Music and Math by Hand

One of the issues of our time that keeps me awake at night is the loss of mnemonic systems, especially ones that make use of the physical world. The more we depend on computers, especially mobile phones, the more we will lose the ability to remember things and do stuff without staring at a screen. My underutilized music degree taught me about the Guidonian hand, a method medieval monks used in the days before musical notation software. The OnMusic Dictionary describes it as,

The first system of learning music developed in the 11th century by Guido d’Arezzo. He assigned each note a name, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, sol, and La (thus the origin of solfeggio), and designed the system of placing notes on horizontal lines to notate pitches (thus the origin of the staff). The Guidonian hand is another of his inventions, it is a system of assigning each part of the hand a certain note, thus, by pointing to a part of his hand, a group of singers would know which note was indicated and sing the corresponding note.

Here’s a video describing the method in more detail:

Should you want to learn a handy and similar method of using your hands for mathematical calculations there’s a whole video channel devoted to a method popular in India. Please enjoy this room full of kids demonstrating the Indian method:

I distinctly remember, in school, being discouraged from using my hands for math. Now I can’t do anything without Steve Job’s infernal gadget. I wonder if, when we’re finished with our home restoration work, anyone would be interested in a musical and mathematical “non-digital digits” camp for adults at the Root Simple compound? We’ve got to take our skills back from these Silicon Valley memory vampires.

Our Week in Pictures

There’s too much going on at the Root Simple compound for a coherent Monday blog post. Our backyard resembles a strip mine in the aftermath of removing a poorly designed concrete patio (a concrete mess done in a style that Root Simple reader Peter describes as “mid-century incompetent”). We also thought it would be a good idea to start a bunch of interior projects at the same time.

In the midst of the chaos I managed to make an unfashionable lamp from these Wood Magazine plans:

And I finally, after much experimentation with finishes and ammonia fuming, I completed a reproduction of a Stickley #603 tabouret:

Better known as a cat stand:

While hunting for a window for our new/old closet I spotted this Moroccan style ceiling at Eric’s Architectural Salvage and wished that I had the lifestyle that would justify its purchase:

Instead of a that lifestyle, which I imagine involves robes, hookahs and a reclined posture on a couch, I instead find myself at the Glendale Home Depot which features this statue of a hot dog applying ketchup and mustard to itself:

If we were still in the 1990s I’d be tempted to write a whole book written in obtuse, post modern theory-speak on the recursive nightmare that is this hot dog statute but I’ve got contractors to juggle and more unfashionable furniture to build.

What projects are you tackling this spring/summer?

Does Facebook Actually Work for Promoting a Small Business or Non-Profit?

One last comment on Facebook and then we’ll move on to more pressing problems like growing tomatoes and keeping the squirrels off the peaches. My favorite podcaster, who goes by the initials KMO, interviewed contrarian journalist and advertising consultant B.J. Mendelson for episode 524 of the C-Realm podcast. In the interview Mendelson addresses one of the concerns that many of us face in our relationship with Facebook, namely that we have to be on it in order to promote our business or non-profit. Mendelson reminds us that Facebook is selling an advertising medium and that Mark Zuckerberg and other social media moguls might just be exaggerating its actual effectiveness.

Any of you who administrate a Facebook page for a business or non-profit will know that unless you pay, Facebook’s algorithm will bury your posts. Some other points Mendelson makes in the interview:

  • A 1% click through rate on a paid post is often as good as it gets.
  • Eighty percent of Facebook users are outside of the U.S. If you’re a local business, like say a plant nursery, what good is paying to reach someone in Latvia?
  • Bots equal 60% of internet traffic (something to think about when looking at your stats).
  • What happens if you rely on Facebook as a platform for your business and, like so many other internet companies of the past, Facebook goes out of business?

To illustrate how social media companies exaggerate their advertising power Mendelson offers a personal example. He has 700,000 Twitter followers. When he sent out a tweet about his new book he sold, not hundreds or thousands of copies, but exactly 28. A tweet to his 700,000 Twitter followers asking for a donation to a breast cancer charity netted just $1. While acknowledging that social media can, occasionally, be an effective advertising medium, for most of us it’s probably a big waste of time.

If you listen to the end of KMO’s interview you’ll get a code to download a free copy of Mendelson’s book, Social Media is Bullshit.

I Deleted my Facebook Account

I can’t remember where I heard this, but I really like the interpretation of the hellish upside down world in the Netflix series Stranger Things as a stand in for the internet. As in the upside down world of that show, the internet has become a very dystopian place lately. Monsters unleashed in the virtual world of the internet regularly come to haunt us in the real world. Those same monsters abduct us into endless hours in front of our computer screens.

Let me first say that I’ve been reluctant to write this post. It’s a privilege to be in a position where one can delete a Facebook account. Many people have to use Facebook at work or because they are part of a group that uses Facebook to communicate. Ironically, the less fortune in our culture are more likely to be chained to services such as Facebook or doing a computer’s bidding (think Uber or TaskRabbit). But there are many more of us, such as myself, that thought we had to use Facebook (in my case a promote books and a blog) who, in fact, could do quite well without it.

The heart of the problem
My issues with Facebook began long before the recent scandals. I spent the period of Lent, not giving up but, instead, meditating on my relationship to social media. I used this period to question my motivations. If I had the urge to post something on social media I first asked myself why I wanted to do this. I also read books, articles and listened to podcasts by media theorists exploring the mechanics of social media. In the end I came to the conclusion that the privacy problems of social media are minor when compared to the spiritual and psychological ones.

It seems to me that the main systemic problem of Facebook and other social media platforms is that they have taken the entwined vices of individualism and narcissism and made a business model out of them. You post something and then you want to immediately check back to see if you’ve been “liked” or commented on. The tech bros of Silicon Valley have figured out that if you harness this addictive narcissism you can, as a side benefit, harvest a lot of data to sell to advertisers.

One could accuse this blog of having the same narcissism problem and in my worst posts you’d probably have a point. But there are important differences. I don’t harvest your personal data when you look at or post a comment on this blog. I do try to provide useful information rather than just seeking approval for my latest harebrained homesteading project (though, admittedly, I sometimes fall short).

Facebook claims to not be about individualism but instead to bring us all together. Mark Zuckerberg, in his recent testimony to a bunch of clueless and out of touch senators kept repeating that Facebook is about creating community (which I think he actually believes). But Facebook does just the opposite. It leads to the illusion of community while actually encouraging many hours spent alone in front of a computer. Since deleting my account I’ve found myself setting up in-person meetings with people I don’t see very often rather than just looking at their Facebook posts.

But it would be wrong, I think, to blame Facebook for pulling us apart. Facebook, as Patrick Deneen put it, “elicits loneliness from a deeper set of philosophical, political, and even theological commitments,” namely the “do it your way” consumerist cult of the individual that dominates both the ideologies of the right and the left in this country. The reason those clueless senators could not get to the bottom of the problem with Facebook is that they aren’t even aware of their own shared philosophical assumptions about individualism.

I could go on. Even if you subscribe to a radical individualist take on the world, the creepiness of Facebook’s business model should scare you. I’ve been reading Jacob Silverman’s book, Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection. It’s a sobering 429 page nightmarish list of social media’s many sins. Then there’s Jeremy Ashkenas who, in a series of tweets, dug up some of Facebook’s patent applications. As others have pointed out these patents read like Black Mirror episode summaries. If that isn’t enough, there’s Facebook’s attempt to exploit depressed teenagers for advertising revenue.

Ironically, much of the privacy intrusions of Facebook are probably pointless. When I downloaded my Facebook data prior to pulling the delete button, I found a fair amount of on-target information. Facebook knows that I’m an epee fencer who practices urban homesteading, reads Rowan Williams and goes to Nick Cave concerts (damn, that’s all pretentious!). But it also seems to think that I’m an African-American who grows with hydroponics, rocks out to the Queens of the Stone Age and loves Honey Baked Ham. I suspect much of the data Cambridge Analytica gathered was, similarly, off-target and useless.

How to #DeleteFacebook
As many have noted, if something is free on the internet you’re not the customer you’re the product. But the solution is simple. You should consider paying for access to quality information on the internet. I’ve spent the last year doing an intensive self-study of woodworking. Towards that end I have an online subscription to Fine Woodworking. Their website is an encyclopedic compilation of articles and how-to videos all vetted by that increasingly rare bird known as an editor. I’ve also subscribed to the online version of The Idler magazine (which readers of this blog will enjoy). And I support my favorite podcast, the C-Realm as well as my favorite YouTuber Garden Fork via Patreon subscriptions. None of these websites or podcasts are addictive. They don’t harvest your data. They provide useful, thought provoking information and live up to the original promise of the internet as a place to share and learn. And let me also thank the Patreon subscribers of Root Simple at this point as well as all of you who have bought our books or attended one of our workshops.

Should you come to the same conclusion I did here’s some instructions on how to delete Facebook. It wasn’t that difficult but you do need to first review any website or app you may have used a Facebook login for and change your login information. You can also download a copy of all your Facebook images and posts which will also show you some, but not all, of the information Facebook has gathered on you.

Facebook doesn’t let go of you easily. If you login to Facebook within a few weeks of deleting your account, Facebook signs you back up. When I tried to delete my Instagram account, I found that I would have to log back into Facebook to do so and that would sign me back up for Facebook. Should you not want to delete your Facebook you can also deactivate it temporarily to see how things work out.

I haven’t missed Facebook one bit. As for book and blog promotion I’m planning on starting a sporadic newsletter that you can sign up for that will also list events and some fun off-topic stuff that I think you might all be interested in. Stay tuned. Together we can shut Mark Zuckerberg’s inter-dimensional portal.