Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Train Time

Many great songs feature trains. Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues comes to mind first, but others aren't far behind including City of New Orleans, 500 Miles, and one of my favorites, Midnight Train To Georgia which I wrote about here a few years back. 

Meantime, life goes on.... Let's ride.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tech Tuesday: A.I. Journalism Is Present, Not Future

When we moved to Duluth in 1986 to start a family my first task was to find employment. Seeking a writing position, I pounded pavement with a portfolio of published freelance work I'd rustled up over the previous four years while paying the bills with a "day job" painting apartments. Over a period of two months I was able to meet people and show my portfolio at least twice a day and occasionally more. Duluth was making a late recovery from the "Reagan Recession" as it had been dubbed, and jobs were scarce, but I was confident that all the talented writers had either found positions or moved to the Twin Cities, which meant I was only competing with writers who had lesser talent. (This self-talk strategy kept my confidence level high and ultimately paid off when a writer position opened at AMSOIL.)

I mention all this as a lead into how during that time I met Howie Hansen, a young writer who was also a hustler. Howie is currently a city councilor (District Four) and the founder of Howie's Blog, which bills itself as "Duluth's Finest News Source." In the mid-1980s Howie produced a "good news" newspaper called Twin Ports People (or something like that) but earned his rent money by freelance writing. The stories he scrapped for paid $20 bucks a pop or sometimes a little more (30-50) with tight turnaround times for deadlines. He covered local sports for the Trib, among other things, and learned how to string words together with an almost machine-like efficiency.

This was the picture that came to mind when I read the following story about a computer journalist in China that wrote 450 articles in two weeks about the Rio Olympics. That was a strange sentence to write because I would prefer to write about a journalist who wrote than a robot that wrote.

Just last week I wrote here about how writing jobs were going to be among the next to go by the wayside as AI emerges. An Ad Age story this weeks announces, IBM Wants You To Know That AI Is Not Futuristic -- It's Here Now.

The Futurism article about the Chinese bot assigned to cover the Olympics is intriguing, however. Evidently the owner of the machine is a Google equivalent with its own advanced AI technologies in the works. "Chinese search engine and news outlet Toutiao is using an artificial intelligence known as Xiaomingbot to publish articles on the Olympics. The bot was able to write a total of 450 articles during the 15-day event."

You're not likely to see anything like David Foster Wallace's Wimbledon stories, but I can imagine that sports summaries like the kind Howie once produced could be replaced, making those kinds of writers obsolete. Even when Howie was at his most productive he still had to sleep once in a while. Toutiao's machine never even needs to stop for a meal.

If anything, this might serve as a prod to contemporary writers to avoid bland prose and lazy verbs. If we can't keep our writing lively and compelling, we're not going to keep our jobs. I don't want to produce words that just any old bot could assemble. Do you?

Then again, if I can find an affordable machine to write this blog for me every morning then maybe I could finally go on a vacation.

Meantime, life goes on.

To have this blog sent straight to your invobx, subscribe here.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Magical and the Marvelous: DF Wallace's Roger Federer Essay

When I was an art student at Ohio University we had an instructor my third and fourth year named Frank Holmes who had just returned, I believe, from a two year art fellowship in Italy. He painted incredible scenes in the classical style that has become a lost art but which Jeffrey Larson is aiming to pass on to a new generation of painters.

After I graduated I kept track of a few of my classmates and instructors as able and learned that Frank had gone to New York City, the Big Apple, and acquired a loft somewhere in Manhattan. The last I heard he was doing a painting of a piano. A former classmate of mine had gone to see him and found that he'd been working on this painting for over a year. In order to do the painting he'd not only been doing preliminary drawings, he'd spent a great deal of time learning to play the thing, becoming intimately acquainted with not only its appearance but also its aural qualities.

This effort by Frank Holmes to become so fully immersed with the piano so as to experience the meaning of piano, this was the image that came to mind as I read David Foster Wallace's essay "Roger Federer as Religious Experience," the selection chosen to open his posthumous collection of essays assembled under the title Both Flesh and Not*.

This essay is a remarkable achievement. Here's the opening paragraph to whet your appetite:

                               CC by 2.0
Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.

Remarkably, reading David Foster Wallace's prose has -- for the astute reader -- the same effect. As I read this essay, in an attempt to see what all the hoopla was about this legendary author (featured in last year's superb sleeper, The End of the Tour) I come away feeling something akin to the thrill that one must have felt after witnessing a Houdini performance.

The film (End of the Tour) may have failed to fill Hollywood billfolds with greenbacks, but it did succeed in introducing a few more readers to the Wallace sensation. I was not one beforehand, so I'm admittedly late to the party.

But this all misses the point of my blog post here, and I'd best return to it quickly. The point is, Wallace is at times a magician with words, especially in this essay where he paints in excruciating detail the godlike talents displayed in this mortal tennis player, Roger Federer. What Wallace does, however, is demonstrate his own intimacy with the game of tennis, and not only tennis today but its past history, its great players of the past, its challenges in the present, and the context in which this remarkable human has come into existence. Wallace paints a picture so vivid that a photograph could not capture more detail.

One of the words he keeps returning to is the word beauty. "Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports,," he writes, "but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war."

The purported subject of this New York Times article is a men's Wimbledon tennis final between Roger Federer and his Spanish opponent Rafael Nadar. What's striking here to me is that this story probably didn't require Wallace to pour so much sweat equity into the piece. Undoubtedly he could easily have compromised, produced a lesser essay, a suitable, even better than average story and gotten paid the exact same amount. But he didn't.

After a great deal of setup, and a fascinating amount of detail about the ceremonial coin toss, Wallace returns to a description of Federer's beauty as a performer/player.

A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to; the service motion is lithe and uneccentric, distinctive (on TV) only in a certain eel-like all-body snap at the moment of impact.

Roger's signature                            (Public Domain)
What makes the account come so alive is the detail. A little further along he describes how quickly these top tier pros must react to a serve.

Mario Ancic’s first serve, for instance, often comes in around 130 m.p.h. Since it’s 78 feet from Ancic’s baseline to yours, that means it takes 0.41 seconds for his serve to reach you. This is less than the time it takes to blink quickly, twice.

And when he describes Federer's performance on this fateful day, the descriptions are themselves delightful, magical and marvelous. And it's all done with so naturally, unpretentious. There isn't a hint of the intentional showiness that Katherine Anne Porter derided when she wrote, "When virtuosity gets the upper hand of your theme, or is better than your idea, it is time to quit."

I used to do magic tricks when I was growing, card tricks and fumbling sleight of hand. It can be fun to see the befuddlement on other kids' faces when you pull something off. Bur when you see the dazzling handiwork of a master magician, making things disappear and re-appear elsewhere directly in front of your eyes, it can be breathtaking. And that's the feeling I had as I read this essay. I was watching a magician at work, just as he was describing the magician Roger Federer working to put away Nadal, his opponent.

Federer isn't the only sports superstar who appears to bend the rules of physics. Wallace cites Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky in a similar way. But the essay always returns to Federer, and it's my hope that you will take the time to read this wonderful piece.

Or you can go for the whole book. You'll find some excellent insights on writing, and a really superb smackdown of Hollywood's love affair with SFX, which essentially amounts to a blistering review of T-2.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Dig it.

*EdNote: Since Both Flesh and Not is a posthumous collection I can't give GFW credit for the clever title. It's ambiguous and leaves much to the imagination. It could make sense to assume it's Flesh and Bone, with some suggestiveness attached to the latter, though as Freud famously quipped, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

The title could be completed with another common conbo, Flesh and Spirit. Wallace grew up going to Sunday School and no doubt heard the admonition to live by the Spirit and not the flesh, the two warring factions of the Self that Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans, or his warmup on the theme in his counsel to the church of Galatia.

Flesh and Blood is another possibility. This pair is also featured in many a quote from literature (eg.: “The savage bows down to idols of wood and stone, the civilized man to idols of flesh and blood” --George Bernard Show) as well as the Bible. ("Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers...")

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Local Art Seen & Heard: Jeffrey Larson @ the Tweed

Larson Self Portrait
As I drove to the Tweed to hear Classical Impressionist painter Jeffrey Larson give a talk on "Training the Eye to See," I wondered to myself how many people would be there for a two hour mid-afternoon presentation on the last weekend of summer. A delay getting out of the house resulted in my arriving just as Bill Shipley introduced the speaker with the words, "We are privileged to have an artist of Mr. Larson's caliber here in our community."

This year the Tweed Museum of Art on the UMD campus had a major facelift. When they re-opened in June Jeffrey Larson's impressive exhibition titled "Domestic Space" occupied a good portion of the gallery's lower level. It's a great kickoff for the art school this classically trained painter is opening in two weeks with his son. The exhibition is on view until September 18, 2016, with thirty exquisite works that illustrate the concepts he presented in his talk yesterday.

As soon as he met the podium the guy gushed enthusiasm for his subject matter. At least a hundred seats had been set up and not one was empty. Most impressive, beyond the size of the turnout, was the level of engagement once the Q&A commenced. There was nothing stodgy happening here, no polite erudite prattle. Rather, we were treated to a discourse on love, the love of learning to see like an artist, to fine tune one's perceptions to observe as an artist observes.

Mr. Larson opened by stating that eyes take in information from the day we're born, but we don't know what we are seeing. We must learn to recognize what we're seeing, what is hard, soft, safe, reliable. When we become classical-style artists, what is important is learning to see truthfully, and marry it to an artistic sensibility. This childlike way of seeing involves simplifying shapes and colors into forms, puzzle pieces. We're translating three dimensional reality onto a two dimensional surface. To do this we break our observations into patterns.

It is essential that we learn "how to see correctly, then reproduce it on canvas," he said. We're not copyists. Rather, we're translators.

The artist brought with him numerous examples of early and previous work to illustrate his various ideas. The first of these was a painting of a sculpture in black and white. He pointed out how lines became reference points as he attempted to mimic what he saw on the canvas. He noted how he had blocked in the shapes and identified the value structure, showing the manner in which light hit the sculpture and produced brighter places and where the shadow formed where light is absent.

"Accuracy is the aim," he explained. "Reproducing reality by breaking it dow to key components. Reproducing beauty is far more difficult than it looks."

At this point Mr. Larson made a really significant statement. He said that people tend to keep doing what they are good at when they ought to be developing the skills which they are lacking, to develop the areas where they are lagging. I would suggest that this applies not only to artists, but to all aspects of life, from careers to hobbies to relationships.

To see as an artist means to be fascinated with light.
He talked a bit about the impressionist movement in Europe. The catalyst, we learned, was the invention of paint in tubes which enabled artists to bring their paints to lakes and parks and other outdoor settings. He then shared an example of his own work painted plein air, and told how it came about. The subject matter: a small birch tree with a few other trees in the midst of a field against the backdrop of a forest. In point of fact, there were more trees and shrubs than he painted, but he edited them out, just as I am editing out details about the 100+ people who craned their necks to see the highlights he was pointing out. "We as artists make choices as to what we want to present," he said. As artists explore subjects "it's more about problem solving. The joy of painting is discovery."

After sharing his son's growth from subject matter to young artist he closed by commenting on how to respond to art, whether it be Bach or Van Gogh. "Artists should be judged by their intent. We should ask, 'What was he trying to do?'"

* * * *
A question and answer period followed. Questions came fast from all parts of the audience.

Q: How do you realistically paint flesh and skin tones?
A: Skin tones are a challenge to make look alive. It's key to see those colors accurately.

Q: How do you capture shadows properly as the sun moves (when painting outside)?
A: Paint fast. Or come back each day at the same time. (At this point he explained the importance of recognizing where the bright spots are in a scene or on an object.)

Q: Do you do underpainting?
A: Sometimes. To work out shapes and color values.

Q: Are you willing to analyze the waterfalls painting behind you?
A: This is a staggering scene. The artist did a series of small paintings live and brought them back to the studio. Until you try something like this you'll never realize how difficult something like this is.

A question was asked about his development as an artist. He said he always drew and liked it. If you're going to make it you must work hard.

A question was asked about definitions. He said a copyist is one who copies other paintings. A classical realist is a term coined by Richard Luck pertaining to art created pre-photography. Mr. Larson calls classical impressionism "honest seeing."

Going into detail about his first monochromatic painting of a statue.
He was asked for more details about the school he is starting. He replied that it is called the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art. It is located in the former St. Peter's Church at 818 West Third Street. The school's aim is to pass on the craft thru many generations. The first classes open in two weeks with six students lined up at this point. He will be doing a live painting at the school on September 10.

Another questioner noted that there's been research that showed how original paintings signed by the artist produce serotonin in people when they own them. It helps counter the "depersonalization syndrome" in our tech culture.

Jeffrey Larson laughed and said he would use that in marketing his paintings.

Another question had to do with the loss classical skills. He, being a photographer, has observed that many schools and college art departments have deep sixed their darkrooms. The process of developing film is becoming a lost art.

Q: What's the difference between talent and artistry?
A: He responded with the illustration of Wayne Gretzky. He had talent but it had to be developed. Artistry has to do with choices.

Last Q: Why do you paint with oils?
A: Oil painting offers more versatility.

I'm confident that the time at the Tweed was a rewarding two hours well spent for all who attended. And I would agree with Mr. Shipley's introductory comment at the beginning. I have a feeling we will all be enriched by Mr. Larson's decision to establish his school here.   

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dylan Fest Postmark Is A Fun Discovery

Well I ride on a mail train, babe,
can't buy a thrill...
--Bob Dylan
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

This year the Duluth Dylan Fest adopted five additional activities in addition to the usual traditions of recent years. One of these was a postage stamp cancellation event. It's something Hibbing's Dylan Days had been doing for many years, marking each year with a special postmark locally designed and approved by the U.S. Postal Service. So on Saturday morning May 28 the USPS setup shop in the Historic Duluth Armory with an official representative there to cancel stamps and post cards that people purchased. John Bushey, host of the KUMD Dylan radio hour, did all the backstage info-gathering and negotiating to get all the paperwork established. I did the concepting and drew the artwork that was used for the "official" stamp. The original concept included a small profile of our native Son, but this had to be negated as a violation of one of the rules. No biggie.

This week I stumbled across a website called that collects a wide variety of geeky postmarks, including our Duluth Dylan Fest mark.  Postmark collecting is apparently alive and well. Galleries featuring art postmarks, First Day postmarks, event and commemorative postmarks, literary postmarks, military postmarks and more are all part of the site.

When concepting the art it seemed that a train theme is perfectly at home here. We have extensive train yards in this major port town. The annual Blood on the Tracks Express has become a Dylan Fest ritual that few want to miss. In addition, Dylan's album Slow Train Coming signified one of the many turnpoints in his career.

It was fun to make this contribution to the week's happenings. Strangely enough, we've already begun planning for 2017. We'll certainly welcome you warmly if you join us.

* * * *
Meantime, life goes on... I'll catch up with you at Hobo Junction. 

#dqcp - alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Yesterday I spent another hour and a half at the Duluth Quantum Computing Project @ 3 West, an informal setting designed to stir discussion and stimulate a deeper dive into the complex and mysterious realms of cyberspace and digital technology. The theme for this week's discussions and interactions is: alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Here's an excerpt from the project's discussion springboard:

How do we navigate this wild space? How do we map stories onto this web? We have the tools to move about in a geolocative context ... Our stories can be mapped to place ::: accessible through location ::: existing on a map. (one can't help but see maps then through a fictional lens ::: constructed boundaries ::: colored shapes and borderlands). What does time look like in this context? Is a story's temporal arc completely dependent on the "reader's" movement through a physical space?

Navigation ::: revealing all of the corners of a story becomes an explicit challenge for a writer in this context. Linearity dissolves into trees ::: into graphs ::: into the infinite canvas. The writer defines temporal, spatial, social relationships ::: the set of axes that describes the story space ::: the navigation ::: the compass. A reader has a new power ::: a new agency ::: they become another character. The reader becomes a game-player ::: a part of the action. What is their role? narrator ::: writer ::: geographer ::: cartographer ::: investigator ::: the boatman? The reader becomes an actor (first person? second person? third person ?) do they become a story layer for future readers to encounter? do they leave their trace?

* * * *

B&W by Adam McCauley, who will soon show at DAI
As I arrived Friday noon four employees from the ARI, a local tech firm, stopped in to catch a feel for what was happening in the space. Kathy McTavish, creator of the project, welcomed them and answered questions.

This was followed by the arrival of several people who were present for the previous evening's discussion about hypermedia. "It's beautiful but difficult to navigate that space," McTavish said.

Stacie Whaley: "We talked about how hyperlinks link, the beauty of that being how easy it is to connect one thought or idea to others. Everything can be connected very easily."

Another artist there, a retired teacher (RT) who now paints, explained: "Something that wasn't on my radar was the ability of the web designer to put indicators in the code that will make make their site more surgical."

Some of the discussion circled around the labyrinthian character of cyberspace.

SW: "We also talked about cross between art and commercial realms..."

RT:  "For me it's like getting into a mindset... The career you choose based on your passion vs. your career being determined by what you are able to tolerate."

This last statement brought to mind for me the exercises in Richard Bolles' classic What Color Is Your Parachute? Step one in choosing a career has to begin with a measure of self-understanding, or as Ms. Lenz put it, knowing "what you are able to tolerate."

What makes the duluth quantum computing project so rich is the extensive collection of reading lists and information McTavish has assembled.  You can find the fodder for this week's discussions here at this page on. You'll find a list of gallery organizations, challenges of working in the digital space and examples from the work of other artists in the space.

The #dqcp as a space is designed to create an opportunity for discussion as well as personal exploration. Each week is thematic, yet to some degree undefined. In a culture where everything has been pre-chewed and processed and presented in a manner that is effortless to receive, there may be challenges in knowing how to engage the work. However, paths have been laid out and the reading material provided is extensive. Your rewards from involvement will be directly proportional to the effort you put into engaging it.

The reading list for today's topic included a link for archivists and curators of and net.writing. Part of the impetus for the development of this project was the quest to help artists preserve their work in an ever-changing digital age.

People have asked, "Why aren't there any great works of digital art?" One of the problems art galleries have is that they don't have strong IT staff. Or there is art that was created that doesn't last because software changes. But McTavish shared how some galleries and artists are addressing this. For example, the art "work" includes the instructions for making the installation.

This can be best understood by the example of theater. Shakespeare lives forever because his plays are actually sets of instructions. In its essence, Shakespeare did not write a story. He wrote descriptions of scenes, instructions for the characters to enter and exit the set, and things the various characters were supposed to say. As a result when anyone replicates these instructions we, as an audience, can experience his plays which live and speak to us today.

In the same manner there are artists who produce work that includes instructions for installation. Sol Lewitt wrote directions for people. The act of installing becomes act of creation.

Not all work is designed to be permanent. Eva Hesse, for example, works in materials that degrade over time as opposed to creating permanent sculptures of marble or bronze.

As we explored this week's theme, I was directed to the article on Narrative Graph Models and the Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games.  This latter awakened in me some of my first enthusiasms with regard to the possibilities of hypermedia and the internet.

Before the existence of the WorldWideWeb a lot of computer geeks did file-sharing in which people created programs and circulated them to friends to experience and experiment with. One program I obtained was called HyperCard, for Mac platforms. It emulated a whole new way of organizing information, so that each page could be linked in a non-linear way to any or all of the other pages in a "document." The result was an experience like what we now have on the Internet. This blog post is a page, but it contains links to a variety of other pages which then can divert you to new territories you would never have found on your own.

When the WWW came along (The visual Internet is only its latest iteration; Internet preceded the visual format we experience since html, Mosaic and Netscape emerged in 1994) I was immediately attracted to the opportunities for storytelling that were opening up. My story An Unremembered History of the World incorporated hyperlinks to "asides" in a primitive way. I also conceived of a primitive Labyrinth which began at the bottom of this page on my first website. 

When all was said and done, the #dqcp stirred in me a desire to revisit these creative new forms of storytelling. This article especially prodded me thus: Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games.

* * * *
Meantime life, and art, goes on all around you. 00110100 1010001 010 10

* * * *
EdNote: Birthday shout out to Ann Klefstad who today touched the big Six-Oh. Widely read, a much valued asset in the Duluth arts community... There is much one can learn if one took the time to rummage inside her head. Thank you for your contributions to the arts.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How Important Is Marcel Proust, Really?

This morning my inbox had an email with more book recommendations from Amazon. Like a lot of modern marketers they do a pretty good job of hitting the sweet spot as regards potential interests. That is, based on what we have been looking at they've fine tuned our personal profiles to a degree that many folk find scary. The first recommendation was Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life.

I'm trying to figure out what prompted this. Yesterday I was looking at someone's bookshelf and noticed he had a fat copy of Swann's Way, but unless there was an Amazon drone in the room they would never know I was looking at that book. It caught my eye because I have a two-volume Remembrance of Things Past on my own shelf, abutting Tolstoy's War & Peace. I've read about thirty pages of each.

De Botton's book looks interesting though. One reviewer, who calls him-or-herself brassawe, wrote:

I have tackled only "Swann's Way" from the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," formerly translated as "Remembrance of Things Past." You need not have read Proust to thoroughly enjoy this concise 197-page book in nine chapters. When you finish it, however, you will be seriously contemplating having a go at Proust's masterpiece in its entirety.
Consider the chapter titles. The fourth is "How to Suffer Successfully." The seventh is "How to Open Your Eyes." The eighth is "How to be Happy in Love." The last, and my favorite, is "How to Put Books Down." The author draws on the ideas and characters found in Proust's masterpiece and renders Proust's response to these issues. All of this is very wittily done. The whole thing is leavened with fascinating biographical tidbits concerning this strange, brilliant man, Marcel Proust.

Other reviewers share similar sentiments. Steve Balk offers this concise commentary:

Who can deny the craftsmanship of one who can dissect the complexities of Proust and serve up a multi course feast of insights. Beautifully woven as both an introduction to Proust and as a utility knife for shaping one's wisdom.

It's no surprise to find people intimidated by Proust. His opus, In Search of Lost Time, weighs in at no less than 4215 pages. I doubt it will be your "Book of the Month" recommendation for your book club, though perhaps one of it's sections could theoretically be suggested.

As for important fat books with lots of pages, I've read some (Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Ulysses) and stumbled at others (War & Peace, Remembrance of Things Past.) If you have the inclination, here's a website with 25 Big Novels That Are Worth Your Time.

Not all the reviews of De Botton's book are dripping with adulation. One reviewer calls it "a rather tedious book" and another states simply, "Disappointed in De Botton." And who knows, maybe Amazon pegged me as someone who would be interested because the title sounds pretentious.

The Applied Sentience website shares the point of view of De Botton's critics in an essay titled, "Proust Can't Change Your Life: A Review of Allain De Botton's 'Proust Can Change Your Life." Harold Mesa's scathing review is itself a good read. Early on he states, "Be prepared to be under-whelmed and uninspired." A little further on he sums up the book this way:

The book is built around the idea of simultaneously being a literary biography and a self-help manual. In terms of the latter, it is an abject failure. It is neither uplifting nor particularly helpful and simply shows inexplicably how Proust was able to survive past the age of twenty. In fact, the life story of Proust and his upbringing just reiterate the nature of how certain class privileges beget success per se and how irrelevant his work may be.

* * * *
In closing, a few Proust quotes, something to mull on for the day.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
“Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade. ”
“There is no one, no matter how wise he is, who has not in his youth said things or done things that are so unpleasant to recall in later life that he would expunge them entirely from his memory if that were possible.”
“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ― Marcel Proust

Meantime, life goes on all around you. And yes, hold on to that patch of sky.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twin Ports Tonight: Zenith City On Tap and Gaelynn Lea @ the DAI

Life would be a whole lot simpler if we didn't have so many choices to make. I'm thinking it has to be a drag sometimes to live in a big city where there is so much happening you don't know how to choose, between this show and that performance and this talk and that art opening. Take a peek at the first few pages of The New Yorker each week and it makes your head spin.

I say all that because as small as the Twin Ports scene seems in comparison, there's still so much happening here once you're aware of it... and it's a challenge to choose between this event and that.

Tonight is one more evening where having a clone of oneself would be helpful. First, there's a Gaelynn Lea performance at the Duluth Art Institute from 6-8 p.m.. It's something akin to a closing reception for Tim White's "In and Out of Context," the summer show in the Steffl Gallery featuring photography by Tim White and excerpts from local poets. The event will not be at the Depot, but rather in the DAI's Lincoln Building at 2229 West 2nd Street. Here's a clue as to what a treat this free concert will be. I dropped by Beaners on the way home one evening and it was packed wall to wall, hardly any breathing room. All the tables had been removed and the ticket price to get in was twenty bucks. I said, "Wow, that's pretty steep for a typical Friday." "No, Gaelynn is performing tonight."

It's been a very special year for Gaelynn Lea, who gained national recognition for her music. Paul Whyte of the Reader assembled this story about her new album The Songs We Sing Along the Way.

Tonight's free performance is featured this a.m. in the DNT's Best Bests section. Tell your friends you're attending by noting this event on Facebook.


Last year was a big year for the Duluth Armory. The historic building turned 100 this past year. Tonight from 6:45 till 9:00 p.m. Glensheen Mansion is hosting a TED Talk-style presentation with two speakers who will shine a light on the Duluth Armory, Tony Dierckens and Mark Poirer.

Dierckens is a local author, publisher, entrepreneur and historian who has been our keeper of the flame as regards local Duluth history. His talk regarding the Armory's history will undoubtedly be eye-opening and leave you wanting to hear more. Mark Poirer, executive director for the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) board, will share what has been happening at the Armory these past ten years as well as its plans for future use. Slated for demolition, the building was saved by the AAMC in 2004—but its renovation has been a struggle.

If you decide to go, be sure to enter through the mansion’s front door. There will also be beer and wine available for purchase.

I've written a number of times about the Historic Duluth Armory. Here are a couple posts from recent years:
Items of note regarding the Armory
Making a case for preserving the Armory

Gaelynn Lea has performed during the annual Duluth Dylan Fest fund-raiser concert for the AAMC. Tonights's events are tied together in a sense.

* * * *

This is week three of Kathy McTavish's Duluth Quantum Computing Project, which can be found at The 3 West Building on Superior Street. This week's theme is intriguingly titled alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Drop in anytime Thursdays 3-9, Fridays 12-6, Saturdays 3-9 during the next 6 weeks.

* * * *
For a more complete list of things to see and do, check The Reader, the Transistor and the DNT.... and the bulletin boards around town where all our local arts happenings get promoted, like Beaners, Pizza Luce, the Electric Fetus... and Facebook.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Just keep breathing and open your eyes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Things They Carried @ the Prøve Collective

"But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget."
--The Things They Carried

Show runs 8/19 - 9/9
Open Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 4-7 p.m.
or by appointment: info@provegallery

A contemporary expressionist conversation between Brian Ring & Flo Matamoros

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Thinking Machines and Sex Bots (A Mashup of This Week's A.I. Views and News)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how automation will be replacing increasing numbers of white collar jobs. In point of fact here is an example of this very thing. As I was doing a bit of recent investment research I noticed this comment at the end of a news story;

This story was generated by Automated Insights ( using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on CZZ at

This task used to be executed by a human being. It was called writing. But since investors were more interested in the presentation of data than in eloquent prose, the machines were more than adequate to the task.

* * * *
Earlier this month there was a showdown between seven artificial intelligence systems to see which had what it takes to be World Champion. In this case, the competition was striving to identify the world champion Hacker. Two million dollars was on the line, winner-take-all.

The seven different AI agents were projects of teams that hailed from around the world, coming together to compete for a $2 million purse. Partnering with Def Con, DARPA pit the rival development teams against each other in a CTF, where the programs had to beat each other at reverse engineering unknown programs, probing the security of opponent software, applying patches and shoring up defenses.

The article, titled Hacking and AI: Moral panic vs. real problems, anticipates moral and ethical issues raised by intelligent machines. After the section on hacking the author examines sexbots and their related moral implications.

Sci-fi writers have been worrying about technology for ages, it seems, but most of it seemed so far off in the future it just wasn't real. Terminator was simply heart-rush entertainment. The same with Minority Report and getting arrested for pre-crime.

But so many news stories are being flung at us regarding new technologies that one has a hard time sorting it all out, or what it mean. Should we be afraid as the Watson's of this world get smarter? The film Ex Machina purports to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and how to determine what is true intelligence vs. what has been programmed. Because of the nature of the storyline it struck me more as an advertisement for future possibilities in the sex-toy industry, which this article in Tech Republic addresses.

The article is titled "The Campaign Against Sex Robots raises red flag for violence and victimization, calls for standards in sexbots" and subtitled, "Advances in speech recognition, emotion-detection, and artificial skin are making humanoid robots more 'human-like' than ever. But are we fully considering the consequences?"

This particular article addresses not only the question of sexbots, but also bots designed to "keep us company" as companions when we get old. The author, Hope Reese, is concerned about how this will alter us a persons.

Forbes this week also published an article on the topic of sex with machines titled, "The Future of Sex Could Be AI Robot Sex Dolls."  Author Curtis Silver pulls back the curtain on some of the creepy activity that is already taking place.

Somehow the effect of all this "news" is to leave me feeling sad. Are we really this lonely and unhappy? Will intelligent robotic sex toys make us happy? I think it will only make us more alienated. The soul yearns for an intimacy that is real, not virtual.

In the Biblical account of creation the first man was himself lonely. God, being a compassionate creator, made for Adam a companion. A person, not a machine or a toy.

As regards the future, we'll see what happens next. It somehow feels like just another Desolation Row. And a long ways from Paradise.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Local Art Seen: Art in Bayfront Park 2016

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven..." 
--Eccles. 3:1

Here No Evil by Julie Roth
This weekend it was again a time of Tall Ships here in the Port of Duluth. And simultaneously, that time when artists from various parts of the country descend upon Bayfront Park to display their work, meet potential buyers, gain recognition and hopefully make a little money to support their (art-making) habit.

In years past the art show in Bayfront Park has been a stand-alone event, the price of admission advertised as free. It wasn't really free because there was a five dollar fee for parking, but the public generally accepted that. This year there was a bit of sticker shock associated with the art fair. All the parking had been bumped to $10, a pinch that we put up with again. But then the art fair was no longer free either. For some reason the Art in Bayfront Park was a $12 deal because it had been combined with the Tall Ships. This was not a marriage made in heaven. I did get a little exercise in since the nearest parking lot was down beyond the new Pier B/Silos complex that now enhances the waterfront.

Butterfly Effect
The feedback I received from artists was mixed. Some locals altruistically supported the decision saying, "It's good for Duluth." There were others, however, who felt the crowds kept more art patrons away and the Tall Ships sightseers were not there for the art. Said one, "We do a lot of shows with an entrance fee but it's never over six dollars, and the parking is usually free!"

All this to say that (a) I hope next year the parking is a fivespot again and there is no entrance fee, and (b) the Tall Ships choose an alternate weekend to descend on the Twin Ports.

The weather was gorgeous Sunday, couldn't have been better. A bright sun, friendly skies, a gentle breeze off the bay.... and a lot of smiling faces. It's a beautiful time of year to visit the Northland. The artists displaying wares are from all levels of experience. There were what I call emerging artists and there were veterans of this kind of work. And work it is. Setting up tents, hauling everything in, always having to be "on" for the potential customers, dismantling everything after four days of not sleeping in one's own bed. As beautiful as this waterfront has become, it's no vacation for those who are working the show.

All the usual mediums are visible at this show. Paintings in acrylic, oil and watercolor; sculpture in wood, copper and bronze; photography printed on various kinds of surfaces with a range of subject matter; crafts and miscellaneous creative objects for homes and gardens.... It was all there. A lot of talent on display.

Here are some of the images my camera captured. As time permits I'll try to share more of their work in the weeks ahead.

Bronze sculpture by James Shoop
Bowie by Kristi Abbott of St. Paul
Toronto artist Anna Polistuk

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Loneliness: 17 Quotes and an Anecdote

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

I was thinking about Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier this weekend, in particular his book Escape from Loneliness which I'd once owned several decades back. Psychologists sit in the privileged position of having people from all walks of life bare their souls to them, and after a long career they have ample fodder for anecdotal material in books and articles.

Thinking about that led to my Googling the word loneliness, followed by quotes on loneliness. This blog post assembles in one batch a few of the many that you'll find if you do the same. What struck me is how many different kinds of people from various walks of life have had something to say on this topic.

And what also hit me was the quote by Kurt Vonnegut that opens this passage today. I interviewed the author once, and to build a rapport I started by stating that in college I'd read all of his books and Herman Hesse's books. He replied, "You must have been lonely." When I asked why he'd make such a comment he said something like, "Anyone who is that into Hesse must be lonely. All of Hesse's characters were lonely."

When he said that my thoughts turned inward. I managed to keep the dialogue going with Mr. Vonnegut but inwardly I wrestled with questions like, "Was I really that lonely? Was I lonelier than I'd realized?"

What I see now is that Mr. Vonnegut himself was well acquainted with this "disease of loneliness" and had I been more astute I may have been able to take a couple minutes to digress on this. Who knows what may have been unearthed?

As for our theme here, there's a difference between loneliness and solitude. I'm guessing that most writers and artists relish their times of solitude. The quotes that follow clarify and amplify what loneliness is in its essence. You can sense a lot of pain in many of these observations.

* * * *

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it's not because they enjoy solitude. It's because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” ― Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

“If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

“When you have nobody you can make a cup of tea for, when nobody needs you, that's when I think life is over.” ― Audrey Hepburn

“If one's different, one's bound to be lonely.” ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke” ― Vincent van Gogh

“It would be too easy to say that I feel invisible. Instead, I feel painfully visible, and entirely ignored.” ― David Levithan, Every Day

“Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” ― J

“We're all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

“To forget a friend is sad. Not everyone has had a friend.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” ― Joss Whedon

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ― G.K. Chesterton

“Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to.”
Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy

“In the midst of friends, home, and kind parents, she was alone.”
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

“The worst thing about loneliness is that it brings one face to face with oneself.”
Mary Balogh, No Man's Mistress

“I have been a stranger here in my own land: All my life” ― Sophocles, Antigone

Meantime, life goes on all around you.