform. These songs can be thought of as pre-internet age social networking. The singer usually starts by introducing himself, goes on to introduce the object of his praise, as well as the patron’s relatives, friends, and neighbors, before explaining the nature of his relationship to the patron in question. For example, in ‘Muma Ben’, the song starts with an introduction of ‘Muma Ben from Saye Konyango’, then introduces Muma Ben’s family, and ends with praise for the hospitality the singer received when he was invited to Muma Ben’s house. If you were to map out all of the relationships outlined in the Kawere Boys singles in our collection, and if you had a deep understanding of Luo culture, you could get a good idea of the social networks the Kawere Boys relied upon for their livelihood.

via Thingology (LibraryThing’s ideas blog)

Nate:
Andy:
from "Happy Mother’s Day," by John Maeda, Our (and Your) RISD,10 May 2009

When I was a child and worked in our family business, a tiny tofu store in the International District of Seattle, I recall that although my father’s silently arduous, craftsman approach to tofu was what drew customers from far abouts, it was my mother’s warm Hawaiian personality (she was born and raised in Oahu) that seemed to keep the customers drawn close to our little, and literal, “hole in the wall” shop. By growing up and watching the two of them work together, I learned the basics of business — a superior product delivered with superior customer service. Were it not for my mother, I’d probably have never discovered a way out of my paternally-inspired introverted ways of the silent craftsman; it was my mother that showed me that talking about what you do with a sense of humor and plenty of irreverence was just as important as the tofu that my father made.

Andy:
from "Primates on Facebook," The Economist, 26 February 2009

The Economist asked Cameron Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, to crunch some numbers. Dr Marlow found that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis [that individual human being’s social networks are limited to about 150], and that women tend to have somewhat more than men. . . .

What also struck Dr Marlow, however, was that the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable. The more “active” or intimate the interaction, the smaller and more stable the group.

Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

What mainly goes up, therefore, is not the core network but the number of casual contacts that people track more passively. This corroborates Dr Marsden’s ideas about core networks, since even those Facebook users with the most friends communicate only with a relatively small number of them.

Andy:
from "Take Bacon. Add Sausage. Blog.," by Damon Darlin, NYTimes.com, 27 January 2009

Where once homegrown recipes were disseminated in Ann Landers columns or Junior League cookbooks, new media have changed — and greatly accelerated — the path to popularity. Few recipes have cruised down this path as fast or as far as the Bacon Explosion, and this turns out to be no accident. One of its inventors works as an Internet marketer, and had a sophisticated understanding of how the latest tools of promotion could be applied to a four-pound roll of pork.

The Bacon Explosion was born shortly before Christmas in Roeland Park, Kan., in Jason Day’s kitchen. He and Aaron Chronister, who anchor a barbecue team called Burnt Finger BBQ, were discussing a challenge from a bacon lover they received on their Twitter text-messaging service: What could the barbecuers do with bacon? . . .

Mr. Chronister explained that the Bacon Explosion “got so much traction on the Web because it seems so over the top.” But Mr. Chronister, an Internet marketer from Kansas City, Mo., did what he could to help it along. He first used Twitter to send short text messages about the recipe to his 1,200 Twitter followers, many of them fellow Internet marketers with extensive social networks. He also posted links on social networking sites. “I used a lot of my connections to get it out there and to push it,” he said.

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from "Musician Frank Zappa (R) w. parents (L-R): Francis and Rosemary in Frank's home," photo by John Olson, Google LIFE photo archive :: via FFFFOUND!
Nate:
Nate:

Literature | Mary Shelley created a monster out of her “waking dream,” but how much of the original “Frankenstein” was actually written by her husband, Percy? A new edition of the earliest recoverable manuscript of this much-altered novel shows his writing and editing were substantial. [TLS]

Nate:
from "Annals of Culture: Late Bloomers," by Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker, 20 October 2008

But for Zola, Cézanne would have remained an unhappy banker’s son in Provence; but for Pissarro, he would never have learned how to paint; but for Vollard (at the urging of Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, and Monet), his canvases would have rotted away in some attic; and, but for his father, Cézanne’s long apprenticeship would have been a financial impossibility. That is an extraordinary list of patrons. The first three—Zola, Pissarro, and Vollard—would have been famous even if Cézanne never existed, and the fourth was an unusually gifted entrepreneur who left Cézanne four hundred thousand francs when he died. Cézanne didn’t just have help. He had a dream team in his corner.

This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others.

Andy:
from "13 Generations," by Kevin Kelly, The Technium, 24 September 2008 :: via Nate

I could form a human bridge between me and Jesus, or Caesar, or Hero of Alexandria with only 26 people reaching out finger tip to finger tip across time.  Those 26 people could fit into one room.

Calculated this way 1,000, or even 2,000 years doesn’t seem so distant. To span 1,000 years we need only 13 lifespans. We can hold a list of 13 names connecting us to the year 1000 AD in our head, and many people in the past have done so.

Going in the opposite direction we can imagine only 13 lives (and perhaps fewer if longevity increases), linking us and the year 3000 AD. Between you and the year 3000 AD stand only 13 lifetimes. In terms of lifetimes — which are steadily increasing due to medical progress — 10 centuries is just next door.

Nate:
from "Community by the Numbers, Part One: Group Thresholds," by Christopher Allen, Life With Alacrity, 24 September 2008 :: thanks, Koranteng!

150—“The Exclusive Dunbar Number”. Robin Dunbar got much of the discussion of group thresholds started with his article, “Co-Evolution Of Neocortex Size, Group Size And Language In Humans.” However, as I’ve written previously, and as I’ve described in this article, Dunbar’s group threshold of 150 applies more to groups that are highly incentivized and relatively exclusive and whose goal is survival.

Dunbar makes this obvious by the statement that such a grouping “would require as much as 42% of the total time budget to be devoted to social grooming.”

The result of the grooming requirement is that communities bounded by the Exclusive Dunbar Number are relatively few. You will find hunter/gatherer and other subsistence societies where this is a natural tribe size. You’ll also find these groups sizes in terrorist and mafia organizations.

All culture-making is local. Every cultural good, whether a new word, law, recipe, song, or gadget, begins with a small group of people—and not just a relatively small group, but an absolutely small group. No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small.

Culture Making, p.239

Nate:
from "Why don't architects ever retire?," by Witold Rybczynski, Slate, 9 September 2008

What is it with architects that they don’t—or can’t—retire? In part, it is the nature of their profession. Architecture is a delicate balancing act between practicality and artistry, and it takes a long time to master all the necessary technical skills as well as to learn how to successfully manipulate the thousands of details that compose even a small building. Requisite skills for the successful practitioner include dealing with clients: individuals, committees, communities, boards. The architect, proposing an as-yet-unbuilt vision of the future, must be able to persuade, and it’s easier to be persuasive if you have a proven track record.

For all these reasons, architectural wunderkinds are few and far between; architects have traditionally hit their stride in late middle age. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was 62 when he started designing the Lake Shore Drive apartments, which became the model for all subsequent steel-and-glass towers; Le Corbusier was 63 when he built the marvelous chapel at Ronchamp, setting the architectural world on its ear; Louis Kahn was 64 when the Salk Institute was built; and Frank Gehry was 68 when he produced the Bilbao Guggenheim. So once you finally get really good at it, why stop?

It’s not so hard for an architect to keep going. Since building is a team endeavor, the old master is surrounded by scores of assistants. For any slowing down that occurs in later years, there are plenty of younger hands and minds to pick up the pace. The younger minds propose, but the master disposes, and the big decisions still benefit from years of practice and experience. From the client’s point of view, since buildings represent large investments, it is safer, by far, to know that a seasoned practitioner is overseeing the process.

Day for Night (La Nuit américaine) trailer," directed by François Truffaut, 1973, and My Life, My Card ad, directed by Wes Anderson, 2006
Nate:
excerpt Indiana piano
Nate:
from "Vodka in South Bend: The life and music of a Soviet defector," by Joseph Horowitz, Humanities, September/October 2008 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

In 1990, he married an American girl, a fledgling pianist from Florida. In 1991, he accepted a piano professorship at Indiana University at South Bend—a place best-known for Notre Dame’s football team. Transplanted to northern Indiana, he proceeded to recreate the intense mentoring environment he had known in Moscow, as well as the communal social life he had known in Tblisi. To date, he has recruited more than seventy gifted young pianists, mainly from Russia and Georgia. They bond as a family, with Lexo the stern or soft surrogate father. They make music and party with indistinguishable relish. Lexo’s big house, on a suburban street without sidewalks, is their headquarters. Since separating from his wife in 1999, he has densely decorated the downstairs rooms with an assortment of American, Russian, and Georgian books and embellishments; the upstairs walls remain blank. The basement comprises a Ping-Pong room, a table-hockey room, and a Finnish sauna. The swimming pool outside is used in winter for furious ice baths in alternation with languorous sauna sittings.

South Bend is welcoming, comforting, and incongruous. As new Americans, the members of the Toradze community eat pizza, play basketball, and barbecue salmon in the backyard. They are addicted to such gadgets and amenities as giant TVs and state-of-the-art audio systems. They shop for steak and vodka in the early hours of the morning in vast twenty-four-hour food marts. Their social rituals are Russian or Georgian. So is their informed enthusiasm for jazz, which preceded their arrival. Though they do not attend the football games, Lexo’s excitement was boundless when he discovered that the forward pass was a South Bend invention.

"Dave Eggers makes his TED Prize wish: Once Upon a School" (2008), TED.com :: via GOOD Magazine
Nate:
Andy:

What’s equally tough, of course, is getting talented people to work effectively with one another. That takes trust and respect, which we as managers can’t mandate; they must be earned over time. What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity. If we get that right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places. I know what I’m describing is the antithesis of the free-agency practices that prevail in the movie industry, but that’s the point: I believe that community matters. . . .

After Toy Story 2 we changed the mission of our development department. Instead of coming up with new ideas for movies (its role at most studios), the department’s job is to assemble small incubation teams to help directors refine their own ideas to a point where they can convince John and our other senior filmmakers that those ideas have the potential to be great films. Each team typically consists of a director, a writer, some artists, and some storyboard people. The development department’s goal is to find individuals who will work effectively together. During this incubation stage, you can’t judge teams by the material they’re producing because it’s so rough—there are many problems and open questions. But you can assess whether the teams’ social dynamics are healthy and whether the teams are solving problems and making progress. Both the senior management and the development department are responsible for seeing to it that the teams function well.

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"Whiskey Devil and the Decor crew were getting going at Center Camp," photo from a Burning Blog post by John Curley, 19 August 2008
Nate:
Andy:
from "The Trouble with Twitter," by Ben Kunz, BusinessWeek, 18 August 2008

Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of the Ethernet, noticed that communication networks tend to increase exponentially with each single addition, a logic that today is called Metcalfe’s Law. Think of a fax machine sitting alone and unplugged in your office; it has little value by itself. But plug it into a network of fax machines around the world, and suddenly that communications tool has huge potential. . . .

But Metcalfe’s concept doesn’t apply to Twitter. The explanation why comes from two fellows named Zipf and Dunbar. Back in 1935, linguist George Zipf noticed that words in the English language are used in an interesting pattern. “The” is spoken most commonly, making up 7% of all utterances; “of” is the second-most common word, used exactly one-half as often as “the”…and the pattern continues with the 100th word in popularity being used only 1/100th as often. Zipf’s Law suggests that each subsequent thing in any series (such as your Twitter contacts) has predictable diminishing value. Your spouse is more important than your best friend, who outranks your boss, colleague, and that guy you met on a plane from Chicago. Inside the 2.3 million-strong Twitter network, not all connections are equal, and some will never be used at all. You will probably never send tweets to ice skaters in Finland.

Further depressing Twitter’s internal value is a concept from British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noted in 1992 that humans—like other primates—can handle only 150 relationships. If we try to add many more connections, our little brains get overloaded.

These are just theories, but they point out that Twitter is not a vast communications network of 2.3 million users squared. Rather, it consists of small pools of people with gaps and limits on how they interact. This is important to marketers and investors, because it puts big brakes on how internal communications could propagate inside any social media network.

Nate:
from "Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown," by Craig Timberg, The Washington Post, 5 July 2008

President Robert Mugabe summoned his top security officials to a government training center near his rural home in central Zimbabwe on the afternoon of March 30. In a voice barely audible at first, he informed the leaders of the state security apparatus that had enforced his rule for 28 years that he had lost the presidential vote held the previous day.

Then Mugabe told the gathering he planned to give up power in a televised speech to the nation the next day, according to the written notes of one participant that were corroborated by two other people with direct knowledge of the meeting.

But Zimbabwe’s military chief, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, responded that the choice was not Mugabe’s alone to make. According to two firsthand accounts of the meeting, Chiwenga told Mugabe his military would take control of the country to keep him in office or the president could contest a runoff election, directed in the field by senior army officers supervising a military-style campaign against the opposition.

Nate: