Robin Sloan's Posts
The core purpose of a great lecturer is not primarily to transmit information… The real purpose of a lecture is to show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners.
A great lecture is not primarily about information—it’s about aspiration. The mark of a great lecture is that you watch the person up in the front of the hall work her way through a subject and think: I want to be like that someday…
INTERVIEWER Were you actually typing in the dark?
NICHOLSON BAKER: Yes. I had a couple different laptops because they were not all that dependable, and one of them had a slider bar. I could slide the screen brightness down to almost nothing, so I was sitting in complete darkness. The screen would have just the tiniest hint of phosphorescence and a faint crackle of static electricity. I thought, This is an option Dickens did not have.
This blows my mind:
In North America, some Muslims pray to the northeast, in the direction of the great-circle route (the shortest path along the planet’s surface) to Mecca, whereas others pray to the southeast.
From an article with a winking title: A sine on the road to Mecca.
If I was Muslim, I think I’d pray to the northeast. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s pretty amazing to imagine a prayer shooting out of your mind and blazing through the cold Arctic reaches on its way to the sweltering kaaba.
I haven’t been writing much here at Snarkmarket, but I do still lurk in the Old World. By which I mean of course: Google Reader. And what feeds there do I follow? Here are a few you might not know about. If you follow them, I guarantee your 2013 will be just a little bit more interesting:
- Kevin Slavin’s Fresser is consistently smart, weird, provocative. He’s a master of the tumblr aside, or tag-on, or whatever it’s called. Here’s a good example. He also posts the occasional glimpse into what is an interesting peripatetic life.
- I’ve mentioned M. John Harrison several times here before. Besides being one of the best fiction writers in any genre of the whole early 21st century, he’s somehow a virtuoso web writer, with a style all his own. His Ambiente Hotel is perhaps my single favorite feed. I think I find its opacity and misdirection refreshing in a world of web content that goes down a little too easy; that knows its analytics dashboard a little too well.
- I’m biased, but you know, my mom’s tumblr is really very good. Bits and pieces, words and images, all orbiting a few deep themes.
- I almost hate to give this one away, because it’s such a treasured gem: Trivium is an infrequently-updated blog about… what exactly? Super-serious computer science? Algorithms? Set theory, crazy math, a bit of art? All of those things. My advice: subscribe, and even if you don’t understand any of the links—seriously, like none at all—you will enjoy the atmosphere. And you might even begin to imagine yourself a philosopher-programmer, almost gnostic in your meditations…
- I have no idea how Noah Brier manages to post so much when he is simultaneously running a super-successful startup. Perhaps it’s just his startup’s content-selection algorithm posting on his behalf? Either way: there is just tons of consistently good stuff here, all at the nexus of media, technology, and culture.
- Matt Webb’s posts are rare but oh they are good. This is what RSS is for, these days: you set a snare, leave it, and trap for yourself the words you want to read most. Trust me, just subscribe and wait for the feed to turn bold. It might take a few months. It will be worth it.
What a great post by Valve’s Michael Abrash. The content is interesting: a brisk summary of the technical challenges that still need to be tackled if goggle-style virtual reality or augmented reality are going to work and be compelling. So is the style: it reads like an internal memo—a really good ones. It’s not dumbed-down, not smoothed over for public consumption. There is serious study and rigorous thinking on display here. I wish more organizations deigned to share this kind of writing with the public.
Charles McGrath interviews Philip Roth on the occasion of his retirement from fiction writing, and…
Nearby was an iPhone he had bought recently. “Why?” he said. “Because I’m free. Every morning I study a chapter in ‘iPhone for Dummies,’ and now I’m proficient. I haven’t read a word for two months. I pull this thing out and play with it.”
Godspeed, Philip Roth. I challenge you to a game of Letterpress.
Check out the hoop dancers in the background of this Nelly Furtado video:
And then check out one of the hoop dancers, world champion Tony Duncan, on his own. It’s like a magic show! I’m pretty sure he is passing those hoops directly through his limbs!
Circuitously via Kate Beaton.
Will this be my text for the Snarkmarket Seminar??
Geoff’s eulogy of sorts for Lebbeus Woods is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time:
Because what I like about Lebbeus’s work is its nearly insane honesty, its straight-ahead declaration that nothing—genuinely and absolutely nothing—is here to welcome us or accept us or say yes to us. That there is no solid or lasting ground to build anything on, let alone anything out there other than ourselves expecting us to build it.
Architecture is thus an act—a delirious and amazing act—of construction for no reason at all in the literal sense that architecture is outside rational calculation. That is, architecture—capital-A architecture, sure—must be seen, in this context, as something more than just supplying housing or emergency shelter; architecture becomes a nearly astronomical gesture, in the sense that architecture literally augments the planetary surface. Architecture increases (or decreases) a planet’s base habitability. It adds something new to—or, rather, it complexifies—the mass and volume of the universe. It even adds time: B is separated from C by nothing, until you add a series of obstacles, lengthening the distance between them. That series of obstacles—that elongated and previously non-existent sequence of space-time—is architecture.
And later (emphasis mine):
Architecture, if you will, is a Wile E. Coyote moment where you look down and realize the universe is missing—that you are standing on empty air—so you construct for yourself a structure or space in which you might somehow attempt survival. Architecture is more than buildings. It is a spacesuit. It is a counter-planet—or maybe it is the only planet, always and ever a terraforming of this alien location we call the Earth.
Geoff has chosen a beautiful set of images to go with the piece, too.
Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz talk about literary writers, genre writers, and elite awards:
“We seem to think that things are changing because the people with privilege dabble across the board,” says Díaz, growing more animated. “I’ve noticed that genre fiction writers are more isolated than they’ve ever been. I think that they’re less likely to win any prizes. Listen, we’ll talk about Justin Cronin all day, and I could trot out 12 other novelists who’ve been writing zombie novels, but because they’re genre writers, they’re not going to get a f–king profile in The New York Times.
“We’re willing to talk about how one side is benefitting, how one side is taking these experiments, but this other side has been doing this for so long, and nobody wants to give them any love,” he continues. “I’m sorry, I don’t give a f–k what the f–k my side of the equation is doing. … It doesn’t stop us from getting MacArthurs. I want somebody who’s writing the Fantastic Four to get a MacArthur, get a Guggenheim.”
Let’s just pause there to agree: Yes! Where is the comic book writer’s MacArthur? Is there one lurking in macfound.org? Maybe some indie artist–a Dan Clowes or someone?
“Octavia Butler,” Chabon says.
“She got one,” Díaz agrees. “I’m telling you, I have friends who are straight-up genre writers, and they have never gotten a Guggenheim, and they’ve applied like 20 times in a row.”
(I didn’t actually know, until this moment, that the Guggenheim was something you applied for. I thought it appeared mysteriously–miraculously–like the MacArthur.)
“Someone like Grant Morrison,” Chabon offers. “His work has been such an inspiration to me, but I feel he’s totally unknown outside of comics.”
“Samuel Delany hasn’t been able to get a Guggenheim,” Díaz says. “Samuel Delany has applied over 20 times.”
“You’re kidding me?” Chabon says. “That’s so f—ed.”
“Think about that,” Díaz says. “Samuel R. Delany — one of the most important living writers.”
“You’ve gotta hope the people are going to die off,” Chabon says. “It’s like the legalization of marijuana. Eventually, the only people alive will be people who grew up smoking marijuana.”
“I hope so,” Díaz replies. “But I see this new generation repeating the fallacy of the old one. … I don’t see people [writing] genre being given the awards that I’m given if I do genre shit. That’s the change I want to see.”
This is one of the reasons I’m glad something like Kickstarter exists. It’s not perfect–far from it–but at least it’s a stab at an alternative form of artistic validation. (Cf. this old post.) We need more of them–more engines of recognition that fuse moral and artistic seriousness with real money. (That’s how people know you mean business!)
Alternatively, we could just figure out how to get Tim Carmody a spot on the MacArthur Foundation’s super secret selection committee…
Apropos of nothing: I love the Celestials. (And these renderings of them in particular.)