Axis Maps cartographer Zachary Forest Johnson wrote this loving essay-length biography of William Bunge, radical geographer. I loved this excerpt on frozen moments in time, and the necessity of choosing an instant when mapping:
Much of Bunge's cartographic theory is contained in the foreword to the book. Speaking of a historical farm map created for the book (portion above): Maps attempt to integrate over time, that is, maps assume an average span of time. This means that nothing that moves is mapped, and therefore property is inherently preferred over humans. In order to restore truth to the map it is necessary to achieve a fiction of accuracy through an assumption, namely that the map is drawn at an exact instant of time. In this case, the time is June 20, 1915 at 2 p.m. on a sunny day. This fiction freezes the men and horses on the roads, the strawberry pickers in the fields, as well as the crops in rotation and the animals in pasture. This restores life to the dead map of property.
And this, on the relationship between communication technique (old-school graphic design equipment!), choice of study area, and communcation efficacy:
Learning how to make a clean line, lay a rip-a-tone pattern, or design a map with the right Combination of point, area, and line symbols did not seem to be critical knowledge to members of a survival culture. But the school decentralization study made sense. The next three weeks both saved and came to define the potential of the Expedition. The decentralization report - rich in graphs and maps created by Bunge and the Expedition's students - was adopted by a community group and forced the Board of Education to respond to charges that its school districting plans were illegal.
Chris Heathcote blogged a lengthy passage of A.B. Austin's 1931 The Art Of Loitering. I especially enjoyed this pair of sentences about the then-new practice of working class pleasure-driving on weekends, and the new ownership of the roads by cars:
I had really no business to be meandering along their road. My creeping progress might spoil someone's new-found pleasure. For it was their road. It had been built, or rather adapted, for them. Without its glossy blue-black surface, its faultless camber, its generous width, its gentle curves, they could no more pursue their hobby, seize their thrill, than the railway train could run without its track.
Mark Rickerby writes about literacy in coding, and suggests that good programmers are good editors: "I started noticing a single quality shared by all the coders who were producing the most destructive output: they seemed to have a compulsive fear of changing code after it was written."
I have come to believe that the vocabulary of technology is not sufficient to understand situations like these. Primarily, spaghetti code is a literary failing. Through my observations of the developers responsible for these wrecks - they often turned out to be poor prose writers and some were very arrogant about their coding abilities. I believe the core skill that these cowboys lack is that of editing - an instinctive drive towards pruning and tweaking that all good writers know is one of the most important components of literary creation.
On several distinct forms of literacy:
In his further discussion of computer literacy, Kay outlines three core aspects derived from an understanding of English literacy: Access literacy (reading) Creation literacy (writing) Genre literacy (shaping context of style and form).
This was dense.
There is another constituency - self-employed men and women (often barely afloat) - who identify with the "haves," their present economic status notwithstanding. What they have is not so much current wealth, but a history of, or aspiration towards, status, authority, and autonomy. They are not willing to relinquish their past beliefs or their goals for the future. They conceive of themselves as self-reliant and as integral to what was once an undisputed notion of "American Exceptionalism." The number of the self-employed is expanding at a much faster pace than the population as a whole - to some extent out of necessity, as firms impose major cutbacks, forcing employees to go out on their own.
Thomas Frank's The Conquest Of Cool is about the rise of "hip consumerism", specifically as it's connected to advertising and menswear. There's quite a bit of Mad Men in here, and I'm especially interested in the idea that the culture and counterculture weren't quite so separate at the time, and that business culture was going through its own set of tumultuous changes mirroring those of the youth movement. Anyway I clipped a lot of passages here; maybe it means I need to buy the book.
First things first:
Conflicting though they may seem, the two stories of sixties culture agree on a number of basic points. Both assume quite naturally that the counterculture was what it said it was; that is, a fundamental opponent of the capitalist order. Both foes and partisans assume, further, that the counterculture is the appropriate symbol - if not the actual historical cause - for the big cultural shifts that transformed the United States and that permanently rearranged Americans' cultural priorities. They also agree that these changes constituted a radical break or rupture with existing American mores, that they were just as transgressive and as menacing and as revolutionary as countercultural participants believed them to be. More crucial for our purposes here, all sixties narratives place the stories of the groups that are believed to have been so transgressive and revolutionary at their center; American business culture is thought to have been peripheral, if it's mentioned at all. Other than the occasional purveyor of stereotype and conspiracy theory, virtually nobody has shown much interest in telling the story of the executives or suburbanites who awoke one day to find their authority challenged and paradigms problematized. And whether the narrators of the sixties story are conservatives or radicals, they tend to assume that business represented a static, unchanging body of faiths, goals, and practices, a background of muted, uniform gray against which the counterculture went through its colorful chapters. Postwar American capitalism was hardly the unchanging and soulless machine imagined by countercultural leaders; it was as dynamic a force in its own way as the revolutionary youth movements of the period.
The 1960s was the era of Vietnam, but it was also the high watermark of American prosperity and a time of fantastic ferment in managerial thought and corporate practice. Postwar American capitalism was hardly the unchanging and soulless machine imagined by countercultural leaders; it was as dynamic a force in its own way as the revolutionary youth movements of the period, undertaking dramatic transformations of both the way it operated and the way it imagined itself.
On the study of selling out:
It is more than a little odd that, in this age of nuance and negotiated readings, we lack a serious history of co-optation, one that understands corporate thought as something other than a cartoon. Co-optation remains something we vilify almost automatically; the historical particulars which permit or discourage co-optation - or even the obvious fact that some things are co-opted while others are not - are simply not addressed.
On Wired, pretty much:
The revolutions in menswear and advertising - as well as the larger revolution in corporate thought - ran out of steam when the great postwar prosperity collapsed in the early 1970s. In a larger sense, though, the corporate revolution of the 1960s never ended. In the early 1990s, while the nation was awakening to the realities of the hyperaccelerated global information economy, the language of the business revolution of the sixties (and even some of the individuals who led it) made a triumphant return.
On permanent revolution:
The counterculture has long since outlived the enthusiasm of its original participants and become a more or less permanent part of the American scene, a symbolic and musical language for the endless cycles of rebellion and transgression that make up so much of our mass culture.