The End Of Publishing

This article originally appeared on Five Thôt.

There’s a famous story about Dick Rowe and Mike Smith, two well-respected “A&R” (Artists and Repertoire) men for Decca Records, a major British label. In London on New Years Day of 1962, Rowe and Smith auditioned two talented bands. Rowe later recalled, “I told Mike he’d have to decide between them. It was up to him. He said, ‘They’re both good, but one’s a local group, the other comes from Liverpool.’ We decided it was better to take the local group. We could work with them more easily and stay closer in touch as they came from Dagenham [a large suburb of east London].”*

So Rowe and Smith offered the contract to the local boys, the Tremeloes. It wasn’t a completely foolish choice. The Tremeloes were quite popular at the time and in fact are still performing today, 50-plus years later, to enthusiastic audiences.

On the other hand, the band from Liverpool, The Beatles, went on to noticeably greater success. Rowe tried to justify the decision at the time, saying “Guitar groups are on the way out. The Beatles have no future in show business.” Thereby making himself notorious in music history. Continue reading

What’s in a name?

This article originally appeared on FIVE THôT.

Ancient Rome had running water, central heating, and representative democracy, but it didn’t have a lot of personal names. The great city had a small number of gens, noble families, and all the members of one gens, plus many of their retainers, hangers-on, even their freed slaves, used the same nomen, what we would call a surname, and there was only a small pool of prenomen, given names.

It was quite confusing. If for example you referred to Gaius Julius – that is Gaius of the Julian family – were you talking about the 3rd-century grammarian, the leader of the Batavian rebellion, or the famous statesman? Continue reading

The Stone Age Didn’t End Because We Ran Out of Stones.

This article originally appeared on Five Thôt.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because humanity ran out of stones.”

— Ronald Bailey

We used to be afraid of something called Peak Oil. Peak Oil was the idea that oil production had reached its zenith, or would soon, and was poised to plunge; we inevitably faced a drought of the black gunk. In 2007, CNN reported:

The world has reached the point of maximum oil output and production levels will halve by 2030 — a situation that will eventually lead to war and disaster, a report claims.

The physicist Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” Some time has passed and we can see how this particular prediction has panned out. Continue reading

Mark Twain, Gluten, and the Staffs of Life

This article originally appeared on Five Thôt.

Mark Twain, in Life on the Mississippi, wrote

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

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Just another failed startup

This was once Facebook.There have been a zillion start-ups and dot-coms and new-economy companies, so I don’t blame you if you only remember the ones that succeeded. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter you know, of course, and you might even remember some near-misses like Friendster and MySpace. But you probably never heard of Orkut or QQ or Fubar or CherryTap or Cyworld or Daum or the thousands of others of social-networking sites. You’ve heard of, but probably not its less successful competitors and Tiger and CD-Now and WebVan. Only fans of business disaster remember them.

There was even a website called Fucked Company, which maintained a gleefully mean-spirited list of start-ups that were dying or dead, for the entertainment of gleefully mean-spirited people like me. In 2007, the website itself went bankrupt, dying in an abrupt and memorable burst of irony.

But only the true connoisseurs of failure remember Keedoozle. Continue reading


I did an incredibly stupid thing for an incredibly stupid reason.

I was at a point in my life when I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I was restless and distracted and not finding joy in anything. I went to see a terrible movie called Torque, a rip-off of the also-terrible, but far more successful The Fast and The Furious, with motorcycles in place of cars.

Continue reading