Coppola on Short Fiction

In the middle of her interview with Coppola, Ariston Anderson asks him, “What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?” Coppola replies:

When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.

It’s great advice for writing short stories, too. And perhaps essays. And sections of books. I am going to try it out as I revise the first few sections of the boat book, now that I think I know what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

I’d also like to try that advice in writing a short story: I should note that I was very inspired by my viewing of the Walker Percy film yesterday. What Percy did again and again was to observe life around him and try to capture it accurately. He didn’t reach for far away places and he didn’t reach into the past. The New Orleans of his novels was the New Orleans he knew.

In his wake I find I want to challenge myself to do much the same: to document as best I can the reality around me. Right now I am working on a book that’s about boats, but it’s also about the prairies, a place much mythified even by folklorists. (I just saw a film today that was about the country Mardi Gras, one day out of a year filled otherwise with trying to wrestle rice out of the ground.) After the countryside, it would be nice to turn to this small city in which I life, Lafayette, and capture it as it is, try to understand it as it is. It is much like other places, and it is also different from other places, but we can only those similarities and differences if we actually document them. Otherwise we are only working from a collection of so many personal anecdotes, which is poor stuff compared to a more organized study.

Coppola on the New Creative Economy

Nice interview with Francis Ford Coppola in The 99 Percent on his three rules “1) Write and direct original screenplays,  2) make them with the most modern technology available,  and 3) self-finance them” and much more. Along the way he laments that cinema was so quickly commercialized and he makes this very interesting comment about the future of content creation:

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

 

Alan Lomax, Catcher of Songs

The Wall Street Journal has a nice review of John Szwed’s biography of Alan Lomax, Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World. (I can’t link to it because the WSJ just makes it too difficult.) In that weird version of journalism where the review is really a summary, here are some of the highlights (the good):

Capturing such performances and the stories they told was a lifelong obsession for Lomax, who wandered America and the globe in search of the sounds of traditional music endangered by the very technology he used to record them for posterity. His travels took him from his native American South to remote outposts of the Caribbean and across the ocean to the British Isles and the fishing villages of Italy and the mountains of Spanish Basque country. His work spanned six decades, from the Depression all the way to the 1990s. (Lomax died in 2002.) He began his career gathering songs with a 300-pound disc-cutter in the back of a Model A and ended it using hand-held video cameras for backwoods documentaries. No matter what the gear, Lomax never wavered from his mission—to find evidence that the world’s poorest places offered some of the richest cultural treasures.

and (the bad):

The staggering output came with a heavy cost, dooming Lomax’s first marriage and other relationships as he followed his collecting compulsion, often working himself to the point of physical collapse. A charmer and a bully, an antiacademic who depended on educational funding, a man equally at home in a straw hut in Haiti and at a White House reception, Lomax was a controversial figure, often accused of exploitation and grandstanding. He made enemies well beyond the field of folklore, not least the FBI agents who trailed him for years on account of his radical politics. An early file report depicts “a very peculiar individual in that he is only interested in folklore music, being very temperamental and ornery. . . . He has no sense of money values, handling his own and Government property in a neglectful manner.” Even so, Lomax had fiercely loyal supporters in high places, ranging from Margaret Mead to filmmaker Nicholas Ray, and he has been a revered mentor to several generations of historians, including Mr. Szwed.

The review is by Eddie Dean, who himself is co-author of the biography of Ralph Stanley’s Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times.

CSS Typography

A number of people have asked about the type faces I am using in the new layout. If everything goes well, then you are viewing this site using two open source, free-to-use type faces. One is Gentium, and the other is Yanone Kaffeesatz. Gentium is the serif face, Kaffeesatz the sans-serif. Both faces are available under the SIL Open Font License. SIL’s goals are noble, but they are also quite critical for building a knowledge distribution system that is beholden to no one entity. (I don’t have a horse in the current H.264 vs. WebM race, but the MPEG-LA would make everyone’s life a lot easier if they simply made that standard open and free.)

But how do you load these type faces? How do you get them to appear on your website? Well, it does take some work in CSS, and, in the case of my site running on WordPress, the creation of a directory within the WP theme that contains the fonts — note the use of a relative URL below:

@font-face {
font-family: "Gentium Basic";
src: local("Gentium Basic"), url("font/gentium.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "Gentium Basic";
font-style: italic;
src: local("Gentium Basic Italic"), url("./font/gentium-italic.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "Gentium Basic";
font-weight: bold;
src: local("Gentium Basic Bold"), url("./font/gentium-bold.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "Gentium Basic";
font-style: italic;
font-weight: bold;
src: local("Gentium Basic Bold Italic"), url("./font/gentium-bold-italic.ttf");
}

@font-face {
font-family: "YanoneKaffeesatz";
font-weight: normal;
src: local("YanoneKaffeesatz"), url("font/YanoneKaffeesatz-Regular.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "YanoneKaffeesatz";
font-style: thin;
src: local("YanoneKaffeesatz Thin"), url("./font/YanoneKaffeesatz-Thin.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "YanoneKaffeesatz";
font-weight: bold;
src: local("YanoneKaffeesatz Bold"), url("./font/YanoneKaffeesatz-Bold.ttf");
}
@font-face {
font-family: "YanoneKaffeesatz";
font-style: light;
font-weight: light;
src: local("YanoneKaffeesatz Light"), url("./font/YanoneKaffeesatz-Light.ttf");
}

As you can see from looking at the source (src) for each file, my server is currently carrying the load of delivering both the type face — unless a reader already has the type face installed on their computer. (And you do have at least Gentium installed, don’t you? Come on, it’s a beautiful type face and it’s open source.) This affects two things: my bandwidth usage with my hosting service and the speed with which readers view pages. I can fix this in a couple of ways:

  • I can make Gentium the first type face in the CSS for body contents and make Georgia the fall-over type face. What will happen is that fore viewers who don’t have Gentium installed, their browser won’t download it from my server but simply move onto Georgia. (I might just make my life easier and make Georgia the preferred face: that way I can make sure that I am seeing what everyone else is seeing.)
  • I can also shift the burden of delivering the Kaffeesatz type face from my own server to Google’s servers, because Kaffeesatz is one of the web fonts they have chosen to support. The code for that would look like this:

<link href='http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Yanone+Kaffeesatz' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>

Place that in the head of your HTML or PHP files and you are good to go. All you need to do is insert the font name in your CSS like so:

h1 { font-family: 'Yanone Kaffeesatz', arial, serif; }

It’s typographical magic without the bandwidth costs.

**UPDATE**: Sorry about the ugly formatting of the blocks of code. That was my fault: I put the wrong tags in. Also, Google offers a *lot* more options in web fonts: [check it out](http://code.google.com/webfonts).

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space has chapters around the country and is focused, obviously, on space but also on creating a culture of curiosity and collaboration: while many of the chapters are based in universities, and include both graduate and undergraduate students, they also appear to be open to secondary school (and maybe primary school) students getting involved. Do I hope my daughter may one day pursue her interest in being the first princess governor of Saturn through SEDS? Oh, yes.

Zen and the Art of Programming

This post on Zen and the Art of Programming is from last year (2010), but it has a nice collection of books “that will make you a better developer.” Interestingly, a few of the books are less about programming and more about programmers: about how to create an organizational culture that supports good programming. There is also a Python book focused on machine learning entitled Programming Collective Intelligence.

Critical Code Studies

Critical code studies is here, and I think it’s asking all the right questions:

Do Digital Humanities scholars need to know how to code? … While that question raises anxieties in many humanities scholars, it is not an overstatement to argue that computer source code presents a sign system, a discourse environment, that holds tremendous influence over our daily lives — and that for the humanities not to be able to address it, not to be able to use their methodologies to critique this cultural milieu, is the equivalent to unplugging from the Internet permanently or, as has been tweeted, to live in the Roman Empire without knowing how to speak Latin. While perhaps not every DH practitioner need code or know how to code, if we cannot collaborate with our colleagues in computer science to apply our methodologies to the study of source code (and hardware and software), we will be confined to cultural critique of the surface effects of a digital culture which functions within in a black box. (From the front page for HASTAC‘s new Critical Code Studies forum.)

As I continue to develop the analytical and narrative framework of the book I am writing on creativity in fabrication shops in south Louisiana — testing it against what I can actually write — I am also thinking about the next project. For a time now, I have been thinking that writing an ethnography of a coding project would be interesting. Unlike, Scott Rosenberg’s fine Dreaming in Code, however, I knew I wanted my book to include within its purview an actual discussion of the code involved. That is, I think coders have two kinds of conversations: those about code and those in code. So far, I think most documentation has focused only on the former without really revealing how the two discursive streams interact. While I dabbled in Ruby, particularly in Ruby on Rails, I was part of the Radiant CMS mailing list, and I thought I would work with them, but now I am not sure what my subject might be. I am, however, looking forward to this work.

Speaking of alternate domains of critical study, however, I would like to note that critical code studies joins critical legal studies, but there is still not, so far as I am aware, anything like critical business studies. I presented a paper or two on the subject at a few meetings of the American Folklore Society, and I remember having some interesting discussions with Michael Owen Jones about it. I have not pursued it, but I do wonder if others have or are interested in doing so. Certainly the business literature community produces plenty of material which begs for a closer examination. (I’m afraid the sheer glut of it was what overwhelmed my own thinking about it.)