Mar 112019

Today is the birthday (1915) of Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, known simply as J. C. R. or “Lick,” a US psychologist and computer scientist who is considered one of the most important figures in computer science and general computing history. Chances are that you have never heard of him. If you are knowledgeable about the workings of the internet, you might know that LTP stands for Licklider Transmission Protocol. If I have lost you already, then I am sure you have zero idea concerning his importance. Lick is particularly remembered for being one of the first to foresee modern-style interactive computing and its application to all manner of activities; and also as an Internet pioneer with an early vision of a worldwide computer network long before it was built. He did much to initiate this by funding research which led to many innovations, including today’s canonical graphical user interface, and the ARPANET, the direct predecessor to the Internet. He has been called “computing’s Johnny Appleseed”, for planting the seeds of computing in the digital age. Licklider conceived of computers as becoming much more than complex number crunchers, and, instead, being extensions of all manner of human needs and occupations from games to general interaction.

Licklider was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the only child of Joseph Parron Licklider, a Baptist minister, and Margaret Robnett Licklider. He studied at Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a B.A. with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and psychology in 1937 and an M.A. in psychology in 1938. He received a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics from the University of Rochester in 1942. Thereafter, he worked at Harvard University as a research fellow and lecturer in the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from 1943 to 1950. He became interested in information technology, and moved to MIT in 1950 as an associate professor, where he served on a committee that established MIT Lincoln Laboratory and a psychology program for engineering students. While at MIT, Licklider worked on Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a Cold War project to create a computer-aided air defense system. The SAGE system included computers that collected and presented data to a human operator, who then chose the appropriate response. Licklider worked as a human factors expert, which helped convince him of the great potential for human/computer interfaces.

Licklider became interested in information technology early in his career. His ideas were the forerunners of graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate wherever it was needed. Licklider’s contribution to the development of the Internet consists of ideas, not inventions. He foresaw the need for networked computers with easy user interfaces.

Licklider was instrumental in conceiving, funding and managing the research that led to modern personal computers and the Internet. In 1960 his seminal paper on “Man-Computer Symbiosis” foreshadowed interactive computing, and he went on to fund early efforts in time-sharing and application development, most notably the work of Douglas Engelbart, who founded the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute and created the famous On-Line System where the computer mouse was invented. He also did some seminal early work for the Council on Library Resources, imagining what libraries of the future might look like, which he had described as “thinking centers” in his 1960 paper.

In “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, Licklider outlined the need for simpler interaction between computers and computer users. Licklider has been credited as an early pioneer of cybernetics and artificial intelligence (AI), but unlike many AI practitioners, Licklider never felt that humans would be replaced by computer-based entities. As he wrote in that article: “Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the routinizable work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking”. This approach, focusing on effective use of information technology in augmenting human intelligence, is sometimes called Intelligence amplification (IA).

During his time as director of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) from 1962 to 1964, he funded Project MAC at MIT. A large mainframe computer was designed to be shared by up to 30 simultaneous users, each sitting at a separate “typewriter terminal”. He also funded similar projects at Stanford University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the AN/FSQ-32 at System Development Corporation. Licklider played a similar role in conceiving of and funding early networking research, most notably the ARPAnet. He formulated the earliest ideas of a global computer network in August 1962 at BBN, in a series of memos discussing the “Intergalactic Computer Network” concept. These ideas contained almost everything that the Internet is today, including cloud computing.

In 1967 Licklider submitted the paper “Televistas: Looking ahead through side windows” to the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television. This paper describes a radical departure from the “broadcast” model of television. Instead, Licklider advocates a two-way communications network. The Carnegie Commission led to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Although the Commission’s report explains that “Dr. Licklider’s paper was completed after the Commission had formulated its own conclusions,” President Johnson said at the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, “So I think we must consider new ways to build a great network for knowledge—not just a broadcast system, but one that employs every means of sending and of storing information that the individual can use”. His 1968 paper “The Computer as a Communication Device” illustrates his vision of network applications and predicts the use of computer networks to support communities of common interest and collaboration without regard to location.

All well and good. We know the capacity of the internet to store and make available mountains of information. Before the internet I needed a good academic library to do my research. Now I can do about 80% of my research online, which is wonderful because it means I can live in Cambodia and still have access to a vast array of information from around the world. I still need to travel to libraries for certain research because the materials I need to consult have not been digitized or are not publicly available. That’s the other 20%. Unfortunately the ready availability of masses of information does not make people any smarter. Having information is one thing, knowing how to use it is quite another.

In my last comment I am reminded of recipes as general blocks of information. You need to know how to read a recipe and how to interpret its instructions. Having a recipe by itself is not enough information if you don’t know what to do with it. If you are an experienced cook, I can give you a list of ingredients and some very general ideas and you can create a dish. If you have little or no experience, I have to go to extraordinary lengths to make that information usable. About 8 years ago, I was living in Buenos Aires and my son had it in mind to make a roast goose for Christmas dinner, and asked me how to do it. All through his growing up, I had roast a goose for Christmas, and this was his first year alone. If he had been an experienced cook, I could have explained in a few sentences, but he had only basic knowledge, so I ended up writing 2 pages of notes for him, and on Christmas Day I was on the phone with him 3 times explaining aspects of the process he was struggling with. Even as I write, I am periodically sending text messages to a former student in China who has decided that she wants to learn how to cook and has been going to the market after work and then sends me photos of what she has bought, and wants to know what to do with what she has. There is so much more to cooking than simply having basic information.

I’ll leave you with a puzzle. My Chinese student sent me photos of what she bought: ground beef, onions, leeks, tomatoes, Chinese greens, asparagus and mushrooms. What would you suggest she make for dinner?

Mar 082019

Today is the birthday (1822) of Jan Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, crown land of Austria-Hungary. Łukasiewicz was a visionary who saw the potential of petroleum products at a time when the chief fuel powering the Industrial Revolution was coal. He built the world’s first modern oil refinery, discovered how to distill kerosene from seep oil, invented the modern kerosene lamp (1853), created the first modern street lamps in Europe (1853), and constructed the world’s first modern oil well (1854). Chances are you have never heard of Łukasiewicz, yet his inventions changed the world. It should be noted, in small mitigation, that kerosene can be made in different ways and was known in antiquity. While Łukasiewicz perfected his method, others were working in Canada and the US on the production of kerosene from coal as a byproduct of gas production.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born in Zaduszniki, near Mielec, in the Austrian Empire (after the Partitions of Poland) as the youngest of five children. His family was of Armenian origin. His parents were Apolonia, née Świetlik, and Józef Łukasiewicz, a member of the local intelligentsia nobility entitled to use the Łada coat of arms and a veteran of Kościuszko’s Uprising. The family rented a small manor in Zaduszniki but, soon after Ignacy’s birth, was forced by financial difficulties to relocate to the nearby city of Rzeszów. There Ignacy entered the local secondary school (Konarski’s Gymnasium), but failed to pass the examinations and left in 1836. In order to help his parents and financially support all the relatives, he moved to Łańcut, where he began work as a pharmacist’s assistant. Toward the end of his life, Łukasiewicz often described his childhood as happy; the home atmosphere was patriotic and somewhat democratic, and he commonly recalled his first tutor, Colonel Woysym-Antoniewicz, who resided in their house.

Upon moving to Łańcut, Łukasiewicz also became involved in several political organizations that supported the idea of restoring Polish sovereignty and independence and participated in many political gatherings around the area. In 1840 he returned to Rzeszów, where he continued working at Edward Hübl’s private pharmacy. In 1845 he met diplomat and activist Edward Dembowski, who admitted Łukasiewicz to the illegal “Centralization of the Polish Democratic Society”, a party that focused on radical policies and supported a revolt against the Austrian government. The organization’s aim was to prepare an all-national uprising against all three partitioning powers. Since the movement was seen as a possible danger to the Austrian monarchy, on 19th February 1846 Łukasiewicz and several other members of the party were arrested by the Austrian authorities and imprisoned in the city of Lwów. However, on 27th December 1847 Łukasiewicz was released from prison due to lack of evidence, but for the rest of his life he was regarded as “politically untrustworthy” and often observed by local police who held his records. He was also ordered to remain in Lwów with his elder brother Franciszek.

On 15th August 1848 he was employed at one of the biggest and best pharmacies in Austrian Galicia (so-called “Austrian Poland”); the Golden Star (Pod Złotą Gwiazdą) Pharmacy in Lwów, owned by Piotr Mikolasch. In 1850, a handheld pharmaceutical almanac and a precious document entitled manuskrypt, the joint work of Mikolasch and Łukasiewicz was published. Because of this achievement, the authorities granted him a permit to continue pharmaceutical studies at the Royal Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After several years of studies, financed mostly by Mikolasch, he passed all his university examinations except for that in pharmacognosy (natural plant medicine), which prevented him from graduating. Finally, on 30th July 1852 Łukasiewicz graduated from the pharmacy department at the University of Vienna, where he earned a master’s degree in pharmaceutics. As soon as he returned to the pharmacy of Piotr Mikolasch in Lwów, he began a new phase of his life devoted to the studies of exploiting kerosene.

While oil was known to exist for a long time in the Subcarpathian-Galician region, it was more commonly used as an animal drug and lubricant, but Łukasiewicz was the first person to distill the liquid and was able to exploit it for lighting and to create a brand new industry.

In autumn of 1852 Łukasiewicz, Mikolasch and his colleague John Zeh analyzed the oil, which was provided in a few barrels by traders from the town of Drohobycz.  In early 1854 Łukasiewicz moved to Gorlice, where he continued his work. He set up many companies together with entrepreneurs and landowners. That same year, he opened the world’s first oil “mine” at Bóbrka, near Krosno (still operational in the 21st century). At the same time Łukasiewicz continued his work on kerosene lamps. Later that year, he set up the first kerosene street lamp in Gorlice’s Zawodzie district. In subsequent years he opened several other oil wells, each as a joint venture with local merchants and businessmen. In 1856 in Ulaszowice, near Jasło, he opened an “oil distillery” — the world’s first industrial oil refinery. As demand for kerosene was still low, the plant initially produced mostly artificial asphalt, machine oil, and lubricants. The refinery was destroyed in an 1859 fire, but was rebuilt at Polanka, near Krosno, the following year.

By 1863 Łukasiewicz, who had moved to Jasło in 1858, was a wealthy man. He openly supported the January 1863 Uprising and financed help for refugees. In 1865 he bought a large manor and the village of Chorkówka. There he established yet another oil refinery. Having gained one of the largest fortunes in Galicia, Łukasiewicz promoted the development of the oil industry in the areas of Dukla and Gorlice. He gave his name to several oil-mining enterprises in the area, including oil wells at Ropianka, Wilsznia, Smereczne, Ropa, and Wójtowa. He also became a regional benefactor and founded a spa resort at Bóbrka, a chapel at Chorkówka, and a large church at Zręcin.

As one of the best-known businessmen of his time, Łukasiewicz was elected to the Galician Sejm. In 1877 he also organized the first Oil Industry Congress and founded the National Oil Society. Ignacy Łukasiewicz died in Chorkówka on 7th January 1882 of pneumonia and was buried in the small cemetery at Zręcin, next to the Gothic Revival church that he had financed.

All my life (until recently) I’ve had at least one kerosene lamp and a kerosene stove – for emergencies and for camping. I had pressure lamps and stoves because simple ones with nothing but wicks can produce a fair amount of soot. Pressure equipment provides a more complete combustion of the kerosene as well as a brighter light and stronger heat for cooking. Growing up in Australia we had a kerosene stove in the living room as our sole heating for the winter months, and camping with the boy scouts we used kerosene lamps at night. You could honor Łukasiewicz with a Polish recipe, and a scan through my posts will provide ample selection. Instead, here’s a video on cooking on a kerosene stove (not pressurized), to show how effective even the simplest equipment is. His technique for cooking of eggs is not to be imitated!!

Mar 032019

Today is World Hearing Day, a campaign held each year by the Office of Prevention of Blindness and Deafness of the World Health Organization (WHO). The campaign’s objective is to share information and promote actions towards the prevention of hearing loss and the improvement of hearing care. The first event was held in 2007. Before 2016 it was known as International Ear Care Day. Each year, the WHO selects a theme, develops educational materials, and makes these freely available in several languages. It also coordinates and reports on events around the globe.

Public domains materials at

Poster and other materials available online at

The theme of the campaign for 2019 is “Check your hearing” since data from both developed and developing countries indicate that a significant part of the burden associated with hearing loss comes from unaddressed hearing difficulties. A study conducted in the United Kingdom indicates that only 20% of those who have a hearing problem seek treatment. A study performed in South Africa reported that individuals who experience hearing difficulties wait between 5 and 16 years to seek diagnosis and treatment.

This issue strikes particularly close to home for me because I am severely hearing impaired in my right ear and partially impaired in my left. It’s a genetic disorder. One of my sisters has hearing aids and my maternal grandfather had a similar disability. I’ve had multiple tests done by audiologists, but so far I’ve managed without any special aids. I can’t understand people if they speak too softly, but I lip read (or, more accurately, speech read) well enough. Also, I cannot understand speech in locations where there is too much ambient noise, so I avoid them as much as possible.  At this stage it’s more of a nuisance than a crippling problem, although my friends are more disadvantaged than I am because they rarely remember that I am hearing impaired and do things such as walking with me on my right side or speaking to me from another room, and in those situations I cannot understand what they are saying. When possible I use earphones and/or closed captions for television and streaming.

People tend to forget that I am hearing impaired because I have good compensating mechanisms in place, but it does annoy me if they get their hackles up when they think I should have heard them the first time, yet they’ve been talking softly on my right side. Hearing impaired is hearing impaired. Getting irritated with me is not helpful. So my two cents for World Hearing Day is to encourage everyone to be more understanding of people with disabilities. Yes, I could be fitted for a hearing aid if it would make you happier, but it really takes very little effort to look at me when you are talking to me, and that way I can see your mouth and understand you. Is that asking too much?

I liked the theme for 2015, “Make Listening Safe”, which drew attention to the rising problem of noise-induced hearing loss due to recreational exposure. I would have widened the theme, though. The focus was primarily on concerts, movies, etc. where the volume of sound equipment is intentionally high. I am very careful to avoid such situations because I cannot afford to have additional damage to what hearing remains due to careless exposure caused by others.

Instead of a recipe today I am going to give you a video that focuses primarily on the sounds of cooking. It’s shot outdoors, so there are also some sounds of nature thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit backwoodsy, but it’s mainly making the point that cooking involves all the senses including hearing. Many cooking styles such as baking and simmering aren’t exactly a symphony of sound, but frying more than makes up for it.

Jan 042019

Today was not a good date in two separate years for Charles I of England. On this date in 1642 he stormed into the House of Commons with armed guards to arrest five members he had a dispute with, and on this date in 1649 – perhaps as an anniversary present – the Rump Parliament voted to put him on trial for treason, ending in his execution. These two events can be thought of as bookends to what is generally known as the English Civil War (or Wars) even though there had been numerous civil wars previously (during the Anarchy, for example, or the Wars of the Roses).

When the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, died childless, the throne of England passed to the son of Mary Queen of Scots – James VI of Scotland – who was the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, inaugurating the House of Stuart as James I of England. Despite numerous tensions and disputes with the nobility, as well as an ongoing dispute between Catholic and Protestant lords that led to the Gunpowder Plot — — and did not end until his son James II was deposed, James I managed to hold on to his throne, and die in his bed, by being a shrewd and effective conciliator (mostly drinking heavily rather than antagonizing people). His son, Charles I, was not so lucky because he was far from being a peacemaker, but, instead, was egotistical, arrogant, and headstrong, believing firmly that kings were appointed by God and should be given the authority to rule autocratically as absolute monarchs. Parliament respectfully disagreed.

Charles’ increasing monarchic profligacy resulted in two important Acts in pursuit of the rights of Parliament and People, the Triennial Act of 1641 which gave Parliament autonomy of the monarchy, and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1640, which extended one of the key terms of Magna Carta to the general population, the right not to be summarily arrested by the king without due process.  The increasing tensions between Charles and Parliament led the king to attempt to arrest (without warrant or just cause) five members of the Long Parliament.

John Pym

Charles believed that Puritans encouraged by five vociferous Members of the House of Commons, known thereafter as the Five Members – John Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Arthur Haselrig and William Strode – together with the peer Edward Montagu, Viscount Mandeville (the future Earl of Manchester), had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops’ Wars, and that they were intent on turning the London mob against him. When rumors reached the court that they were also planning to impeach the queen for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to arrest them for treason. The counterclaim was that the king had an Irish army set to reduce the kingdom.

The Speaker of the House during the Long Parliament was William Lenthall. On Tuesday, 4th January 1642, Charles entered the House of Commons to seize the Five Members, and sat in the speaker’s chair. Not seeing the Five Members and commenting “I see the birds have flown”, the King then turned to Lenthall, who stood below, and demanded of him whether any of those persons were in the House, whether he saw any of them and where they were. Lenthall fell on his knees and replied: “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here”. However, he later consented to appear as a witness against Thomas Scot in the wave of prosecutions of the regicides in 1660 which followed the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II.

This action of the king was the catalyst for the Civil War, the beheading of the king, and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. After his failure to capture the Five Members and fearing for his family’s lives, Charles left London for Oxford. Most of the royalist members of Parliament joined him there, where they formed the Oxford Parliament. The Long Parliament continued to sit during and beyond the Civil War without its royalist members, because of the Dissolution Act.

Nowadays, Charles’s act is commemorated at the annual opening of parliament when the reigning monarch delivers a speech (written by the Prime Minister of the Commons) from the throne in the House of Lords.  The monarch sends a representative, known as Black Rod, to the Commons chamber to summon the members of Parliament to hear the speech, and, when he approaches, the chamber the door is slammed in his face, signifying the fact that both the monarch and any representative is barred from entering the Commons. Black Rod knocks three times on the door, and the members of Parliament, after hearing Black Rod’s summons, file to the House of Lords where they hear the monarch’s speech crowded into the doorway of the House of Lords. The Commons’ chamber remains their sanctuary.

After the royalist army had been defeated, it became apparent to the leaders of the New Model Army that Parliament—then controlled by the Presbyterian faction—was ready to come to an agreement with Charles that would restore him to the throne (though without effective power) and negate the power of the Army, they resolved to shatter the power of both king and Parliament. Pride’s Purge brought Parliament to heel under the direct control of the Army; the remaining Commons (the Rump) then on 13th December 1648, broke off negotiations with the king. Two days later, the Council of Officers of the New Model Army voted that the King be moved from the Isle of Wight, where he was prisoner, to Windsor, “…in order to the bringing of him speedily to justice.” Charles was brought from Windsor to London in the middle of December.

On 4th January 1649, the House of Commons passed an ordinance to set up a High Court of Justice, to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. The House of Lords rejected it, and as it did not receive Royal Assent, Charles asked at the start of his trial on 20th January in Westminster Hall, “I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful authority”, knowing that there was no legal answer under the constitutional arrangements of the time. In fact, he offered no defense whatsoever, refusing to accept (quite correctly), the legitimacy of the court that was trying him. In consequence, he was convicted with 59 Commissioners (judges) signing the death warrant. At the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, all the living signers of the death warrant were tried and executed as regicides.

Charles was stalwart in the face of his execution on January 30th and wore two heavy shirts to the beheading block in case his shivering from cold were mistaken for fear. Prior to his execution he took a glass of claret and a piece of bread (not intentionally Eucharistic, I believe – but also not much of a final meal). The tradition of a condemned prisoner being granted a last meal request before execution is not especially old – 19th century in most countries – and is being increasingly abolished in countries that still apply the death penalty. In September 2011, the state of Texas abolished all special last meal requests after condemned prisoner Lawrence Russell Brewer requested a huge last meal and did not eat any of it, saying he was not hungry. His last meal request was for a plate of two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecued meat with half of a loaf of white bread, a portion of three fajitas, a meat-lover’s pizza (topped with pepperoni, ham, beef, bacon, and sausage), a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts, and a serving equivalent to three root beers.

I believe that I have asked this question before, but it is worth asking again today: “What would you order for a last meal?” I have seen this question played out on cooking competition television shows where contestants are invited to prepare “last meals” for a panel of celebrity judges. I think I’d have to go with cock-a-leekie soup, steak and kidney pudding, and apple crumble – suitably English of me, I know, and might well be replaced with locro (with tripe) and milanesa at the last minute.

Dec 052018

Today is World Soil Day. declared by the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013. The purpose of the Day is to raise awareness worldwide of the importance of soils for food security and agriculture, as well as in mitigation of climate change, poverty alleviation, and sustainable development. If you are not a farmer or gardener you probably rarely, if ever, think about soils, soil quality, and their effects on your daily life.  I got involved in gardening as a boy, to differing degrees, in Australia and England, but when I bought a house in New York State I got deeply involved in all kinds of gardening – herbs, vegetables, trees, grass, rockeries, flower beds, water plants, houseplants, potted plants etc. – for 30 years. Soil, of all types, was key. Caring for the soil was paramount.

If you have not worked the soil as a farmer or gardener, you probably do not understand how complex it is, how much of a living thing it is, and how much it interacts with the rest of the world. Soil is a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that together support life. Earth’s body of soil is the pedosphere (the earth’s skin), which has four important functions: it is a medium for plant growth; it is a means of water storage, supply and purification; it is a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere; it is a habitat for organisms; all of which, in turn, modify the soil.

The pedosphere interacts with the lithosphere (rocks), the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (plants and animals). Soil consists of a solid phase of minerals and organic matter (the soil matrix), as well as a porous phase that holds gases (the soil atmosphere) and water (the soil solution). Accordingly, soils are often treated as a three-state system of solids, liquids, and gases. Soil is a product of the influence of climate, relief (elevation, orientation, and slope of terrain), organisms, and its parent materials (original minerals) interacting over time. It continually undergoes development by way of numerous physical, chemical and biological processes. Given its complexity and strong internal connectedness, it is considered an ecosystem

Most soils have a dry bulk density (density of soil taking into account voids when dry) between 1.1 and 1.6 g/cm3, while the soil particle density is much higher, in the range of 2.6 to 2.7 g/cm3. Little of the soil of planet Earth is older than the Pleistocene (2,588,000 BP) and none is older than the Cenozoic (66,000,000 BP), although fossilized soils are preserved from as far back as the Archean (4 billion to 2.5 billion BP). That is, soil has been around for a very long time, but it evolves.

The era that some anthropologists (and others) call the Anthropocene, the period when humans began having a major impact on the environment, could see a fundamental change in the nature of soil. I don’t really use the term Anthropocene, but I do talk about the two great disasters that befell the planet: the domestication of plants and animals, and the Industrial Revolution. So . . . 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, humans started exploiting the planet – particularly the soil – via domestication, and it has been downhill ever since. The Industrial Revolution sped up the process, and now we are facing the consequences.

Instead of a food recipe today I have a recipe for compost. I always composted kitchen waste, leaves and grass clippings, and had plenty of compost all the time for my vegetable garden so that I did not need chemical fertilizers (and also so that my kitchen waste was not really wasted). It’s not a difficult process, but this video lays it all out clearly.


Nov 292018

Pong, one of the earliest arcade video games, and usually credited as the first commercially successful one, was launched by Atari on this date in 1972. You have to be about my age, or just a little younger to remember the stir that Pong caused when it first came out. Now it seems so pitifully crude. But it was a huge hit with all my friends, and the fad lasted for many years, even as more sophisticated competitors hit the market.

In case you are too young to remember, Pong is a two-dimensional sports game that simulates table tennis. The player controls an in-game paddle by moving it vertically across the left or right side of the screen. A player can compete against another player controlling a second paddle on the opposing side, or against the machine. Players use the paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The goal is for each player to reach eleven points before the opponent; points are earned when one fails to return the ball to the other.

Pong was the first game developed by Atari. After producing Computer Space, Nolan Bushnell, an engineer, decided to form a company to produce more games by licensing ideas to other companies. The first contract was with Bally Manufacturing Corporation for a driving game. Soon after the founding, Bushnell hired Allan Alcorn because of his experience with electrical engineering and computer science. Bushnell and Ted Dabney, co-founders of Atari, had previously worked with him at Ampex. Prior to working at Atari, Alcorn had no experience with video games. To familiarize Alcorn with creating games, Bushnell gave him a project secretly meant to be a warm-up exercise. Bushnell told Alcorn that he had a contract with General Electric for a product, and asked Alcorn to create a simple game with one moving spot, two paddles, and digits for score keeping. In 2011, Bushnell said that the game was inspired by previous versions of electronic tennis he had played before. He had played a version on a PDP-1 computer in 1964 while attending college. However, Alcorn has claimed it was in direct response to Bushnell’s viewing of the Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis game. In May 1972, Bushnell had visited the Magnavox Profit Caravan in Burlingame, California where he played the Magnavox Odyssey demonstration, specifically the table tennis game. Though he thought the game lacked quality, seeing it prompted Bushnell to assign the project to Alcorn.

Alcorn first examined Bushnell’s schematics for Computer Space, but found them unintelligible. He went on to create his own designs based on his knowledge of transistor–transistor logic and Bushnell’s game. Feeling the basic game was too boring, Alcorn added features to give the game more appeal. He divided the paddle into eight segments to change the ball’s angle of return. For example, the center segments return the ball at a 90° angle in relation to the paddle, while the outer segments return the ball at smaller angles. He also made the ball accelerate the longer it remained in play; missing the ball reset the speed. Another feature was that the in-game paddles were unable to reach the top of the screen. This was caused by a simple circuit that had an inherent defect. Instead of dedicating time to fixing the defect, Alcorn decided it gave the game greater difficulty and helped limit the time the game could be played; he imagined two skilled players being able to play forever otherwise.

Three months into development, Bushnell told Alcorn he wanted the game to feature realistic sound effects and a roaring crowd. Dabney wanted the game to “boo” and “hiss” when a player lost a round. Alcorn had limited space available for the necessary electronics and was not aware how to create such sounds with digital circuits. After inspecting the sync generator, he discovered that it could generate different tones and used them for the game’s sound effects. To construct the prototype, Alcorn bought a $75 Hitachi black-and-white television set from a local store, put it in a wooden cabinet, and soldered the wires into boards to create the necessary circuitry. The prototype impressed Bushnell and Dabney so much that they felt it could be a profitable product and decided to test its marketability.

In August 1972, Bushnell and Alcorn installed the Pong prototype at a local bar, Andy Capp’s Tavern. They selected the bar because of their good working relation with the bar’s owner and manager, Bill Gaddis. Atari supplied pinball machines to Gaddis. Bushnell and Alcorn placed the prototype on one of the tables near the other entertainment machines: a jukebox, pinball machines, and Computer Space. The game was well received the first night and its popularity continued to grow over the next one and a half weeks. Bushnell then went on a business trip to Chicago to demonstrate Pong to executives at Bally and Midway Manufacturing. He intended to use Pong to fulfill his contract with Bally, rather than the driving game. A few days later, the prototype began exhibiting technical problems and Gaddis contacted Alcorn to fix it. Upon inspecting the machine, Alcorn discovered that the problem was that the coin mechanism was overflowing with quarters.

After hearing about the game’s success, Bushnell decided there would be more profit for Atari to manufacture the game rather than license it, but the interest of Bally and Midway had already been piqued. Bushnell decided to inform each of the two groups that the other was uninterested—Bushnell told the Bally executives that the Midway executives did not want it and vice versa—to preserve the relationships for future dealings. Upon hearing Bushnell’s comment, the two groups declined his offer. Bushnell had difficulty finding financial backing for Pong. Banks viewed it as a variant of pinball, which at the time the general public associated with the Mafia. Atari eventually obtained a line of credit from Wells Fargo that it used to expand its facilities to house an assembly line. Management sought assembly workers at the local unemployment office, but was unable to keep up with demand. The first arcade cabinets produced were assembled very slowly, about ten machines a day, many of which failed quality testing. Atari eventually streamlined the process and began producing the game in greater quantities. By 1973, they began shipping Pong to other countries with the aid of foreign partners. They also developed home versions and table-top versions:

You can play the original Pong game here:

I graduated from Pong to Tank (produced by an Atari subsidiary) in 1974, but when Space Invaders came out in 1978, all bets were off, and I played it fanatically as an arcade game until the PC revolution of the early 1980s. Even though I switched to a variety of games written for the PC, I still played Space Invaders for many years, until finally giving up on video games entirely.

Here is a cute video dedicated to food and recipes found in video games:

Nov 262018

Today is the birthday (1919) of Frederik George Pohl Jr., a prolific science fiction writer from the 1930s through the first decade of the 21st century. I was a moderate fan for quite some time, even though his plots made major scientific and anthropological blunders. I always thought of him as a kind of Orwell-lite – indulging in stories based on futures that could develop if some trend continued to a fantastical extremity. What would happen if advertising agencies became the most powerful force in the world (Space Merchants)? What would happen if stupid people bred uncontrollably while smart people limited their family sizes (“Marching Morons”)? His assumptions were not generally sound, and his characters tended towards the comically stereotyped, but I used to enjoy reading them in my 20s when I did not own a television, the internet did not exist, and I wanted some light diversion from my studies from time to time. His books were easy to read, and the holes in the plots plus the two-dimensional characters did not annoy me too much. I still have a certain nostalgic fondness for his writing, even though it annoys me much more nowadays. His books are windows into a simpler time – for me and for the world.

Pohl was the son of Frederik (originally Friedrich) George Pohl (a salesman of Germanic descent) and Anna Jane Mason. His father held various jobs, and the family lived in Texas, California, New Mexico, and the Panama Canal Zone when Pohl was a small boy. The family settled in Brooklyn when Pohl was around seven. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, and dropped out at 17.

While a teenager, he co-founded the New York–based Futurians fan group, and began lifelong friendships with Donald Wollheim, Isaac Asimov, and others who went on to be well-known writers and editors. Pohl later said that “friends came and went and were gone, [but] many of the ones I met through fandom were friends all their lives – Isaac, Damon Knight, Cyril Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie, Dick Wilson. In fact, there are one or two – Jack Robins, Dave Kyle – whom I still count as friends, seventy-odd years later….”

During 1936, Pohl joined the Young Communist League because of its positions in favor of unions and against racial prejudice, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini. He became president of the local Flatbush III Branch of the YCL in Brooklyn. Pohl has said that after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the party line changed, and he could no longer support it, at which point he left. He served in the United States Army from April 1943 until November 1945, rising to sergeant as an air corps weatherman. After training in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Colorado, he was mainly stationed in Italy with the 456th Bombardment Group.

Pohl began writing in the late 1930s, using pseudonyms for most of his early works. His first publication was the poem “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” under the name of Elton Andrews, in the October 1937 issue of Amazing Stories, edited by T. O’Conor Sloane. (Pohl asked readers 30 years later, “we would take it as a personal favor if no one ever looked it up”.) His first story, the collaboration with C.M. Kornbluth “Before the Universe”, appeared in 1940 under the pseudonym S.D. Gottesman.

Pohl started a career as a literary agent in 1937, but it was a sideline for him until after World War II, when he began doing it full-time. He ended up “representing more than half the successful writers in science fiction”, but his agency did not succeed financially, and he closed it down in the early 1950s. Pohl stopped being Asimov’s agent—the only one Azimov ever had—when he became editor from 1939 to 1943 of two pulp magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories. Stories by Pohl often appeared in these science-fiction magazines, but never under his own name. Work written in collaboration with Cyril M. Kornbluth was credited to S. D. Gottesman or Scott Mariner; other collaborative work (with any combination of Kornbluth, Dirk Wylie, or Robert A. W. Lownes) was credited to Paul Dennis Lavond. For Pohl’s solo work, stories were credited to James MacCreigh (or for one story only, Warren F. Howard.) Works by “Gottesman”, “Lavond”, and “MacCreigh” continued to appear in various science-fiction pulp magazines throughout the 1940s.

Pohl co-founded the Hydra Club, a loose collection of science-fiction professionals and fans who met during the late 1940s and 1950s. From the early 1960s until 1969, Pohl served as editor of Galaxy Science Fiction and Worlds of If magazines, taking over after the ailing H. L. Gold could no longer continue working around the end of 1960. Under his leadership, Worlds of If won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Magazine for 1966, 1967 and 1968. He also served as editor of Worlds of Tomorrow from its first issue in 1963 until it was merged into Worlds of If in 1967.

In the mid-1970s, Pohl acquired and edited novels for Bantam Books, published as “Frederik Pohl Selections”; these included Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. He also edited a number of science-fiction anthologies.

After World War II, Pohl worked as an advertising copywriter and then as a copywriter and book editor for Popular Science. Following the war, Pohl began publishing material under his own name, much in collaboration with Cyril Kornbluth. Though the pen names of “Gottesman”, “Lavond”, and “MacCreigh” were retired by the early 1950s, Pohl still occasionally used pseudonyms, even after he began to publish work under his real name. These occasional pseudonyms, all of which date from the early 1950s to the early 1960s, included Charles Satterfield, Paul Flehr, Ernst Mason, Jordan Park (two collaborative novels with Kornbluth), and Edson McCann (one collaborative novel with Lester del Rey).

In the 1970s, Pohl re-emerged as a novel writer in his own right, with books such as Man Plus and the Heechee series. He won back-to-back Nebula Awards with Man Plus in 1976 and Gateway, the first Heechee novel, in 1977. In 1978, Gateway swept the other two major novel honors, winning the Hugo Award for best novel and John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the best science-fiction novel. Two of his stories have also earned him Hugo Awards: “The Meeting” (with Kornbluth) tied in 1973 and “Fermi and Frost” won in 1986.

His works include not only science fiction, but also articles for Playboy and Family Circle magazines and nonfiction books. For a time, he was the official authority for Encyclopædia Britannica on the subject of Emperor Tiberius. (He wrote a book on the subject of Tiberius, as “Ernst Mason”.) Some of his short stories take a satirical look at consumerism and advertising in the 1950s and 1960s: “The Wizards of Pung’s Corners”, where flashy, over-complex military hardware proved useless against farmers with shotguns, and “The Tunnel under the World”, where an entire community of seeming-humans is held captive by advertising researchers. (“The Wizards of Pung’s Corners” was freely translated into Chinese and then freely translated back into English as “The Wizard-Masters of Peng-Shi Angle” in the first edition of Pohlstars (1984)).

Pohl’s last novel, All the Lives He Led, was released on April 12th, 2011. By the time of his death, he was working to finish a second volume of his autobiography The Way the Future Was (1979), along with an expanded version of the first volume. In addition to his solo writings, Pohl was also well known for his collaborations, beginning with his first published story. Before and following the war, Pohl did a series of collaborations with his friend Cyril Kornbluth, including a large number of short stories and several novels. Their Gladiator-At-Law was my introduction to Pohl courtesy of a copy left in the bookshelves of my apartment when I was a student at Oxford. Gladiator envisages a dystopian future in which corporate lawyers control the world, and the masses are kept pacified with bread and circuses.

In the mid-1950s, he began a long-running collaboration with Jack Williamson, eventually resulting in 10 collaborative novels over five decades. Other collaborations included a novel with Lester Del Rey, Preferred Risk (1955). This novel was solicited for a contest by Galaxy–Simon & Schuster when the judges did not think any of the contest submissions was good enough to win their contest. It was published under the joint pseudonym Edson McCann. He also collaborated with Thomas T. Thomas on a sequel to his award-winning novel Man Plus. He wrote two short stories with Isaac Asimov in the 1940s, both published in 1950. He finished a novel begun by Arthur C. Clarke, The Last Theorem, which was published in 2008.

Pohl went to the hospital in respiratory distress on the morning of September 2nd 2013, and died that afternoon at the age of 93.

One of the background characters in Space Merchants is Chicken Little, which is not really a character so much as a thing: an ever-growing organic blob, that outer pieces are sliced off daily. The slices are then trimmed, packaged, frozen, and shipped off to market to be bought by “consumers” (i.e. the masses) whose diet consists of such artificially grown foods because real animal meat is too expensive for all but top tier advertising executives. Well, I am not going to give you a recipe for anything artificially grown like Chicken Little. I would be part of the resistance movement in Space Merchants known as Consies (short for Conservationists). In many of Pohl’s novels he envisages a world where real fruits, vegetables, and animal products are too expensive for the masses who must be content with artificially mass-produced foodstuffs. It seems to me more likely that as the world population grows, the poorest will starve rather than that the corporate world will come up with a way to feed them. In any case, I am not going to give you a recipe for some imagined food of the future. You are better off eating sustainable products.

Meanwhile here is the kind of thing that sci-fi fans dream up to replicate exotic foods from strange planets:

My advice – you can do better than this.


Nov 232018

Today, the day after Thanksgiving in the US, (commonly called Black Friday, because businesses that have been in the “red” most of the year move into the “black” because Christmas shoppers binge shop) is known as Buy Nothing Day (BND), an international day of protest against consumerism. The first Buy Nothing Day was organized in Canada in September 1992 “as a day for society to examine the issue of overconsumption.” In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after US Thanksgiving, one of the ten busiest shopping days in the United States. In 2000, some advertisements by Adbusters promoting Buy Nothing Day were denied advertising time by almost all major television networks except for CNN. Soon, campaigns started appearing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Norway and Sweden. Participation now includes more than 65 nations.

Various gatherings and forms of protest have been used on Buy Nothing Day to draw attention to the problem of overconsumption:

Credit card cut up: Participants stand in a shopping mall, shopping center, or store with a pair of scissors and a poster that advertises help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and extortionate interest rates by destroying their credit cards by cutting them up with the scissors.

Zombie walk: Participant “zombies” wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare. When asked what they are doing, participants describe Buy Nothing Day.

Whirl-mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases.

I feel much the same way about Buy Nothing Day as I do about Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and the like. Setting aside one day to curtail your hyperconsumption is not going to change much, any more than having a single day to honor mothers or lovers is going to do much to strengthen family ties or relationships. These values should be honored every single day of the year if they are important to you. If by some chance you honor Buy Nothing Day on the day after Thanksgiving, but then splurge for the rest of the days until Christmas, you have achieved nothing. To be fair, Adbusters claims that Buy Nothing Day is about raising awareness, so that people change their habits permanently, but I do not understand how watching people pretending to be zombies pushing empty shopping carts around a store is going to change anyone’s buying habits. It just seems like an exercise in mockery.

As it happens, I am a great believer in buying as little as possible. Ten years ago, I lived in a four-bedroom house choked with STUFF, and one day I walked away from it carrying one suitcase, and I have never been back. I sold the house and contents as is. Since then I have acquired a second suitcase – I admit it – and I move to a different country every 2 years with my 2 suitcases. If I accumulate any items over and above what fits in those 2 suitcases, I give them away when I move countries. Simple. My life of not buying STUFF suits me now, but I don’t advocate my lifestyle to others. Do what you want. If bankrupting yourself buying mountains of Christmas presents every year makes you happy, go ahead. It’s not my idea of happiness, but you can do what you want. There is, of course, the small matter of the continuously overflowing landfills piled with waste, and oceans flooded with plastic and other pollutants caused by mindless consumption, but I doubt very much that a few people parading their “sanity” in front of herds of crazed shoppers the day after Thanksgiving is going to do much to fix the situation.

Buying nothing will not really help when it comes to meal times unless you have a farm, but you can do a lot to cut down on waste. My guidelines on how to keep a stock pot going in the HINTS tab is a good start. Learning how to make refrigerator soup is another good plan. To make a delicious soup out of odds and ends in the refrigerator requires imagination and experience, but I do it on a regular basis  because I like to keep my perishables to a minimum. I actually call refrigerator soup “throw everything in a pot” soup. It amounts to the same thing.

Nov 122018

Today is the birthday (1915) of Roland Gérard Barthes, French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician. Barthes’ ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, semiotics, social theory, design theory, anthropology, and post-structuralism. His book, Mythologies (1957), originally a series of essays on the interpretation of popular culture published periodically, was an influential work in anthropology because it introduced anthropologists to semiotics – the analysis of signs and how they operate. Barthes’ work had its vogue in the 1960s and ‘70s, especially because he was a French intellectual whose writings were somewhat clearer and more readable than those of many of his contemporaries, and they appeared to be fertile ground. I always felt that his analyses were trivial, and most of the social scientific world now agrees with me – with the exception of holdouts in France. No worries: I despaired of French social scientists and philosophers a long time ago.

Barthes was born in Cherbourg in Normandy. His father, a naval officer, was killed in a battle during World War I in the North Sea before Barthes’ first birthday. His mother, Henriette Barthes, and his aunt and grandmother raised him in the village of Urt and the city of Bayonne. When Barthes was 11, his family moved to Paris. He claimed that his attachment to his provincial roots remained strong throughout his life – although he does a fair imitation of the bored, Parisian, left-bank intellectual that you could easily be fooled.

Barthes spent from 1935 to 1939 at the Sorbonne, where he earned a degree in classical literature. He was plagued by ill health throughout this period, suffering from tuberculosis, which often had to be treated in isolation in sanatoria. His repeated physical breakdowns disrupted his academic career, affecting his studies and his ability to take qualifying examinations. They also exempted him from military service during World War II. His life from 1939 to 1948 was largely spent obtaining a degee in grammar and philology, publishing his first papers, taking part in a medical study, and continuing to struggle with his health. He received a diplôme d’études supérieures from the University of Paris in 1941 for his work in Greek tragedy. In 1948, he returned to purely academic work, gaining numerous short-term positions at institutes in France, Romania, and Egypt. During this time, he contributed to the leftist Parisian paper Combat, out of which grew his first full-length work, Writing Degree Zero (1953).

In 1952, Barthes settled at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, where he studied lexicology and sociology. During his seven-year period there, he began to write a popular series of bi-monthly essays for the magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles, in which he examined “myths” of popular culture (gathered in Mythologies). The essays in Mythologies were reflections on French popular culture ranging from an analysis of soap detergent advertisements to a dissection of popular wrestling. Though knowing little English, Barthes taught at Middlebury College in 1957 and befriended the future English translator of much of his work, Richard Howard.

Barthes spent the early 1960s exploring the fields of semiology and structuralism, chairing various faculty positions around France, and continuing to produce more full-length studies. Many of his works challenged traditional academic views of literary criticism and of renowned figures of literature. His unorthodox thinking led to a conflict with a well-known Sorbonne professor of literature, Raymond Picard, who attacked the French New Criticism (a label that he inaccurately applied to Barthes) for its obscurity and lack of respect towards France’s literary roots. Barthes’ rebuttal in Criticism and Truth (1966) accused the old, bourgeois criticism of a lack of concern with the finer points of language and of selective ignorance towards challenging theories, such as Marxism.

By the late 1960s, Barthes had established a reputation for himself and traveled to the US and Japan. During this time, he wrote the 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” which, in light of the growing influence of Jacques Derrida’s concept of deconstruction, would prove to be a transitional piece in its investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought. Trust me. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you don’t want to know. Derrida, Bourdieu, Foucault . . . are all names that have me running for the exit.

Barthes continued to contribute with Philippe Sollers to the avant-garde literary magazine Tel Quel, which was developing similar kinds of theoretical inquiry to that pursued in Barthes’ writings. In 1970, Barthes produced what many consider to be his most prodigious work, the dense, critical reading of Balzac’s Sarrasine entitled S/Z. Throughout the 1970s, Barthes continued to develop his literary criticism; he developed new ideals of textuality and novelistic neutrality. In 1971, he served as visiting professor at the University of Geneva.

In 1975 he wrote an autobiography, and in 1977 he was elected to the chair of Sémiologie Littéraire at the Collège de France. In the same year, his mother, Henriette Barthes, to whom he had been devoted, died, aged 85. They had lived together for 60 years. The loss of the woman who had raised and cared for him was a serious blow to Barthes. His last major work, Camera Lucida, is partly an essay about the nature of photography and partly a meditation on photographs of his mother. The book contains many reproductions of photographs, though none of them are of Henriette. On 25th February 1980, Roland Barthes was knocked down by a laundry van while walking home through the streets of Paris. One month later, on March 26th, he died from the chest injuries he sustained in that accident.

I was going to gather together a series of pithy quotes from Barthes as a small homage, but as I re-read his work I realized that I detest his writing so much that I could not find a single one I like. Here’s a small sample:

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. The emotion derives from a double contact: on the one hand, a whole activity of discourse discreetly, indirectly focuses upon a single signified, which is “I desire you,” and releases, nourishes, ramifies it to the point of explosion (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself); on the other hand, I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself to make the commentary to which I submit the relation endure.

Some anthropologists find this kind of thing useful in interpretive analysis. I find it a complete waste of time. He rails against bourgeois culture, yet this sort of writing could not be more elitist. How many coal miners or steel workers are going to be intrigued by his words? How are these sentiments going to help them in their daily struggles? I have no time for this kind of self-centered, self-congratulatory twaddle, and I am glad to say that a great many intellectuals now agree with me. Einstein once said that if you cannot explain something simply, you do not understand it. Roland Barthes and his kin want to turn that sentiment on its head: “If you cannot make a simple idea impenetrable to the masses, you are not trying hard enough.” “Confusing” is not a synonym for “nuanced” or “profound.” Ask yourself, in the cracks, why every one of my photos of Barthes here shows him smoking.

This video, Semiotics in the Kitchen by Martha Rosler, is a perfect parody of semiotics and Barthes. Also perfect as my recipe du jour. That is, at the end of the video you will not have learned anything new, you will not have help in creating a dish, and you will still be hungry.



Oct 072018

Cornell university’s Inauguration Day took place on this date in 1868. The previous day, each of the candidates who showed up in Ithaca was given an entrance examination. There were 412 successful applicants. With this initial enrollment, Cornell’s first class was, at the time, the largest entering class at a US university. On the occasion, Ezra Cornell delivered a brief speech. He said, “I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education. … I believe we have made the beginning of an institution which will prove highly beneficial to the poor young men and the poor young women of our country.” His speech included another statement which later became the school’s motto, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

Ezra Cornell

Two other Ezra Cornell-founded, Ithaca institutions played a role in the rapid opening of the university. The Cornell Library, a public library in downtown Ithaca which opened in 1866 served as a classroom and library for the first students. Also Cascadilla Hall, which was constructed in 1866 as a water cure sanitarium, served at the university’s first dormitory.

Cornell was among the first universities in the United States to admit women alongside men. The first woman was admitted to Cornell in 1870, although the university did not yet have a women’s dormitory. On February 13, 1872, Cornell’s Board of Trustees accepted an offer of $250,000 from Henry W. Sage to build such a dormitory. During the construction of Sage College (now home to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management as Sage Hall) and after its opening in 1875, the admittance of women to Cornell continued to increase.

Significant departures from the standard curriculum were made at Cornell under the leadership of Andrew D. White. In 1868, Cornell introduced the elective system, under which students were free to choose their own course of study. Harvard University would make a similar change in 1872, soon after the inauguration of Charles W. Eliot in 1869. It was the success of the egalitarian ideals of the newly established Cornell, a uniquely American institution, that would help drive some of the changes seen at other universities throughout the next few decades.

In 1892, the university library was opened. Known today as Uris Library, it was the result of a gift from Henry W. Sage in memory of Jennie McGraw. In her will, she left $300,000 to her husband Willard Fiske, $550,000 to her brother Joseph and his children, $200,000 to Cornell for a library, $50,000 for construction of McGraw Hall, $40,000 for a student hospital, and the remainder to the University for whatever use it saw fit. However, the University’s charter limited its property holdings to $3,000,000, and Cornell could not accept the full amount of McGraw’s gift. When Fiske realized that the university had failed to inform him of this restriction, he launched a legal appeal to re-acquire the money, known as The Great Will Case. The United States Supreme Court eventually affirmed the judgment of the New York Court of Appeals that Cornell could not receive the estate on May 19th, 1890, with Justice Samuel Blatchford giving the majority opinion. However, Sage then donated $500,000 to build the library instead.

My association with Cornell is a bit circuitous, but longstanding. Cornell University Press published my Ph.D. dissertation in 1988, and re-issued it as an e-book in 2017. During the initial phases of editing the book for publication I visited Ithaca several times, and toured the campus and surrounds. I also had several students go on to

do graduate work at Cornell, and attended their commencements. Several of my students also had a parent on the faculty at Cornell. All rather fine threads, but weaving a strong fabric all the same.

The school colors of Cornell, carnelian and white, also have a strange history with me and lead to today’s recipe. I am always fascinated by the roots of English words and /CARN/ (flesh) is one of my favorites because it spawns a plethora of words that seem to be unrelated, yet all tie to “flesh” somehow – carnival (remove flesh for Lent), carnation (flesh-colored flower), carnivore (flesh eater), incarnation (taking flesh), and, of course, carnelian (a flesh-colored stone). But it does not stop there. Campbell’s canning company was started in 1869 by Joseph A. Campbell, a fruit merchant who lived in Bridgeton, New Jersey. It started out by producing canned vegetables, jellies, soups, condiments and minced meats. But in 1897, John T. Dorrance, a chemist with degrees from MIT and Göttingen University, joined the company and developed a way to condense their soups. By halving the quantity of its water, he reduced the can size, and condensed soup took off.

Its blue and orange label was a mainstay for nearly 30 years, until a company executive, Herberton Williams, saw the Cornell University football team in action. Impressed by the carnelian red and bright white of their uniforms, he convinced the company to switch branding colors.

I’m not a huge fan of canned soups, condensed or otherwise, but a couple of Campbell’s offerings work for me, namely, Pepper Pot and Scotch Broth. You can go to the Campbell’s website for recipe ideas using their soups, but I don’t recommend them. There’s something a tad 1950s-ish to me about using canned soup to tart up a recipe. I prefer natural – i.e. unprocessed – ingredients when I am cooking. I make my own pepper pot and Scotch broth from scratch also, but the Campbell’s varieties used to be my standbys when I wanted something quick. Maybe you have a fav? You can comment if you do.