Newsletter 155 – November 2009
——– MANTEX NEWSLETTER ——–
Number 155 – November 2009 – ISSN 1470-1863
Music, Arts, Culture, and Technology
as seen from digital hub Manchester UK
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0— ‘A Better Pencil’ – new book
Did you know that when writing was first invented,
it was viewed suspiciously. Plato thought it was
dangerous, because it would lead to a decline in
In this brand new study of the relationship
between writing and technology, Dennis Baron looks
at the way in which writing, printing, and the recent
introduction of digital writing have affected both
readers and writers.
You’ll be relieved to know that despite all the
doom and gloom stories about computers softening
our brains, there’s not a scrap of evidence to
support such ideas.
0— Pub Quiz Question #1
Who wrote ‘Porgy and Bess’?
0— ‘Unforgiving Years’ – rediscovered classic.
Victor Serge is one of the most unjustly neglected
novelists of the twentieth century. You’ve not heard
of him – right?
He was born of Russian emigre parents in Brussels;
he wrote in French (which saved his life); and he
spent the majority of his adult life either working
as a revolutionary, in jail, or living in exile.
Even so he also wrote twenty books – three of which
crown his career as a writer. ‘The Case of Comrade
Tulayev’ is his account of the Stalinist show trials
in the 1930s. It knocks ‘Darkness at Noon’ into a
‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’ was written at the same
time when he was in exile in Mexico. ‘Unforgiving Years’
was his last novel, in which he explores the political
apocalypse of 1939-1941 and the madness of the
Hitler-Stalin Pact followed by the horrors of the
second world war – all perceived from the point of
view of idealistic socialists, clinging to their
beliefs whilst the leaders of world events betrayed them.
It’s a bleak and often gut-wrenching account of what
he called ‘Midnight of the Century’, and the outcome
is as tragic as many of the events of that time were.
But the novel is written in a movingly impressive style –
full of a compressed and allusive account of events and
a lyrically evocative rendering of political ideas
It’s without a doubt a tough read – but if you’d like to
see what serious writing and literary experimentation
is all about – look no further.
0— Pub quiz – Question #2
Which element is used in computer chips?
0— Bauhaus: Modernist Design 1919-1933
This is one of those books which prove that
Amazon’s recommendations often deserve your
attention. It came up alongside another book
I ordered. As usual, it was available at a
fraction of its original price. And it’s a gem.
The Bauhaus only really lasted from 1919 to 1933,
but it gathered together an astonishingly wide
range of gifted designers and artists.
This is a beautifully illustrated guide to
paintings, product design, photography, typography,
textiles, and interior design – every page
carrying an example of almost iconic work.
Then on the facing page is a biographical note
of the designer, some historical context, and
scholarly details of the object itself.
Review and further details here –
0— Pub quiz – Question #3
Which tropic is further north, Capricorn or Cancer?
0— ‘Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism’
This too came up as an Amazon recommendation based
on my purchase of something else – I forget what.
And Amazon were right – it covered several things
in which I have a special interest: art, the
modernist movement, and twentieth century society.
Peggy Guggenheim made herself connected with all
of this. She inherited lots of money, married
several times, and collected (largely surrealist)
art – establishing the museum you can still visit
But that’s putting it all rather mildly and politely.
For she lived quite a shocking life even by today’s
celeb-dominated standards. The pages of this biography
are densely packed with the names of the celebrities
she bedded and befriended: Giorgio Joyce (son of James),
Yves Tanguay, Roland Penrose, E.L.T.Mesens, Max Ernst,
Marcel Duchamp, and even Samuel Beckett. And that’s
just a sample.
This life must have seemed extraordinary, even to
herself – for she grew up in the rather formal
atmosphere of New York pre-1914 – but by the end
she is sunbathing naked on the roof of her Palazzo
on the Grand Canal, and hob-nobbing with the likes
of Truman Capote at Andy Warhol-like parties.
It’s a narrative which certainly kept me gripped,
right up to the end. There’s much more detail here
0— Pub quiz – Question #4
Which elephants have smaller ears – African or Indian?
0— Windows 7 update – Where to go next
Windows 7 has just been released – and the news
so far is that it’s a good product. So where does
that place us with various versions of this product?
This is the barest of bare bones checklist – with no
guarantees or your money back.
If you’re using Windows 2000 or Windows ME (which are
now considered ‘legacy’ software) there’s no need to
panic – but you should think about upgrading.
The simplest thing to do is this. Next time you buy
a laptop or a desktop – buy something with Windows 07
installed, and forget about the versions you’ve missed.
You’ll need to get used to a much more graphically
oriented interface, but that won’t take long.
If like me you’re a Windows XP user, you’ll feel
pleased at having avoided Vista – but you should
know that Microsoft are going to phase out support
for XP in 2014.
So you can carry on with XP for a while, upgrade now
if you feel inclined, or wait until you buy your
next PC, then take the leap.
Windows 7 automatically hunts for and downloads drivers
for your peripherals such as scanners and printers.
It comes with Internet Explorer 8 installed, but gives
you the option of choosing Opera, FireFox, Chrome, or Safari.
Here’s a full review at PC Pro
0— Pub quiz – Question #5
What is filigree?
0— How to Make Money by Giving Things Away
Even the world of literary fiction is catching
on to the world of new eCommerce. Writer Cory
Doctorow has an article in a recent Publisher’s
Weekly explaining how he succeeds as a writer of
fiction by making his work available for free.
He applies the same principles as outlined by
Chris Anderson in his book F.R.E.E which we
reviewed last month
His basic materials are free to download, but if
you want his collections of stories in a more
attractive and desirable format, they are
available – at a price.
Formats range from print-on-demand basics to
glamorous hand-crafted hard-backed books with
a memory card embedded in the cover.
And if you want a sample of his non-fiction writing,
have a look at his book on blogging here:
0— Pub quiz – Question #6
Which is the second most spoken world language?
0— Dictionary of English Usage – re-issue
Disputes about the rules of English grammar
are often resolved by appealing to ‘Fowler’.
He published a guide to the subject in 1926
and it became overnight the best-selling and
most influential book on the subject.
He offers stern and often witty judgements
on knotty problems in English – such as the
which/that problem, the who/whom conundrum,
and issues such as ending a sentence with
Oxford University Press have just had the good
idea of re-issuing a facsimile reproduction of
the first edition.
It’s a handsome, dictionary-sized tome which has
been given an introductory essay by linguist and
lexicographer David Crystal.
He puts the book into a historical context and
points out that for all his apparently traditional
insistence on rules, Fowler had already started to
look ahead to the sort of relativist and
descriptive grammar which is now current.
0— Pub Quiz – Question #7
What is the Kookaburra’s nickname?
0— ‘Small Things Considered’ – design classic
You’ve heard of ‘popular science’ as a genre of
the literary world. Well this is ‘popular design
Henry Petrowski writes eloquently about very basic
products such as duct tape, WD-40, and Teflon,
pointing out just how much research and design goes
into these apparently simple items.
Indeed, WD-40 even gets its name from the fact
that it was the fortieth Water Displacement prototype
that the inventors had tried before they were successful.
He’s at his best when considering the details of a
specific and complex product. Office chairs are a
good case in point. His account of how the Herman
Miller Aeron displaced the Steelcase chair of the
1950s takes into account ergonomics, materials,
design innovation, ecology, and social attitudes.
It’s very readable stuff – covering everything from
the design of paper bags to the height of light switches
and door knobs in the rooms of your house.
0— Pub Quiz – Question #8
Which curly-leaved salad plant is a member of the Chicory family?
0— Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching
Moodle is an amazingly successful open source
software program for mounting online learning
courses. It operates as a fully featured virtual
learning environment (VLE) and has all sorts of
add-on programs (modules) which allow you to add
a staggering degree of interactivity to your
There are a number of written guides available,
but the trouble is that most of them simply list
Moodle’s features and tell you how to control them.
They don’t tell you how to design and create online
This book does the opposite. It assumes you want
to create a learning program, then shows you how
to do it, using Moodle.
The subject it uses is English as a second language –
but don’t be worried by that. If you want to create
online courses, the principles it describes can be
applied to any subject.
It took me eighteen months to get fully to grips with
Moodle. I wish I’d had such a well-focused guide at
my side at the time. Further details here –
0— Pub Quiz – Question 9#
What is a coley?
0— A perfect place to write?
Many of us have dreamt about perfect locations
for writing and studying. But one woman went
a giant step further.
She commissioned New York architect Andrew Berman
to build her a private library and writing studio
in the woods on Long Island.
Just watching this elegant short film makes you
come over all tranquil – and probably weak at the
knees with envy.
You might need to sign on the Vimeo to see it –
but that’s free, with no obligation.
I spotted this item on the site at Freshome,
which covers architecture and interior design
0— Pub Quiz – Question #10
Who jumped off the Talahatchee Bridge?
0— Pub quiz – ANSWERS
#1 Who wrote ‘Porgy and Bess’?
ANSWER: George Gershwin
#2 Which element is used in computer chips?
#3 Which tropic is further north, Capricorn or Cancer?
#4 Which elephants have smaller ears – African or Indian?
#5 What is filigree?
ANSWER: Fine lacy metalwork
#6 Which is the second most spoken world language?
#7 What is the Kookaburra’s nickname?
ANSWER: The laughing jackass
#8 Which curly-leaved salad plant is a member of the Chicory family?
#9 What is a coley?
ANSWER: A fish
#10 Who jumped off the Talahatchee Bridge?
ANSWER: Billy Joe McAllister
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