I'm not ashamed to admit I'd never heard of any of the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award" winners when they were announced on Monday, but through a combination of casual research and coincidental web stumbling I've since learned some interesting things:
-I was already passingly familiar with the parts of a bow, and I know how sensitive strings players are about their tools, but Benoit Rolland was unknown to me and the idea that such a time-tested design could be significantly improved came as a surprise.
From the Benoit Rolland site:
"The bow that he invented and brought to maturity under the mark Spiccato® associated two levels of innovation: a new technology in synthetic materials and a revolutionary mechanical concept that allows the musician to adjust the camber of the bow stick at will."
Building them with a new material makes sense (the Wall Street Journal says it's graphite).
The other innovation is talking about controlling the curvature of the stick, the long part. At the frog end there is already a screw to adjust the string tension, so I imagine Rolland's bow has another option for adjustment elsewhere. Guitar necks come with a "truss rod" inside that can be adjusted to correct the straightness of the neck. I wonder if this is a similar idea.
Also, I think everyone knows that a bow uses horse hair, but I didn't realize the hair is white because it comes from white stallions from Siberia and Mongolia. Wikipedia says it's the cold, harsh climate that makes for stronger hair.
-Apparently everyone in the world but me knows who Chris Thile is. Rachel had good things to say about him so I've been working through the offerings on Spotify and I think I like the Punch Brothers stuff the best, though he has a record under his own name from 2007 called Deceiver that's catchy. I like bluegrass and folk and banjos and fiddles, but sometimes the mandolin sounds like a gobbling turkey to me.
After the jump, Punch Brothers' "Antifogmatic" and three more lessons...
-Tricia looked up Nancy Rabalais, thinking she might have some overlap with the TRMS reporting on the BP oil spill in the Gulf. In fact, it turns out the dead zones she's been studying (for 28 years) are caused by farm runoff.
Also, it turns out an odd silver lining on this year's drought in the midwest is that this year's dead zone is much smaller than usual.
Below, NOAA's "Hypoxia Watch" map:
-The AP's little blurbs about each winner describes Laura Pointras as a "documentary filmmaker revealing the consequences of military conflict abroad in documentaries that portray the lives and intimate experiences of families and communities largely inaccessible to the American media." Following the tweeted recommendation of Glenn Greenwald I read his piece about the trouble Pointras has had with Homeland Security as she traveled back and forth to places like Iraq, adding a different layer of meaning to "communities largely inaccessible to the American media."
-And Tuesday night I spent time reading about the work of Lim Miller. Miller's main claim to fame is the Family Independence Initiative. The operating assumption is that poor people don't want to be poor and will work their way out of poverty given the right tools to do so.
The philosophy of FII is the exact opposite of Mitt Romney's 47% remark. This New York Times piece has the best description of the program I read, but this one from NPR is shorter. In a nutshell, participants in the program keep a log of their goals and their progress and they meet in groups to help and encourage each other and workshop goals. That goal setting being the responsibility of the participant and not prescribed by the program is a key element. The program pays them a monthly stipend and also gives them a computer to use. The results show improvements in employment, earnings and savings.
From the Times piece:
"Lim Miller had come to believe that the American social welfare system focused too much on poor people's needs and deficits, while overlooking — and even inhibiting — their strengths. A safety net is crucial when people are in crisis, he said. But most poor families are not in free fall. They don't need nets to catch them so much as they need springboards to jump higher."
For some reason the description of Miller's work made me think he was an academic so I was poking through Google Scholar for papers he might have authored. I didn't get that far, but I did find this interesting paper on "venture philanthropy" where the return on investment is measured in social terms. The paper, "Enlightened Investment or Excessive Intrusion?" (pdf) is from 2000, so it predates the 2001 launch of FII, but includes discussion of some of the projects Miller had been working on, non-profit blue collar companies employing the homeless, for example.