Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Celtic Rock, Appalachian Stories, and Knowledge Maps

Six Degrees of Separation

Most people know of the "six degrees of separation" concept because of the popularity of the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. On average, any two actors in the world can be connected through a chain of movies in which actors have co-starred. 

More broadly, network science tells us that any two people in the world can be connected through social connections by no more than six jumps. Here are a few examples of my own:

  1. I am one degree from the deceased actor Vincent Price -- I once shook his hand at a college event. Anyone he knows, or starred in a movie with, is only two degrees from me. (Admittedly the social connection was not a remarkable one. LOL)
  2. I have met two Nobel Prize winners, which places me one degree away from each of them, and two degrees from the King of Sweden, who hands the prizes to each winner. 
  3. I have a relative who was a campaign manager for Senator Bob Dole years ago, which places me two steps from Dole and three steps from everyone Dole knew in Congress and Washington, DC. 
  4. Thanks to my father, who got Project Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra's autograph in 1964, I am three degrees from just about everyone in NASA's early space program. 
  5. Sadly, I am one degree from at least three people who took their own lives, and only two degrees from a political assassination in Venezuela.

Six degrees of separation is a social phenomenon. Work at digging up who is connected to whom, and you can wind up with a huge network of connections. Then, you can follow the network from one point to the next and uncover connections you didn't know about.

But what about other networks? A clever programmer could "scrape" (as they call it) book recommendations from Amazon's website and come up with a map of related books that might show you recommendations that were two or three or four steps away from a book you're looking at, instead of only one step away.

Still, these examples are only focused on connections between the same kinds of things (people with people, books with books). There's no a priori reason why we can't derive a network connecting different kinds of things that are related. A more sophisticated example using Amazon recommendations would include authors as well as books. Each author could be connected to every book that author has written, books could be connected to co-authors, and authors within a certain genre could all be connected. This would be useful if you wanted to use authors for recommendations, and not just books.

Discovery and knowledge

To take this one step further, consider an example network I created that connects certain authors, books, musicians, genres, and influences on musicians. The example network, shown at the bottom of this post, is something I developed using the yEd and yEd Live network drawing software, both of which are free software products from the software company yWorks. (An interactive version of this network, which includes hyperlinks, can be accessed via this link.)

At the top of the diagram are three authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien, Alex Bledsoe, and Sharyn McCrumb. (For more on Sharyn McCrumb, see this recent post of mine.) Beneath each author is an icon showing something that author has written. The Lord of the Rings is fantasy, of course, as are Bledsoe's "Tufa" stories, set in a modern-day part of the mountains of Tennessee. Many of Sharyn McCrumb's novels are set in the Appalachians.

Below that part of the diagram is the musician Dave Brons. Brons, who composes and performs progressive rock with a "Celtic symphonic twist", found inspiration in The Lord of the Rings. Bledsoe's "Tufa" novels inspired a group of musicians known as Tuatha Dea, also shown on the diagram, who compose and perform what they call "Appalachian Rock." Both Brons and Tuatha Dea have been influenced by Celtic culture. (And, Tuatha Dea has also been influenced by "steampunk.")

Final Remarks

The diagram I created is a small example of a knowledge map. It captures a set of connections I thought were interesting, that I can share with others, and that may lead others to consider artists or authors or works they might not realize were connected. As a knowledge map, it can be extended to include as many connections as I would like.

Knowledge map created using the free tools, yEd and yEd Live. See text for link.
Copyright Mark E. Lacy, 2021

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bugs Bunny: Teacher and Mentor

Exposure to a Mischievous Cartoon Rabbit at an Impressionable Age

My wife likes to remind me to turn off the lights in a room when I leave it. So when I turned off our kitchen lights this evening, I said "Click!"

I didn't think about it, when I said "Click!", but I was alluding to a trick with a light switch Bugs Bunny plays on the Big Bad Wolf in the cartoon titled, "The Windblown Hare." Because I watched Bugs Bunny religiously during my formative years, it's not unusual for me to repeat something I learned so long ago from a cartoon.

From 1940 to 1964, Warner Bros. produced 170 cartoons featuring this iconic cartoon character. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons as well as many others produced under the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies labels. Thursday nights, when I was little, we watched "The Bugs Bunny Show." My father enjoyed watching Bugs almost as much as watching the Pink Panther. When Bugs moved to Saturday mornings, it was the centerpiece and main course of all the morning cartoons.

Bugs is a culturally-recognized example of the "trickster" archetype. On one hand, he's a friendly character who doesn't go looking for trouble. But on the other hand, once someone brings trouble to him, they better watch out! He is quite adept at devising clever tricks to play on those who have wronged him.

Time to Get Serious, and Make a List

Several years ago, I decided to apply my inherited and inordinate fondness for making lists by constructing a list of all the Bugs Bunny cartoons, drawing on information from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Bros. Cartoons by Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald. One by one, I checked off the ones I had watched. When I needed a few more to watch to complete the list, I found them on YouTube.

Going back to watching many of the old cartoons was spurred in part by a trend that concerned me. Many of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, including Bugs Bunny, were being censored before being shown on Cartoon Network. A shotgun blast to a character's face would be deleted, for example. I surmised that some group of concerned parents were influencing network executives to edit the cartoons for anything that might -- as these parents believed -- have a negative influence on their children's behavior. As I looked into this, I found there were entire cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny that have been banned because they depicted not just violence but racial stereotypes. These cartoons are not shown on TV but can be found on some DVDs or on YouTube. The DVDs released as the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection" are compilations that include, among many of most famous cartoons, some of the more controversial ones. Each DVD begins with a message explaining that while some cartoons on the disk depict unacceptable behaviors such as racial stereotypes, they are included for historical reasons. But then, cartoons such as "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," a World War II-era feature, can now only be found on YouTube. At the time this short originally came out, its treatment of the Japanese as our enemies was dehumanizing, an almost universal sociological factor in wartime. (This cartoon, as well as many others released in wartime, were intended as entertainment for adults, not children.)

What Bugs Bunny Has Taught Me

So what have I learned by watching cartoons like Bugs Bunny over the years? I've learned it's good to have sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously. I've learned that being clever is better than being out-and-out mean. I picked up various expressions (like Yosemite Sam's "Ya' durn idgit" and "Whoa, mule [camel, elephant], I said whoa!"), some of which have become so embodied in my day-to-day conversations that I often don't realize I'm quoting a cartoon character. (As when I say "click" when I turn off a light.) 

Other fans of Bugs have been educated in other ways. One person commented on Twitter that Bugs had taught him that "revenge on my enemies should be quick, clever, and brutal.")

What did I not learn? I did not learn that shooting someone in the face simply turns their face black with gunpowder. Nor did I learn to think in racist terms. And enjoying the antics of an anthropomorphized rabbit who some have labeled a "cross-dresser" has not harmed me.

Like many others, I miss the "golden years" of animated shorts.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tackling a Mystery Almost One Hundred Sixty Years Old

The disappearance of Lt. Andrew Jackson Lacy

As I have detailed in my book, MISSING IN ACTION, 1863: Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Lacy and Tennessee's Confederate Cavalry, my great-great-grandfather disappeared in the middle of the Civil War and was never seen again. He disappeared after resigning his officer's commission. The most likely explanation for his disappearance is that he was bushwhacked by the enemy on his way home in Jackson County, Tennessee. The evidence strongly suggests this took place sometime in the beginning of August 1863, within twenty-five miles of home.

The companion volume to MISSING IN ACTION, 1863, titled Battlefront and Homefront: The Lacy Family's Civil War Documents, includes annotated transcriptions of all the family letters, to and from Lieutenant Lacy, during the Civil War.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I learned that transcriptions were published in someone else's book, with A. J. Lacy's photo on the cover!

A collection of Confederate diaries and letters

In 2006, Professor Howard Lytle Givens (who I believe is now deceased) published a collection of various letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers titled Tennesseans in the Civil War: Confederate Narratives from Battlefield and Home. While waiting for a copy of this book that my cousin Coby Lacy had sent me, I fantasized about discovering letters we'd never seen before. Or perhaps letters from other soldiers in Lieutenant Lacy's regiment that might shed light on the mystery of his disappearance.

But with the book finally in hand, my fantasies of learning something new about Lieutenant Lacy were dashed.

  1. Lieutenant Lacy's photo on the cover of the book is not a new one. It's actually a photo I had included when I had a website for Lacy many years ago.
  2. Chapter Eight includes Lacy's letters, with no annotation or discussion. Professor Givens reprinted the transcriptions of these letters, donated by my father to the Tennessee State Library & Archives, that are found on microfilm at TSLA. None of the other chapters include anything relevant to Lacy, his commanders, or his regiment.
  3. A short introductory paragraph for Chapter Eight mistakenly claims that Lieutenant Lacy served in Baxter Smith's Eighth Cavalry, instead of Dibrell's Eighth Cavalry. This mistake (one I've seen before) could have been avoided had the author done a little research.
  4. There is little to no evidence of any research on the part of the author except for some information gathered on the internet.
The Shawneetown letter - did Lieutenant Lacy survive the war as a Union officer?
(extracted from Battlefront and Homefront, copyright 2020 by Mark E. Lacy)

Lieutenant Lacy's only child, William Woolsey Lacy, was one of the first who tried to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance.

In the years since the end of the Civil War, W. W. Lacy, grew up, married, and had children of his own. But he must have entertained doubts that his father was a casualty of the war, and so he began asking questions.

We don't know how the two men got in touch with one another, but in the spring of 1893, thirty years after his father's disappearance during the war, W. W. Lacy received a letter from D. H. Jones of Medley, Missouri. This was not the first correspondence between the men. Jones had learned somehow of W. W. Lacy's search for his father, and passed along some information.

"... I think I made a mistake in the address of Mr. A. J. Lacy it is at Shoney Town Ills. I know thare is a man up thare by the name of A. J. Lacy for I am well acqanted with him. He marred a girl that was raised in the same neighborhood of my self. Her name is Miss Eison but she is dead now and he is a widower iff he has not marred sece last spring. He is a man of a bout 50 years of age 5-8 in hi lite complexion blue eyes and and was an officer in the Union Army and is from Tenn but I dont know what part."

No one knows that W. W. Lacy might have done with this information. But using modern tools and data unavailable to W. W. Lacy, it is clear that there are no records of a Union officer named A. J. Lacy in this timeframe (1890s) living in Illinois. Jones seemed to have confused A. J. Lacy with Royal R. Lacey, a former Union officer in the same area in southeast Illinois who had married a woman with the maiden name of Eison.

Final remarks

The mystery is still that: a mystery. A cold case to beat all cold cases. But I hold on to a hope that someday the right information will turn up to shed light on this mystery, if not to actually solve it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Productivity Tools: Evernote vs OneNote - Both/And, not Either/Or

In virtually any kind of environment where people have a choice in what computer hardware or software they use, they will divide into camps. PC vs Mac. Microsoft Office vs OpenOffice. Google Chrome vs Bing. Personal productivity is indeed that: personal. Two of the most popular productivity tools on the market are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. I have chosen, after years of using both tools, to claim dual citizenship in their respective camps: I use both tools.


When Microsoft first introduced OneNote, I was immediately sold on the notion of having a place on my computer where I could save notes, documents, photos, files, and more, organized in a convenient fashion and easily accessible. OneNote allowed me to mix note types, organize them in a way I could quickly get to them, and begin eliminating paper files. For several years I was a OneNote zealot. It cost me nothing, since I had a corporate license, and later it was part of Office 365 so I didn't have to pay for it separately.

But one thing I found, over time, was that I needed to access my notes across multiple platforms: web, laptop, tablet, phone, etc. While Microsoft has since made progress in making OneNote less platform-dependent, I was anxious to find a tool I could use anywhere, under any circumstances.


Evernote was the solution I needed. When it was first released I gave it a try and found it to be much more in line with my work habits than OneNote. But when I learned that, in order to take full advantage of the tool I would have to pay a yearly subscription fee, I decided to stick with OneNote. Eventually, using the free version of Evernote, I realized paying a yearly subscription fee for Evernote was well worth it, and I moved to using only Evernote.

Evernote vs OneNote

OneNote and Evernote each have their advantages and disadvantages. Some of these include:

  • Attachments. I like how Evernote handles attachments better than how OneNote does. 
  • Responsiveness. OneNote feels "snappier" and much more responsive (as long as I have syncing with OneDrive turned off, because that seems to slow things down).
  • Embedded links. In Evernote you can embed links to other notes. OneNote goes one better and allows the user to embed links to particular paragraphs in other notes.
  • Tagging. In my experience, tagging in Evernote is hands-down better than in OneNote. But then tags aren't that important for me in my writing. 
  • Hierarchy of notes. A deeper hierarchy of note organization with OneNote is a beneficial trade-off. (Neither product allows for an unlimited hierarchy of notes, for some reason.)

But what if I could get the best of both worlds somehow?

OneNote AND Evernote

Evernote, over the past year, has harmonized the user experience across multiple platforms. It has not, for many people, been a comfortable experience moving to the latest version. Whatever their software management strategy might be, Evernote is listening better to its user base and is turning out improved versions and updates at a much more rapid pace.

Because of the negative user experience during this transition, many Evernote users have switched to other platforms, like OneNote. I considered this possibility myself, since I had experience with both platforms. But the process of porting 13,000 notes (no, that's not a typo) from Evernote to OneNote would likely cause me multiple panic attacks.

So I compromised: I decided to use both platforms. I have moved all my writing work to OneNote because that kind of work felt better on OneNote. In particular, the ability to collapse part of an outline and then expand it back comes in very handy when one wants to manage a large and complicated story. I continue to use Evernote for everything else, including bills and receipts and family information of various kinds.


If you've not tried either one of these products, you should give it a try!