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Engagement with readers, your soon-to-be readers, is key. It’s essential to have some semblance of an organic footprint (via social media, writing and publishing pieces, etc.), many months—no fewer than eight to twelve—in advance of your book’s publication date.
Semblance of an organic footprint.  So lovely.

From a piece on Lithub in which publicists offer advice to the hapless author. (Moral: Never publish a book.)
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brennen
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"Moral: Never publish a book."
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Meet the Author: Peter Follansbee

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A few weeks ago Peter Follansbee participated in a panel discussion titled “Looking Forward, Looking Back: Traditional Crafts and Contemporary Makers” at the Fuller Craft Museum as part of the opening reception for Living Traditions: The Handwork of Plymouth CRAFT. Peter was asked an either/or question: “When you’re making things, is the process of doing that just for you or for the community?”

Feeling put on the spot, he answered: “I’m doing this ’cause that is what I want to do.”

But that’s not completely true.

“Afterwards I was thinking of their use of the word ‘community’ and through all of this woodworking, from back in my early museum days all the way up to today, I’ve met so many people who are just fabulous, and many have become lifelong friends, just great, great folks, both students and other instructors and other woodworkers.”

With community comes commonality.

“I can find commonality with people that otherwise I would walk right past them, and they would walk right past me,” Peter says. “We share nothing in common except for this interest in and this desire in making things out of wood, and that is unlike what I said on the panel discussion. That is important to me. I can’t imagine a different life. So I’ve been lucky to kind of stumble into this one, and it was all through woodworking.”

And in a way Peter did stumble into this life, in a story that involves the death of his father at a young age, splitting logs for firewood, waffling between art painting and woodworking, and an unexpected 25-mile walk to Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops  school in North Carolina.

In the end, it was the community he sought, the community that accepted him, and the community he now serves that helped form his life, which reflects a quote by William Coperthwaite on an axe handle Peter recently carved: “I want to live in a society where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”

‘Without Love in the Dream it will Never Come True’
The youngest of five, Peter was born in 1957 in Weymouth, Mass., a suburb of Boston. His father worked at A.J. Wilkinson & Co., “back when a hardware store was a hardware store,” Peter says. The day after he graduated high school, Peter’s father walked into Wilkinson’s and applied for a job. He worked there until he died, at the age of 51 in 1975.

A widow, Peter’s mother had to reinvent herself and started working at a law firm in Boston. As an 18-year-old, Peter says he didn’t recognize what a big deal that was for his mother during the mid-1970s. “Later, some perspective really shown a light on it.”

Peter’s father had a basement woodshop filled with Delta and Powermatic tools: a lathe, table saw, jointer, drill press, circular saw. His father built furnishings to outfit the house. “I don’t remember anyone talking about it, and I certainly didn’t think about it,” Peter says. “You just sort of took it for granted that he made stuff. You make stuff.”

Peter was into art. He took art lessons as a child and, moving from crayons and pencils to pastels and paints, he essentially majored in art in high school — by grade 10 he was studying art history and knew art school was in his future.

And it was. He attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design for a year. And then he dropped out. “It was a lot of scruffy 20-year-olds expressing themselves and doing wild and crazy stuff,” Peter says. “I wanted to learn under-glazing and classic painting, and I had no way to put that into words or to search out how I was going to get that so I just bagged it instead. … It was sort of funny. What I was looking for in painting I ultimately found in woodworking.”

But first there was, as Peter says, a whole lot of floundering. “Keep in mind that this was the mid-70s, so there was this whole dope culture, too. And I was reasonably involved in that. I wasn’t into hard drugs, but I kept pretty high all the time. So that clouded a lot of judgment.”

Upon his father’s death, Peter inherited a basement full of tools. And because he was an artist, he began making picture frames. “I started dabbling in framing my canvases while I was painting, and little by little I started to learn more about woodworking – not in any orderly fashion. So for many years I kind of divided my time between painting and making stuff out of wood.” This included a Shaker rocking chair, with almost no instruction.

“I failed miserably,” he says.

Then, a friend showed him a copy of Fine Woodworking magazine. Peter subscribed.

1st-book

Peter’s copy of Drew Langsner’s “Country Woodcraft.”

Peter was living with his mother and their house was close to a power line. To keep trees from tangling the line, the power company came out and cut them, but also left behind what they had cut. The energy crisis had hit, and folks were burning firewood regularly. So Peter taught himself how to split wood. He also wanted to make a chair. The September 1978 issue of Fine Woodworking arrived, and in it was an advertisement for the book “Make a Chair from a Tree” by John (now Jennie) Alexander and an excerpt from Drew Langsner’s book, “Country Woodcraft,” about splitting logs. “It was aimed right at me,” Peter says.

Peter finally convinced himself his years of waffling between painting and woodworking were over – he had to choose, for the sake of focus. “So I stopped painting,” he says. “Which is a good thing.”

In 1980, Peter signed up to take a class at Country Workshops. He didn’t have a driver’s license and he had never flown – in fact, he had never been out of New England. “I got on a plane, and then two buses,” he says. “I was too shy to call Drew and say, ‘How do I get from the bus stop to your place?’ and not having any experience in rural America, I saw that his address was Marshall, N.C. The bus went to Marshall so I thought, I’ll just walk! And it was a 25-mile walk. I made it in time for dinner, and then pitched my tent and fell right asleep. It was really out of character for me, but it was one of those moments where the stars lined up and look at what it did.”

Of course, it wasn’t immediate.

“I was the worst possible student,” Peter says. “Drew will tell you. I was terrible. I was awful. Years later I would learn that Alexander would have 10, 12 students, and would watch for who was going to be the ‘destructor,’ the one you have to watch, the one who was going to ruin everything. And it was me. I was still a pothead, and I was still just a novice.”

pf-dl-cooperage

A coopering class at Country Workshops, around 1989.

But skill, of course, is separate from passion. “Oh man, it changed my life,” Peter says. “I flipped out, I loved it, I was just over the moon. It was great. So then I went home and made more chairs. By 1982 I was done with dope, and shortly after that I went back down to Drew’s, and then I would go twice a year every year. In 1988 I was an intern and stayed there for five months. By then I was getting serious and a little more coherent and semi-skilled.”

woodenware

A woodenware class at Country Workshops, early 1990s.

Throughout these years Peter continued to live with his mother, so his needs were few. He sold some chairs and, after learning how to make split baskets at Langsner’s, he sold those as part of a craft cooperative. “It sort of validated what I was doing,” Peter says. He realized he could make things. And people would buy them.

‘Once in a While, You get Shown the Light, in the Strangest of Places, if You Look at it Right’
In the late 1980s, Peter and Alexander were spending a week, along with some other folks, on improvements to Langsner’s facility – it was called volunteer week, and it was a way to support the school. One evening Alexander showed a series of slides of a disassembled cupboard door, then at Winterthur, made about 1660 in Braintree, Mass. “It was split out of a log, like the chair parts were, but instead of then going to a shavehorse and a drawknife, you went to a bench with a plane,” Peter says. “And then instead of boring the mortise with a brace and bit, you chopped it with a chisel. So it was similar to what we were doing with chairmaking, but different.” Only Peter shared in Alexander’s enthusiasm.

So the two began a correspondence, roping in furniture historian Robert Trent. Their letters included questions, sketches, diagrams and theories. Throughout the correspondence Alexander told Peter to refer to out-of-print books and visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. So, Peter did. At the time Jonathan Leo Fairbanks was curator and Ned Cooke was assistant curator.

“Those guys would let me come in stone cold off the street and study the objects in the collection,” Peter says. “I had no academic affiliation, no credentials, no references, nothing. I just showed up with a question and some curiosity, and they gave me access to stuff. It was fabulous.”

Around that time Trent was lecturing up in Boston. Alexander called Peter and said, “You’ve got to go hear Trent.” Peter called the lecture host and was told that in order to hear Trent, he’d have to buy a ticket to the entire lecture series. Peter hung up, called Alexander and said he wasn’t going to be able to go. Later that day Peter got a phone call from Trent. “He just went on a rant about what idiots they were and he put me on the list so I could go to the lecture. And that’s how I met Bob.”

As Peter’s community grew, so did his knowledge of 17th-century woodworking. In the mid-1990s Peter sneaked into a lecture by Trent at Plimoth Plantation. After the lecture a mutual friend introduced Peter to Joel Pontz, who worked at the museum. “Joel had seen a newspaper article about me,” Peter says. “I had a Delta lathe [his father’s] that I had thrown the motor away and hooked up a spring pole to it so it made for a curious article. Joel had seen that and said, ‘Wow, would you like to work here?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’ And he said, ‘We don’t have a job for you.’”

But Pontz and Peter became friends, getting together one night a month for “shop night.”

Eventually Pontz left Plimoth, creating a space for Peter. “There was a woman running that program, called the Craft Center,” Peter says. “It was me, potters, textile artists and a few other things. I was hanging around visiting there and they said, ‘Go talk to this woman, we’ve got a part-time job [available].’ And later on she told me she went to her boss and said, ‘Who is this guy? Should we check up on him? Get references?’ And they just said, ‘Oh, Joel said he’s OK. Just hire him.’ And that woman is now my wife. I love to tell that story.”

(Peter and his wife, Maureen, married in 2003 and now have twins – Rose and Daniel.)

shop-overall_plimoth

Peter demonstrating at his 16′ x 30′ shop at Plimoth Plantation.

Peter worked as a joiner at Plimoth Plantation for 20 years. “And for probably 14 of those years, I’m making up a number but it’s close, it was the greatest job a woodworker could have,” he says. “Absolutely fabulous. Because I had to go to work every day and go in and make stuff with wood I didn’t have to pay for, and all I had to do was talk to people about it. There was almost never a deadline. I didn’t have to worry – is it going to sell? – all I had to do was make it. And talk to people. And I got to do the research behind it.”

Research involved trips to England and around the country, visiting museums and attending symposiums and lectures. “I got to hobnob with all the people who could help me learn my craft and the history of it better and just talk, talk, talk, talk,” he says. “And what woodworker doesn’t want to show you want they’re doing?”

Because the audience would change every 10 to 30 minutes, Peter became a master at capturing their attention. “You instantly find out if this joke or this trick fails and that sort of thing, and I loved to do it.” He was not taught this. But through previous demonstrations at craft fairs and practice, he quickly learned that big crowds mean big movements, but little crowds mean small movements. With families, he says, you focus on the kids.

“It was great,” he says. “It was great fun and people came from all over the world, all kinds of people – you never knew who was going to walk through the door.” One day he was making a brace for a brace and a bit, and a British couple walked up and started talking knowledgeably about tools. Turns out it was Jane Rees and Mark Rees, authors of many important books about early tools and their makers.

There were questions that were asked, repeatedly. “It got old right away and then you had to learn what to do,” Peter says. “Some people learn how to deal with it and some people don’t. And the ones who don’t are bitter, nasty little people who shouldn’t be doing that job. So the question you get the most, no matter what you’re doing is, ‘How long does it take?’ I saw co-workers find all kinds of ways to fight that question and I thought, ‘Well, that’s stupid because that’s what they want to know.’ So you tell them that and then you can move on and tell them what you want to tell them.”

In order to do this, Peter actually timed his various operations so he always knew the answer to that question. “The repetition is annoying for me, but it isn’t repetition for the people asking,” Peter says. “It’s new to them.”

Peter says he misses that part of it, talking to people. He left Plimoth in 2014. In the end, there were some difficult years involving a change of directors and general bureaucracy. In 2008, friends of Peter’s, including his then boss and his wife, were let go.

Peter wanted to leave, but he needed to make money. Now he was the sole earner in his family and he had two children to support. So he stayed, all the while building up a following through his blog, Joiner’s Notes, planning for a future in which he could make it on the outside. “I stayed for many years,” Peter says. “It took a long time.” Christopher Schwarz stepped in, helping him find teaching gigs and, through Lost Art Press, publishing “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” with Jennie Alexander in 2012.

“Then it was just kind of floundering for a few years, and not having the nerve to pull the trigger,” Peter says. “One day I said to Maureen – our kids were then in school, they were in the second grade, going to public schools and we didn’t like that either – every day three of us go out the door to something you and I don’t believe in,” Peter says. “We should stop doing that. So we home-school our kids, and I quit my job.”

Immediately following a blog post about leaving Plimoth, Megan Fitzpatrick, editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, offered Peter a column. “It was really a godsend,” Peter says. “I greatly appreciated it.” And then Marc Adams called, asking him to teach. He teamed up with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (check out his DVDs for sale here) and Roy Underhill. Peter says he booked too many teaching gigs that first year, worried about income.

After years of giving to the woodworking community – and the general public – the woodworking community gave back.

‘Hang it up and See what Tomorrow Brings’
Teaching, Peter says, is totally different from demonstrating. “I don’t get to do as much woodworking when I’m teaching. At the old job, all the attention was on me.” He laughs. “And I like teaching. It’s fun, it’s interesting, you get that group dynamic and some groups are duds and some groups are really great. A lot of students have become friends of mine.”

These days, Peter is still waiting for a “typical” year. He spent the last year building his shop. “I read on the Web one day, ‘He’s not doing much woodworking these days,’ and I thought, ‘I’m building this freaking shop by hand! That’s all woodworking!’ But what they meant was that I wasn’t doing much furniture, and I hadn’t.”

panel-muntin-etc

Parts to a headboard of a bedstead Peter is currently building for a client.

Now that his shop is built, Peter’s hoping for some normalcy. “If I’m not traveling and I’m not teaching, it’s going to be out in the shop building things,” he says. “I have some custom work that I’m way behind on, and I’m starting to get going on that now. So I have some big carved chairs, and a bedstead and a chest of drawers to make. I’m trying to get in a rhythm that I used to use at the museum. In the morning, I’ll split logs and make boards. I’ll do real physical work for a few hours, and then kind of switch gears and maybe do joinery and carving later in the day. I’m just trying to pace myself so I’m not beating myself up. I usually work several projects at a time, and try to leapfrog them to the finish line altogether.”

river

The river in Peter’s backyard.

Peter and his family live in a little town near Plymouth, Mass., on the way to Cape Cod, on a small piece of property, maybe three-quarters of an acre. In the backyard is a river with a marsh behind it.

At the same panel discussion mentioned above, someone asked Peter if he’s more interested in the process or the finished product. Peter said, “Oh no, I can’t stand the finished product because when I finish them I don’t want to see them again.” Tim Manney, a chairmaker and toolmaker in Maine, was in the audience and called his bluff. “You’re lying,” Manney said. “Your house is full of your stuff!”

 

Peter admits that there may be two or three pieces of furniture in his house that he didn’t make.

kitchen-cupboard-door-4

A new kitchen cabinet panel, in process.

When Maureen, Peter’s wife, was pregnant she ended up on bed rest for 11 weeks. While she was upstairs, Peter spent 11 weeks at Plimoth, building and carving new fronts to their kitchen cabinets. “So she came down after 11 weeks and saw that,” he says. “She had never seen it. There are probably seven or eight kitchen cabinets that are all carved.”

dsc_2111

Peter’s shop.

 

Building his shop was a lifelong dream. It’s 12’ x 16’ with 15 windows. “It’s like being outdoors when I’m indoors,” Peter says. “It’s where I want to be.”

A friend helped. He’d come by Peter’s for one or two days a week, lay out some stuff, show Peter how to cut it, and then leave. “I’d cut for a few days and then I’d call him up and say, ‘OK, I’m ready for the next step….’ I don’t want to do it again.”

He lost some woodworking time this winter, due to not having a stove. But a former student gave him a little stove and this summer he plans to hook it up.

In addition to building and teaching, Peter enjoys making spoons. “Spoons are taking over the world you know,” he says. “And why is that? Why are they making all these spoons?” At England’s Spoonfest last year Peter served as the keynote speaker for the opening night. “I told them all, ‘We checked and that’s enough spoons. We don’t need to make anymore.’ And they started to boo and throw things at me.”

spoons-january

A sampling of Peter’s spoons.

Peter began making spoons in the 1980s. In 1988, during his intern year, he took a course taught by Jogge Sundqvist and was hooked. While at Plimoth he carved spoons that “were really ugly,” 17th-century English spoons, “and there’s nothing interesting about them.” Throughout the years Peter would carve spoons on his own and post pictures on his blog. One day somebody asked if he would sell one. “The thought never occurred to me,” Peter says. “I couldn’t imagine someone would buy one of those. I used to make them, and use them at home and give them as gifts.”

So why is everyone making spoons? Peter says he carves them because the ones he likes best form a natural, crooked shape – the curve of the spoon mimics the curve of the tree. “They’re a nice design challenge, and a functional sculpture sort of thing, a real good exercise in knife work and just an all-around interesting item.” But he says he’s also carving them because he wants more handmade stuff in the world.

“I think our culture has moved so far away, other than Lost Art Press readers and readers of these various blogs and things, just in general, our culture is really pretty far removed from that.”

One of Peter’s big influences in woodworking is Daniel O’Hagan, a man he met through Langsner many years ago. “I remember Daniel once writing to me and using the phrase ‘plastic and confused culture.’” O’Hagan lived outside of culture, Peter says. In 1958 he went back to the land and moved to eastern Pennsylvania. He built a log house with no electricity or running water, and he and his wife lived that way until he died in 2000.

“I don’t necessarily want to live that way,” Peter says. “I like running water. I like having a computer that connects me to all around the world and stuff but I like to sort of blend some of these two mindsets. So it’s places like Drew’s and Daniel’s where I first was in a handmade building filled with handmade stuff. And it speaks to me, there’s something about it.”

Peter’s own home is now filled with woodenware and wooden furniture. Maureen is a potter and knitter (you can view, and buy, her fiber arts here), so they have many handmade items in their house. “That’s important to me,” Peter says. “Especially once we had the kids. People would say, ‘Do you want the kids to do what you do?’ and no. I don’t want them to do what I do. I want them to know that you can make things with your hands, that people make things, but I want them to be happy. I want them to do what makes them happy. I’m doing what makes me happy but that doesn’t mean that’s what would make them happy.”

takeoff

A red-breasted merganser, taking off on Peter’s property.

Peter doesn’t subscribe to American culture. He hasn’t owned a TV in years. He enjoys bird watching. He likes to be out in nature. He likes to be home but recognizes the joy in traveling. “There aren’t many other parts of my life,” he says. “I can sit here if I had the time, I could just sit here and just watch the river as the tide comes in and goes out, comes in and goes out, and just keeps changing. I’m fine with that. That could be my entertainment. I don’t really need entertainment, but that could be my amusement. It could hold my attention.”

Peter’s not entirely sure what his future will look like but for now it’s something along the lines of “broke but happy.” “I wake up every morning perfectly happy, but I do need to generate income better than I do,” he says. In order to spur this along, he’s planning on teaching students in his home shop. He can only fit one at a time (if teaching spoon carving classes, two). He already has a few folks on schedule. “And if that works, that will help me because I’m home,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of demand for my carved oak furniture. There’s some, but not enough to pay all the bills. So there has to be teaching. I have a new book under way with Chris and Megan [through Lost Art Press], so those bits and pieces will hopefully add up to something. I want to stay healthy, so I can keep going. That’s as far ahead as I’ve looked.”

A while ago Peter did a piece for Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. They had the bottom half of a two-part cabinet made in about 1680 and they hired Peter to make the conjectural top. Their conservation department guided him in coloring it. Color is intriguing to Peter. On a trip to Sweden he visited the Nordic Museum and spent six hours studying thousands of pieces in the museum’s storehouse. “It was just stunning, beautiful, beautiful stuff all highly decorated, almost always painted, very reminiscent of what we often term, inappropriately, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture.”

And while he doesn’t plan to veer too far from carved oak furniture – he’s invested, now, and he’s good at it – he still wishes for more hours in the day. “There’s a fellow from Hungary who wrote to me from his blog whose building chests out of riven beech with tools that we’ve never seen and making them all by hand the way they were made 500 years ago,” Peter says. “I’d love to go and see his work and see him do it and do it with him.”

‘Inspiration, Move me Brightly’
Now that it’s spring, and the birds’ songs come early, Peter finds himself in his shop quite early. He says he hopes to hit his stride. And although he’s currently figuring things out, he still considers himself extremely lucky. There’s community behind that sentiment.

“I try to remember to always thank my students in [my classes],” he says. “I try to make them understand that I appreciate them dedicating the time and the resources to come and take that class because if they don’t do it, they won’t hire me anymore if I can’t get students. So I always appreciate that. I had classes two years in a row where it was one weekend a month for five months. They laid out a lot of cash to do that, they set out a lot of time, and that’s the thing nobody has any to give up. Everybody is running low on time, so I always appreciate that kind of stuff.”

There’s community behind most of Peter’s sentiments, even if he failed to acknowledge that at the panel discussion a few weeks ago. And for those looking in, the flip side is more than apparent: Both the general public (visitors to Plimoth) and the woodworking community have benefited greatly from Peter, who is incredibly smart yet humble, honest and easy-going, a skilled teacher, demonstrator and entertainer, and a man who has surrounded himself with beautiful things, most of his own making. That society of people who is intoxicated with the joy of making things? We’re closer, because of him.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl


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brennen
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brico
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True american hero
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The sound and the furry

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Last week, the podcast 99% Invisible devoted an episode to the editing and sound design tricks used by the makers of nature documentaries. For obvious reasons, most footage in the wild is captured from a distance using zoom lenses, and there’s no equivalent for sound, which means that unless David Attenborough himself is standing in the shot, the noises that you’re hearing were all added later. Foley artists will recreate hoofbeats or the footsteps of lions by running their hands over pits filled with gravel, while animal vocalizations can be taken from sound catalogs or captured by recordists working nowhere near the original shoot. This kind of artifice strikes me as forgivable, but there are times when the manipulation of reality crosses a line. In the fifties Disney documentary White Wilderness, lemmings were shown hurling themselves into the ocean, which required a helping hand: “The producers took the lemmings to a cliff in Alberta and, in some scenes, used a turntable device to throw them off the edge. Not only was it staged, but lemmings don’t even do this on their own. Scientists now know that the idea of a mass lemming suicide ritual is entirely apocryphal.” And then there’s the movie Wolves, which rented wolves from a game farm and filmed them in an artificial den. When Chris Palmer, the director, was asked about the scene at a screening, it didn’t go well:

Palmer’s heart sank, but he decided to come clean, and when he did, he could feel the excitement leave the room. Up to this moment, he had assumed people wouldn’t care. “But they do care,” he realized. “They are assuming they are seeing the truth…things that are authentic and genuine.”

When viewers realize that elements of nature documentaries utilize the same techniques as other genres of filmmaking, they tend to feel betrayed. When you think about the conditions under which such movies are produced, however, it shouldn’t be surprising. If every cut is a lie, as Godard famously said, that’s even more true when you’re dealing with animals in the wild. As David Mamet writes in On Directing Film:

Documentaries take basically unrelated footage and juxtapose it in order to give the viewer the idea the filmmaker wants to convey. They take footage of birds snapping a twig. They take footage of a fawn raising its head. The two shots have nothing to do with each other. They were shot days or years, and miles, apart. And the filmmaker juxtaposes the images to give the viewer the idea of great alertness. The shots have nothing to do with each other. They are not a record of what the protagonist did. They are not a record of how the deer reacted to the bird. They’re basically uninflected images. But they give the viewer the idea of alertness to danger when they are juxtaposed. That’s good filmmaking.

Mamet is trying to make a point about how isolated images—which have little choice but to be “uninflected” when the actors are some birds and a deer—can be combined to create meaning, and he chose this example precisely because the narrative emerges from nothing but that juxtaposition. But it also gets at something fundamental about the grammar of the wildlife documentary itself, which trains us to think about nature in terms of stories. And that’s a fiction in itself.

You could argue that a movie that purports to be educational or “scientific” has no business engaging in artifice of any kind, but in fact, it’s exactly in that context that this sort of manipulation is most justified. Scientific illustration is often used when a subject can’t be photographed directly—as in Ken Marschall’s wonderful paintings for Dr. Robert D. Ballard’s The Discovery of the Titanic—or when more information can conveyed through an idealized situation. In Sociobiology, Edward O. Wilson writes of Sarah Landry’s detailed drawings: “In the case of the vertebrate species, her compositions are among the first to represent entire societies, in the correct demographic proportions, with as many social interactions displayed as can plausibly be included in one scene.” Landry’s compositions of a troop of baboons or a herd of elephants could never have been captured in a photograph, but they get at a truth that is deeper than reality, or at least more useful. As the nature illustrator Jonathan Kingdon writes in Field Notes on Science and Nature:

Even an outline sketch that bears little relationship to the so-called objectivity of a photograph might actually transmit information to another human being more selectively, sometimes even more usefully, than a photograph. For example, a few quick sketches of a hippopotamus allow the difference between sexes, the peculiar architecture of amphibious existence in a giant quadruped, and the combination of biting and antlerlike clashing of enlarged lower jaws to be appreciated at a glance…”Outline drawings”…can represent, in themselves, artifacts that may correspond more closely with what the brain seeks than the charts of light-fall that photographs represent.

On some level, nature documentaries fall into much the same category, providing us with idealized situations and narratives in order to facilitate understanding. (You could even say that the impulse to find a story in nature is a convenient tool in itself. It’s no more “true” than the stories that we tell about human history, but those narratives, as Walter Pater observes of philosophical theories, “may help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us.”) If anything, our discomfort with more extreme kinds of artifice has more to do with an implicit violation of the contract between the filmmaker and the audience. We expect that the documentarian will go into the field and shoot hundreds of hours of footage in search of the few minutes—or seconds—that will amaze us. As Jesse David Fox of Vulture wrote of the stunning iguana and snake chase from the new Planet Earth series: “This incredible footage is the result of the kind of extreme luck that only comes with hard work. A camera crew worked from dusk to dawn for weeks filming the exact spot, hoping something would happen, and if it did, that the camera would be in focus.” After shooting the hatchlings for weeks, they finally ended up with their “hero” iguana, and this combination of luck and preparation is what deserves to be rewarded. Renting wolves or throwing lemmings off a cliff seems like a form of cheating, an attempt to fit the story to the script, rather than working with what nature provided. But the boundary isn’t always clear. Every documentary depends on a sort of artificial selection, with the best clips making it into the finished result in a kind of survival of the fittest. But there’s also a lot of intelligent design.








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Early Macintosh Emulation Comes to the Archive

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After offering in-browser emulation of console games, arcade machines, and a range of other home computers, the Internet Archive can now emulate the early models of the Apple Macintosh, the black-and-white, mouse driven computer that radically shifted the future of home computing in 1984.

While there are certainly predecessors to the computer desktop paradigm, the introduction of the Macintosh brought it to a mass market and in the 30 years since, it has been steadily adapted by every major computing platform and operating system.

The first set of emulated Macintosh software is located in this collection. This is a curated presentation of applications, games, and operating systems from 1984-1989.

If you’ve not experienced the original operating system for the Macintosh family of computers, it’s an interesting combination of well-worn conventions in the modern world, along with choices that might seem strange or off-the-mark. At the time the machine was released, however, they landed new ideas in the hands of a worldwide audience and gained significant fans and followers almost immediately.

The story of the creation of the operating system and the Macintosh itself are covered in many collections at the Archive, including this complete run of Macworld magazine and these deep-dive Macintosh books.

As for the programs currently presented, they are in many cases applications that have survived to the present day in various forms, or are the direct ancestors.

While it is a (warning) 40 megabyte download, this compilation of System 7.0.1 includes a large variety of software programs and a rather rich recreation of the MacOS experience of 1991.

Enjoy this (9-inch, black and white) window into computer history!

Many people worked very hard to bring this emulation system to bear: Hampa Hug created PCE (the original Macintosh emulator program). Experiments and work by James Friend (PCE.js) and Marcio T. (Retroweb) ported PCE to javascript via Emscripten. They all provided continued assistance as the Emularity team approached refining the emulator to work within the Archive’s framework. Much work was done by Daniel Brooks, Phil-el, James Baicoianu, and Vitorio Miliano, with Daniel Brooks putting in multiple weeks of refinement.

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brennen
12 days ago
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Boulder, CO
acdha
13 days ago
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Washington, DC
rosskarchner
12 days ago
Glider or gtfo
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Tuesday, April 11 - #IstandwithCEU

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Tuesday, April 11

#IstandwithCEU

The first time I ever traveled outside the United States, I spent a couple of weeks staying with a friend in Budapest. I was young and hadn’t seen very much. It felt like an extraordinary and sometimes electric place to me, the first city I’d been in that felt like Europe.

I’ve seen a little bit more of the world since then, and I understand the kind of place that Budapest is better now: A local center with a deep, complicated, and periodically brutal history, but also a periphery and a minor node in the current graph of power and capital. (And in that last way not unlike a lot of the places I’ve lived.) It remains one of my favorite cities; I’ve been back a few times and will likely go again, depending on just how far the political situation deteriorates.

Because the political situation is pretty well fucked these days. That friend I first stayed with in Budapest works now at Central European University, and CEU has lately been under direct legislative attack by a government that news outlets very circumspectly describe as composed of “right-wing populists”. (I guess I prefixed this with “protofascist” the last time I went.)

CEU itself has a bunch of material on this:

On April 10, 2017, President of the Republic of Hungary Janos Ader signed into law amendments to Hungary’s national higher education legislation which restrict academic freedom for CEU and other international universities operating in Hungary.

CEU strongly disagrees with this decision and, accordingly, continues to pursue all available legal remedies. Further, CEU calls on the Hungarian government to display the “mutual good will” called for by President Ader to find a solution to enable CEU to stay in Budapest.

There’s a change.org petition.

I’ll be writing some letters. I’ve decided that’s my new thing, writing letters.

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brennen
18 days ago
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Boulder, CO
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disentangling race from intelligence and genetics

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Here are two things that I believe to be true:

  • Bigoted ideas about fundamental intellectual inequalities between demographic groups are wrong. Black people aren’t less intelligent than white, women aren’t bad at science, Asian people do not have natural facility for math, etc.
  • Genetics play a substantial role in essentially all human outcomes, including what we define as “intelligence” or academic ability.

Both of these things, I think, are true. The evidence for both seems very strong to me. And in fact it’s not hard at all to believe both of them at the same time. Yet I find it almost impossible for some progressive people to recognize that we can believe both things at the same time.

Take this recent Vox.com piece about pseudoscientific racism. The author, Nicole Hemmer, is typical in that she seems to think that any discussion of genetics and intelligence implies racist notions of inherent inequalities between racial groups. At the very least, she does nothing to separate a belief in genetic influences on IQ from the notion that some races are inherently more intelligent than others, when those ideas must be carefully separated. Here’s a typical passage.

Murray and Herrnstein’s book, The Bell Curve, was published in 1994, generating immediate controversy for its arguments that IQ was heritable, to a significant degree, and unchangeable to that extent; that it was correlated to both race and to negative social behaviors; and that social policy should take those correlations into account.

I kept waiting for Hemmer to pull these separate claims apart and show what’s correct and what’s wrong, but she never does. Throughout the piece she moves through the claims of people like Charles Murray without bothering to identify the truths on which they then build lies. That’s perhaps understandable, as it’s easy to simply want to wash our hands of the whole thing. But that’s a mistake. That some races are genetically superior to others is a racist fiction. That IQ is significantly heritable and unchangeable is a empirical fact. On this essential intellectual task – untangling the difference between racist pseudoscience and the science of genetic influence on human psychological outcomes – Hemmer is silent. And she’s joined in that failure by far too many liberals I know, who often get visibly anxious any time genetics and intelligence are discussed at all, as if racist conclusions must necessarily follow. This is a problem.

I am, for context, not at all a genetic determinist, compared to many other people who talk about these issues. The world is filled with people who argue as if genetics is destiny. I’m largely an amateur when it comes to these questions, but I’m willing to say that I am skeptical of the confidence and universality with which some researchers assert genetic causes for human outcomes. And there are some real methodological challenges to typical procedures for identifying genetic influences. Still, as someone with a background in academic assessment and educational testing, I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that there is significant genetic influence on essentially all measurable human traits, including academic outcomes. In particular, that IQ is significantly heritable is one of the most robust and well-replicated findings in the history of social science. That’s the reality.

If you’d like a recent study that aggregates a lot of the evidence, this by Plomin and Deary is a great place to start. If you’d like a broad overview of what genetics research has – and crucially, has not – found in recent years, I highly recommend this article by Eric Turkheimer on the weak genetic explanation, even for those without any background in psychometrics. Turkheimer is a poised and measured writer, one who has never spoken with the zealotry common to genetic behaviorists. I encourage you to read the article.

As time goes on, the evidence for the influence of genetics on individual human variation only grows. That includes intelligence and much more. Do racist conclusions necessarily follow? Not at all. Genetics is about parentage, not race. If I claim that a trait is heritable, I am making a claim about the transmission of that trait through biological parentage – mother and father to daughter and son. Extrapolating to the socially-mediate construct of race is irresponsible and unwarranted.

Simply consider the differences in the paths of genetic information we’re talking about here. While unsolved questions still abound in genetic research, the general mechanisms through which genetic information is passed down within families have been well understood for decades. We know how parents contribute genetic material to children, and we thus know how grandparents and great-grandparents influence genotype too. If we say that a particular trait runs in families, we can look through very clear lines of descent to show how genetic information is pass along. We know more or less how an individual genotype is formed, we know how various generational connections contribute different pieces of genetic data, and we know more and more about how genotype defines phenotype.

Contrast that with the construct of race. What does it mean to call two people “Asian”? The connection between, say, a third generation Hmong American college student whose family came to Santa Barbara as refugees from Vietnam and a Indian IT specialist whose family has lived in Madurai for generations seems, uh, unclear to me. Yes, I understand that there are phenotypical markers which often (but not always) indicate closer common ancestry between individuals. But “closer” here still can mean people whose families branched off the family tree hundreds of generations ago, making the genetic connections extremely distant. Low-cost genetic testing has revealed vast complexity in the genealogy of individuals and groups, with once simple stories of descent everywhere complicated by intermixing and the tangled lines of history. (I have bad news for the alt-right: the volk does not exist and never did.) Meanwhile, the concept of race entails vastly more baggage than just genetic lineage, all of the cultural and social and linguistic and political markers that we have, as a species, decided to package with certain phenotypical markers, historically for the purpose of maintaining white supremacy. To suggest that this process of racialization must be implied by acknowledging genetic influences on individual human outcomes is, well, thinking like Charles Murray.

If nothing else, I think it’s profoundly important that everyone understands that the belief that genetics influence intelligence does not imply a belief in “scientific” racism. In fact, most of the world’s foremost experts on genetic behaviorism believe the former and not the latter.

None of this is to deny that intelligence itself is a socially-mediated concept. What we think of as intelligence is always impacted by social and economic values. When Jews began to enter elite American colleges in large numbers, those colleges suddenly discovered the importance of “character” as a part of intelligence, conveniently grafting culture-specific ideas about what it means to be intelligent into their admissions processes in order to ensure that enough WASP men from “the right families” made it in. Right now, we favor a definition of intelligence that is high on the kind of raw abstract processing that enables one to make a living on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. That we have disregarded emotional intelligence, social consciousness, or ethical reasoning tells you a lot about why those industries are filled with sociopathic profiteers. This does not mean that IQ testing doesn’t tell us anything meaningful; IQ tests measures consistent and durable traits and are predictive of a number of academic and social outcomes related to those traits. It does mean, though, that our decision to reward this particular set of abilities is a choice, and one that I would argue has had deeply pernicious impacts on our society. The ability to score highly on Raven’s Progressive Matrices does tell us something about the likelihood that you will pass high school algebra or be good at chess. It does not tell us your worth as a human being, as worth is a concept created by humans. We decide who has value. That we distribute that designation so stingily is a product of capitalism, not of genetics.

Nor do you have to adopt a depressing, Gattacastyle assumption that genes are destiny. Read the Plomin and Deary; read the Turkheimer. As Turkheimer points out, the strong explanation – “a gene for X” – has largely not come true. As Plomin and Deary point out, no traits are 100% heritable, with environment, opportunity, privilege, and chance all playing a role in outcomes. Besides, inherited human traits tend to be the product of the interaction between many genes. For this reason, geniuses are often the children of parents with no particularly unusual intellectual aptitude. We live in a world of variability. Nothing is certain. And again, one of our crucial social and political tasks must be to fight against the assumption that only those who can do complex equations are worthwhile human beings. No matter how hard I worked, I could never have been a research physicist; I simply do not have the facility for advanced math. Yet I maintain a stubborn belief that I have value and can contribute to the human race. So can everybody else, in their own particular ways. There are so many ways to be a good human being, but we reward very few, and to our shame. (And by the way: human quantitative processing powers are the most likely to be replaced by automation in the workplace of the future, so don’t get too comfortable, smarties.)

I also think people sometimes avoid this topic because they’re afraid it leads to conservative political conclusions. Some conservatives seem to think that too. I find that bizarre: if intellectual talent leads to financial security under capitalism, and intellectual talent is largely outside of the control of individuals, that amounts to one of the most powerful arguments for socialism I can imagine. An outcome individuals cannot control cannot morally be used to determine their basic material conditions.

In any event: as long as we value intelligence in the way we do, progressive people must be willing to be honest about the existence of inherent differences between individuals in academic traits. When we act as if good schooling and committed teachers can bring any student to the pinnacle of academic achievement, we are creating entirely unfair expectations. Meanwhile, failure to recognize the impact of genetics on academic outcomes leaves us unable to combat an increasingly rigid social hierarchy. I often ask people, what happens after we close the racial achievement gap? What becomes the task then? Precisely because I don’t believe in pseudoscientific racism, I believe that we will eventually close the racial achievement gap, if we are willing to confront socioeconomic inequality directly and with government intervention. But what happens then? We will still have a distribution of academic talent. It will simply be a distribution with proportional numbers of black people, of women, of LGBTQ people…. Does it therefore follow that those on the bottom of the talent distribution will deserve poverty, hopelessness, and marginalization? I can’t imagine how that could be perceived as a just outcome. But if progressive people fear getting involved in these discussions out of a vague sense that any link between genetics and academic ability is racist, they will not be able to help shape the future.

Liberals have flattered themselves, since the election, as the party of facts, truth tellers who are laboring against those who have rejected reason itself. And, on certain issues, I suspect they are right. But let’s be clear: the denial of the impact of genetics on human academic outcomes is fake news. It’s alternative facts. It’s not the sort of thing the reality-based community should be trafficking in. As I said, I’m not a zealot on these topics. I read critical pieces about genetic behaviorism with care. I find a lot of genetic determinists and IQ absolutists frustrating, occasionally downright creepy. And I am willing to surprised by new evidence. But the strength of the current evidence is overwhelming. Denying that IQ and other metrics of academic and intellectual ability are substantially heritable is as contrary to scientific consensus as the denial of global warming. This belief does not at all imply belief in racist pseudoscience. It does, however, imply a willingness to trust scientific evidence in precisely the way progressive people insist we must.

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brennen
20 days ago
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Boulder, CO
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