18 August 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.08.17

Tuesday: The Web is dying; long live the app-fueled Internet; (but don't trust the graph on which this assessment is based); more on developmental dyscalculia; humans on Vanuatu drove giant horned turtle to extinction; the Savory collection goes to the National Jazz Museum; Alex Ross's new book is put to bed; "Portrait of Wally" returns to Vienna.

An unusually thin Digest today.  Is it that I'm becoming more selective, so that I can finally find the time to get to some of my other posts?  Or is it just a relatively slow day?....


A brace of articles at Wired have been getting quite a bit of attention.  The authors are Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, and the overall title is "The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet."

The articles run in parallel columns across five screens, which is, truthfully a lousy layout from a reader's perspective.

But you should read them anyway.  I won't try to summarize; the abstract after the head gives a good sense of the gist of the articles:
Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting. Chris Anderson explains how this new paradigm reflects the inevitable course of capitalism. And Michael Wolff explains why the new breed of media titan is forsaking the Web for more promising (and profitable) pastures.

The article in Wired is illustrated by a graph of the changing "proportions of Internet traffic" showing that the Web's proportion of traffic has fallen from over 50% in 2000 to just 23% in 2010.  (It is this "decline" that motivates Anderson and Wolff's articles.)

Mike Masnick at Techdirt makes the obvious point that this presentation of the data is bogus (or at least misleading): a decline in the proportion of Internet traffic devoted to the Web does not necessarily mean that usage has declined.  Usage may have stayed roughly the same or even increased, but if the overall level of Internet traffic increases, the Web's proportion may still decline. Masnick reproduces a graph (using the same data) produced by Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing that seems to show that this is exactly what has happened:

 (That's the Web down there in the lower red band.)

Beschizza summarizes:
Assuming that this crudely renormalized graph is at all accurate, it doesn't even seem to be the case that the web's ongoing growth has slowed. It's rather been joined by even more explosive growth in file-sharing and video, which is often embedded in the web in any case.
Masnick also has some other trenchant criticisms of some of the points made by Anderson and Wolff.


Jason Goldman at Child's Play continues his excellent series on developmental dyscalculia.  Part 2 considers the definition and diagnostic criteria for developmental dyscalculia (there is still not a universally agreed-upon definition), as well as its prevalence and prognosis.

Goldman also has a companion piece at his other blog, The Thoughtful Animal, on the evolutionary origins of large number representation. This is especially good, and recommended.  It's an excellent introduction to the topic.


Elizabeth Strickland at 80beats reports on a new study showing that a detailed analysis of a rubbish dump on the Pacific island of Vanuatu provides strong evidence that human settlers wiped out a species of giant horned turtle, Meiolania damelipi, between their arrival on the island about 3000 years ago and the disappearance of the bones of this species from the rubbish dump about 200 years later.

The study is:
Arthur W. White, et al. (2010), "Megafaunal meiolaniid horned turtles survived until early human settlement in Vanuatu, Southwest Pacific," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The article is behind a paywall, and costs $10.00.


Larry Rohter  at The New York Times reports that the National Jazz Museum in Harlem has acquired a collection of 975 discs recorded from radio broadcasts in the late 1930s made by audio engineer William Savory.

The collection includes long-form performances by such jazz musicians as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and many others, including some figures (the article mentions Herschel Evans) who are otherwise inadequately represented on recordings.

Savory, a musician and a brilliant audio engineer, made these recordings in the years up through 1940, but kept them largely secret for the rest of his life (he died in 2004). Some quotes from the article:
But Mr. Savory had access to 12- or even 16-inch discs, made of aluminum or acetate, and sometimes recorded at speeds of 33 1/3 r.p.m. That combination of bigger discs, slower speeds and more durable material allowed Mr. Savory to record longer performances in their entirety, including jam sessions at which musicians could stretch out and play extended solos that tested their creative mettle.


As a result, many of the broadcasts from nightclubs and ballrooms that Mr. Savory recorded contain more relaxed and free-flowing versions of hit songs originally recorded in the studio. One notable example is a stunning six-minute Coleman Hawkins performance of “Body and Soul” from the spring of 1940; in it this saxophonist plays a five-chorus solo even more adventurous than the renowned two-chorus foray on his original version of the song, recorded in the fall of 1939.


Other material consists of some of the most acclaimed names in jazz playing in unusual settings or impromptu ensembles. Goodman, for example, performs a duet version of the Gershwins’ “Oh, Lady Be Good!” with Teddy Wilson on harpsichord (instead of his usual piano), while Billie Holiday is heard, accompanied only by a piano, singing a rubato version of her anti-lynching anthem, “Strange Fruit,” barely a month after her original recording was released.


But because of deterioration, converting the 975 surviving discs to digital form and making them playable is a challenge. [Loren] Schoenberg [executive director of the museum] estimates that “25 percent are in excellent shape,” he said, “half are compromised but salvageable, and 25 percent are in really bad condition,” of which perhaps 5 percent are “in such a state that they will tolerate only one play” before starting to flake.

The transfer of the Savory collection from disc to digital form is being done by Doug Pomeroy, a recording engineer in Brooklyn who specializes in audio restorations...
And, of course, copyright, that cancer on modern creative arts and education, rears its hideous head:
Mr. Schoenberg said the museum planned to make as much as possible of the Savory collection publicly available at its Harlem home and eventually online. But the copyright status of the recorded material is complicated, which could inhibit plans to share the music. While the museum has title to Mr. Savory’s discs as physical objects, the same cannot be said of the music on the discs.
This material is a public cultural treasure and should be made available for the public good. There's no rational reason why anyone (with the possible exception of Savory's son) should be making any money off these recordings 70 years after the fact.  Everyone involved is long dead.

Alex Ross at The Rest is Noise writes that he has sent in the final corrections for his forthcoming book, Listen to This, which will be published next month. He writes that on his book tour, he'll be giving a lecture based on the second chapter, "Chacona, Lamento, and Walking Blues."  I'll be looking forward to hearing and/or reading that.

Ross's description of the book, with a table of contents, is here.  How could one resist a book that "offers a panoramic view of the musical scene, taking in Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, Brahms, Marian Anderson, Frank Sinatra, Cecil Taylor, Led Zeppelin, Bj√∂rk, Radiohead, Mitsuko Uchida, Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Luther Adams, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Bob Dylan, and the Malcolm X Shabazz High School Marching Band."


Der Standard reports that Egon Schiele's "Portrait of Wally," the subject of a recently settled multi-year restitution lawsuit, will return to the Leopold Museum in Vienna this coming Friday, and will be on display with the legally agreed-upon text beginning the following Monday.

I wrote about this case in my Digest for 22 July 2010. The Leopold Museum paid the heirs of Jewish art dealer Lea Bondi Jaray $19 million to settle the suit, and agreed to display the painting with an accompanying text detailing its history, including Bondi's former ownership. The painting had been seized by the U.S. District Attorney in 1998 when it was on loan for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
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