Category Archives: News

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How the Ballpoint Killed Cursive

Have you ever wondered a) why you were taught cursive handwriting and b) why cursive has all but disappeared?

It’s all about pen technology and the very recent past.

The pens we all use are generally some variant of the ballpoint: a ball at the tip of the pen that rolls ink onto the paper from a reservoir of ink in the barrel of the pen.

Considering the history of writing, this happened essentially yesterday. The ballpoint entered the market in the late 1930s and achieved ubiquitous adoption by the 1960s.

Before the ballpoint, there were essentially two options: the fountain pen (a split metal nib with ink in the barrel) and the dip pen (a similar nib with no ink reservoir requiring frequent dipping into an ink well). Both the fountain pen and the dip pen reached widespread use in the 19th century as a result of the industrial revolution making the production of steel pen tips affordable. Before that, you had the choice of quills (bird feathers with the tips carved by you into sharp, split points with a pen knife), clay tablets, or a chisel and a block of stone.

Fountain pens are more expensive than dip pens, so dip pens (or, more likely, pencils) were extensively used in schools until ballpoints became cheap enough to give to children.

Here’s the thing about dip pens: they are maddeningly difficult to use. They are very sensitive to the amount of pressure you apply between them and the paper. One wrong move and you shred the paper with the sharp steel point.

Because dip pens (and quills before them) are so difficult, two things happen: 1) penmanship becomes an actual skill that requires a fair amount of effort to learn and 2) the pressure sensitivity of the quill and the dip pen requires a writing method that minimizes lifting the pen from the paper.

That’s where cursive comes from. The word “cursive” comes from the Latin “cursivus” which means, essentially, “running.” Most of the letters are linked together so you don’t have to lift the pen and set it down again.

So, cursive has been around as a way of writing with a quill or nib since Christian scribes noticed that the flowing script of Arabic was easier and faster to write than the block letters of, say, gothic script.

The utility of cursive lasted until the (aforementioned) wide availability of the ballpoint pen in the 1960s. With a ballpoint, it doesn’t matter how hard you push against the paper: you are free to lift it up and mash it back down with impunity.

Naturally, the conservative nature of primary school education extended the life of cursive into the 1980s, perhaps beyond, as teachers taught what they were taught until well after it wasn’t useful anymore.

At this point, dip pens have faded into antiquity and generations enough have passed since the widespread availability of the ballpoint pen to render cursive an appendix to the history of writing.

Cursive–and penmanship in general–need no longer be taught because technology has rendered it irrelevant.

So, the next time you hear someone ranting that the world is ending because children aren’t being taught cursive, feel free to tell them politely to fuck off.

Turning Pount

I see a fork ahead, as I’m sure you do. The fork, as always, is whether the better angels of our nature win the latest battle, or we descend into chaos.

Essentially, as I see it, we will, on average, eschew the garbage information that we are now presented with in the same way that the Enlightenment overthrew millennia of utter bullshit.

Or, we will, on average, succumb to technological fabulism on a grand scale.

If I were to bet, I would lay my chips on the truth if for no other reason that contemporary civilization requires systems of knowledge that yield predictable outcomes. 

We are so far down the path of predictable outcomes that fabulism cannot last long. 

Fabulism may work in the short term, but the window of fabulism is quite short–about half the wavelength of the economic cycle.

When things go really wrong economically–and those in thrall of fabulist world-making discover that their bad ideas yield bad economic outcomes, they snap to pretty quickly.

There hasn’t been a bad economy for nearly ten years. When it happens again, all of the fluff about alternative facts will be wiped clean. At that point, America becomes nothing but pragmatic.

The other fork, though, may suck us under is if a shocking event akin to 9/11 happens before the economic downturn. If that happens, there’s no stopping the fabulists.

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New Record Coming in 2015

Animal Hours started production on our second record in January. We gathered together the same team as last time and spent an incredible week recording the basic tracks for ten new songs. So far, they sound amazing. We can’t share the details just yet, but expect a lot of new music from Animal Hours this Spring.

In celebration of breaking ground on the new record, we’ve released a new video for Challenged from our 2014 record Do Over ›

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Challenged Video

Video for the song Challenged from the 2014 Animal Hours record “Do Over” now available on iTunes: http://bit.ly/animal-hours-do-over-itunes

We are the challenged
Trying again to make it right
Through stony days and lonely nights

We are like islands
Trying to reach across the sea
I think I see you, do you see me?

We start like flowers, closed and small
But when we bloom we’re ten feet tall
We stretch to the sky to see it all
Sometimes we fall

Maybe we’ll make it
Thousands of miles away from home
Maybe we’ll burn up in the air up there

We are like flowers in the sky
We burst into bloom over two miles high
We sail the clouds as we say goodbye
Before we die

We have a moment
To shine the stars from a distant past
We can make it count but we can’t make it last at last

We are the flowers shaped like suns
Shining our light with everyone
Burning so bright ‘til we come undone
As we all become

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Do Over Breaks Into The Charts

For the second week in a row, our record Do Over has charted on the @CMJ Top 200!

Big thanks to @KCSUFM in Fort Collins, Colorado and @883WLFC in Findlay, Ohio.

Thanks also to:

We’re grateful to all of you for playing our record and getting our music out to all of your listeners.

photo (cropped) by Michael Flick (https://www.flickr.com/photos/17773534@N03/3398557401/in/photolist-6bjuHg-dumWsk-6V5pR-2Q1EJh-9wYvpe-8oz6w2-5Erubi-6VtAmP-4b8h7g-6x7P2U-6e4am7-Bzfpe-iY5dEo-2Q1Euq-7wfyt1-66gQiF-dLJoEy-2wfiMr-Hp82w-5HU8ec-5HU5p2-5HYpZ1-uW4jY-5HU8Y8-9kzPdt-5HU822-9gtJuV-dHs2Ao-4RSaCS-4RN3TF-bxeFSD-dJ8S5Q-7FnPKE-89ppMV-7Dqaoa-bsLZUi-nZaYRQ-nGP7dM-6hucbr-2NZssD-aG7r9F-mvSWUE-eKuPwR-esLzzB-9gUVXa-6RJfdH-6R3FQs-4Dhr2d-paDmNN-ax5Yo)

Animal Hours Interview by KDUP Music Director Mason Lindblad

I had a great chat with KDUP music director Mason Lindblad the other day and he’s just posted it online. I felt a little weird talking about myself for that long, but we had a good time and covered a lot of interesting ground including art, the craft of writing, my next record release, and growing up in a dome in the middle of nowhere with a very small sample of popular culture frozen in 1975 as the base for an overarching songwriting aesthetic.