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Obsolescence Week

Friday, March 9, 2012

Obsolescence Week: book blurbs

Posted By on 03.09.12 at 01:30 PM

OK, book blurbs aren't obsolete. But they should be.

A recent piece in the New York Times titled "‘Riveting!': The Quandary of the Book Blurb" asked: Do book blurbs serve readers? Do they help writers?

Stephen King: "One thing I'd never do is blurb a book just because a friend wrote it. That's the road to hell."

Bill Morris: "They're a bit like the vermouth in a martini: can't do any harm, might do some good, so let's have it."

Pulling random books from the shelves of my office, we find:

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Obsolescence Week: nothing's more obsolete than castrati

Posted By on 03.09.12 at 08:00 AM

Iestyn Davies, Sonia Prina
There was plenty of charming obsolescence on display at Lyric Opera’s performance of Handel’s Rinaldo last Sunday—and not just in the audience. Rinaldo features ancient instruments like harpsicord and theorbo, and lots of arias with embellished repetition (run time, nearly three and half hours). There’s also a politically incorrect First Crusade plot in which the Christians wallop the Saracens. It's all served up in a minimalist, Euro-plastic production inspired by Flash Gordon.

Performed in Italian but written for an English audience, Rinaldo premiered in London in 1711 as a lavish spectacle, in a theater equipped with the latest technical wizardry. In that production, a poignant moment was punctuated by a flock of birds that buzzed the audience, and the sorceress at the center of the story (sung here by terrific young soprano Elza van den Heever) entered in a flying chariot pulled by fire-breathing dragons. Lyric audience education manager Jesse Gram, who’s giving the preperformance lectures (free with ticket, an hour before curtain), says that attending that show 300 years ago was akin to seeing Avatar in 3-D at Imax today.

But the most exotic feature of the original Rinaldo was the result of a technology that’s really, truly, gone obsolete. The title character and several supporting roles were created for castrati.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Obsolescence Week: save the game lead

Posted By on 03.08.12 at 02:00 PM

Derrick Rose: Is a video worth 1,000 words of game lead?
Call me old-fashioned—now there's an insult—but I still like sitting down with the standard game lead over the morning paper, especially when I didn't actually see the game the night before, as with Wednesday's 106-104 Bulls win in MIlwaukee.

The conventional wisdom in the newspaper business these days is that nobody reads game leads online. And in considering and researching the topic today, with the Bulls' win as Exhibit A, I have to admit there's something to that.

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Obsolescence Week: Yesterday's men

Posted By on 03.08.12 at 08:00 AM

Groundbreaking Triple Double Oreo
  • Groundbreaking Triple Double Oreo
This week the Chicago Tribune published a tribute to the Oreo cookie on its 100th birthday. The time line recalled favored slogans of yesteryear—“For the kid in all of us” in 1980, “Milk’s favorite cookie” in 2004—and important milestones. The Halloween Oreo was introduced in 1991, the Triple Double Oreo just last year. In with the new and, as they say, out with the old. You cannot hail progress, or even novelty, without acknowledging obsolescence.

In 1957 Plymouth introduced its new cars with the ingenious theme, “Suddenly . . . It’s 1960.” Here was progress, or novelty, so brutal that it made the Plymouth models for 1958 and 1959 obsolete before they even existed. I guess existing is something they never got to do.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Obsolescence Week: reel-to-reel tape

Posted By on 03.07.12 at 08:00 AM

Hot Rocks on reel-to-reel
  • "Hot Rocks" on reel-to-reel
In the music world, technologies that go obsolete have a tendency not to stay that way. Pretty much every piece of performance or recording gear that's ever been made outdated by something newer and allegedly better has, after a period of dormancy (and affordability to less cash-flush musicians and aficionados), roared back into fashion at price points that would have been completely unbelievable before. Consider analog synthesizers, which were considered the cutting edge in sonic tech right up till the moment digital synths hit the marketplace, when they suddenly became next to worthless in the popular opinion of music pros. When a younger generation of musicians started picking them up secondhand a decade or so later they became immensely fetishized, and now the idea of picking up a Moog or an ARP in a pawn shop for less than your monthly electric bill seems like a deranged fantasy.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obsolescence Week: save the box score—and the line score

Posted By on 03.06.12 at 08:00 AM

Henry Chadwick, inventor of the modern baseball box score.
The old-fashioned sports game lead is an endangered species at newspapers, because it's said people just don't read game recaps online. They're much more interested in trade talks, locker-room gossip, and other forms of "insider" information.

Thank goodness for the box score, although even that is struggling with dwindling space in print these days.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Starting today on the Bleader: Obsolescence Week

Posted By on 03.05.12 at 09:59 AM

  • Raul Hernandez Gonzalez
In honor of our newly redesigned website—better yet, as a farewell to the old one—the topic of this week's blog feature "Variations on a Theme" is obsolescence. Ben Sachs kicks it off with a meditation on the videocassette.

Last week's "Variations" was about pinball.

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Obsolescence Week: Into the snow!

Posted By on 03.05.12 at 09:58 AM

The videocassette has been the subject of mockery for several years running. Ben Stiller got a laugh in Tropic Thunder just for saying “You have this on VHS?” and the gang at Everything Is Terrible! has turned a stockpile of Jerry Maguire tapes into a dadaist joke. For the general public, the videotape now seems tacky and needlessly bulky—the technological equivalent of an obese Avon lady in plaid. It’s hard for me to join in the derision, though. I’ve collected way too many cassettes to laugh at the format without laughing at myself (in the days before online streaming, the only way to see certain films was to track down someone who could make you a dupe, which made collecting movies into a fun challenge); also, I still watch a lot of them.

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