30 novembro 2004


Check Robosapiens story abridged in The Independent (The image goes directly to the Robosapiens website itself)


Rubik's Cube

This perplexing treat became the must-have toy, Christmas 1981. This Eighties icon shifted more than 100 million units.

Sylvanian Families

This figurine franchise addressed the pressing debate as to how a fox and a chicken would get on were they ever forced to live in the same house - and dress in turn-of-the-century frontier costume. They won Toy of the Year an unprecedented three times, in 1987, 1988, and 1989.


Fickle children forgot that a Tamagotchi is for life, abandoning these virtual pets almost as soon as the 1996 festive rush was over. Their Japanese manufacturers shipped more than 70 million units in two months to the US and UK alone.


The cuddly, loquacious Furby took the toy market by storm in the late Nineties. Famously banned from the Pentagon, because they were "able to learn".

Book aid: a literary pantheon follows musicians' lead on Aids in Africa
First the pop stars sang for aid to Africa, and now an illustrious group of authors are helping victims of Aids in the continent. Twenty-one writers, including five Nobel prize winners, have produced an anthology to raise money for a charity helping those with Aids and HIV in southern Africa.

Telling Tales, a collection of short stories by Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel García Márquez, Susan Sontag, Woody Allen, John Updike and 15 others, will be launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York by Kofi Annan tomorrow, before World Aids Day.

The book was the brainchild of the Booker prize winning author Nadine Gordimer after it struck her that writers should follow the example of musicians, who have rerecorded Do They Know It's Christmas and have also been active in supporting Aids causes across Africa.

"I became very conscious of the fact that musicians and singers were having concert performances in aid of Aids and HIV victims, and I thought, 'What are writers doing?'" she said from her home in South Africa.

"There has been no gesture from writers themselves to show they are human beings and have social responsibilities too."

Gordimer wrote to an international list of 20 of her favourite authors and asked them to donate a story to the cause. To her surprise, every one, including Arthur Miller, Amos Oz, Günter Grass and Chinua Achebe, agreed.

Gordimer, a Nobel prize winner, edited the anthology and then persuaded the 11 publishers involved to waive royalties. All profits from the sale of the book will go to Treatment Action Campaign, which tackles HIV and Aids in southern Africa, the worst-hit region in the world.

Gordimer, the author of The Lying Days and The Conservationist, said she simply asked for stories about "anything in the vast range of human experience" which people would want to read and buy as a Christmas present for their friends and family. She laid down no rules for the authors but only stipulated that they should not submit work on the subject of Aids.

"I did not want anything about HIV/Aids. There are enough documents already giving us all the facts and figures," she said. "I hope the world is going to tackle this pandemic. One of the points the book makes quietly is that it is a pandemic.

"The writers come from all these different countries, many of which have the idea that Aids isn't their problem.

"There is a tendency in the west to think Aids is only really in Africa and doesn't affect us personally. This isn't true. Everyone travels all over the world now, and this awful disease travels with us."

29 novembro 2004

(...) marmalade. ‘I was told by the French owner of a well-known brand of jam,’ wrote the reader, ‘that the origin of the word marmalade is in fact the English mispronunciation of the French phrase ‘‘maladie de Marie’’. Mary, Queen of Scots, would visit her close ally the French king by sea from Scotland rather than risk the wrath of Elizabeth I by travelling through England. Mary suffered awful sea-sickness during the often choppy crossing. Eating portions of bitter Seville oranges was found to be an effective remedy for this illness. Hence the name of “guérir la maladie de Marie’’ (to cure Mary’s sickness) for small pieces of bitter Seville oranges.’

A likely story! When did these Marian visits to France during Elizabeth’s reign take place, then? And where does the French word marmelade come from, pray?

I’ve heard a less garbled version in which the supposed origin is ‘Marie est malade’. You might as well say mal de mer. But the truth, as a less Rutherfordian reader suggested the day before, is that marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada, from marmelo, ‘a quince’. The Portuguese got it, ‘with dissimilation of consonants’, as the OED neatly puts it, from the Latin melimelum, from Greek melimelon, as it were, ‘honey-apple’, melon being the Greek for ‘apple’, as malum is the Latin. In Spanish mermalada means ‘jam’, but once meant ‘quince preserve’, even though the Spanish for ‘quince’ is membrillo, also from melimelum. The English quince, like the Catalan codony, comes from Latin cotoneum.

In English marmalade first meant ‘quince preserve’, as is found in the 1530s, before Mary, Queen of Scots, was born. Oranges are not the only fruit, even today, but the first reference I know to non-quince marmalade in English is from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy: ‘marmalet of plummes’. The famous Mrs Glasse writes (1767) of ‘marmalade of cherries’; the just as famous Eliza Acton (1845) of marmalade made from apples. The less famous Mrs Raffald (author of The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769) counsels taking ‘the clearest Seville oranges you can get’. I was sorry to learn that, after her death, Mrs Raffald’s husband lived extravagantly until he died, aged 89.

The Brain's Own Marijuana
Research into natural chemicals that mimic marijuana's effects in the brain could help to explain--and suggest treatments for--pain, anxiety, eating disorders, phobias and other conditions
Marijuana is a drug with a mixed history. Mention it to one person, and it will conjure images of potheads lost in a spaced-out stupor. To another, it may represent relaxation, a slowing down of modern madness. To yet another, marijuana means hope for cancer patients suffering from the debilitating nausea of chemotherapy, or it is the promise of relief from chronic pain. The drug is all these things and more, for its history is a long one, spanning millennia and continents. It is also something everyone is familiar with, whether they know it or not. Everyone grows a form of the drug, regardless of their political leanings or recreational proclivities. That is because the brain makes its own marijuana, natural compounds called endocannabinoids (after the plant's formal name, Cannabis sativa).

Read on in Scientific American
Textbook Disclaimers, anyone?

The Give-and-Take At the Book Thing

BALTIMORE -- Early one morning a couple of winters ago, a homeless man scanned the spines of hundreds of books set in neat rows outside the Book Thing of Baltimore. As he searched for a good book to kill time before heading to a nearby shelter, a sparkling gold Mercedes-Benz SUV pulled up to the curb. Out stepped a fifty-something woman wearing a full-length mink coat and carrying two or three Neiman Marcus bags full of paperbacks.

"It was just so cliche," recalls Book Thing founder Russell Wattenberg. "It's like one of those things where if I saw this on a TV show, I'd say they were, like, stretching it."

The paperbacks were a donation to the Book Thing, a novel kind of exchange where thousands of books are given away each weekend. The woman wanted a receipt, so Wattenberg ducked into the crowded basement from which the Book Thing operates and wrote one up. When he emerged, he says, the wealthy woman and the destitute man were deep in conversation.

"The two of them are talking about who's better: Ludlum or Grisham, Scott Turow." Wattenberg watched as the woman began pulling books out of her Neiman Marcus bags, "and she says, 'This was real good' and 'If you like him, you're going to like this.' " Even after Wattenberg handed over the receipt, their conversation carried on for another 20 minutes.

"That's the whole thing with the Book Thing," Wattenberg says. "All I am is a middleman. The people have books. . . . They give them to me, they're happy to have a place to see them go somewhere, and the people that get the books are happy to get the books."

Wattenberg, perpetually clad in jeans and a black Book Thing T-shirt, still has the accent of his home town, Brooklyn. He was on his way to Florida nearly a decade ago in a tan Dodge van when he stopped for gas in Baltimore. He decided to stay.

While bartending at Dougherty's Pub seven years ago, Wattenberg overheard teachers at Friday happy hour lamenting their need for books. He began taking 10 percent of his tips each week to buy books for them at flea markets and used-book stores, he says. He would give the teachers the keys to the van and tell them to take whatever they wanted.

And so the Book Thing was born. It eventually incorporated and moved into a 950-square-foot basement at 27th and Charles streets near Johns Hopkins University about four years ago. Wattenberg, 32, says he now works full time at the operation, paying himself an annual salary of about $18,000.

Some of that money comes from donations from individuals, but most is collected through the sale of rare books. Wattenberg says he goes through all the books that come in and sets aside those he thinks might be especially valuable. If they are, he sells them at auctions or on rare-book Web sites and uses the profits to pay the Book Thing's rent, electric bill and other expenses. "One-tenth of 1 percent of the books that come in here get sold to fund giving away the rest of them," he says.

It's a bare-bones operation: The basement has no heat or running water, no bathroom, and most of the light comes from the hanging light bulbs in each alcove. The Book Thing's annual budget hovers around $50,000, according to tax records. That's a low figure considering the thousands of books the nonprofit gives away.

Inside the basement and scattered on the concrete outside are tens of thousands of books -- all donated, all free. Shelves line nearly every inch of wall space; books that couldn't be crammed onto the overburdened shelves lean against them in stacks several feet high. Every Saturday and Sunday, Wattenberg throws open the door to the public -- everyone is welcome and they can take away as much reading material as they like.

The only condition is that each book must be marked with the "THIS IS A FREE BOOK" stamp. "This way, we don't have people who are book dealers come in, haul away a bunch of books and sell them," Wattenberg explains. It is also a useful tool in keeping count of the books taken since everyone has to stop at the door and get each book stamped.

Wattenberg estimates that 20,000 books come in each week and 20,000 are taken out. Many are picked up by the weekend visitors or given away at major events such as the Baltimore Book Festival and ArtScape, but "the majority of books that go out are going to community centers, literacy programs, schools, libraries, prisons," he says.

What book turns up most at the Book Thing? " 'Iacocca,' " Wattenberg says without hesitation, explaining that any book that was a huge seller but had little staying power is likely to make its way, en masse, to this basement.

Children's books, cookbooks and "the hard subjects -- math, science, accounting" -- go the fastest, he says. "People take books to learn a skill like accounting. They can't afford to go to school; this is how they're getting their education."

On a recent Saturday, industrial engineer Waithaka Mukira is among those at the Book Thing. He will be moving with his family back to his native Kenya to be with his parents after 20 years in the United States, so he's looking for "something to keep us busy," he says. He comes to the book hub each Saturday, leaving with boxes of novels, science texts, even a few farming books for his dad. The science books are for Mukira's wife, Dawn, a high school math teacher who plans to work as a tutor in Kenya.

Packing novels into an overstuffed cardboard box, Mukira looks around at the bounty and says, "It is my heaven, I can tell you that."

Paul Britt is helping to start a library for children with sickle cell anemia at Baltimore's Sinai Hospital. He says he wants to provide "something for them to do to take their minds off what's going on."

A few shelves over, six or seven teenage girls from a Baltimore group home crowd around the family and parenting section. One yanks a paperback off a shelf and says excitedly, "Ooh! Who wanted to read 'A Child Called 'It'?" A redhead thrusts her hand in the air and shouts, "Me!" She grabs the book and tosses it into her box.

Abishek Chitlangia, 23, picks through piles of forgotten fiction. His friends consider visits to the Book Thing a ritual: "Anytime we come here, we have to pick up a book -- it's like when you go to a shrine and you have to touch the feet of an idol," he says. "This is a beautiful place."

But the Book Thing is in jeopardy. According to Wattenberg, the new owner of the building where it is housed raised the rent on the basement from $235 to $525 per month. Because the new lease is month-to-month, that figure could keep rising.

"Right now we're looking for funding from anybody we can get it from to purchase a building," Wattenberg says. In addition to the rent increase, "this place is way too small for what we need," he says.

Wattenberg wants the Book Thing to remain accessible by public transportation, be wheelchair-accessible, and be in a neighborhood where people feel comfortable dropping off their books.

Aleks Martray, 23, browsing in the history and politics section, is worried about the Book Thing's uncertain future. "I think a lot of people have that ambition of wanting knowledge and only have limited resources. But they come to the Book Thing and realize it's not that difficult," he says. "These kinds of things are essential -- I don't think they should be seen as disposable."

After all, he says, citing a former Baltimore mayor's slogan for the town, "this is supposed to be 'the city that reads.' "

From The Washington Post, registration required :-p

24 novembro 2004

Computers as Authors? Literary Luddites Unite!

For some people, writing a novel is a satisfying exercise in self-expression. For me, it's a hideous blend of psychoanalysis and cannibalism that is barely potent enough to overcome a series of towering avoidance mechanisms - including my own computer. Writers and computers nowadays are locked in such an enduringly dysfunctional embrace that it can be hard to tell us apart. We both rely heavily on memory, for instance. We are both calculating, complex and crash-prone. And like Hebrew National hot dogs, we both seem to answer to a higher power: writers, according to Plato, were divinely inspired; computers have Bill Gates.

Occasionally you hear of a Luddite novelist who shuns computers, but the truth is that most of us would be lost without them. If I rail and curse at mine, it is partly out of resentment at our miserable co-dependence. Imagine, then, the blow to my scribbler's vanity when I discovered a while back that computers might get along just fine without writers.

This is not science fiction. With little fanfare and (so far) no appearances at Barnes & Noble, computers have started writing without us scribes. They are perfectly capable of nonfiction prose, and while the reputation of Henry James is not yet threatened, computers can even generate brief outbursts of fiction that are probably superior to what many humans could turn out - even those not in master of fine arts programs. Consider the beginning of a short story dealing with the theme of betrayal:

"Dave Striver loved the university - its ivy-covered clocktowers, its ancient and sturdy brick, and its sun-splashed verdant greens and eager youth. The university, contrary to popular opinion, is far from free of the stark unforgiving trials of the business world: academia has its own tests, and some are as merciless as any in the marketplace. A prime example is the dissertation defense: to earn the Ph.D., to become a doctor, one must pass an oral examination on one's dissertation. This was a test Professor Edward Hart enjoyed giving."

That pregnant opening paragraph was written by a computer program known as Brutus.1 that was developed by Selmer Bringsjord, a computer scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and David A. Ferrucci, a researcher at I.B.M.

Or consider this sensitive reinterpretation of a literary classic:

"The road to grandmother's house led through the dark forest, but Little Red Riding Hood was not afraid and she went on as happy as a lark. The birds sang her their sweetest songs while the squirrels ran up and down the tall trees. Now and then, a rabbit would cross her path."

What you just read is the work of StoryBook, "an end-to-end narrative prose generation system that utilizes narrative planning, sentence planning, a discourse history, lexical choice, revision, a full-scale lexicon and the well-known Fuf/Surge surface realizer." Believe it or not, that description was written not by a computer but by the humans who created StoryBook, Charles B. Callaway and James C. Lester, who are computer scientists.

That no computer has yet written the Great American Novel may be because computers are subject to some of the same handicaps that afflict human writers. First, writing is hard! Although computers can work unhindered by free will, bourbon or divorce, such advantages are outweighed by a lack of life experience or emotions. Second, and all too familiar to living writers of fiction, there is no money in it. Unable to teach creative writing or marry rich, computers have to depend on research grants. And why would anyone pay for a computer to do something that humans can still do better for peanuts?

Still, what has been accomplished so far is scary enough, and surely there is more to come, thanks to rapid advances in computing power and the rise of "narratology" (how stories are told) as an academic field of study, among other unwholesome trends that are making the novelist's life ever more perilous.

Computers have been doing literary work for a while now - helping nab plagiarists, for instance - and there is even fiction-writing software for people to use, in one case complete "with 2,363 narrative situations." Professor Bringsjord meanwhile is working on a logical framework for the problem of evil, hoping a computer can write fiction on that theme next. It is hard not to worry that sooner or later computers will be monopolizing the best-seller lists rather than focusing on such worthwhile goals as producing an intelligible royalty statement.

Fortunately, flesh-and-blood writers are nowhere near having to hang up their turtlenecks. When I called Steven Pinker, the Harvard University psychologist whose research focuses on language and cognition, he pointed out that the human brain consists of 100 trillion synapses that are subjected to a lifetime of real-world experience. While it is conceivable that computers will eventually write novels, Dr. Pinker says, "I doubt they'd be very good novels by human standards."

If we don't get much good fiction out of computers, we may at least gain some wholesome new perspective on the process of creating literature. The advent of storytelling computers suggests that thinking people and thinking machines confront many of the same problems in writing fiction, even if their solutions are different. Computers have to rely on a rigorous system of logic, while human writers try to turn their disorganized natures to advantage. Our traditional emphasis on inspiration promotes a reliance on serendipity, which, in turn, helps dampen the potentially paralyzing awareness of the infinite choices available when you create a fictional world.

The economist Herbert Simon, who reminded us of the futility of trying to consider every possible alternative in a world without end, might have had in mind the budding novelist in Albert Camus's "Plague," determined to create a perfect first sentence and therefore unable to advance beyond it.

It was Simon's ideas - particularly his notion of "satisficing" - that first got me interested in fiction-writing machines. Though in theory a person shopping for new shoes could consider all the pairs on the planet, in fact, the cost is way too high - an entire life spent shoe-shopping. So in the real world we visit one or two stores, try on a few in our size and buy a pair.

Satisficing in this way - settling, or even sensing, what is good enough - is something novelists must do as well. We think of an idea and go with it because pausing to systematically consider every plot twist, character or phrase that might come next would lead nowhere.

Computers are just as subject as humans to Simon's "bounded rationality." Computers cannot create narratives by using brute computational force to mindlessly try every alternative. It may be fun to think that 10,000 monkeys typing for 10,000 years will sooner or later randomly produce "Paradise Lost," but evidently this is no more plausible for silicon than simians. Computers don't even play chess this way, Dr. Pinker told me, having noted elsewhere that the number of possible sentences of 20 words or less that the average person can understand is perhaps a hundred million trillion, or many times the number of seconds since the universe was born. "The possibilities boggle the mind very quickly," he says.

This doesn't mean nobody is trying. On the Internet, the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator (http://user.tninet.se/~ecf599g/aardasnails/java/Monkey/webpages/) generates random keystrokes and matches them against a database of Shakespeare's plays. The record, last time I looked, was 21 consecutive letters and spaces from - aptly enough - "Love's Labour's Lost."

From the NYTimes

Lud·dite Listen: [ ldt ]

  1. Any of a group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed laborsaving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.

  2. One who opposes technical or technological change.

[After Ned Ludd, an English laborer who was supposed to have destroyed weaving machinery around 1779.]

From Your Dictionary

18 novembro 2004

17 novembro 2004

Gutenberg Printing Method Questioned

Johannes Gutenberg may be wrongly credited with producing the first Western book printed in movable type, according to an Italian researcher.
Presenting his findings in a mock trial of Gutenberg at the recent Festival of Science in Genoa, Bruno Fabbiani, an expert in printing who teaches at Turin Polytechnic, said the 15th-century German printer used stamps rather than the movable type he is said to have invented between 1452 and 1455.
Gutenberg (c.1397-1468), whose real name was Johannes Gensfleisch, is credited with inventing a mold for small metal blocks with raised letters on them. The blocks could be put together to form words.
After a page was printed, the type could be reused for printing other pages.
With this method, Gutenberg is said to have printed an edition of about 180 copies — of which only 48 exist today — of the 42-line bible, so called for the number of lines in each printed column.
The invention produced a literary boom in Europe.
According to Fabbiani, Gutenberg printed his bible not with movable type, but with a brilliant metallographic invention.
After scrutinizing an original page of the 42-line bible, Fabbiani noticed that some letters were slightly superimposed.
"Movable type are metal blocks, sort of parallelepipeds put together, one attached to another, to form words. With this method, it is practically impossible for type to be superimposed," Fabbiani said.
Instead, Gutenberg used keys similar to those on a typewriter, according to Fabbiani.
"Just think of something like the keys of a typing machine, but bigger of course. Using them, a character after another, a line after another, Gutenberg impressed a metal plate until he created a page and printed it. With this method, it is quite likely that some imperfection such as the slightly superimposing type, occurred," Fabbiani said.
The researcher devised and showed 30 experiments at the trial that would indicate Gutenberg did not use moveable type.
The claim caused uproar among academics. Some researchers simply dismissed Fabbiani's experiments as a stunt.
Eva Hanebutt-Benz, director of the Gutenberg Museum in the German town of Mainz, where Gutenberg was born, told reporters that there are "many open questions" on how Gutenberg produced the Bible as no documents exist from the printer's workshop. But she was strongly skeptical about Fabbiani's claim.
Other experts were intrigued.
"This is very important and credible research. We should not be afraid to destroy the myths".

From Discovery

02 novembro 2004

It's official - the platypus is weird

Scientists from the Australian National University have proved what many have thought for years - platypuses are really weird.
In the international Nature journal today they report a platypus has five chromosones determining sex, not one - like the rest of the species in the world.
Professor Jennifer Graves says platypus have five X and five Y chromosomes, and when sperm are made it gets even stranger.
"What we've discovered is that these five Xs and five Ys line up in a great big long chain, that go XY XY XY XY XY XY, and then all the X chromosomes move to one pole, and all the Y chromosomes move to the other," she said.
Professor Graves says there is another unexpected finding.
"One end of the chain looks like human sex chromosomes but the other end of the chain looks like bird sex chromosomes, so the chain is actually linking a very ancient system of sex determination in birds and probably reptiles too," she said.

The unique status of the Australian mammal is now unassailable.

Amazing babiessssssssssssss

(Just wanted to say that, after 681 hits from Google images, I am deeply disappointed with it, so I beseech somebody to take decent photographs of this wonder animal, heh, Rachael Hale, could this be the challenge of a lifetime?). Thanx :-)

So, this is the best I could do so far. 'Twas fun.

1 – What was Arnold Layne’s hobby, and where did he end up as a result of it?

He collected women's clothes from washing lines. Ended up imprisoned.

2 – Which Pink Floyd album can be seen in the Stanley Kubrick movie, A Clockwork Orange?

In one scene, where alex (malcom Mcdowell) goes to the shoping center to buy a record.
once he stands in front of the man, bangs his stick and askes about his request, if you look to the top right hand corner near the light, the album cover, of the cow is clearly visible.

3 – Which Pink Floyd song has 36 different drummers playing on it?

4 – How many different types of animals have been named in the lyrics of Pink Floyd songs?

Thirty-two (Armadillo, Bear, Bird, Butterfly, Cat, Cattle, Crow, Dog, Dove, Duck, Eagle, Fish, Fox, Hound, Jaguar, Kingfisher, Lark, Mackeral, Mole, Mouse, Pig, Pigeon, Rabbit, Rat, Raven, Seagull, Sheep, Swallow, Swan, Tiger, Unicorn, Worm)

5 – Name the former member of The Groundhogs who performed The Wall live with Pink

6 – Which Pink Floyd band member has appeared on every Pink Floyd record?

Nick Mason

7 – Which Floyd album was blasted into space with Soviet cosmonauts in 1988 and orbited the earth aboard the MIR Space Station?

The Delicate Sound of Thunder (which is IMHO a tasteless choice)

8 – What alternate title was used for the Pink Floyd album Relics in the EMI tape archives prior to its release?

Relics, a Bizarre Collection of Antiques and Curios

9 – How is actress Naomi Watts related to Pink Floyd?

Her father was the Peter Watts, the Floyd sound engineer until 1974.

10 – Name the one song on The Wall album that features a duet between Roger Waters and Richard Wright.

This has to be wrong. There's a only duet but it's Waters vs Gilmour in Comfortably Numb.
Although it might be Nobody home (although Wright doesn't sing hence it ain't a duet per se)

11 – What US band did Pink Floyd stay with during their brief US tour in November 1967?

This might be The Gods although they also took part in the Jimmy Hendrix Experience
tour with a "saucerful" of groups.

12 – On which Floyd song do members of the New York City Opera perform?

13 – What was the original worldwide release date of The Dark Side of the Moon?

March 24, 1973

14 – On which Pink Floyd album can the Elfin Oak be seen?

I'm sure it's one of the early ones but I've gone thru all the coverwork and I haven't been
able to see it.

15 – What is the largest inflatable animal that has accompanied Pink Floyd on tour?

A pig

16 – Who is Blue Ocean and what is his relationship to Pink Floyd?

No clue :(

17 – What is the name of Pink Floyd’s first album, and where did the title come from?

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It's Chapter seven from "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame.

18 – In which Pink Floyd promo video can key player Richard Wright be seen playing a

Jugband Blues

19 – What is the name of the musician who played clarinet on the song Outside The Wall from The Wall?

20 – The song Chapter 24 refers to a chapter in which book?

It's from a translation of the I Ching (Book of Changes), from it's chapter 24,

21 – Which animated TV series featured the Pink Floyd inflatable pig purchased by Peter Frampton at a Pink Floyd yard sale?

This of course had to be The Simpsons, the Hallapalooza episode.

22 – Who sang the song Seamus from the Meddle album?

An Afghan hound (Mademoiselle Nobs)

23 – Which piece of music did Pink Floyd perform for the first time in over 20 years on their 1994 Division Bell tour?

Astronomy Domine

24 – Name four Pink Floyd songs that have been censored for radio play.

"Arnold Layne," "It Would Be So Nice," "Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two," "Run Like Hell"

25 – What is the name of the guitarist who played nylon-string classical guitar on the song Is There Anybody Out There? on The Wall album?

Willie Wilson

26 – On which Pink Floyd song can the voice of actor Marlon Brando be heard?

27 – Who wrote the first song on the first Pink Floyd album, and who wrote the last song on the last Pink Floyd album?

Syd Barrett (Astronomy Domine) and Gilmour, Samson (High Hopes)

28 – Name three connections between Doctor Who and Pink Floyd.

29 – What do the first letters of the real first names of Syd Barrett, Roger Water’s father and Roger Waters spell?

Roger Keith Barret
Eric Fletcher Waters
George Roger Waters


30 – Which Pink Floyd song has the most words in its lyrics?

It has to be Sheep from Animals
One might have expected the uproar that ensued last February when UPN unveiled plans for a reality show called "Amish in the City." The premise--five Old Order Amish teenagers move to Los Angeles to live with six of their non-Amish peers, confronting the seductive powers of technology and libertinage--instantly aroused opposition from a coalition of Amish advocates, rural-life preservationists, and a majority of U.S. senators, who signed a letter accusing Viacom, UPN's parent company, of bigotry. "Amish in the City," these guardians of good taste insisted in newspaper ads and press conferences, would hold the Amish up to ridicule. (This was before the show had even been produced, let alone aired.) After mulling cancellation, UPN decided to air the show anyway, prompting Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), who represents the heavily Amish Lancaster area, to tell local papers that "[t]he very nature of this program is offensive and exploitative."

Pitts needn't have worried. True, "Amish in the City" carries all the formulas of the strangers-in-house reality-show model. There are domestic struggles (who left the dishes out?), stunt-based excursions (in one episode, the Amish kids and the city kids swapped outfits and hit the streets) and direct-to-camera confessional scenes in which the participants talk about how it all makes them feel. But, with the exception of some dubious dental work among the women and some aggressively unstylish sartorial choices among the men, the show's Amish characters don't fare poorly at all.

Indeed, rather than deride its protagonists, "Amish in the City" does what Americans have always done: It admires the Amish. In fact, in the show, it is the caricatured representatives of urban, cosmopolitan America--a gay nightclub promoter, the pierced-and-tattooed blonde fashionista, the sassy black student--who are the absurd figures, there for comic effect. Shortly after the program's July debut, the usually caustic New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley raved that in "this clash of cultures the three Amish men and two women are the sensible and likable ones. They are so unworldly that they marvel over a blender and weep at their first glimpse of the ocean, but they have much to teach their hip, patronizing housemates."

"Amish in the City" is only the latest example of a long tradition of Amish-loving American cultural mythology. We've long celebrated the "simplicity" of the Amish, idealized their way of life as an archetype of uniquely American goodness. Sure, we poke fun at them occasionally; cultural historian David Weaver-Zercher's The Amish in the American Imagination assembles a fine inventory, from a 1921 Travel magazine quip about "beards that look as if they had been cropped from a moss-hung Florida tree!" to David Letterman's "Top Ten Amish Pick-Up Lines." But Amish humor is a cottage industry compared to Amish tourism, which annually draws four million visitors who forgo Disneyworld to spend their vacations among the black-hatted, noodle-slurping barn-raisers of Lancaster County, Pa., the largest of several Amish communities in the country. (Most of the rest are in Ohio and Indiana.) They are, in the popular imagination, a peaceful people who spend their time going to church and making preserves, while the rest of us lost our spiritual way, got jobs moving paper around, became obsessed with buying stuff, and watched our families fall apart.

The Amish have been fulfilling this role since the early 1950s when they became a perfect foil to a modernizing country of skyscraper-filled cities and burgeoning suburbs, whose residents were infatuated with cars, weapons systems, and gray flannel suits. Back then, the world of the Amish was one where subsistence agriculture, folk art, and intimate communities--all on the wane in most parts of the country--continued to thrive, a place where technology, money, consumerism, industry, and big government were absent by cultural and spiritual decree. The boom in Amish tourism that began during that decade marked an inflection point in Americans' conception of their own culture: Only when they began to view themselves as modern, did they take interest in the lives of the premodern. Watching people tool around in buggies is worth a weekend trip only when one knows little other than cars.

It didn't take long before Lancaster sprouted the usual infrastructure of American tourism, from bus tours to smorgasbord restaurants to an amusement park, Dutch Wonderland. (That complex, which faced Route 30 with an anachronistic castle façade hiding a monorail, was met with a backlash; Pennsylvania Dutch Tourist Bureau president Robert Shoemaker accused the owners of trying to "draw and exploit persons of poor taste…at the expense of those of us who were in all honesty playing up to the public interest in history, religion and rural and American culture.") Indeed, the Amish were foremost a cultural attraction, and spending days among them was an informal exercise in anthropology; tour books, brochures, and maps were visitors' field guides. In the Official Pennsylvania Dutch Guide-Book, a 1962 tourist-bureau publication, A. Fred Rentz--identified as "an Educator and Authority on the Pennsylvania Dutch"--wrote that the Amish "have virtues that the rest of us would do well to emulate." They do not take government aid or agricultural subsidies or purchase fire insurance, Rentz points out. Instead, "[t]hey took care of themselves." Rentz presented a picture of an American society where one can step away from the rigors of the invisible hand and refuse to have one's own outstretched. The virtuous among us, he says, are those who can live outside the welfare state and refrain from frivolous lawsuits.

Everything the Amish touch, it seemed, turned to simple. In the guidebook's chapter "Foods--And How We Like Them," before mentioning any dishes or specialties--before even giving the slightest hint of the distinctive taste or style of Amish cooking--writer Edna Eby Heller presents a culinary tradition subsumed by its culture's cardinal values: "hard working, creative and thrifty." Visitors were told of "a great many dishes common in today's Dutch Cookery created when a housewife felt compelled to utilize rather than discard. She wastes nothing in the garden, neither in the kitchen. That favorite little Milk Pie, she makes from left over pastry!" The virtues of Amish cuisine are apparently that it is resourceful, not savory. In a consumer society increasingly aware of its tendency towards wasteful indulgence, these are old-fashioned values. The Amish don't take pictures, and they leave only footprints. (Plus the wafting odor of homemade Moravian Sugar Cake.)

What makes the Amish such an odd and appealing object of cultural tourism is that the visitor is asked to suspend disbelief, trusting that the Amish are of today, not faux relics of a manufactured past, like Colonial Williamsburg. In living Amish culture, visitors see both the purity of a simpler past and a promise of a more virtuous present. (Though the Amish are never portrayed as unevolved or uncivilized; they are premodern without being primitive, old-fashioned without being savage.) They were us in the late 19th century, the literature suggests, but we changed and they didn't. The Amish were the virgin, lily-white America of strong families and simple values, before all hell broke loose and things went wrong. The Amish were Ozzie and Harriet's "Ozzie and Harriet." (That image has never really changed. When two Amish twentysomethings were convicted in 1998 of dealing drugs, the Lancaster New Era editorial on the subject was headlined "Amish Cocaine Sellers Have Set Example for Everyone.")

Back to the future

But as American anxieties changed, so did the representations of the Amish in our popular culture. In the 1960s, as the sexual revolution got underway, booklets about the non-carnal Amish-courtship practice of "bundling" started to appear. In the 1970s and 1980s, as agriculture faced consolidation and corporatization, historian David Walbert has observed, Lancaster County postcards began to feature increasingly family-farming motifs. By the time Witness was released in 1985, America's big cities had gone to seed--and Lancaster County offered a cultural refuge. (The film began with a grisly killing in the bathroom of the 30th Street Station, which you never see at the horse-and-buggy barn.)

All these portrayals, however, have something in common: In each, the Amish are the guardians of old-fashioned American values, foils to change and optimism about the future. The Amishman is the romanticized American that never was: He is Jefferson's gentleman-farmer; the perfectible, efficient handyman of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack; Thoreau's self-cultivator at one with nature; Turner's homesteader on the frontier. And in that sense, Americans' lionization of the Amish is part of a broader tradition--the reactionary anti-urban, anti-consumerist vein in our national life that had its roots among America's first Puritan settlers, and has lasted well into the modern age in communities ranging from the crunchy back-to-the-land hippies of the 1960s to the right-wing survivalists of today.

American leaders have long tried to claim authority over the present by idealizing the past. Thomas Jefferson's utopian visions were based on ideas of agrarian virtue. "I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man," he wrote in Notes on Virginia, published during the early 1780s. The allegedly "progressive" turn-of-the-century educator John Dewey traced the decline of "children's modesty, reverence and implicit obedience" to a culture of family and community order destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. "Instead of pressing a button and flooding the house with electric light, the whole process of getting illumination was followed in its toilsome length from the killing of the animal and the trying of the fat to the making of wicks and dipping of candles," he nostalgized in 1899. Today, supporters of George W. Bush revel in the image-contrast between the president's common-man vacations to his Crawford ranch (clearing brush and chopping wood project rural values of work and simplicity) and John Kerry's allegedly high-fallutin' leisure activities. "Do you know how few Americans go windsurfing?" Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.)--himself a self-consciously self-congratulatory small-towner--sneered at the Republican convention.

For the most part, reality television has been an unexpectedly progressive institution, with programs to redistribute wealth ("Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"), guarantee sex set-asides for the fat and ugly ("Average Joe"), and to make moguls out of the clever and hard-working ("The Apprentice"). But by milking its coastal looks-like-America cast for laughs and casting Amish values as an antidote to modern solipsism, "Amish in the City" makes the same error that its Amish-loving antecedents do. It's true, of course, that there are aspects of Amish culture which we rightly miss in our modern lives--the close-knittedness of their families and communities, and even their manifest awareness that there are higher aspirations than material accumulation. But it's silly and disingenuous to hold the Amish up as an indicator of American decline. Millions upon millions of Americans prefer to live in modern suburban America, because Costcos are magnificent and churning one's own butter is an ordeal, and Americans have never chosen the past over the present.

[from the Washington Monthly]