Writing, Reading and Robots

April 2, 2013

shakespeareFog-drizzle this Tuesday morning up here along California’s north coast, but the cloud layer looks pretty thin as the fingernail-looking moon is barely shrouded in mist, giving the air a mellow-dramatic appearance.

Word play is today’s bullshit subject. In the state of the news this morning, there’s still the wild and crazy Korean peninsula, Caroline Kennedy headed to Japan, and various other topics encompassing death, dying and disease. However, for me, it’s reading and writing and especially writers of all this reading.
People who are drawn to write are mostly nuts.

Illustration found here).

Reading seems to me a developed habit — it was not until the sixth-grade — about 12-years-old — that I started reading in a serious way. My parents were not well educated and school was hard on everybody, but for some reason in about 1960 or so I started falling head-first into words-on-a-page and never again came up for air. I think it was a desire to escape, to circumvent the real world, to become somebody else — most-likely, too, why I also became a movie nut.
Although reading is considered about-normal nowadays, not all US peoples read. Most of our reading is done by a handful of folks like me.
Via The Atlantic and a piece on Amazon‘s recent purchase of Goodreads:

The United States is not, sadly, a country of lit buffs.
In 2008, a little more than half of all American adults reported reading a book that was not required for work or school* during the past year, according to the National Endowment of the Arts.

Or, to put it another way, according to Codex just 19 percent of Americans do 79 percent of all our (non-required) book readin’.

Sadly, too, for old guys who like a real book in hand while escaping reality, while a shitload now go to online media. Feels funny, it must, having a techno-tablet instead of a book/book to read in bed at night. Just call me old asshole.

First, the way-worse writer’s story of the day:

An apparent graffiti tagger was found dead in a rope harness on the side of an 18-story office tower near the California Capitol on Monday morning, Sacramento police said.
The unidentified man’s body was reported dangling at 7:45 a.m. PT around the 14th floor of the the 1201 K Tower, home to lobbyists, public relations people and lawyers.
Police said it appears he was accidentally asphyxiated when he rappelled from the top of the 240-foot building, which is two blocks from the Capitol.
The building had not been defaced, but spray paint and an etching tool were found on the roof, said Officer Michelle Gigante.

And what came first, the pen or the electric guitar? Rock-n-roll writing in the flash-history of life — Paul Williams, one of the original, serious narrators of rock and creator/founder of Crawdaddy! magazine in the 1960s, died last week at the age of 64.

Williams was a prolific author, with more than 25 books to his credit, including a three-volume work about Dylan.
An avid science-fiction fan, Williams also wrote a biography of his friend, the writer Philip K. Dick, who made him his estate’s literary executor before his death in 1982.
Although Williams never became famous, he lived on the fringes of fame for much of his life, displaying a Zelig-like penchant for being visible in the background at once-in-an-era events.

Crawdaddy! was one neat read. Back in those black-white, teen-angst days of yore, rock was considered beneath the dignity of serious journalism, but intriguing were stories about Dylan, the Stones, etc. in a manner more familiar to Esquire, or some such other high-brow mag — Rock is rock! Crawl on that daddy!
And those early covers were, in my young, nit-twit brain, so Out There. And all this before the exalted Rolling Stone, too.

One of the greatest of all influences on reading and writing the last couple hundred years or so, came from the UK’s ‘The Bard,’ who churned out writings like somebody’s life depended upon it.
This I first heard yesterday morning on NPR, then later via the LA Times — Shakespeare was a total asshole:

Shakespeare, Mr. “I can raise no money by vile means” [“Julius Caesar”], was in fact a tax dodger, a grain hoarder and a determined debt collector [“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — “Hamlet”].
Nowadays, we’d call him a profiteer and a scofflaw.
In Tudor England, where he was investigated for his laconic tax observances and once prosecuted for his hoarding practices, it’s a surprise that he didn’t end up swinging from a gibbet “for daws to peck at” [“Othello”].
No wonder he vigorously wrote, in “Henry VI part 2,” “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Researchers turned up archival evidence that for a decade and a half — including some very hungry years for England — Shakespeare “purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen.”
When they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay, Shakespeare went after them full-throatedly, and the profits he did make he used “to further his own money-lending activities.”
Not all of this is new, but Jayne Archer, one of the researchers, suspects that the fact that so little of this information has made its way into Shakespeare’s public profile may be laid to “willful ignorance on behalf of critics and scholars who … cannot countenance the idea of a creative genius also being motivated by self-interest.”

So freakin’ much for ‘Shakespeare In Love.’

And so much for me, and others in this crazy writing game — robo-Bards:

Since automated writing software can already do most of that, are we looking at the last generation of human journalists?
Narrative Science’s Quill is the leading automated writing software title.
It transforms structured data into readable, plain English stories that are identical to those written by humans, though at far greater speeds.
“Quill’s power lies in the fact that it is a synthesis of data analytics, artificial intelligence and editorial expertise,” says Kris Hammond, Chief Technology Operator at Narrative Science.

But where’s the soul?
Back at The Globe, you wanker.

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