21.304 stalled engine coughing back to life

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 07:12:28 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 304.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2007 07:08:04 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: stalled engine coughing back to life

Dear colleagues,

My apologies for the rather lurching rhythm of Humanist these days. A
hard-disc crash put one of its mechanisms out of service for a time,
with a bit of a mess resulting, and of course delays in getting
messages out to you. Now things seem back to normal. One day, I hope
soon, we'll be getting a shiny new engine, which I trust will mean no
visible changes for you other than a more reliable delivery of the
messages. And then I can enjoy the luxury of being nostalgic about
the years when the whole thing was a hodge-podge of home-made parts.
(Indeed, a major part of the machinery of Humanist was made right
here, in this room, by a kind visitor in exchange for a place to stay.)

There is an television advert here made by some high-tech company
that deliberately harkens back to the days when radio and television
technology barely worked, with much hum and static, and those who
appeared or only spoke were barely trained. You'll see a placard held
unsteadily in front of the camera by someone's hand while the audio
hums away because it's not been properly earthed/grounded, and there
will be much "snow", as I recall it was called. The net-effect is
supposed to be charming, I guess, down-home, unthreatening etc. I
find it intensely annoying, silly, stupid etc. But it does serve as a
reminder of how far electronic engineering has brought us. Sharp,
clear images are so much a matter of course that we forget how much
work and ingenuity was required to make it so. But it's not just that
we've lost awareness of what's happening behind the scenes. I'm told
that I am not the only one who feels mentally deranged when one of my
computers does not work. It's almost as if my mind has extended
itself to assimilate the computer, making the machine part of itself,
and so a breakdown in the latter seem a breakdown in the former. I
suppose this is a contemporary version of the well-known
blindman-and-his-stick metaphor used by the phenomenologists.

Fortunately for my mental state, there must be a sort of
inverse-square law for computing, so that the failure of physically
very distant systems does not affect me as much as failures here.
When parts of Humanist break, I just feel isolated and, I admit,
enjoy the bit of silence while it lasts. Shocking! But thanks to
Shayne Brandon, the old engine at Virginia has sputtered into life
again, so once again I make my morning rounds.


Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Wed Oct 17 2007 - 02:31:55 EDT

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