Rock On – Jon Racherbaumer March 2010
Borgesian Nightmare: When I dreamily fell down the “rabbit hole” of magicland at the age of fourteen, the number of seminal books on the bookshelves in magic shops occupied a 12-foot shelf. Supplementing these substantial volumes were lots of flimsy booklets providing tips with thumb tips, ways to apply Walsh canes, and practical ideas with reels-not to mention those slipshod pamphlets explaining semi-automatic and piling-dealing cards tricks. Back then entry-level aspirants consulted magic catalogues, regularly visited magic depots, and bought everything that whetted their desires for “real miracles.” They joined magic clubs for fellowship and validation, petitioned private sodalities to be one of the “boys,” dreamt of being accepted to any inner circle, begged elders of any tribe to tip and teach the “good stuff,” registered for mega-magic conventions for the pure, orgiastic excesses they provided, and sometimes wistfully hoped that a qualified, celebrated mentor would take them under his wing. Back then (which my grandchildren refers to as “the olden days”), connectivity was circumscribed and evolved in a pokey, linear fashion. Today, magic conventions, although subtly different from past conventions, have survived the dramatic cultural and technological changes of the past decade. Fraternal clubs are still around, but their memberships are dwindling. Magic dealers have survived, but brick-and-mortar stores have been reduced to a precious few. Most marketing is peer-to-peer Internet commerce. Meanwhile piracy abounds. Entry-level aspirants pillage the digitized free-for-all of the Commons. They troll YouTube and what they fail to hack, they freely obtain whatever stuff is “out there,” gobbling up rip-off friendly shareware. Let’s face it, once anything is digitized, it can be accessed as non-monetized binary bits that can be anonymously reconstituted in usable forms. Information is neutral. It does not “want to be free.” Free-loaders and chiselers want it to be free. Who then needs a magic shop, club, sodality, inner circle, mentor, or convention?
In a recent issue of Nature magazine, a weekly journal of hard-core science, I read these startling stats: The Internet is now a “crucial worldwide infrastructure that connects nearly two billion people, roughly a quarter of humanity.” It offers up over a trillion web pages and transports (transmits?) roughly 10 billion gigabytes of data monthly. (This figure will quadruple by 2012.) Now, granted, the stats for the worldwide magic community are not as staggering. Furthermore, no magician has the will, capacity, and manpower to calculate the number of magic Websites now existent or how much magic-data is zipping through the “ether” on a daily basis. Rest assured the numbers, relatively speaking, are likely big-big enough to shout, “Holy Gigabyte, Batman, there’s sure a lot crap out there!”
Consider this: When I began my magical journey 60 years ago, magicians memorialized their magic lives using cameras that took pictures and captured them on rolls of film. We had large reel-to-reel tape recorders. We had 16mm films that needed projectors to view. We had telephones with restrictive cords. We had typewriters, pens, pencils, and paper. We had phonographs and phonograph records (78 rpm – 45rpm – 33 1/3 rpm). We also gazed a black-and-white television sets with only three working channels on the dial. This was our world of “connectivity.” This is where we accessed and transmitted information. Now we have cell-phones, laptops, i-Pods, e-book readers, MP3 players, podcasts, Websites, Flip video recorders, Netflix, streaming video-you name it! We have moved from oral history to written language to printing presses to a computer age, and it is now possible to archive every message, every Tweet or IM, every video, every image or photo, every conversation, book, or manuscript of your entire life-that is, if you want to! The deep, dark, breathtaking downside is the surfeit of information. There is a Glut that keeps getting gluttier, nano-second by nano-second. At least 100 e-mails pop into my computer every day. I sift through this personal Ingo-Glut every week, a task using up 15-20 hours. If I feverishly trolled the Internet and checked the better magic Websites, I would be captive for 6-8 hours. If several hundred billion e-mail messages are sent every day, what is the percentage sent by magicians? Throw in the fact that at least 60-70% of these e-mails are spam or fiddle-faddle, you will start pining for that desert island with only a copy of Greater Magic in hand? “Houston, we have a filtering problem!”
Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University and author of Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, nicely puts it: “There seems to be a Malthusian principle at work: Information grows exponentially, but useful information grows only linearly. Noise will drown out the signal.” We have the [computer] memory to store virtually everything. (Google is the gobbling gorilla-god in the room.) Newbie magicians will soon have all information extant. They already have more than they will ever use, understand, store, or apply. What they may not realize, along with the rest of us currently thrilled and staggered by current technology, is that we are on the verge of being deluged and drowned? Seife adds: “…it will be hard to avoid slipping into a Borgesian nightmare in which we are engulfed by our own mental refuse. We are at the brink of a colossal change: Our knowledge is now being limited not only by our ability to gather information and to remember it, but also by our wisdom about when to ignored information-and when to forget it.”
That’s it, folks! What should we ignore and forget? What will we remember in the end?
This forces me to question my own zeal for gathering compilations. After having written several esoteric tomes, what do I remember? Sure, I know 75 ways to perform “Triumph,” 101 ways to present the “21-Card Trick,” and everything worth knowing about “Wild Card” except why. So what?
Saying that I can see a few elderly men (me among them) sitting on a park bench, feeding imaginary Java doves, staring off at non-existent event horizons, and saying things like: “Did you say ‘Gilbreath’ or ‘I’m out of breath’?”
“Google? Wasn’t his first name Barney? Or was it Benny as in Chavez?”
“No, no…Chevas is booze…Chevas Regal…”
“No, no, no…you mean David Regal.”
Finally, another geezer sighs: “Remember when you had to look up stuff?”
The others then simultaneously look skyward and one says, “Looks like rain…”
Time to Tweet.
CANCELING OUT “CONFUSING GEORGE”
This is a convincing way to casually show both sides of the bills after you perform “Confusing George” to “cancel out” the knee-jerk suspicion that the bills may not be kosher. Please do not turn this into a conspicuous “proving exercise.” In other words, do not make a big deal out of this display. Do not make yourself out of breath because you have “run without being chased.” The neat aspect of this handling is that after you apparently shown the bills front and back, the bills are reset for your next performance. After you have performed “Confusing George,” spread the bills between your hands to clearly show that all five bills are George-side up. (Photo 1)
Say, “What a curious and confusing outcome!” Square the bills and hold them in your left hand for a moment and then take the top bill into your right hand, adding: “And it was all done with only ‘two’…” As you say “two,” casually display the bills as in Photo 2.
Simultaneously turn both hands palm down to show the Green-side of the bills. (Photo 3) Again, simultaneously turn both hands palm up to show the George-side of the bills. (Photo 4)
Drop the right-hand bill onto the table and immediately thumb off the top bill of the left-hand stack onto the previously tabled bill. You have apparently shown both sides of the first two bills. In reality, you have performed the actions of Ed Marlo’s “Olram Subtlely,” which is usually done with playing cards.
The next sequence is essentially identical to the opening display. Take the next top bill into your right hand, continuing to say: “…four…” As you say “four,” casually display the bills as in Photo 5.
Again, simultaneously turn both hands palm down to show the Green-side of the bills. (Photo 5) Again, simultaneously turn both hands palm up to show the George-side of the third and fourth bills. (Photo 6)
Drop the right-hand bill onto the two tabled bills and immediately thumb off the top or fourth bill onto the other three tabled bills. (Photo 7)
You have now apparently shown both sides of four bills.
Continue: “….and five bills! No more. No less!” As you utter the concluding patter line, turn your left hand palm down to show the Green-side of the fifth bill. (Photo 8)
Finally, turn your left hand palm up and place the fifth bill onto the others. (Photo 9)
Scoop up and square the bills. You are now reset for your next performance and you have “cancelled out” the suspicion that you are working with “funny money.”