Cut & Paste. Fold, Bend, Staple & Mutilate.

This past weekend I attended a reading of selections from William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch. I had not read the work before (it’s now on my TBR list), but I knew enough about the Beats to not be shocked by its strange, surreal and sometimes profane language.

In the discussion that followed the reading, someone mentioned there are now websites that will “translate” any text into Burroughs style and I have been eager to try them out. But first, a little background. Burroughs’ strange language is not merely the product of his mind, it is the product of his hands: after typing some of his text, he cut up the paper and rearranged the pieces, thus reordering the words and even inventing new words. That became the “final” version. This wasn’t Burroughs’ own invention (I learned that today by researching online), but he is the most widely-known practitioner of the technique. There’s a video of an interview with Burroughs that includes a short demonstration of the cut-up technique. You don’t need a demonstration, though; it’s easy enough to try it yourself with a printed text (that you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of art) and scissors.

Or you can do it virtually using online tools. This is fun to play with. Open up a text file on your computer—the odder the better—and give it a try!

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Review: Gapminder Makes Statistics Fun

In putting together Monday’s post on Chile, I played around with some demographic information courtesy of Gapminder, a program I downloaded a few weeks ago. I’d been looking for an excuse to use it.

Gapminder describes itself as “unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view.” Clearly, Hans Rosling, Gapminder’s creator, is a geek. I know many people–some of them social science types–who would never use the words “beauty” and “statistics” in the same sentence. But when Rosling uses statistics, they’re more than rows of digits; the Gapminder software makes data visual on maps and charts by using color, size and position to indicate relative quantities. And as you’ll see in the video, the data can dance on your monitor, as it plays like a movie over decades or (if there’s data available) centuries.

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Review: Read It Later

The first time I saw the Internet–many, many years ago–I thought I’d died and discovered that heaven is a really great library. Unfortunately I soon discovered that this library was growing faster than my time and energy were able to keep up with.

Enter bookmarks. Enter “save as…” Enter tabbed browsers. (Last week I discovered I had 88 tabs open in Firefox.) Enter RSS subscriptions. If it were a physical pile of TBR (to be read) books like the one on my coffee table, it would have engulfed the eastern United States by now.

No, I haven’t found a solution, but I have a new tool and it works for some situations. Read It Later is a simple plug-in that works with your web browser or mobile device so that you can save a web page to read later. It stores pages locally so they are accessible whether your are online or offline.

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