Category Archives: Breaking News

Great Books Project: End of Part I

I am now about six months into my Great Books project and this seems like a good time to stop and take stock.  I have now read and blogged about works written up to the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BCE) in the Hellenistic tradition and up to the establishment of the Second Temple (516 BCE) in the Hebrew tradition.  Up to this point, the two have had almost no first-hand intellectual contact.  Soon, though, they will begin influencing each other to an increasing degree, beginning with Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire and continuing until Paul and other evangelists permanently fuse them together to create the new tradition of Christianity.

I have come to think of the death of Socrates in 399 BCE as the end of Part I of the Great Books.  Socrates wrote no books himself, yet he brought together all previous Hellenic philosophy and all future Western philosophy owes something to the work of his disciple Plato, who is the next author whom I plan to cover.

Before I go on, I thought it would be useful to present a timeline of the lives of the Hellenistic authors in this first section.  I also included Plato and Xenophon because, though I think of them as belonging to the next period, their lives overlapped with the others.

Great Books Authors Timeline: Ancient Greece (Click to Enlarge)

Great Books authors timeline: Ancient Greece (click to enlarge)

I think the most striking thing about this timeline is that, other than Homer who really belongs to an earlier age, all of these men lived within such a short span of time.  Only 139 years separate Aeschylus‘ birth and Aristophanes‘ death.

I also recently drew this diagram to express how the different strands of Western thought are related in the ancient world.  It is over-simplistic and not particularly scientific, but I find it’s helpful to think about how the ideas relate to each other.

Development of thought in the Great Books: Prehistory to fall of Rome

Development of thought in the Great Books: Prehistory to fall of Rome (click to enlarge)

Finally, now that we have reached the end of Part I, I need to mention that I will be posting more erratically for the next several weeks.  Other literary commitments, including finishing my own book and doing editing work for clients, will take most of my time.  I also don’t want to rush the Plato section, since his work is so important.  I will try to post at least two or three times per month over the summer, however.

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New Short Story Release

Last night my new contemporary fantasy short story went live on Amazon.  You can buy it right here:

The folks at Creative Minority were good enough to do a news blurb about it on their website.  Just to be clear, this story is was not actually published by Creative Minority.  Anyway, I think their post sums things up fairly well:

NON-FICTION WRITER BRANCHES INTO FANTASY

Montrose, CA, May, 19, 2015

Kevin A. Straight, best known for blogging about literature and history and for his monograph Freight Forwarding Cost Estimation: An Analogy Based Approach (2014), ventured into new territory, self-publishing The Phylactery, a contemporary fantasy short story.

“I’ve actually been writing fiction, including fantasy, since 4th grade,” explains Mr. Straight, “I thought it was probably time some of it saw the light of day.”

When asked why he chose a to self-publish instead of following a more traditional route, he replied, “I think soon most short fiction, especially genre fiction, is going to be self published. There are relatively few magazines left that handle speculative fiction, and most of them are trying to position themselves in a more literary way. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it means that there aren’t really any good intermediaries for pulp sci-fi and fantasy. If you want to sell it, you’re better off selling directly to the readers. Ultimately, I think disintermediation will be a good thing, because readers will have better access and writers will get to keep more of the value from the product.”

The Phylactery is set in a slightly fictionalized Riverside, CA in the present day and follows the misadventures of an evil wizard trying to salvage an evil scheme in which everything seems to be going wrong. It is available world-wide in the Amazon Kindle Store.

Kevin A. Straight is currently writing a non-fiction book, 14/2: A History of Outside Scholarship and the Fourteenth Amendment, which will be published by Creative Minority Productions in 2017.

The Phylactery: A Short Story, Kevin A. Straight, 2015. cover image

The Phylactery: A Short Story, cover image

Followers: Apologies for All the Emails

About an hour ago you may have gotten a large number of emails about “new” posts.  I am in the process of merging several of my older blogs, and I didn’t realize that WordPress was publicizing posts every time I moved them.  (As I always say, I’m a writer, not a web master).

All of the posts listed will eventually be available on kevinastraight.com, but only after I’ve had time to edit them.

Again, sorry for the large amount of email.

First Preview of my Upcoming Book

Last week I placed a new academic working paper on Academia.edu that roughly parallels Chapter 11 of my upcoming book.  The version in the book will be written at a different reading level and without the math equations, but this is still a pretty good taste of what is coming.

Screenshot of paper from academia.edu

Scholars like to post these preliminary drafts for several reasons.  The most important one for an independent researcher like myself is to receive feedback and suggestions prior to submission.  Another reason is to make findings available to the community sooner.  The average turn-around time to publish a journal article is two or three years and the field may have moved on by the time the paper hits the presses.

I probably don’t need to worry about obsolescence with this particular article, since the events with which it deals happened back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My book will be a study of the role of outside scholars in our society and, in particular, their ability to shape public policy.  Outside Scholars, in my usage, are people who engage in research and knowledge creation without being formally affiliated with the dominant academic community.  This particular article/chapter deals with an outside scholar named Victor Sharrow who devoted his life to arguing for what he saw as the “correct” interpretation on the Fourteenth Amendment.  He was ultimately unsuccessful, but I feel his career provides several intriguing insights as a characteristic outside scholar narrative.

Sharrow saw the Fourteenth Amendment as the key to dismantling the Jim Crow system in the South.  In the months prior to the 1958 election he mounted an intense one-man lobbying campaign to sway Dwight Eisenhower and other politicians to his views.  In my article I examine several of his arguments from a standpoint of modern data science.

Those of you who read my posts on data science and Python programming might be interested in the simulation models I describe in the paper.  I would be happy to send my spreadsheet and code to anyone who is interested.  Just e-mail me or message my Facebook page.

If all goes well, the book should be released in late 2016 or early 2017.

 

Degree of Voting Restriction by State in 1956, as Calculated by the Model Described in my Paper

Degree of Voting Restriction by State in 1956, as Calculated by the Model Described in my Paper

A New Trailer for My Side Project

As I have mentioned before, I host a how-to show on YouTube.  I’m not in the habit of publicizing it on this site, mainly because it has its own dedicated blog.  The new teaser for next season dropped over the weekend, though, and I’m too excited not to share it.

Handyman Kevin started life nearly two years ago as a low risk way for my publisher and I to learn about video production and play with some transmedia techniques.  It has since taken on a bit of a life of its own.  If you enjoy my other writing, you may also want to subscribe to the Handyman Kevin blog, YouTube channel, or both.

Book Review: The Vintage Mencken

Cover image of The Vintage Mencken

My partner and I just returned from a rather lovely holiday up the Oregon coast. While I was gone, this website was migrated from the WordPress.com server to a self hosted server. If you are a subscriber, the transition should have been nearly seamless. My first day and half back was spent fixing bad links and tweaking my setup (I’m a writer, not a web master, so I’m slow at that sort thing). It seems like I have things in order now, but if you run into any missing pages or bad links, please let me know in the comments or by sending a quick email to longhunt at yahoo dot com.

During the part of my holiday when I wasn’t birdwatching or eating sea food, I had time to get some reading in. One of the books that I finished was The Vintage Mencken, which is a collection of essays from H.L. Mencken’s newspaper columns and books. Mencken (1880-1956) was a prolific journalist and author throughout the first half of the 20th century. He is particularly known for deflating the literary and political figures of his day with stiletto-like wit and criticism. In his later career he also translated Nietzsche and wrote books on philology. Many of his works are now available either from Project Gutenberg or in various online archives. For those who have never read him, however, The Vintage Mencken, edited by Alistair Cooke, is an excellent sampling of the best pieces over his entire writing career.

Mencken came up in the golden age of newspaper journalism, when print was nearly the only form of mass media. In his later writings he evidences a distaste for radio and motion pictures, which he obviously felt were hopelessly low-brow. Had he lived a century later, however (which would, coincidentally have made him about my age) he would surely have been a blogger. His mature style would have been perfect for it–compact, yet thoughtful, incisive, and relentlessly snarky. I think that any modern blogger could learn a great deal from reading his columns and essays. While doing so, however, it is hard not to be struck by how many issues have changed little in a century: education is still going down hill, Americans are still boorish when it comes to culture, letters, and foreign policy, and politicians are still far too influenced by money and lobbying groups. As bloggers in the 21st century we tend to assume that we are breaking new ground and that the issues we confront are new an unique. It does us well to remember that, while the names and media have changed, the nature of our work really hasn’t.

H.L. Mencken, Oliver Richard Reid [public domain via Wikimedia]

H.L. Mencken, Oliver Richard Reid [public domain via Wikimedia]

Nothing and no one were safe from Mencken’s iconoclasty. His favorite targets were populism, plutocracy, modern art, religious fundamentalism, and especially the bourgeoisie. Mencken himself came from a comfortable upper-middle-class background, he decided early to pursue the unpredictable life of a writer. While he never hesitated to poke fun at artists, there is no question that he considered himself one of their number. Like most of us who reject the comfort and stability of our bourgeois roots, he had little or no respect for the middle class. His true admiration was for an aristocracy that did not exist in the United States. He repeatedly warns against confusing plutocrats with true aristocrats,

…[P]lutocracy, in a democratic state, tends inevitably, despite its theoretical infamy, to take the place of the missing aristocracy, and even be mistaken for it.  It is, of course, something quite different.

Bourgeoisie of “the country club and interior decorator stage of culture”  have no understanding of art, fear new ideas, and are hopelessly conformist. True aristocrats, on the other hand, protect culture and tradition, yet are willing to accept eccentricity. Most importantly of all, according to Mencken, the bourgeoisie are cowardly. Personal courage is the highest virtue to an aristocrat but the middle class idolizes stability and security,

The one permanent emotion of inferior man, as of all the simpler mammals, is fear–fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable.  What he wants beyond anything else is safety.  His instincts incline him toward a society so organized that it will protect him from all hazards, and not only against perils to his hide but also against assaults upon his mind–against the need to grapple with unaccustomed problems, to weigh ideas, to think things out for himself, to scrutinize the platitudes upon which his everyday thinking is based. (p. 105)

Me may or may not agree with Mencken’s views. Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I tend to agree with him. Even if you don’t buy into his platform, this book is a delightful view into the events and idiosyncrasies if early twentieth century life, and an excellent all-around example of expository writing.

Hiatus

Dear Followers and Visitors,

I’m on my way up the coast for a holiday and will be away from my blog for approximately the next ten days.  When I return (around 20-April) I will be finishing up Thucydides then moving on into Aristophanes and Plato.

Cheers,

Kevin A. Straight

2015 Preview

As the year winds down, I thought I would give you a preview of what’s to come on this blog.

I’ve mentioned in the past how much I enjoy being able to download free books from Project Gutenberg.  Given a choice, though, I do prefer physical books.  This month I received some holiday cash from relatives and I went a bit mad at the used books stores and library friends’ sales.  It’s easy to justify buying classics when you have a blog about the Great Books.

Picture of a pile of used books

In the picture:  A complete set of the Durants’ The Story of Civilization, both volumes of Somervell’s abridgement of Toynbee’s A Study of History, plus Toynbee’s essay collection Civilization on Trial, The Federalist Papers, Herodotus’ The Persian War, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Other Poems, Virgil’s Aeneid, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Allan Bloom‘s translation of Plato’s Republic, de Sade’s Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings, three tragedies of Sophocles, Joyce’s Dubliners, Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Not shown is a collection of Aeschylus’ plays that I have momentarily misplaced.

And of course I still have 36 more books of the Hebrew Bible to cover.

I plan to read and blog about all of these over the next two years.  I must offer the caveat, however, that as I get closer to my own book deadline my blogging projects may be pushed to the back burner.

In regards to my next book, I am still in a very early phase of the writing and I don’t want to give many details.  I will say, however, that it deals mainly with modern American history.  I can also confidently promise you it will be a much more enjoyable read than my last book–though I suppose that is faint praise, considering that my last book started life as an operations management thesis.  Speaking of the operations/data science end of things, I’m sure I’ll be writing a few more of those posts too.  I also have some ideas for a couple of posts about the business side of writing which some of you should find interesting, since most of you are writers like me.

I’d like to wish a hearty “thank you” to everyone who has read and subscribed to my blog in 2014.  See you next year!

My Monograph Goes “Live” Today

Hello all,

At the risk of shameless self promotion, I think I should mention that my first monograph was published today.  It will take while to work its way though the distribution channels, but should be available at all major booksellers in a few weeks.  In the words of the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Kevin Straight, 562-587-7700
Email: kstra002@ucr.edu

AGSM Alumnus Publishes Monograph

Saarbrücken, Germany, September 3, 2014

AGSM Alumnus Kevin Straight’s début non-fiction book, Freight Forwarding Cost Estimation: an Analogy Based Approach (ISBN 978-3-659-58859-4) was released today by Lambert Academic Press. It should be available from all major booksellers within six weeks.

The book is based on Mr. Straight’s master’s thesis, which was the result of three months of field research in Dublin, Ireland during the summer of 2013. Straight studied thousands of international shipping records and used them to create a cost estimation system using modern machine learning and data mining techniques. Straight demonstrates, via a dynamic computer simulation, that his method is both accurate and more cost effective than traditional estimation techniques.

Mr Straight currently lives in Montrose, California, where he is doing research on how to adapt his estimation methodology to health care applications, such as blood sugar levels in type II diabetes patients.

High resolution images are available at: http://www.kevinastraight.com/freight-forwarding-cost-estimation-images

Update on Life After College

It occurred to me this morning that I haven’t posted an update since before I graduated from business school, back in June.  I wouldn’t want the Internet to get the impression that I was resting on my laurels.  In fact, between moving and my various projects, I just haven’t had time to post.  I did think that a quick summary of what I have afoot would not be amiss, however.

After graduation, LAP invited me to reformat my MBA thesis so they could publish it as a monograph.  It should come out later this week under the title Freight Forwarding Cost Estimation:  An Analogy Based Approach (ISBN: 3659588598).  I am currently working on ways to apply the same techniques I used to predict international freight prices to new applications, including predicting blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.  Some of my preliminary work looks fairly promising, and I probably be ready to write a serious grant proposal in a few weeks. 

Although I remain committed to academic research in data science, I have recently been focusing more attention on popular nonfiction.  I have formed a production company, Creative Minority Productions, to serve as an umbrella for my various nonfiction writing and video projects.  As Creative Minority, I am currently producing two long format YouTube television programs.  Handyman Kevin is a how-to program that walks viewers through common home repair and woodworking projects using simple tools.  It is currently in post production, and will air on YouTube starting September 17.  Everybody’s Data Guide is also how-to and focuses on accomplishing everyday data science and statistical analysis tasks using free and open source software.  Both Handyman Kevin and Data Guide will be augmented with companion blogs and tons of supplemental online content.  The companion blogs will eventually form the basis for companion e-books for each channel.

Creative Minority is more than just a producer of YouTube content, however.  At least two major nonfiction writing projects are in the pipeline.  I’m personally excited, and wish I could give more details, but I can’t say more until all of the rights have been negotiated. 

And finally, lest you think that I have given up on writing fiction, I currently have finished manuscripts for two short stories and a novel, which I will keep submitting to publishers. 

Exciting times!  Business school was an incredible experience, and I feel like it substantially improved my teaching and editing skills.  However, it left very little time or working capital for my own creative projects.  Now I’m free to create content in which I am personally interested, and I plan to make the most of the opportunity.