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Nuts about Notes

(Posted Monday, June 1, 2009)

That's me. Since my first computer with floppy drives (a Kaypro II) I've been fascinated with creating, organizing, transmitting, and re-using small scraps of text and perhaps photos or sketches. Back in the Kaypro days there was a fascinating bit of software called KAMAS, which could make text outlines, and later with my first Mac, there was a great program called MindWrite. Now there are many programs for handling notes on computers and smartphones. As time went on I became interested in the existing variety of non-electronic note-making tools (notebooks, scrapbooks, and sketchbooks). At this point I realize that notes, and all of the things one can do with them, are a special interest of mine.

What is a note, and where does that name come from? In my opinion, the earliest known notes were petroglyphs, images and signs marked on a rock, some still remaining from over 10,000 years ago. (Notes marked in mud, sand, skin, or trees are unlikely to have lasted that long, but probably existed.) Petroglyphs were images which served the purpose of text: to convey an idea, just like the comic-art images I create to accompany each Coffeeblog post. Later as written expression developed, text notes became a separate category from images.

The Latin word nota meant a mark, a sign, or a token. A rich vocabulary developed around the Latin idea of notes, and the very fact that we call a note a note indicates that we may be still thinking very much like the Romans of antiquity. Notation, notices, notaries, and notable people all derive from the Roman concept.

The Germanic tribes who lived beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire probably used words related to the modern verb "merken," to notice. The noun "Marke" still means a mark or a tag in German. Notably (or should I say remarkably) the German unit of currency today is still the Mark, meaning a note on a piece of paper saying that it is worth something. In other words, a banknote.

A good dictionary definition of a note is "a brief record of something written down to assist the memory or for future reference," and that's basically what I mean by a note in this blogpost.

Things can be attached to notes, of which the most basic is a title, suggesting, like a headline, what is contained in the "body" of the note. A title all by itself can serve as a note. Other attachments can include dates: the date the note was begun, changed, or transmitted. On computers, tags are often attached to make it easier to find a specific note among many others.

The most basic form of a note on a computer is an email message, whereas on paper it could be a page or an index card. In another blogpost I would like to review in detail some software which I find interesting for organizing, transmitting, and storing notes.

Recently, there is increasing interest in a visual method of presenting note data, the mindmap, and many new mindmap programs are being developed, including this one which displays the notes I wrote in preparation for this blogpost about notes.

Keywords: blogpost coffeeblog images marked note notes text Coffeeblog

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Tarkovsky vs. Hollywood

(Posted Sunday, March 15, 2009)

Last night I watched a strange, long, movie called Andrei Rublev. It was in my Netflix queue, and had finally risen to the top after months. I don't even remember why I added it to my queue, but I obviously had the right instincts when I did, because the film got me thinking about many things, not the least of which were Russia, the role of court jesters and holy fools, the meaning of art, and of course, the meaning of life, which is the fundamental theme of Jonathan's Coffeeblog. The film was the work of a Russian director named Andrei Tarkovski, who worked in the Soviet Union and ended his days as a defector. He was buried in a cemetery for Russians in France in 1986.

Tarkovsky reportedly stated that his goal was to make a film diametrically opposed to the standards of Hollywood. It's not that he hated Hollywood films, or rejected them on "capitalist" ideological grounds. In fact, one of his favorite films of all time was The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which, although he criticized it for "bad acting," Tarkovsky viewed its "vision of the future and the relation between man and its destiny is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art." He viewed the huge expense of making a film as the major obstacle to creating a work of art, because films had to sell enough tickets to pay for themselves as well as making a profit.

Tarkovsky's theory of the meaning of life, as I understand it from commentaries on the Netflix disk and some Internet research, was that each individual must experience it for himself in his own way, since the advice of the older and wiser is ineffectual. Art, then, he said, is a way of providing that experience. Tarkovsky provided it with long, loving, visually evocative scenes which only occasionally moved the plot forward. The scenes are very memorable; they are the cinematic equivalent of the show tune which leaves the listener humming as he walks out of the theater.

Such a scene is the prologue to Andrei Rublev. Raggedy medieval Russians launch a hot air balloon crudely sewn together from rags. A man clings to a tangle of ropes as he is blown over endless vistas of water-filled marshy lagoons, some packed with crude boats. As the balloon crash-lands, a horse rolls on a grassy land spit. One never learns if the man lives or dies, but the camera clings to the grounded balloon in its last breaths. The scene has nothing to do with the title character, Andrei Rublev, who, it turns out, was an icon painter in medieval Russia, but much to do with the landscapes and vast reaches of that land.

The film has been described as cinematic poetry or sculpture, and for some that would sound boring. Tarkovsky films, once one gets used to the deliberate pace, are not boring, even by Hollywood standards. There is a scene of a Mongol-Tatar army destroying a medieval city named Vladimir, log by log, arrow by arrow, and rape by rape. Some parts of it are more graphic than anything that Hollywood self-censorship would permit, even by Quentin Tarantino's generous limits. There are characters in the film more evil than any Western has ever portrayed, and, unlike in Westerns, they do not get their comeuppance. Life is full of evil, with some good, and Tarkovsky shows it that way.

Tarkovsky has two mysterious characters in the film who, after some poking around Wikipedia, turn out to be part of Russian tradition, but not that of the USA. A silly but appealing young blonde woman, appearing mentally retarded and deranged to us Americans, turns out to be one of the yurodivy, or Fools for Christ, protected from harm by the rules of the Orthodox Church. Another is the skomorokh or jester, a street entertainer who was also an outrageous critic of authority, and often ran afoul of the church or state. In my view (am I alone about this?) Tarkovsky himself played both roles on the world stage, including flouting the Soviet Union, which delayed the release of his films, and of course Hollywood. Making movies about Christian themes in a way which even Hollywood would now generally avoid, to be viewed by a Soviet Russia with a long Christian history but an unremitting official policy of atheism, would certainly qualify Tarkovsky for a "fool for Christ" designation. But beware: Tarkovsky was not a propagandist for Orthodoxy or Christianity; he was as critical of the Church as any skoromokh could have been. His one true faith, it appears, was art.

Keywords: art film films hollywood life rublev tarkovsky Coffeeblog

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Footsteps on the Moon

(Posted Sunday, February 22, 2009)

Back in 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on earth's moon, I remember something that was reported on television. The bootprints of the heavy space suit footwear made impressions in the loose topsoil of the moon's surface, and because the moon has no wind to blow the bootprints away, it was predicted that they would be there for millions of years. Millions. Literally. That, to me, was "mindblowing," in the jargon of the era. Years later, when I became interested in the origins of ideas, and the course of history of these ideas, I began to realize that ideas, too, have the potential to last forever in the minds of humans unless there is some "wind" that eradicates them. Moreover, it takes a lot of such "wind" over a long period of time, to extinguish an old idea from human memory.

An example of such an idea is the premise that objects in the sky, including the moon itself, have the property of influencing human lives. In a few senses, at least, that is true. Should the sun disappear or explode, life on earth would be wiped out. The menstrual cycle of the human female comes curiously close to the duration of one cycle of the phases of the moon. What I am referring to, however, is the astrological premise that the alignment of celestial objects, as they appear on earth, has an influence on the fortunes and personalities of the people who live there. Astrology and its assumptions are "footsteps on the moon" ideas that have never been blown away by science, and probably never will.

Two areas of human endeavor are riddled with such old ideas, which have never been blown away by the winds of reason: religion and politics. It is not my purpose here to identify specific religious and political ideas, but to point out that they exist. The implications are important. Just as astrology has a firm grip on human belief in spite of lack of hard evidence, equally dubious ideas in the realms of religion and politics are not likely to go away, unless refuted by scientific study; and even if that happens, such ideas will resist disbelief.

Keywords: astrology away footsteps human ideas moon never Coffeeblog

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